Category Archives: Single Player Games

How Playing MMOs Changed Me as a Gamer

The end of the year lends itself to introspection, to looking back. This year I’ve been looking back on my MMO career and reflecting on how things have changed over the years.

My oldest MMO character, my rogue, shows off her guild tabard in World of Warcraft

I’ve been playing (and writing about) MMOs for a while now. Almost ten years. Now, I know that compared to some of you, that still makes me a relative newcomer, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

And in that time, my attitude towards games has changed a lot. My experiences in MMOs have shaped who I am as a gamer, and it’s changed how I look at the entire hobby. It’s helped me to enjoy video games more.

Indulge me, if you will, as I engage in some holiday reflection and take stock of just how my time with MMORPGs has changed me as a gamer.

It Ruined Vertical Progression for Me

I think on some level I was always a little less interested in high levels and “phat lewt” than the average gamer. I play games to escape reality — to explore imaginary worlds and immerse myself in rich stories. Making my character more powerful is more a means to that end than something that I found compelling for its own sake.

Still, in the past, I had plenty of excitement for shiny new gear drops or big level dings. That was before I spent years playing MMOs, though.

When you really think about it, vertical progression like this is sort of a lie. You feel like you’re constantly getting better, that you’re evolving into something awesome, but you’re not, really. Content evolves along with you, keeping your relative power level more or less consistent no matter how hard you grind. There’s always a new challenge ahead. Improving your character’s stats isn’t a climb to the top; it’s just a treadmill. You’re always moving, but you’re never getting anywhere.

A hunter ranger character in Neverwinter takes a break from the grind

And nowhere is this more clear than in the realm of MMORPGs.

The persistent nature of MMOs makes vertical progression meaningless. You’re never finished; the integrity of the genre depends on it. The level caps keep getting raised. Today’s best in slot is tomorrow’s vendor trash. None of it means anything.

But it’s an easy way to extend the life of content, so developers just keep pushing us onto the treadmill. For me, this has just led to my becoming incredibly jaded about the whole concept. I have gotten so much sweet loot and heard so many level dings that I’ve lost my taste for the whole concept. I don’t care anymore.

Instead, it’s other rewards I seek. I still like getting new gear appearances, as building outfits helps me establish my characters’ identities. I also enjoy unlocking new abilities for the same reason. Horizontal progression, in other words. Give me more options, give me new ways to express myself in-game, not just another +3% to DPS that will be invalidated next patch.

I still have some taste for vertical progression in single-player games. It works better there because eventually you reach the point where you’re done. It’s less of a treadmill. And with less concerns about balance, single-player games can also be more dramatic in their rewards, as opposed to, again, just +3% DPS.

Still, even there, loot and levels entice me far less than they used to, and increasingly I’m finding it refreshing when games don’t have any vertical progression at all.

Most of the ways MMOs have affected my gaming are positive, but this one’s a bit more of a mixed blessing.

A department store by night in the MMO shooter The Division

On the one hand, it’s been very freeing. I no longer feel pressured to keep on par with other players, or to be the best. I don’t have to spend months grinding for the best gear. I’m happy with gear that’s merely good enough. For me, games have become much less like work and much more like, well, games.

On the other hand, I do find it frustrating to see how much developers and players still fixate on vertical progression now that I realize how pointless it is. This medium could be capable of so much more.

It Helped Me Focus on What I Like

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: MMOs are really big.

That is, of course, sort of the whole point. And for the most part it’s a good thing. We flock to MMORPGs because they offer us a breadth and depth that no other form of entertainment can.

But it can also get overwhelming. If you try to do everything there is to do in a single MMORPG, you’ll probably end up running yourself ragged and burning out. If you play multiple MMOs, doing everything is going to be pretty much impossible, at least until scientists invent a pill that replaces sleep.

It is therefore best to focus. Find the gameplay you enjoy most, figure out what your goals are, and focus on that. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t worry if you’re behind or ahead of the curve. Don’t try to keep up with the virtual Joneses. Just find what gives you joy and immerse yourself in that.

Early on in my MMO career, I felt very compelled to experience everything a game has to offer, and to play it the “right” way, but nowadays I’ve let go of a lot of that. I’m still mastering the art of saying no, but for the most part I’m much better able to focus only on playing in whatever way I enjoy the most.

My agent explores the planet Alderaan in Star Wars: The Old Republic

For example, in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I pretty much only play solo story content. I’ve tried group content and PvP in that game, but I don’t think Bioware is very good at designing either of those things, and I don’t generally enjoy them, so I stopped. I focus only on the part of the game that actually entertains me.

And the same attitude guides me throughout my gaming. I have sunk hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft, but I’ve never done a single pet battle. I played The Secret World heavily for five years and never once did any of its raids.

When it comes to single-player games, I can still be a bit of a completionist — it’s easier with a clear finish line in sight — but instead I’ve learned to better focus what games I buy. I’ve become much better at ignoring hype and trends. I’ve learned to focus on the games I know (or can safely bet) that I will enjoy.

I Learned Not to Sweat the Small Stuff

Let me tell you a story.

A few years back, World of Warcraft launched a new pet in its cash shop, the Guardian Cub. They’d been selling vanity pets for a while at this point, but the Cub was special. It could be traded, meaning players could sell it to each other for gold. This made it a form of legalized gold-selling, a sort of precursor to today’s WoW Token.

Reaction to the decision was swift and negative. Before, Blizzard had only sold vanity items, but this allowed people to directly purchase an in-game advantage.

And I was right there on the front lines, posting my angry comments on the official forums. I joined the chorus screaming, “Pay to win!”

But the feedback went ignored, and the Guardian Cub launched. And you know what happened?

Pretty much nothing.

No need to take it all so seriously

I was angry for a few weeks, but nothing whatsoever changed in my experience of the game, so eventually I forgot all about the Cub.

And this encapsulates almost every experience I’ve ever had with MMO monetization. I have a knee-jerk negative reaction, but then it fails to significantly impact me, and I move on with my life.

And after so many years of this, I’m finally starting to realize how little all of this matters. I’m no longer concerning myself with lockboxes or “pay to win.” And I’m enjoying games so much more as a result.

It’s not just about monetization schemes, either. MMOs have a great way of putting everything in perspective. Spend a few days wrestling with an uncooperative MMO server, and suddenly a few animation hiccups in Mass Effect: Andromeda don’t seem like such a big deal.

That’s not to say that you can’t criticize things. I’m a firm believer in the value of constructive criticism, and I can still be quite vocal when I have a problem with something in a game.

But it’s important to keep it all in perspective. Ask yourself how much something is really affecting you, and don’t let small things ruin your fun. There’s so much negativity in the community, and it’s so easy to get lost to cynicism, but really, there’s never been a better time to be a gamer than right now. We have so much to be grateful for. Don’t let the little things rob you of the joy of what’s out there.

* * *

What about you? How has playing MMOs changed your attitude toward gaming as a hobby?


MMO Blogging Dead? No, But…

“blogging about them [MMORPGs] doesn’t appear to be a thing any more.”

Tobold, MMORPG blogger turned general gaming blogger, created waves with this statement. It’s a testament to his legacy in the community though that he is able to create such ripples for a community he doesn’t really place himself within any longer. It sparked defense from several bloggers and a handful of readers. Many clamored that MMO blogging is far from dead, citing a wealth of posts composed every week.

The quantity of posts originating from self professed MMO blogs doesn’t necessarily point to the trade’s life or death. After all, everyone shifts their attention away from MMOs here and there. Tobold points to single player game articles on MMORPG.com as evidence of a decline in this niche field. Here at MMOBro, we too touch on single player games. Does that make this less of an MMO site? I don’t think so. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has had board game articles, but they’re still squarely a PC gaming site. The focus of topics here is still on MMO(RPG)s.

That said, it is true that there are less (if any) pure MMORPG sites out there. The answer as to why is as clear as it is subtle. The proliferation of MMO and MMO-lite games has blurred the distinction between MMOs and MMORPGs to the point where that line has all but faded away. Distant cousins of the genre like MOBAs have embraced growth and achievement mechanisms that made the genre popular in the first place. Now that players don’t have to inhabit a persistent world, nor necessarily grind for growth, MMO populations have fallen.

The reality is that it only seems that way to MMORPG purists and veterans. To everyone else in the world, Destiny occupies the same genre as World of Warcraft. And that means the genre is as healthy as ever. It’s just not restricted to PC anymore nor does it require a hundred players to occupy the same space. MMOs have always been about achievement/progression, online play, and persistent characters. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of developers – but that’s what kept people playing and led to the genre’s massive growth. Without progression, people quit and move onto something else. All of this is why our MMO games list includes a myriad of online options. MMO means different things to different people.

mmo blogging shadow of war

It may not be an MMO, but Shadow of War really feels like one.

All of this trickles down to single player gaming as well. MMOs continue to lay the ground work for addictive feedback loops. Only playing players pay, so developers focus on creating content that keeps players busy without drifting into boredom. You can see these loops implemented into AAA single player titles like Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. The developers for those games spent so much time copying those loops that they even added loot boxes, but that’s another discussion entirely.

This trickling effect isn’t a one way street though. Features from single player games regularly make their way into MMOs. Perhaps the most compelling of such features is rich, linear stories. Final Fantasy XIV arguably boasts the best storytelling in series history. Most of the game’s story can be experienced without any other players. Despite this solo focus, we don’t look at Final Fantasy XIV as less of an MMO. To many, it’s the best of its kind on the market.

This is why we can’t assess MMOs in a vacuum anymore. Gaming genre definitions have and will continue to blur. What makes an MMO an MMO, an RPG an RPG, and so forth no longer applies in any strict sense. Genre names are only starting points for us to find a product that will fulfill that which we’re seeking. Many video games can provide the same sensations as MMOs and vice versa. Because of that, I think it’s critical that MMO bloggers in fact do not wholly focus on MMO content. The only way bloggers, journalists, and writers can fully explore the genre is by stepping outside of it.

MMO blogging isn’t dead. It’s just evolved.


Nine Upcoming Games Like XCOM

EDIT: I reached out to the developers of all of the below games for comments and corrections. I will update this article as I receive responses. So far the teams for Fort Triumph, Forged of Blood, Phantom Brigade, and Zodiac Legion have added their own quotes.

You may not be aware of this, but I love XCOM. The tactical choices, the randomized characters I grow attached to, the progression, the feeling of triumph, and the despair of defeat. For someone that enjoys with high replayability, strategy games, tactical RPGs, and atmosphere, it’s simply fantastic. It’s not massively multiplayer but sometimes we can enjoy MMORPGs by playing non-MMORPGs. Now that XCOM is it’s own genre I dug around to see what titles were coming to it in 2018/19. In my opinion, the four defining factors for the XCOM genre are:

Permadeath

Characters can and will die. Players can lose a campaign, either through an official “Game Over” moment or an unwinnable state.

Tactical, Turn Based Combat

No real-time nor twitch based elements. Players in XCOM games control a small squad of units in instanced missions.

Strategic Layer

Outside of combat, there must be options for expanding one’s base/army. These draw inspiration from the 4x genre, but are not limited by it. Traditionally, this has included research, building structures, and creating items.

RPG-like advancement

Characters need progression mechanics. Their growth over the course of several missions/quests is imperative to the emotional attachment XCOM games create when paired with permadeath. Additionally, this makes for interesting long term strategic choices in how to build an army.

Jake Soloman, creative director for XCOM 2, agrees on three of these at least. The only XCOM trait of his that I didn’t include was the need to play as humans. That’s fair enough for XCOM proper but the human vs. alien fight is certainly not a genre requirement. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see so many people asking for a fantasy XCOM game. Like Souls games, this burgeoning subgenre is not beholden to the setting from which it originated. Other features such as cover or reactive attacks like overwatch influence a similarity score but don’t negate any games from their rightful place on this list.

Alright, so what are these 9 upcoming games XCOM-like games? And how many can you name? I’ll put the over/under at 2.5.

Phoenix Point

phoenix point game like xcom

So many strategic options in Phoenix Point

Phoenix Point is the brainchild of original X-COM progenitor, Julian Gollop. (For those unfamiliar with the series, X-COM refers to the 1990s games and XCOM to the 2010s games.) Like XCOM, players will be tasked with eradicating an alien threat against Earth. Their fig.co campaign raised $765k towards their $500k goal. Players can expect core gameplay with a mixture of both old X-COM and new XCOM. A good example of this is its hybrid 2-action system where soldiers will halt their movement upon spotting xenos with the option to continue forward. Squad sizes can also reach 16 soldiers, but that seems like it might be a rarity with injuries and death.

Unique features include boss battles, mutating aliens based on player tactics, Lovecraftian enemies, vehicles, and multiple human factions to interact. Phoenix Point’s factions will demand even more juggling and input from the player than War of the Chosen’s system. The strategic geoscape pushes the genre forward with more impactful choices of where to explore and expand.  The Cthulian style enemies look downright scary. I think this game will end up most appealing to XCOM players who want more balance between strategy and tactical combat, but every XCOM fan should keep their eyes peeled on this.

Release Date: Q4 2018

XCOM Similarity: 90%

Price: $30, you can pre-order Phoenix Point here.

Xenonauts 2

xenonauts 2 game like xcom

The first Xenonauts is closer to original X-COM than XCOM. There’s less overall character to the game and fewer RPG elements. It feels more like a board game when playing. The Xenonauts overworld map encourages more proactive responses whereas XCOM feels more reactive. The biggest difference between these two though is in the tactical combat. XCOM uses a simple 2 action system with turns ending on almost any attack action. Xenonauts uses time units so there’s a lot more flexibility for planning. Whether or not this flexibility is worth a slower pace is up to you. Xenonauts 2 will be more evolution than revolution and plans to improve on the core elements of Xenonauts with new features such as psionics, deeper air combat, a deeper research tree, and a bigger emphasis on plot.

Release Date: 2018

XCOM Similarity: 85%

Purchase: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Fort Triumph

fort triumph games like xcom

I’m pretty excited about Fort Triumph. Their feature list reads like “Fantasy XCOM + Divinity: Original Sin”. As in Original Sin, there’s a big tactical emphasis on using the environment to gain advantages, with possibilities like burning a tree to topple it onto an enemy. Characters come with their own personality traits and look like they’ll be fairly unique. The visuals are certainly more cartoony than XCOM. I’m sure it’ll turn off some but the quality of the art style is definitely high. Despite a more family friendly look, Fort Triumph isn’t straying from stressful gameplay or permadeath that makes it an XCOM like game. The campaign itself challenges players to overcome a dynamic series of events and quests that change each playthrough based on randomness and player action. The depth of long term strategic options Fort Triumph remain unclear but exploration is poised to play a big role.

Developer Quote: “These are exciting times to be a turn based tactics lover, for sure. Looks like we’ll have a double challenge in 2018 – developing on schedule AND playing all of these great titles.

As for Fort Triumph – all adventurers are welcome to try a fresh tactical demo (0.6.3) going live later today on Steam and give us your feedback and suggestions!”

Release Date: Q4 2018

XCOM Similarity: 80%

Price: $20, you can pre-order Fort Triumph here.

Zodiac Legion

zodiac legion like xcom

Repel invading enemies until you can take the fight to them. Use small parties of soldiers to infiltrate, scout, explore, and sabotage the enemy. Deploy covert op squads alongside primary military forces. Research magical powers and technologies to equip your parties with the strongest of weapons. Does this all sound familiar? Zodiac Legion feels the most conceptually similar to XCOM of the fantasy games. The only thing it’s really lacking is a cover system. However, the game makes up for that on the customization side with artifacts imbued with the power of the zodiac. I expect conquering these sites of power to act as a late game challenge necessary to felling the opposition. Legendary equipment is something I miss in base XCOM (though Grimy’s Loot Mod adds it to XCOM 2) so these artifacts an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, the developer has only tweeted out a handful of times since the last blog post in May. I wouldn’t expect this until 2019 at the earliest. It’d be better late than never though.

Developer Quote: “We definitely want the strategic layer to have the organic feel of the older X-COM, where aliens would launch missions according to an agenda that the player had to adapt to. X-COM also made setbacks more common, but much easier to recover from. Still, we also think that the abilities and varied objectives of the recent XCOM add a lot of variety and tactical nuances to the formula.

The combat system itself is also inspired by games such as Mordheim, Heroquest, and Descent: Journeys in the Dark.”

Release Date: 2019

Similarity: 80%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Kingsmen

kingsmen game like xcom

You could probably tell from the screenshot, but Kingsmen is not related to the movie franchise. Assuming the game actually gets released, they really should really consider a name change. It’s been in development for 4 years now, which initially had me worried. Luckily, when I reached out the developers, they were quick to answer that development is moving on schedule. Kingsmen revolves around ruling a medieval kingdom and sending out patrols to keep your citizens safe as you expand into untamed regions. In addition to expansion, diplomacy with nearby kingdoms will play a critical role in succeeding. This game will be much more grounded in reality than any of the other games like XCOM listed thus far. No psi ops or magic here. Combat will make use of cover, elevation, positioning, and buildings. Some features will read too much like a 4x for an XCOM game, but the developers keyed in on X-COM as a primary influence early on. Now we wait to see if they’ll release a finished product.

Release Date: Q4 2018

Similarity: 75%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Forged of Blood

forged of blood like xcom

One thing you’ll notice the fantasy XCOM-like games aim to accomplish is including more story impacting choices. The plot of XCOM always plays out the same, but the strategic and tactical options offer such a level of variation that there’s a ton of replay on the gameplay level. Forged of Blood is no different, with a three-axis personality plot measuring moral choices. If this game (or another on this list) can actually merge gameplay variance with story variance then that’s really going to eat into my MMO time. Players in Forged of Blood start as the son of a murdered king. The goal is to reclaim the kingdom’s stolen territories. Players must contend with monsters and rival nations equally, choosing where to send their limited parties. In tactical combat, expect magic and positioning to play a large role in snatching victory. Like in XCOM, it will be difficult to have success in one area without the other.

Developer Quote: “Forged of Blood is a game that favors complexity and mechanical mastery. The depth of mechanics we’ve developed is one that thrusts decisions onto the player at every layer of the game. From the grand strategic layer all the way down to just how much power to add to the spells they want to use, and even the personality shifts that come from their actions, Forged of Blood is a game of choice and consequence.”

Release Date: Mid 2018

Similarity: 75%

 

Phantom Brigade

phantom brigade mechs like xcom

The designer describes the campaign as “XCOM” style so that’s a good start, right? In the strategic layer you’ll be presented with a number of missions, each with different rewards. In missions themselves, you’ll command a small squad of mechs with a variety of potential objectives. Phantom Brigade adds even more decisions when it comes to permadeath. Pilots can be ejected at any time to save their lives, but you may opt to continue fighting in their mech until the potential bitter end. You can even turn this against the opposition by forcing enemy pilots to eject and commandeering their mechs. A nemesis system like Shadow of Mordor/War and XCOM 2’s War of the Chosen add flair both to your own pilots and to your enemies’. Another appreciated XCOM feature is destructible buildings. Nothing says battle like turning a city into rubble. Finally, the best reason to support Phantom Brigade is that it’s built to be very mod friendly. Mods have been huge for XCOM 2, and this is a big plus for any XCOM like game.

Developer Quote: “In regards to our inspiration, we’re aiming for something more along the lines of classical X-Com, and games like the Front Mission Series.”

Release Date: Q3 2018

Similarity: 75%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Iron Oath

iron oath fantasy like xcom

Iron Oath promises players the ability to oversee a medieval fantasy guild’s finances, alliances, and members in a world filled with over 50 cities. Permadeath is so ingrained in Iron Oath that guild members can even die of old age. Perhaps the most compelling feature is that each randomly generated character comes with their own backstory, alignment, beliefs, and traits that legitimately impact your choices. For instance, stealing will negatively impact your more honorable guild members.

The turn-based combat is a deviation from the other XCOM-like games on this list. Battles take place on a relatively small 2D grid. There are no alien pods to alert with a wrong move. Instead, you’ll run through the areas in a manner similar to Darkest Dungeon and then engage opponents on a Heroes of Might and Magic type battlefield. Resource management will play a critical role in defeating missions/dungeons. I’d describe Iron Oath as as fantasy XCOM meets Darkest Dungeon resource management with more potential personality than either of them.

Release Date: March 2019

Similarity: 70%

Price: $15. You can pre-order Iron Oath here.

BATTLETECH

battletech like xcom

Oh, my. Another mech game? Yes, that’s right and one based on a very popular franchise made by a studio who successfully adapted another tabletop game in Shadowrun. The initial funding didn’t call for any sort of strategic overlay, but their $2+ million on Kickstarter enabled BATTLETECH to qualify for this prestigious list. I think the strategic overlay will still pale compared to most other titles on this list, but the tactical combat and unit advancement options are potentially copious. Not only do pilots level up and learn new abilities but mechs can be customized six ways to Sunday. Still, BATTLETECH is first and foremost about operating a mercenary troupe. How the overworld changes isn’t as big of a concern to success or failure like the other games on this list.

Release Date: 2018

Similarity: 65%

Price: $35. You can pre-order BATTLETECH here.

 

 

Which Game Like XCOM Will Be Best?

XCOM walks a fine line when it comes to balance. Despite four difficulty levels, I’m not sure it’s ever gotten it quite right. It’s very snowbally so players will typically lose by the mid game or roll through the end game. That said, there’s always a good deal of challenge in overcoming an XCOM campaign.


Longevity of Gaming

Longevity is a funny thing. It’s feels great to dive into a game and really get your money’s worth. MMORPGs are certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to replayability and longevity. Not only is there a wealth of content for one character, but unique classes/races/factions can play quite differently. Is it a good thing though?

In an absolute sense, sure. Value is great. Who hates value? Not me. But there is a point of diminishing returns, and MMO games typically hit them faster than other genres. The loop of “level up, get new items, see new place” gets old quick, especially for genre vets. Now that’s not exclusive to MMOs. Other multiplayer genres like FPS, MOBAs, and RTS also offer a high quantity of repetitious gameplay for one price (excluding loot boxes I suppose). I’d argue only MOBAs really break that mold because different combinations of characters really throw each game on their head.

elder scrolls online new content

Clockwork City, new content from Elder Scrolls Online

Of course, unlike these other games, MMORPGs are in a situation where they can provide a lot of different types of content to alleviate potential boredom. One day you raid, the next you quest, then you craft, and finally you wander into some worldwide PvP. There’s still the benefit of familiarity but with less repetition. This adds longevity and provides players with a warm, comfy feeling to dive into after a long day.

The flip side of longevity is radically unique content that’s one and done. A good example is Pony Island. I promise it’s not what you think, and it’s a wholly interesting experience for 2 hours. The game is fantastic, but I can’t imagine playing it much longer than I did. There’s no longevity, and now I’m back seeking another unique experience. Unless I’m in the specific mood to compete, cooperate, or socialize, unique single player games provide pound for pound more fun than their multiplayer counterparts.  The problem is that after beating Pony Island, now I have to spend valuable time determining what to play next. My backlog scrolls down pretty far, but a lot of those titles turn out to be poor matches. And that’s where the worth lies in a familiar game.

If I decide to boot up Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, or League of Legends I know more or less what I’m getting into. When I boot up a new single player game, I’m just not sure. I might know that I’m playing an FPS like Dishonored or a tactical RPG like XCOM, but I don’t know the intricacies. I have to learn – which can be a lot of fun. But it can also be tiring, frustrating, and ultimately not worth my time if I don’t enjoy it.

I think longevity in games comes down to risk vs. reward. MMOs, other multiplayer games, and some single player games (like Civilization) carry with them a certain sense of contentment. I won’t expect anything too crazy, but I’m also not going to be let down. The risk is low and the reward is moderate. When I load up a brand new game, I might find something that will blow my mind for 5 to 40+ hours (Witcher 3 comes to mind). Then I’m done. Sure, I might replay The Witcher 3 but then I’m just falling into that comfortable routine. Repeating anything will never match your first experience. Games are no different.

So how do you balance the allure of comfortable longevity vs. the desire to experience something new and fresh?

 


Enjoy MMORPGs More By Playing Non-MMORPGs

Variety is the spice of life. Developers of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Archeage would have you believe such variety could be sourced within their small corners of the world. Not so. One must look beyond the horizon to see the world in its entirety. No one game can do it all. While it’s easy to grow complacent playing the same game, it ultimately leads to malcontent. The social nature of MMORPGs can often keep us around well past its natural life. That’s not inherently bad – friends are good, after all. But it puts the gameplay on the back burner. For a video game, that seems like a big issue. The only way to regain clarity is to take a break. Play a single player game (or even a non-MMORPG multiplayer game) and see what you might be missing.

MMORPGs run a big copycat ring, where ideas are borrowed from one another and recycled heavily. Innovation falls by the wayside because funding an MMORPG is expensive. That means risks cannot be taken in the same way that they can for a small scoped indie game like Transistor. It’s possible a different type of MMORPG entirely would make for a better fit. Unfortunately that can be hard to realize without knowing what that better fit would be. Often times getting to the point where one experiences the full depth of an MMORPG’s gameplay takes several hours. By indulging in a non-MMORPG, one can more readily understand gameplay features that await them.

mmorpg routine dailies for non-mmorpg article

Nothing screams routine more than MMORPG dailies

There’s a lot to be said for taking a step back and gaining some perspective. MMORPGs tend to boil down to routines. We complete our daily quests, run a few dungeons hoping for some drops, and deal with some trolls in public chat.

Just another day at the office.

And if that phrase resonates with you, you really do need a break. Playing a video game should never be comparable to work (unless you’re a QA tester, I guess). Adventure is not meant to be a series of routines. Adventure should be a compelling series of events fraught with danger, mystery, and wonder. And maybe, just maybe, that adventure is waiting for you in the form of a non-MMORPG.

One of a few situations will arise from playing a non-MMORPG:

  1. You’ll decide your MMORPG isn’t really that fun or fulfilling and drop the game.
  2. You’ll miss your friends but not the gameplay leading to only playing with friend availability.
  3. You’ll miss the gameplay and your friends. Perfect! Nothing like a little perspective to show that you’re right where you belong.
  4. You’ll be thinking about all of the leveling and gear grinding you’re missing out on. If taking a break is really that hard, it’s possible you have an MMO addiction. I’d be happy to point you to some resources.

Either way, reassessing from time to time provides a realistic perspective on your priorities. These priorities can be hard to see when they’re obfuscated by routine. You might even discover something that would fit really well within your active MMORPG. OK, great! Let the game developers know. They may not get around to addressing the idea for several months, if ever. But they might listen. Or it might spark another developer’s creativity. No one has time to experience everything that’s out there, so it’s important we share those experiences. This leads to ideas in summation that are greater than what one can imagine by their lonesome.

MMORPGs by their very nature offer greater potential than any other genre of gaming. There’s no reason why features typically reserved for non-MMORPGs can’t be found within the massively multiplayer arena. Yet we get stuck in this rut that leads to expectations of more of the same. Break out of that rut and play something different, if only for a little bit. You won’t regret it.


What MMOs Can Learn from Mass Effect: Andromeda

Have you noticed that things are a bit quieter than usual in your MMO lately? Are the streets of Stormwind a little barren? Is the fleet not quite buzzing as much as it usually does? Is the crowd in Cyrodiil a bit thinner?

The planet Havarl in Mass Effect: Andromeda

If you’re finding that the online population is looking a bit smaller all of a sudden, you can probably place the blame on Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bioware’s juggernaut release has drawn the attention of almost everyone with any interest in RPGs, and one would expect plenty of MMO players to dive into it. I know I have.

While playing Andromeda, I can’t help but compare it to MMORPGs here and there. They’re very different games in some ways, but very similar in others, and I think there are a lot of ideas MMO developers would be well-advised to steal from Andromeda.

Persistent NPCs

Most NPCs in MMORPGs are very forgettable. They send you off to collect seven and a half boar sphincters, you get some XP, and you move on, likely never seeing them again. Even in games where more effort is put into writing interesting NPCs — like The Secret World — you still eventually end up moving on.

Mass Effect: Andromeda also has a lot of disposable NPCs that give you one side quest and are then forgotten, but like most Bioware games, it also features a core cast of companions who stick with the player through the entire game, growing and evolving along with you.

Having a persistent cast to get to know and care about gives a significant emotional hook to a game. It gives you something to fight for, a motivation to keep going, and it adds an element of investment that can’t be achieved by simple game mechanics alone.

I’ve long felt this is the way to go for MMORPGs, and I’m surprised more developers haven’t tried to buck the trend of disposable NPCs. Even Bioware’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, has struggled to maintain a consistent cast throughout its lifespan, though the more recent expansions seem to be making a greater effort in that regard.

The crew of the Tempest in Mass Effect: Andromeda

Only Defiance, of all games, has managed to maintain a consistent core cast from beginning to end, and I felt it gave the world and story a texture that most MMOs lack.

Freedom of Choice

One thing that I am greatly enjoying about Andromeda is that it has done away with traditional classes. Every ability in the game is available to the player. Spending skill points unlocks “profiles” that steer you toward specific playstyles, but even so there’s a tremendous potential for customization and playing the way you want, especially considering it’s easy to swap between different profiles and skill sets on the fly.

And that’s without getting into the dizzying variety of guns and customizations for those guns that exist within Andromeda. Your options in this game feel almost limitless.

I find this level of freedom incredibly liberating. I’ve never liked being tied to a narrow playstyle on one character. In Mass Effect, I enjoy playing as a biotic, but in the past games I always wished I could augment my character with some tech abilities or better combat skills without giving up my signature adept moves. In MMOs, I like playing a rogue in World of Warcraft, but I’ve always wished my rogue had an option for ranged fighting, since some fights are pretty harsh on melee.

Andromeda has given me the freedom to break the mould that once confined me, and I would like to see MMOs follow suit.

Now, the ability to customize your character without limit isn’t entirely unheard of in MMORPGs, but it is rare. Only a few games — Rift, The Secret World, and to a slightly lesser extent Elder Scrolls Online — offer a level of freedom comparable to Andromeda’s. I would like to see this become a more common idea.

Fighting the local wildlife in Mass Effect: Andromeda

Freedom of Movement

Like a lot of MMOs — and really any games with large open worlds — Andromeda tends to entail a lot of travel time. Unlike MMOs, however, I’m not finding this feels like a chore in Andromeda.

This is because movement itself is interesting gameplay. Andromeda equips players with powerful jump jets that allow them to leap and dodge with great speed and force, which makes navigating the often hostile terrain of the Heleus Cluster into a fun little mini-game all its own.

This movement system even benefits combat. Players can leap into the air to fire over enemy cover or dodge circles around powerful mobs.

When traveling longer distances, players can hop in the Nomad, an all-terrain vehicle. But whereas MMO mounts are usually just a passive speed boost, the Nomad has boosters for temporary bursts of speed and jump jets to help it clear obstacles, and the player can even toggle between different driving modes for better speed or climbing ability. Again, it makes simply getting around a lot more interesting.

I’m not sure I’d want to see too much gameplay injected into movement in MMOs, as it could become over-complicated pretty fast, but it would be nice to see a bit more effort put into the mechanics of mounts and less into coming up with ever more bizarre visuals for them.

Right now the only MMORPGs that seem to have put any real effort into making movement interesting are superhero titles like DC Universe Online and Champions Online. I don’t play those games much, but I’d take their travel powers over mounts any day.

A Non-linear World

Scanning some plants on planet Eos in Mass Effect: Andromeda

In most MMOs, you travel through the world in a very linear fashion. First this zone, then that zone. You could perhaps blame the genre’s obsession with vertical progression, but even in games with a more horizontal progression — like Guild Wars 2 — you still tend to go through the world in a pretty linear path. You can revisit old zones, but there’s usually not a lot of impetus to.

My experience of Andromeda so far has been fairly different. It’s not just that enemies scale to your level, although they do, but that the game is designed to be approached in a non-linear fashion. I regularly find new missions and activities in old zones, and rather than following a strict path from one planet to another, I am instead finding myself going back and forth between various locations as dictated by the needs of the story.

This feels a lot more natural, a lot more logical, than just going from one zone to another and forgetting about all that came before. It makes the setting of a game feel more like a real place.

This is something MMOs would have to handle carefully, as being constantly sent all over the world could quickly become irritating. In the old days, this kind of design in MMOs was a lot more common, but it was often an exercise in frustration due to long travel times and non-scaling content that made revisiting older zones pointless. With more advanced technology and better design, I do think the concept of more non-linearity in MMO worlds could be made to work, and I would enjoy it if older zones could still have some meaningful content after you’ve moved on from them the first time.

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Have you been playing Andromeda? What lessons do you think MMOs could take from it?