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Casual Thursday Episode 3: A "lack" of RPG-ing

This week, Banath is going to adress an element that is common in almost all RPG’s, but is lacking in MMO’s. A lack of RPG elements, you say? MMO’s have loads of RPG-elements! What can be missing then? Well yeah… We gonna need you to read the article to find that out, so…yeah… you gonna need to read it.

 

Episode 3: A “lack” of RPG-ing
By Banath

 

MMO’s have massive amounts of RPG elements. Of course, most still lack elements that traditional offline RPG’s have. No, not story. This article won’t be about the “lack” of story in MMO’s. That topic has been discussed quite thoroughly elsewhere. But there are other elements of RPG’s that most MMO’s lack, which is quite essential for offline RPG’s.

We can of course customize a lot in MMOs. Appearances, gear, skills, guild tabards, and so on. However, the issue I have isn’t with those things. It’s when one levels up. Even I, having played only trial versions of World of Warcraft, Warhammer, and occasionally Lord of the Rings Online now that it has gone free to play, know of the sound you hear when leveling up. What can you choose when you level up?

You can pick new skills or advance old skills when you have reached the appropriate level, put talent points where you want them, buy new equipment, or at least wear level-restricted items. But there is still one thing that remains absent that almost all single-player RPGs have, an element that I am being illusive about. Notably, practically all Bioware games have it, but it is something I noticed missing from the MMOs I mentioned previously.

I can almost hear everyone yelling, “Get to the point already!!” Okay, here goes. Recall what happens when you level up in, let’s say, Diablo 2, or even Knights of the Old Republic. You are not just limited to buying or receiving new skills or wearing new armor. You can also choose what statistics are being leveled. With statistics I mean, what first starts out at a height of 13 of strength, you can level up with points up till 18 (as done in Diablo 2). You could improve your strength, mana pool, and so on. In KOTOR, you could improve strength, your Force power, and so on, but also things like hacking. Skills are the abilities you buy when have leveled up and gives you more ways of attacking.

In MMOs, however, that is not the case. Your strength, mana, health, dexterity, everything on the statistic side of leveling is being done for you. But the key thing in RPG’s is, that you can choose what kind of attributes or statistics you want level up. In an MMO, you are being limited in your choices as a player. This has an effect on your abilities whether you want to be a tank, damager, or healer. You can specialize yourself less in the role you want to play as, purely because you chose a certain class, while you haven’t actually thought out in what way you want to play the character or what role you want that character to fulfill.

Certainly, some restrictions are needed, and if you choose to play a warrior-like class you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re expected to tank. However, in my opinion it should still be possible for you to go a specific route within the class you choose. You should be able to buff up your priest’s mana, your warrior’s health or strength, depending on how you specialize him. This would have a major effect on the overall gameplay. PvE becomes much like a regular RPG game. Your tank will be a better-spec’d tank, your healer will be a more specialized healer, etcetera.

However, it would create a challenge in PvP. There will be a hint of insecurity about who stands in front of you. Is the character’s stats based on a tank, or is it a damage dealer with a hint more health, just to throw you off? You won’t know until you get into combat and you see what kind of character it is. This would create an environment that would lend itself to staying on the same server for PvP, because you will be able to recognize how people have designed their characters.

Before people start shouting that this will bring unbalanced PvP, I’d like to defend against that point. You won’t necessarily agree with me, but I will address that. Though Diablo 2 is not what I’d call balanced, being as it was a very PvE-focused game – the barbarian was overplayed, agreed – if you balanced the characters out it would be doable.

I do agree that balancing would be very, very difficult. And I am not saying that Bioware or any other company making MMO’s should adapt to this system right away – it’s just an absence I have noticed no one is talking about. You can tweak your stats through gear, of course, but you are never the character you wanted to make. Why should my strength progress in a pre-determined manner? Why does my health increase when I wanted solely boost my mana?

This system would also be in favor of the play style of “min-maxers”. If you want to go full out tank, you can, you’d just lose a lot of points in other areas, but you’d be able to create whatever character you wanted. Already I hear an argument against it.

It would be a bad idea for these stat choices to be locked-in. Sure, it would lend weight to the decision when you first make it, and at the end of leveling, your character would reflect decisions you made about progression very early on. But I can understand why a player heavily focused on gameplay in an MMO would definitely not want this system. “How can you know at the beginning of the game which way you want to go?” However, there are players who know which way to get to that point, just not what the best way is, stat-wise. A healer, tank or damager know what they want, just not how to get there properly through their stats. The ability to re-spec would be as necessary for stats as it would be for your choice of advanced class. It could still cost you a fee, maybe a hefty fee, but you would be able to tweak the character as you please.

As an RPG-player, I have always found it odd that this element has been missing. SWTOR gameplay seems to favor hybrid characters, so if you were to specialize your statistics too harshly, you would diminish yourself in other capacities. Then again, if you don’t specialize at all your character won’t be “viable” as much of anything. You’ll have to make difficult choices with regard to gameplay, but difficult choices certainly aren’t new to Bioware games. Difficult story choices are what Bioware does best, like choosing between Alenko and Williams in Mass Effect. This would just be a strategic gameplay element to reflect that difficulty.

I don’t expect people to agree with me. Heck, I even think a lot of people probably won’t. But this has been something I’ve always found weird about MMOs. I can choose a lot of things, but not the freaking stats I want. Perhaps this is too RPG-centric of me, but this game is pulling a lot of its fanbase from RPG players, and it’s something that Bioware needs to know and capture, so that more people will join the war that rages across the stars.

Next time in Casual Thursday, I will address the most important aspect of an MMO, which gives non-MMO’ers the scare, namely the monthly fee.

Thanks for reading, and as always,
May the Force be with you!

 

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