Having chortled a bit on some off-color commentary about the recent expansion toWorld of Warcraft,in which kung-fu pandas proliferate through Azeroth, it occurred to me that I’m not playing any games … because all the games seem to suck.
- I don’t play WoW anymore because the game stopped being fun when Blizzard started dumbing it down. I miss vanilla WoW, from the days when we still had combat ranks and warlocks actually expended soul shards. Every subsequent change has done two things — dumbed down gameplay, and made the game increasingly inaccessible for solo players.
- I haven’t seen anything fun lately. I dabbled with Everquest II, Tabula Rasa, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, but none really caught my fancy enough to keep me playing … mostly because the mechanics weren’t quite right.
- Eve Online might be fun, but the barrier to entry is so high as to be prohibitive.
Were I to counsel an MMORPG designer, I’d say stuff like this:
- Don’t penalize players for playing solo. One of my biggest gripes about WoW is that you only get good gear from being in a raiding guild. If you journey alone, you’re stuck with whatever crap you grab on a drop or at the Auction House. Not fair for those of us who lack the time or the desire to group frequently.
- Give us a world to explore and reasons to explore it. Put stuff somewhere, even the items have no real purpose. Paint large maps — like Azeroth — and stick Easter eggs or stunning vistas or hidden treasures or something to reward players for looking beyond the beaten path.
- Enough, already, with FedEx and grind missions. I will kill monsters; I don’t need to be tasked to kill 100 monsters just to advance to the next quest. Nor do I need a quest to go from Point A to Point B; if the quests need to prompt this, then there’s something wrong with the game design.
- Write quest lines take a choose-your-own-adventure path. Don’t just chain quests together blindly, or just make them available when you hit a level. The choices you make in what quests you choose, and how you choose to complete them, should make a noticeable difference. SWTOR came closest to making this work; you could end a quest by making a Light or Dark choice, but it didn’t really affect quest lines. The mid-game gameplay shouldn’t be exactly the same for every character at the same level.
- Don’t skimp on the UI. The most vexing thing about The Secret World? It had lovely cut scenes, but no voice talent for your character. Lame.
- Don’t skimp on the backstory. Create a lush narrative universe and put us in the middle of it. Give us a reason to invest emotionally in our character.
- De-emphasize levels. Perhaps Ultima Online got it right: Don’t treat Player A as more powerful than Player B just because Player B out-leveled him. Instead, focus on skill levels. And don’t make these level so rigid that you get locked into only one “optimal” build — because then you’re just grinding for points without any sense of adventure. I’d rather be able to allocate points across stats and skills in free-form style than being tied to a tree you already know. And give me points for earning them instead of when I grind to fill a progress bar — maybe for finishing a quest, or killing a difficult monster, or earning an in-game achievement. Leveling up because the spider you killed tipped your progress bar is just lame.
- Don’t be afraid to be risqué. One of the fun things about SWTOR was the flirting and even the possibility of same-sex romance with your companions. Many, many game players are adults. Give us adult content from time to time.
- Expand the customizability of players. Don’t bore me with a handful of default character builds; let me customize everything, exactly how I want. Heck, I’d spend hours in the character-design part of the game just to get my persona just right. And I’d invest more into him or her, too.
- For the love of all that’s holy, vary up gameplay for the earliest levels. I’m a tweaker; I roll a whole bunch of characters for the newbie zone to see what I like. If I have to play the exact same content the exact same way a dozen times … forget it.