MMO Win, RPG Fail
MMORPGs are pretty spectacular things. When you consider the amount of effort, scope, money and time that goes into one, they are truly the giants of the gaming industry. However, as much as I love them, I don’t think they are necessarily true to their RPG heritage and perhaps calling them such is an injustice to such traditional single player games. You see, MMORPGs do the ‘massively multiplayer online’ part very well but often implement the ‘roleplaying game’ half very poorly.
Ever since I first played Everquest, I was stunned and amazed by it’s vastness and immersion. For the first time I was actually able to exist as an online persona and interact with thousands of other players in a vibrant world.
By their defining nature MMOs do, well, the massive online part very well. It’s their main characteristic and even from games with separated servers to ones like EVE in which everyone exists in a single galaxy, the breadth and scale of the genre is breathtaking. The interactivity and socialising in these microworlds is second to none and the main attraction, for me at least, to these games.
However, as they succeed in being ‘MMO’, they fail in being real RPGs.
Most MMORPGs should really be renamed something like MMO-acquire-points-level-up-press-button-action-games. Even by the loosest definition of roleplaying, MMORPGs fail completely. Roleplaying games are about becoming a role, immersing yourself in the character, and customising yourself to be individual. When was the last time you were even allowed to assign you own statistic points in a MMORPG? Most now offer only the simple choice of picking a race and class and then deciding which of three specialisation paths you will follow. Hardly unique customisation in my book.
And then we have the questing and interactivity. RPGs are meant to be about undertaking epic quests and shaping the world you reside in, not just about skipping through some text dialogue and then killing X mobs in order to affect absolutely nothing in your surroundings. If I play a RPG, I want to be a holy guy or a malevolent guy or a charming guy or whatever-I-feel-like-guy. I don’t want to follow a pre-deteremined path through a series of events that I have absolutely no control over.
Although we can act anyway we want in a MMORPG and pretend to partake a certain role, I’d find it much more satisfying if my conversation was actually embodied in my character. Let my Warrior have high charisma and speech abilities so he can talk his way through a quest rather than fight it or let my Rogue actually be evil and murderous, using underhand tactics to receive his reward.
I don’t mean to be overly critical of the MMORPG genre but after playing intoxicating single player RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion and Fallout 3 it’s refreshing to exist in a world that has so much choice and consequence.
There is a glimmer of hope though as even games like World of Warcraft invest in new technology like phasing to try to create alterable situations and replacing the predictable “everything will reset in T-minus 6 minutes” environments. I also have hope when I read about forthcoming games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and the developers renewed efforts and focus on story and character.
These games have conquered the MMO aspect, now it’s time to return to their roots and resurrect their RPG half.