Category Archives: PvP

Frankensteining My Perfect MMORPG

“The perfect MMORPG”. A concept as elusive as the holy grail. We rush from MMORPG release to MMORPG release hoping to be enveloped by the warm embrace of perfection. The truth is that the perfect MMORPG is highly dependent on the user. Perhaps some have already witnessed a virtual nirvana. But most of us can only dream of the possibility. And dreaming is exactly what I intend to do today.

perfect mmorpg is not perfect world

Sadly, the Perfect World doesn’t contribute to my Frankensteined perfect MMORPG.

As a fun exercise, I’ll combine the best features from every MMORPG into one perfect MMORPG. In my opinion, this will capture the best of what every virtual world has to offer.

Character Creation

It all starts with character creation and nothing beats Champions Online. The freeform character development is exceptionally fun. Pretty much every type of superhero one can imagine can be created. The superhero MMORPG also offers pre-defined archetypes, but that’s so…blasé. In addition to a wealth of character powers, there’s also about twenty different options for character appearance. All of this combines into the best character creation out there.

Questing

What will we do once in game? It wouldn’t be a modern MMORPG without a quest or two. I can’t really think of a better MMORPG questing system to steal than the The Secret World’s. Whereas quest givers in every other MMORPG are overly obsessed with my rat killing count, TSW challenges my self proclaimed heroic title. Missions in this game utilize puzzles, voice acted cutscenes, lore heavy items, stealth, and an impressive tie-in to The Secret World’s immersive environment at every turn. In a lot of ways, TSW handles missions even better than many single player RPGs. I’m more of a sandbox guy at heart, but I’ll jump on a fitting themepark with quests this good.

Combat

Blade and Soul's combat is a fit for perfect MMORPG

Where The Secret World falters is combat. Luckily, our perfect MMORPG can ignore that completely. Blade & Soul offers an amazing combat system that does away with hotbar button bloat. Instead, the player builds and releases powerful abilities based on combo attacks reminiscent of Street Fighter. Reaction time is relevant but so is strategically reading one’s opponents. Additionally, the game does away with traditional class based roles that widens grouping possibilities.

Economy

Despite a great combat system, Blade and Soul does feel a bit restrictive. Part of that is the game’s economy. Instead of putting the power in the the collective players’ hands, advancement is pretty much self sufficient. In my perfect MMORPG, I want to see a truly interactive player economy. For that, none is better than Eve Online. Every module, ship, weapon, and implant can be freely sold and traded between players in Eve Online. Regional markets replace global auction houses from most MMORPGs. This gives traders a chance to take advantage of changing market conditions. Where some see price gouging arbitrage, Eve Online players see opportunity. It mimics the real world so accurately that even economists study it’s ecosystem.

PvP

While everyone wants to get their piece of the pie, some prefer more direct confrontation. It’s been around for a long time, but Dark Age of Camelot’s PvP has yet to be surpassed. Strangely, most developers still insist on World of Warcraft’s inherently unbalanced two faction system. DAoC realized early on that three factions would self regulate. The game makes proper use of PvP and allows players to level up purely through it. Castle sieges and relic conquests keep content from growing stale. Some might say a free for all system would be better, but instant camaraderie via factional warfare is a better choice for a universal, perfect MMORPG.

Dungeons

The dungeons in WildStar are the best

PvP isn’t all there is to the endgame though. Great dungeons and raids can bring both casual and hardcore guilds together in unique ways. WildStar clearly excels in this like none other. In fact, the challenges that WildStar’s dungeons present have been toned down since launch. They were just too hard. The method to success in a WildStar dungeon is rarely ever obvious. What’s really great about the instanced dungeons in WildStar is that the fun begins early on. Even the first instances in the game limit trash mobs in favor of inspired boss mechanics. The dungeons in WildStar respect me as a player. They may ask too much of my PUGs at times, but it comes with the territory.

Etc, etc.

All in all, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect MMORPG than what I created above. There are a few traditional pain points I avoided. Visuals and bells and whistles aren’t as big of a deal because a many games handle this well. If the art design is coherent and well put together, I’ll be happy. The World of Warcraft style is just as appealing as the Elder Scrolls Online. And I suppose if I cared more about story, I’d double dip into The Secret World. To me, the best stories come from the players though. Events like killing the sleeper in EverQuest, World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague, and Eve Online’s trillion ISK scam can’t be beat.

While such a real world amalgamation seems unlikely as games grow more niche, I can always dream. How would you Frankenstein your Perfect MMO?


Is Overwatch Missing the Mark?

Blizzard Entertainment is currently running a free open beta for their hotly anticipated new sci-fi shooter, Overwatch, which is due for release later this month. It’s shaping up to be a strong PvP game… but that’s all it is.

Reinhardt guards a payload in Overwatch

Overwatch consists entirely of competitive 6v6 matches played out over a handful of very similar capture-based game modes. It offers nothing else whatsoever. For a company as large and storied as Blizzard, that seems strangely unambitious, and the closer one looks at the missed opportunities of Overwatch, the more one begins to wonder if the game is missing the mark.

The potential versus the reality:

Overwatch generated a huge buzz when it was first announced at BlizzCon 2014. This was the first new franchise from Blizzard in more than fifteen years, and their first foray into the realm of first person shooters. Its announcement featured a spectacular cinematic trailer that showcased a game world full of color, excitement, and memorable characters.

As details filtered out, we learned that Overwatch depicts a near future world full of fantastic heroes uniting to defend the world from strife and conflict, to uplift the innocent and inspire as well as protect.

Overwatch was shown to feature a cast more diverse than virtually anything else in the gaming world, with a nearly balanced gender ratio and characters hailing from countries on every continent. No one could ever have expected Blizzard of all companies to become a champion of progressive ideals, but suddenly they were setting new standards of inclusiveness.

It was also immediately clear that Overwatch would be backed by lore and history as deep as that of Blizzard’s other franchises. Each of the game’s twenty-one playable characters has a strong backstory that connects to the greater narrative of a world on the brink of being torn apart by the conflicts between human and machine, citizen and corporation.

In short, Overwatch was a game brimming with vigor, optimism, and creativity.

A shot from Overwatch's announcement cinematic, featuring Tracer and Widowmaker

Yet it soon became clear that the reality of the game was very different from the impression given by its bright image and hopeful story. It would consist only of PvP matches completely divorced from the rich lore built for the game. Characters could potentially ally with their mortal enemies to kill their friends — or even themselves.

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

It’s also strange that a game that is sold as being so light-hearted and hopeful is in reality quite harsh and unforgiving. Overwatch’s training tools are very sparse, and largely inadequate to the task of preparing those without prior experience in PvP shooters.The game’s mechanic of allowing players to change heroes mid-game also presents an extremely steep learning curve, forcing players to learn a large roster of characters off the bat if they want to play to their full potential.

It’s also a blisteringly fast game, where a split-second’s mistake or hesitation can result in a player’s instant death. There is little forgiveness for the slow or inexperienced.

Overwatch is a game that tries to send the message that all are welcome, yet the game itself has nothing to offer those who are not of a strong competitive mindset.

The missed opportunities:

Overwatch was clearly built to be a PvP game first, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it could have offered a lot more than competitive play.

The Nepal map in Overwatch

From the moment it was announced, players have been asking about the possibility of a single-player campaign to flesh out the clearly rich lore of the Overwatch universe. Yet Blizzard has shot down the idea every time, preferring to tell Overwatch’s story through outside media like comic books and animated shorts. A strange decision indeed for a video game company.

The potential for a fantastic single-player experience definitely exists within Overwatch. As already mentioned, its backstory is clearly strong, and it’s hero-swap mechanic could make for very unique single-player gameplay, encouraging players to use different characters for different situations, perhaps even multiple times in the same mission. This would also have the advantage of helping people learn the characters before stepping into PvP.

Outside the single-player realm, there is still plenty Overwatch could do to appeal to those outside the hardcore PvP crowd. They could implement a co-op mode that would allow players to work together, rather than against each other.

Technically Overwatch does have co-op in the form of its versus AI matches, but it’s a very shallow feature, being merely a carbon copy of the PvP game with AI opponents. It’s clearly intended purely as a training tool, and it doesn’t even accomplish that very well, as the AI is very predictable and only uses about half of the game’s heroes.

Overwatch would benefit tremendously from a mode designed for co-op from the ground up, such as a horde mode. The game’s lore certainly offers many good scenarios to form the premise of such a mode, such as the robotic rebellion known as the Omnic Crisis.

Even for those who do enjoy PvP, Overwatch seems oddly limited. All of its maps boil down to some variation of “go to a point and stand there to capture it,” and it’s a game that becomes very repetitive very quickly, even considering its impressively diverse roster of heroes. It would benefit greatly from the addition of more game modes, such as team death match or a mode without hero-swapping.

The Hanamura map in Overwatch

Some variety is brought to the game with its weekly brawl mode, which shakes up the game with wacky new rules like random hero selection or reduced cooldowns, but even that feels like something of a stopgap solution to Overwatch’s repetitive nature.

Comparing to the competition:

When you start comparing Overwatch to other, similar games, its limited nature becomes even more perplexing.

Take the newly released Battleborn. It’s very similar to Overwatch, being a first person shooter with stylized graphics and a wide roster of unique heroes. However, in addition to three distinct competitive modes, Battleborn also boasts a full-length story campaign that can be played either solo or co-op, and players can unlock much the same perks and rewards via solo or co-op play as they would in PvP. It’s not just a neglected training mode; it’s a fully supported style of play.

One could also look to Call of Duty, the franchise sitting atop the shooter world. Call of Duty has a thriving PvP scene, but every new release also includes a full-length single-player campaign and some sort of co-op option.

Overwatch falls short even when compared to Blizzard’s other games. World of Warcraft has strong support for both PvE and PvP. Hearthstone regularly releases single-player adventures to supplement its competitive aspects. StarCraft II is a pillar of the eSports world, but also boasts a spectacular single-player campaign and extensive co-op support. Diablo III appeals to hardcore min/maxers and casual RPG fans alike.

In the context of that, it seems baffling that Overwatch has chosen to have a laser focus on such a specific type of gamer.

A co-op mission in StarCraft II

StarCraft II offers a robust co-op mode designed from the ground up to support team-based PvE.

Blizzard is the Midas of the gaming world, so it’s hard to imagine that Overwatch will be anything but a success, but one wonders how much more of a success it could have been if it had not focused so exclusively on competitive play.

It’s not a question of if Overwatch will lose players by offering no alternative to PvP, but simply how many. Those players will instead seek out Overwatch’s competition, and while it probably won’t be enough to stop Overwatch from being a hit, it still seems foolhardy for Blizzard to leave all that money on the table.

What might have been:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

One can’t help but wonder why Blizzard has set their sights so low with Overwatch.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact Overwatch is cobbled together from the remnants of Blizzard’s cancelled MMO, the game codenamed Project: Titan. Perhaps the company’s higher-ups were scrambling to recoup what they lost on Titan as quickly as possible, and thus they rushed Overwatch out the door as soon as they could.

If that’s the case, there’s always the chance it could expand to become more feature-complete after launch, but Blizzard has shown no interest in anything like that so far. They seem content with the game’s current, highly limited state.

It’s all very confusing, and for those who were inspired by Overwatch’s colorful and optimistic world when it was announced, very disappointing, as well.


Faction PvP Warfare Failures

Faction warfare has served as the backbone for dozens of MMORPGs’ PvP rule sets. The beauty of such a system is that players have no shortage of human combatants yet are still protected by a large community. Free for all PvP like in Eve Online offers a very different dynamic, one where concern for player safety isn’t a high priority. Faction PvP provides the player base the flexibility to engage enemies on their terms with a worthwhile incentive for doing so (if the developers did their job well).

Faction War MMORPGs

Dark Age of Camelot gave us this potentially amazing system first with an ongoing three way battle between the mythical realms of Hibernia, Albion, and Midgard known as Realm vs. Realm (RvR). Most would agree that Dark Age of Camelot handled this subgenre’s ensemble effort very well. The three way system kept all powers in check and wars were waged on a constant basis. Those envisioning castle sieges, rallying war cries, and armies clashing were pleasantly rewarded for their playtime. Gamers to this day continue to reminisce fondly over the enjoyment they found in DAoC.  Factional PvP remained in a bit of a lull until World of Warcraft’s Alliance vs. Horde hit.

Dark Age of Camelot PvP

Dark Age of Camelot

PvP in vanilla World of Warcraft was light hearted fun but had no meaning until the release of battlegrounds. Even then, the benefit of participating in that PvP benefited only the individual. This allowed for a casual stroll into PvP lane but was a far cry from Camelot’s emphasis on the collective over the individual. Unfortunately for those like myself who enjoy organized PvP in MMOs, the studios and publishers decided to copy the commercially mega successful World of Warcraft over Dark Age of Camelot. Of course, I would argue WoW owed very little of its success to PvP. But when trying to make bank off of copycatting, developers often find it difficult to determine which features should actually be unique. PvP with all of its moving parts apparently didn’t find many champions for change amongst the slew of World of Warcraft knockoffs.

Thus, the vast majority of games eschewed many-faction, collective reward focused PvP in favor of two faction, individual reward PvP. That’s not to say there wasn’t some innovation in PvP systems outside of factional warfare (Eve, Silkroad Online, DarkFall), but again those games simply don’t offer that fine balance of danger and safety. As two faction became the norm, games began to cater more towards instances, quests, and the PvE crowd. Two faction PvP is impossible to balance, with Star Wars: The Old Republic probably proving that better that anyone else. The zerg always triumphs and typically draws the more hardcore players, exacerbating the problem further. Without outside aid, the lesser of two factions has no chance. And thus PvP stagnates and forces developers to focus on PvE or instanced PvP to maintain players. It wasn’t until the announcement and release of Guild Wars 2 that we would again see a game with true focus on multi-faction PvP.

Guild Wars 2 PvP

Guild Wars 2

Unfortunately World vs. World, the name for this system in Guild Wars 2, failed to live up to Dark Age of Camelot’s legacy. For one, guilds oddly mattered very little in World vs World. Two, the developers balanced PvP around small engages and not large ones. Three, the reward system failed to compel players to “fight for their homeland”. Fourth, there is very little continuity between the semi-instancing and resets. Certainly many people enjoyed and still enjoy World vs. World in Guild Wars 2, but it proved to be a far cry from the bar that Camelot set.

Camelot Unchained, the upcoming MMORPG spearheaded by none other than Mark Jacobs who oversaw the creation and development of DAoC, might revitalize factional PvP. It also might not. There are a lot of good ideas, but will they come together in a fun package? Time will tell. But in my opinion there are a few key factors for success to which Camelot Unchained or any faction warfare MMORPG must adhere.

Guilds

Guilds need to play a prominent role in the leadership of their respective factions. It’s easy to think that because everyone already has a “home” with their faction that guilds aren’t critical. After all, competition would be between factions and not guilds. Right? Yes and no. While factions give players a direction to exert their efforts, they don’t inherently do so in an organized fashion. Like any military branch, there is a certain chain of command to keep engagements organized. Guilds are what take us from pick up groups to at least somewhat organized war parties. They also play a critical role in the socialization component.

Camelot Unchained PvP

Camelot Unchained

Engaging in, and especially succeeding in, faction warfare contests will need to provide some level of reward commensurate with the effort. That’s basically the crux of MMOs that effort gives reward. While player rewards are nice, guild rewards create a more community driven environment. Unlike PvE focused MMORPGs, faction war MMORPG guilds care about what others guilds are doing. Progression in these games isn’t just about finding twenty people with the proper gear score, but finding twenty other guilds on which your guild can rely.

Guilds must be rewarded and emphasized for a faction warfare MMORPG to succeed or the gameplay will devolve into a mess of PUGs akin to playing Battlefield on a public server.

3+ Factions

Two faction warfare doesn’t work. One side gets bigger and attracts better players. Then everything just spirals out of control. It’s fine if PvP is centered around non-persistent battlegrounds like World of Warcraft. In that case though the whole faction thing sort of loses its meaning. What does it really matter who your friends and enemies are when everything gets swept away thirty minutes later?

Personally, I think I would most enjoy ~7 factions. This allows developers to add some real character to each faction. Alliances and war targets would be much more dynamic and interesting with a higher number. Unfortunately, it also requires a larger player base to enact effectively which is a risky proposition. Employing something like 3 or 4 factions is a simple balance mechanism that keeps faction warfare competitive. When one side grows too large or powerful, more factions ensure there are adequate numbers to even things out.

Focus on PvP

MMORPGs have evolved a lot in the past fifteen years. One game can not and should not try to do it all. A strong vision is essential to delivering a product worth playing. Creating a game that tries to cater to PvE and PvP blurs the vision, splits resources, imbalances one or both for combat, and brings dispassionate players that contribute to an uninspiring community atmosphere. Of course there is more to MMORPGs than PvE and PvP. Additionally, PvE content does not necessarily hurt PvP content. The trick is unifying all of the features with one concerted goal. In the case of this post, that would be delivering the best MMO factional warfare experience possible.

Delivering that experience requires players to fight each other at all junctions. When I see an MMORPG touting multi-faction warfare, I want the content in the game focused on that. This means that the primary (or only) method of advancement should be PvP. Crafting, balance, quests, and even PvE content should funnel into the grand ole war. If it doesn’t then that’s a sign that it’s either not a factional warfare game (and is just a game with a factions) OR the developers don’t have a clear idea of what they want to deliver. In the first case, that’s not necessarily bad (unless you want faction wars). In the second case, that’s a sign to me that the game is setting up for failure.

Time Will Tell

I really do hope to see factional warfare modernized. It’s an underused player vs. player mechanic that only an MMORPG has the scope to fulfill. There are games on the horizon, but it’s still too early to tell whether they’ll succeed. Time will tell if MMO faction PvP will get the treatment it deserves.