Tag Archives: Black Desert Online

Six Greatest MMORPG Character Creators

If you’re anything like me, you can get lost in MMORPG character creators, spending great lengths of time perfecting every detail of your avatar. MMOs are games that you may end up playing for months or years, so it’s incredibly important your characters look just right.

But of course, not all character creators are, ahem, created equal. Some offer very limited choices, while others go to absurd lengths to give you total control over every aspect of your appearance.

We’ve put together a list of some of the strongest MMO character creators, so you too can create your ideal avatar.

Elder Scrolls Online

A Dark Elf templar in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO’s character creator is weird. It has a great many options, but it still doesn’t feel entirely satisfying to me as a character creation freak. A lot of the options don’t seem to make as much difference as they should.

That said, I’m still going to give it a nod simply because it has a few features that most other character creators lack. The most interesting is an age slider that lets you adjust the apparent age of your character independent of other features, allowing them to be anything from a fresh-faced youth to a wrinkled crone.

Star Trek: Online

A Romulan character in Star Trek: Online

Despite being an older title nowadays, Star Trek: Online is still holding its own as a strong contender in the character creation field.

Its strength lies in the sheer wealth of options. It might not have quite as much fine detail as some others, but it does allow you to customize nearly every aspect of your character’s physical appearance in at least some way, as well as their uniform and gear. Even your character’s idle animations and general body language can be customized, which is something I dearly wish more MMOs offered.

In keeping with Star Trek’s style, you can also choose from a rather extensive list of playable alien species (though all humanoid, sadly), and even create your own species by selecting the option for a custom alien and mixing and matching visual details and racial abilities.

Guild Wars 2

A Charr engineer in Guild Wars 2

One downside to a lot of MMORPGs with strong character creators is that they usually limit you to playing only humans or very human-like races. This is understandable, as adding detailed character creation options for a variety of diverse races is a big technical and artistic challenge. Adding just one race that requires totally different creation options essentially doubles the workload, and it only gets worse from there.

Still, it can be disappointing as a player to be limited to only basic humanoids, and that makes Guild Wars 2 something of a breath of fresh air. It does offer a variety of races, and several are quite exotic, from the feline Charr to the plant-like Sylvari.

The character creation options in GW2 are perhaps not quite as impressive as in some other games on the list, but they’re still pretty robust, and it’s just about the only game that offers both interesting racial choices and major visual customization, so it deserves major props just for that.

Champions Online

A player character in Champions Online

Fighting crime is important, but looking good while doing it is more important still. Champions Online understands this, and it has the character creator to match.

The options for your avatar’s physical appearance are solid, but it’s when you factor in the costume options as well that the options become truly staggering. Whether you want some traditional brightly colored spandex or a more gritty, modern hero with realistic armor, there is a plethora of options.

A large number of CO’s costume pieces are unfortunately paywalled, but even if you never pay a cent, there’s still a massive selection.

Black Desert Online

A Maewha character in Black Desert Online

Black Desert is a strange case.

In many ways, it’s unequaled in the field of character customization. The amount of control you’re given over the smallest details of your avatar’s appearance is simply amazing. You can tweak every little aspect of their face. You can add highlights and lowlights to their hair or adjust its length in whole or in part. You can choose the color and shape of their pupils.

Black Desert is the first game I’ve played where the character creator has a learning curve, and I mean that as a compliment. You can truly get lost in this thing. It’s almost a game unto itself.

However, there is one major drawback to Black Desert’s customization that keeps it out of the top spot. Each class is not just gender-locked but locked into a specific physical archetype. Your warrior can never be anything but a mountainous beefcake, for instance. You can play as an older man with the wizard class, but there’s no female equivalent. And so on.

It could also stand to have more hairstyle choices. Those are surprisingly limited.

Aion

A character in Aion

It’s been years, but I still haven’t seen an MMO with better character customization than Aion.

Aion has a slider for everything you can imagine, and probably at least one or two things you can’t. It’s a game that gives you almost total freedom to make exactly the character you want.

Above, I said that MMOs with good character customization are often very limited in racial choice, and that’s true of Aion, too, but it doesn’t really matter because the character creator is so powerful you can pretty much make your own races. Want to be a three foot tall pixie with pointed ears and purple hair? That’s an option. Or if you’re prefer, you could be a seven foot tall meat mountain with gray skin and grotesquely disproportionate facial features.

In Aion, the greatest limitation is simply your imagination, and that’s why it deserves the top spot on our list.


Four Things Western MMOs Can Learn from the East

I’m not a fan of the favoritism some people have when it comes to Eastern versus Western MMORPGs. Historically, I’ve spent more time in Western games, but I’m not going to write off a whole hemisphere because of it.

An enemy encampment in Blade and Soul

Ultimately, I think both regions’ design philosophies have their pros and cons, and both could benefit by taking lessons from the other. This being an English language site, I’m guessing most people here have a pretty good idea of what Western games have to offer, so let’s start with a look at what the West can learn from Asian games.

Strong Character Creators

These days the gap between Western and Eastern character creators isn’t as stark as it once was, but the best MMORPG character creators are still found in Asian titles like Aion and Black Desert. These games let you tweak virtually every aspect of your character’s appearance in excruciating detail, allowing you to create the avatar of your dreams.

Western games just don’t quite match up. Even those that do offer a lot of options, like Elder Scrolls Online, don’t offer the same fine touch as something like Black Desert. Just because there’s a slider for your character’s nose doesn’t mean you can get it looking exactly the way you want.

Some may find such things frivolous, but for those for whom it matters, it matters a lot.

More Imaginative Settings

Both Western and Eastern MMOs are perhaps a bit too hung-up on the high fantasy genre, but it seems to me as if there tends to be a bit more flavor in the settings of Eastern games.

A flight path in Aion

There’s a certain alien feeling to the worlds of Eastern MMOs that you don’t just find anywhere else. The creatures are stranger, the landscapes more otherworldly, and the cultures more fantastical. There’s often a strong magitech influence that you don’t see as much of in Western titles, which hew closer to traditional fantasy archetypes.

This may simply be another set of cultural tropes that only feel fresh because I’m not as used to them. This is definitely true in cases where the MMOs draw on quintessentially Eastern concepts, such as wuxia MMOs like Blade and Soul. Either way, though, the settings of Asian MMOs often feel like a breath of fresh of air.

Part of the reason I tend to hold a relatively high opinion of Aion despite it being a fairly generic game is that I found its world so enchantingly strange.

Better Combat Animations

One of the stranger differences between Western and Eastern MMOs is how much effort is put into combat animations. Our developers here in the West just can’t seem to make them anywhere near as good as their Asian contemporaries.

It’s not just that Asian games use more and bigger particle effects when it comes to combat abilities, although they certainly do, and I definitely appreciate it.

But even at a more fundamental level, the animations are just better. They’re faster, they have much more of a feeling of weight behind them, and their sound effects are much more dramatic. If I hit someone with a sword in Rift, pretty much the only feedback I get is seeing their health drop. If I hit someone with a sword in TERA, I feel it.

We’re starting to see a little more effort put into combat animations in Western MMOs. Neverwinter’s are pretty weighty, and World of Warcraft has improved their animations a lot in the most recent expansion. But overall the West is still lagging far behind the East on this front.

Scythe Classes

A reaper character in Kritika Online

If there’s one thing I love in Eastern games, it’s the opportunity to play classes that fight by swinging a giant scythe at their foes. You can’t tell me that’s not awesome, because it objectively is.

Examples include the oracle of Dragon’s Prophet or the Reaper of Kritika Online, both classes who can slice through their foes like so much dry wheat.

This is an experience that for whatever reason Western developers simply don’t offer. If scythes appear at all in Western games, it’s usually just a staff skin for caster classes, a mere stat stick that isn’t actually used in combat.

That’s not good enough. Just having a scythe is not enough. I must be able to slice through my foes like the Grim Reaper himself.

On that note, Eastern games tend to offer a lot of weapon choices and archetypes that are often neglected by the West.

Spears come to mind. Classes that favor a spear as their preferred weapon, such as Final Fantasy XIV’s dragoon, are fairly common in Eastern MMOs, but often neglected by their Western counterparts. It’s pretty strange when you think about it, as spears and polearms were one of the most popular weapons of history. Swords, by comparison, were relatively rare.

I can think of a few other archetypes that seem more common in Eastern games: martial artists, archers without pets, gunslingers… Again, this may simply be a different set of cultural tropes, and perhaps from the perspective of someone in Asia Western games feel like they have better class choices, but I enjoy the variety. Perhaps developers in both hemispheres should just try to expand their class choices in general.

Especially where scythes are concerned.


What is a ‘Pay To Win’ Cash Shop in MMOs?

This article was originally posted March 19, 2016. It has been recently updated.

Like a lot of MMO players, I’ve been sinking a lot of my free time into Black Desert Online. I’ve been sinking in my not-so-free time too, but I suppose that’s the curse of a good game. One of my two biggest concerns with Black Desert was the possibility of a pay to win cash shop. Korean MMORPGs are especially known for cash shops where paying real money is the only path to the top. In a lot of these MMORPGs, money advantages provide a completely insurmountable level of power.

Black Desert has launched with what most do not consider a pay to win model. However, one item in particular has raised some serious concerns. The Treant Camouflage Set, more commonly referred to as the ‘ghillie suit’. Essentially it provides camouflage, enough so that colorblind folk are unable to even discern threats from within forest environment. The suit will additionally hide all identifying information about it’s wearer (name, guild, health) until its wearer attacks. After engaging in combat, only the wearer’s health becomes visible.

text of the treant camolage set

Thus, the advantages of the suit are that it allows gankers first strike against unwitting players and that no name in combat prevents teammates from calling out targets. And it’s only available by paying almost $30 USD in the cash shop. It’s enough of a hot button topic that over 1,500 players have voted in the official forums to the tune of 73% supporting a rework or nerf.

The reason I’m calling attention to this specifically is not because I’m addicted to Black Desert Online and can’t stop thinking about it. The reason is because I feel it’s a perfect spring board for asking what is ‘pay to win’. Allowing players access to top tier gear with only real money is clearly pay to win. Offering costume dyes with no stat benefits is clearly not pay to win. But the ghillie suit poses an interesting dividing line.

In other versions of the game in the world, flares are used to negate the suit’s benefit. In the US/EU version, these flares are severely limited since they cannot be crafted. But does using a flare when grinding by oneself not seem tedious? To that I would say that in non-forest areas, especially and with a small group or 1v1 combat, the suit doesn’t do much and limits the necessity of flares. Also on the side of a ‘balanced cash shop’, wearing it provides no statistical combat advantages. However, it clearly does have situational advantages that currently cannot be countered without significantly extra effort. The biggest boon to wearing the suit is to hide one’s name in large battles. Calling targets gets to be impractical with all the chaos. But using a flare in this case makes perfect sense as it’s a low cost for a large, area impact. And guilds will need to spend resources in war in more ways than just this.

ghillie suit in black desert online from item mall

The ghillie suit is certainly advantageous to own, but so are other items in Black Desert’s cash shop. For instance, paid costumes provide a +10% EXP boost when wearing a full set. It doesn’t affect max power and so doesn’t get called out as much. But it’s still a minor boost players can buy. So I think the stage is set for Black Desert to allow players to buy these small advantages. I would not classify the small advantages as pay to win. But when something like the ghillie suit doesn’t offer any balanced counterplay, there is an issue. Simply adding easy access to flares or showing the name while in combat will bring it back below the ‘pay to win’ line. And a fine line it is. Good cash shops items must offer non paying players the ability to counter paid items in a reasonable manner.

When you have egregious offenders of cash shop usage such as ArcheAge and saints of fairness such as Guild Wars 2, it is exciting as a blogger to see something like Black Desert Online simply do things differently. For those unaware, ArcheAge essentially allows players to increase their power relative to real money purchases, with no cap. In effect, real money is all that becomes relevant. It’s a very poor system due to the non-limiting factor. Therefore, cash shop items must have a cap on their power to provide a fair experience.

Selling convenience has also become a staple of MMORPG cash shops. And convenience is great to sell – as long as it doesn’t feel like a feature was removed and put behind a paywall. If a game like Black Desert, where there is no fast travel, put autorun behind a paywall, that would be disastrous. If a game like Guild Wars 2 allowed paid players to access the auction house remotely instead of at physical locations, not many would balk. Convenience in MMOs should be sold as additions to a base, working system that provides a quality experience regardless of money spent.

free vs paid player example of pay to win mmorpg

Superman illustrates what happens when cash shops go pay to win

This leaves me with three qualifications MMORPGs providing a balanced, non-pay-to-win cash shop:

  1. Players must have a viable, free alternative to any cash shop item, which does not place an unreasonable or impossible burden on said free player, in order to compete with the cash shop player.
  2. Cash shop items cannot be excessively or infinitely scalable in usage.
  3. Convenience items must only allow players a ‘luxurious level’ of convenience and not a ‘fair standard of living’ convenience. Quite simply, a player should not have to pay real money for a feature that they should reasonably expect to find in a given game.

Pay to win is hard to define, and we’re going to see more and more MMOs and MMORPGs testing players’ limits. There’s a fine balance to be had between keeping free players happy and finding paid players something they’ll want to buy. Many of us have different ideas on this topic, but for me any game that can meet those three points above is a game I’m happy to consider.


Comparing Top Eastern vs. Western MMORPGs

The MMORPG gaming culture differs slightly between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, and game design varies accordingly. While there are no hard and fast rules, Eastern games tend to put more emphasis on quality graphics and on grind-based gameplay.

Neither model is better or worse than the other; it’s all just down to personal preference. But since most of us do tend to prefer one style or the other, it can be helpful to look at how Western and Eastern games in common genres compare. Maybe you like the ideas behind Neverwinter but would prefer a game with a more Eastern flavour, or enjoy the deep mechanics of Black Desert but want something with a more Western style.

To that end, we’ve compiled a breakdown of similar Eastern and Western games in some of the more common MMO genres.

Themepark: World of Warcraft/Final Fantasy XIV

World of Warcraft remains the undisputed king of Western MMORPGs, and even after having fallen from its peak quite a bit, it’s probably still the most successful MMO on the market.

Stormwind City in the Western MMORPG World of Warcraft

With that said, Japan’s Final Fantasy XIV has been enjoying an impressive level of success since relaunching as A Realm Reborn. Like its Western cousin, WoW, it has managed to survive as a subscription based MMO in a world where free to play and buy to play are now the norm.

Both offer very similar game mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who’s played themepark MMOs. In both, you’ll find standard tab target combat, kill and collect quests, and trinity-based group roles. FFXIV’s combat is a little slower, employing a 2.5 second global cooldown, as opposed to WoW’s 1.5 second GCD, which is lowered to one second for some classes.

Both offer deep if sometimes inconsistent lore drawn from the venerable franchises both games are based on. Final Fantasy’s graphics are more advanced and often stunning, but WoW’s have more personality.

FFXIV does offer a few features that WoW lacks. Most notably, any character can learn any class and swap between them at will, essentially eliminating the need for alts. It also offers a player housing feature, though housing plots are limited and it can be difficult to grab one.

On the other hand, World of Warcraft has the advantage of being faster-paced and less linear, and it has been around for much longer, giving it a vast reserve of legacy content that could take a new player months, if not years, to fully explore.

A forest zone in the Eastern MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Both are very polished games with a wealth of content, but there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish one from the other. If you’re already established in one, there’s little cause to switch. If you’re new to both, try both for an hour or two and see which feels better.

Sandbox: EVE Online/Black Desert Online

Icelandic made EVE Online is one of the great successes of the sandbox genre. It’s been around longer than World of Warcraft, and while it’s never been a household name, it has managed to maintain a healthy and loyal fanbase for a very long time despite being a relatively niche title.

Exploring space in the Western MMORPG EVE Online

Recently it’s been given a new rival in the sandbox field in the form of the Korean MMORPG Black Desert Online, which so far seems to be have been well-received by sandbox fans.

EVE and Black Desert are very different games in a lot of ways, but they’re both very complex, very deep games, to an extent few other MMOs could equal.

EVE is a sci-fi game that takes place in the depths of space. While you can design an avatar, in practice your character is basically whatever ship you’re piloting at the time. Black Desert employs a fantasy setting; depending on your perspective, this can be seen as a source of welcome familiarity or a lack of creativity in a genre already dominated by fantasy. Black Desert boasts impressive visual character customization to help you stand out from the crowd.

However, while it’s easy to look different in Black Desert, your character’s abilities may not be so unique, as it does rely on a fairly standard class system. EVE Online, meanwhile, has a skill-based advancement system that allows every character to grow in any direction they like.

EVE’s core gameplay is a bit stilted — it is often viewed as a game of menus and spreadsheets — whereas Black Desert utilizes a very flamboyant style of action combat. Most would agree that Black Desert has better minute-to-minute gameplay, but we haven’t seen it create the kind of devious politics, epic wars, and shocking heists that have come to define EVE Online. EVE is a game of lower lows, but also higher highs.

Both are very complex games with a steep learning curve. EVE is probably a little harder to learn — but if you’re a true EVE fan, you probably view that as a positive.

EVE is another game that’s managed to maintain a subscription-based business model, whereas Black Desert is buy to play with a cash shop.

A maewha character in the Eastern MMORPG Black Desert

Both are solid choices for the sandbox fan. Black Desert has the edge for those who want to explore a beautiful and detailed fantasy world, or those who want more natural-feeling gameplay, but EVE is a better choice for those who want to make their name on a cutthroat frontier and engage in politics on a massive scale.

Action combat grinder: Neverwinter/Vindictus

Neverwinter and Vindictus are both games with intense action combat and a strong emphasis on grinding instanced content as opposed to the open worlds of more traditional MMORPGs.

A cave in the Western MMORPG Neverwinter

Neverwinter is developed by American Cryptic Studios and is based on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting from Dungeons and Dragons, but it does take a lot of liberties with D&D mechanics, so it doesn’t hold as much appeal to pen and paper fans as you might expect.

Korea’s Vindictus is published by Nexon and serves as a prequel to Mabinogi, another MMO from the same developer.

Of the two, Neverwinter is a little closer to a traditional MMORPG and offers a slightly more robust experience. It does have open world zones to be explored in addition to dungeon crawls, and it makes at least some effort to be a full-fledged RPG, whereas Vindictus is more of an arcade experience, putting a laser focus on constant dungeon-crawls.

Notably, Neverwinter offers a standard set of classes and races to choose from, whereas players in Vindictus choose from pre-established characters and can only customize them to a limited degree.

Neither game is going to win much praise for its story-telling ability, but Neverwinter has a slight edge in that regard. Similarly, neither boasts top of the line graphics, but Vindictus tends to look a little better.

Both offer as their main virtue brutal action combat, and while both games’ combat is excellent, a slight edge should probably be given to Vindictus for offering slightly more depth and interactivity. In Vindictus, players may, for instance, grab objects from the environment — or even enemies — and hurl them as crude projectiles.

Both games are free to play and offer a lot of gameplay without spending a cent, but in both cases you’ll eventually have to make use of the cash shop if you want to maximize your performance in the later stages of the game.

A character in the Eastern MMORPG Vindictus

Neverwinter is the better choice if you want something closer to a traditional MMO experience, but Vindictus is superior if you want to focus on maximum brutality and mayhem.

ARPG: Diablo III/Devilian

Once again proving that Blizzard is the goose that laid the golden egg, Diablo III is the biggest name in the action RPG field. It had some stumbles at launch, but following the well received Reaper of Souls expansion, it’s now in a very healthy state.

A crusader character in the Western ARPG Diablo III

There isn’t a lot of competition for D3 from the East right now, but if you’re eager for an ARPG with some Asian flair, Devilian would probably be your best bet, at least until Lost Ark gets a Western release.

In terms of core gameplay, they’re both very much the standard ARPG fare. Click, kill, loot, repeat. Devilian modifies the formula slightly by giving players alternate demonic forms they can transform into for a temporary power boost.

Diablo III is pure buy to play — no micro-transactions at all, though you do need to buy the expansion separately — whereas Devilian is free to play with a cash shop.

Most would tend to agree that Diablo is the better game, but Devilian does have a few advantages going for it. It is a bit closer to the traditional MMO experience; you’ll be sharing the game world with other players, and there’s some degree of visual character customization. By comparison, Diablo III is closer to a single-player game with co-op support, and players can only choose their class and gender.

A screenshot from Korean ARPG Devilian

It’s also worth noting that Diablo III hasn’t gotten any significant content updates in quite a while now. There’s some speculation over a potential expansion announcement at this year’s Gamescom or BlizzCon, but right now it’s only wild guesses and rumors based on dubious evidence. For now the future of the game is very uncertain.


Which Countries Make the Best MMOs?

I’m on a kick lately of segmenting out MMOs by uncommonly explored attributes and analyzing numbers. In June, I ranked the best MMORPG by year for the past twenty years (including honorable mentions for each year). In July,  I estimated the most played free MMORPGs, sorted by peak player counts. This month, I’m looking at which countries produce the best MMOs.

First, this requires a ranking of the best MMOs. As opposed to June’s best MMORPG blog post, I decided to use an impartial judge to assess the cream of the MMO crop. I selected mmorpg.com’s user ratings as my source due to their ratings’ age and breadth. From there, I chose the top 50 MMOs as a cutoff. This provided a strong sample set without severely diminished quality between the top and bottom of the list. I don’t necessarily agree with the order (Defiance is ahead of World of Warcraft, seriously?), but the list looks solid overall. The result? MMOBro’s first infographic!

which countries make the best mmos infographic

The United States and South Korea were the first countries to begin developing MMORPGs in the 90s. Seeing them as #1 and #2 on the list is to be expected. Thus, I find the data more fun than surprising. It is noteworthy that South America is unrepresented, despite what is actually a strong MMO userbase.

It is important to note that mmorpg.com caters to a Western audience which does skew the list. I researched Korean MMO rankings by popularity (as opposed to ratings), but over 90% of their most popular MMOs are developed in South Korea. It then seemed to me that focusing on a single, large audience would make for a more compelling and relevant read. MMOBro also targets a Western audience (by virtue of the whole site being written in English). Thus, I hope (and believe) for our readers, the validity is not lessened.

Feel free to download the infographic and share it. I only ask you drop a link to us in the process.

And for those fact checkers out there, here’s the complete 1-50 list (which may be different now compared to current ratings). Feel free to ask any questions or point out any inconsistencies.

  1. Black Desert Online (Pearl Abyss – South Korea)
  2. Guild Wars 2 (ArenaNet – USA)
  3. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (Square Enix – Japan)
  4. The Secret World (FunCom – Norway)
  5. Elder Scrolls Online (ZeniMax Online Studios – USA)
  6. AD2460 (Fifth Season – Norway)
  7. Warframe (Digital Extremes – Canada)
  8. Rift (Trion Worlds – USA)
  9. Darkfall: Unholy Wars (Aventure S.A. – Greece)
  10. Blade & Soul (Team Bloodlust – South Korea)
  11. Marvel Heroes 2016 (Gazillion Entertainment – USA)
  12. Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games – New Zealand)
  13. Destiny (Bungie – USA)
  14. Eve Online (CCP Games – Iceland)
  15. Lord of the Rings Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  16. EverQuest II (Daybreak Games – USA)
  17. Guild Wars (ArenaNet – USA)
  18. Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix – Japan)
  19. Dark Age of Camelot (Mythic/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  20. Ryzom (Nevrax/Winch Gate Property Limited – France/Cyprus)
  21. TERA (Bluehole Studio – South Korea)
  22. Perpetuum (Avatar Creations – Hungary)
  23. Aika (JoyImpact – South Korea)
  24. Atlantica Online (NDOORSGAMES – South Korea)
  25. WildStar (Carbine Studios – USA)
  26. Neverwinter (Cryptic Studios – USA)
  27. PlanetSide 2 (Daybreak Games – USA)
  28. Fallen Earth (Reloaded Productions – USA)
  29. Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments – England)
  30. Wizard101 (KingsIsle Entertainment – USA)
  31. Dungeons & Dragons Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  32. Ultima Online (Origin Systems/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  33. DC Universe Online (Daybreak Games – USA)
  34. Lineage 2 (NCSoft – South Korea)
  35. EverQuest (Daybreak Games – USA)
  36. Anarchy Online (FunCom – Norway)
  37. Defiance (Trion Worlds – USA)
  38. Vindictus (devCAT – South Korea)
  39. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment – USA)
  40. Asheron’s Call (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  41. Age of Conan: Unchained (FunCom – Norway)
  42. Firefall (Red 5 Studios – USA)
  43. Eldevin (Hunted Cow Studios – Scotland)
  44. PlanetSide (Daybreak Games – USA)
  45. Xsyon: Prelude (Notorious Games – USA)
  46. Global Agenda (Hi-Rez Studios – USA)
  47. Wurm Online (Code Club AB – Sweden)
  48. Dragon Nest (Eyedentity Games – South Korea)
  49. Trove (Trion Worlds – USA)
  50. Aion (NCSoft – South Korea)

In Defense of Grinding

I don’t like grinding. I never have liked it. I wrote a blog post just last week deriding grinding. Yet the vast majority of MMORPGs insist on building the majority of their content around grinding in some form. Grinding takes the escapism and wonder that compels us to venture into a new MMO world and distills that experience down to a treadmill of numbers. But today I am going to defend it. Call it playing devil’s advocate, looking on the other side of the fence, indulging curiosity, whatever. By the end of this post you are going to see not only the merits of grinding in MMORPGs, but its prominence outside of the genre.

Grinding takes many forms and I want to be clear about my definition. In my opinion, grinding is the act of repeating a mindless task in order to progress your character in some significant way. Thus, grinding can range from running dungeons to killing creatures to completing quests. There are variants on the definition, but I don’t imagine mine feels too distant from others’.

black desert online level 56

You don’t want to know how long it takes to get 1% EXP at level 56 in Black Desert Online.

The level of grinding in MMORPG certainly varies from game to game. Something like Black Desert Online has essentially an infinite grind. Progression in Black Desert takes hours, and then days, of dedication to killing the same enemies at high levels. In games like World of Warcraft, the grind at high levels is much less pronounced but is none-the-less part of the game. The highest quality content requires certain gear levels in order to reach. Players reach the requisite gear levels by repeating low threat dungeons for better drops. Now, in no way am I placing Black Desert Online and World of Warcraft in the same realm of grindiness. I just want to illustrate that it exists in a very wide spectrum.

One of the perks of grinding is that it’s easy to relax and zone out. It’s almost a form of meditation. Replace breathing in and breathing out with pressing tab and pressing 1 a few times. You can almost feel the zen calm washing over just thinking about it. Combat against menial creatures is purposefully simple, and it’s kind of the point. With meditation, the mind is occupied with some sort of repetitive task. This allows the person to peruse their thoughts gently and calmly. It’s meditation with a different focus point.

One doesn’t need to full on Buddhist monk to get the relaxing benefits on grinding. It can also be considered a form of decompression. You know how most people feel after maxing their brain’s capacity for a full day? Tired. Coming home from a long day doesn’t invite strenuous challenges. It invites seeking serenity. It’s not unreasonable to want to completely veg out after mental or physical strain. Grinding provides the means to do so.

Everyone can progress in a grind based system. If MMORPGs were to implement content that always came with the possibility of defeat, it would alienate some of the players. Grind based content ensures that as long as the game is being played then the player will be rewarded. A critical component of grinding is the significant length of time required to accomplish tasks. This time keeps the player around. It keeps the player playing the MMO. This is a win-win situation. Players are guaranteed advancement simply by playing the game and the developers to get to hold on to their player base.

grinding quests in asta

Not all quests are grindy, but a quest grind is still a grind.

From a developer standpoint this kind of content is pretty easy to produce. Anything that can be repeated with low difficulty isn’t likely to raise a stink. Some trivial content doesn’t mean all trivial content though. The time developers save on easy content can be spent crafting memorable encounters. This is the price that the players pay for the top notch content. Filler content has to hold one’s attention in the meantime. This filler content makes up the bulk of MMORPG progression but can sometimes be at least hidden in a way that doesn’t make it too obvious. MMORPGs can’t really afford to lose players so they need some sort of hook to keep them occupied until they get to the interesting content. Grinding is that hook.

Similar to the rationale to the above paragraph, grinding serves to counterbalance the highest-quality content. Gameplay naturally has its ups and downs. If everything is crazy exciting than nothing it’s crazy exciting. So grinding is the low point of an leveling experience but is an important counterbalance to the high points. It helps you appreciate the work that you’ve put in and the content you’re rewarded with.

It’s not like grinding is really anything new to the gaming world either. Diablo and Diablo clones revolve the bulk of their game content around killing minions mindlessly to get progressively better loot. Survival games involve mining poor innocent resources to the point of exhaustion to…well…survive. Browser strategy games entangle the player in a endless cycle or building structures, waiting, then upgrading them or building more. Many other examples exist of games outside of MMORPGs that utilize grinding in at least some capacity.

The first Final Fantasy on NES tasked the player with powering up their heroes to save the world. In order to accomplish this, the player had to engage in multiple winnable battles to attain the necessary strength to defeat each boss. Similar gameplay to this 1987 title decidedly exists all over today. It’s just better concealed now. It means grinding has stood the test of time through no series of accidents.

Grinding can relax. Grinding can calm. Grinding guarantees achievement. Grinding equalizes the playing field. Grinding gives developers time to craft unique content. Grinding puts into perspective that uniquely crafted content.

Look, I’m really not saying that grinding is a great thing. It’s the type of content that after not too long pushes me back into playing single-player RPGs. It’s also easy to understand why some people do in fact like heavier grinding games. Grinding clearly has its place though and contributes positively to MMORPGs overall. Now who wants to kill a thousand goblins with me?