Opinion: Piecing Together The Perfect MMO

If you could take the parts of various massively-multiplayer online games to build the perfect experience, what would those games be?


As the technological capabilities of game developers continue to advance, we gamers have been reaping the benefits as the games we play become more immersive, more engaging, and more fun. MMO (massively multiplayer online) gamers especially so since they get to share these continuously refined experiences with thousands, sometimes millions of other players simultaneously. However, as refined and immersive as many modern MMO games are, I’d be lying if I said there’s one definitive MMO that scratches all of my gamer itches. Oftentimes, I end up wishing that the best parts of some of these games could be combined together into on perfect Franken-MMO. If I were to put together a dream-game from the pieces of other MMO, these would be the choice parts:

DC Universe Online’s endgame variety

It’s cool enough getting to venture into a massive online rendition of the DC Comics universe and rub elbows with characters like Batman and Superman, but where DC Universe Online (DCUO for short) really shines is in its endgame content variety. Most MMO games end with a tried-and-true list of stock offerings for endgame content such as raiding, PvP, and maybe one or two other things like daily quests or crafting. DCUO has all of that and more.

For endgame players who prefer to fight computer-controlled enemies, there’s open-world daily quests; single-player instanced storylines; two-player “duo” adventures; four-player dungeons (called “Alerts”); seasonal PvE events; massive eight-player raids, a wave-based survival mode, and a game mode that will allow players to play as iconic DC characters in PvE scenarios. PvP players can engage in three different forms of PvP: open-world PvP (if they’re on a PvP server), instanced “Arena” PvP that has them duking it out with their custom-created characters, and “Legends” PvP which, as the name implies, allows players to battle each other while playing as iconic DC heroes and villains.

Suffice it to say, DCUO players always have a vast wealth of activities at their fingertips, both while leveling and when they reach the maximum character level and cross the threshold into endgame content. Other MMO's such as World of Warcraft may come close to offering the same amount of variety but, in my mind, DCUO will always be king when it comes to keeping players occupied and engaged long after they’ve reached the game’s level cap.

Lord of the Rings Online’s Skirmish system

I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on Lord of the Rings Online back when I first started playing it. While I am a big Lord of the Rings fan, the game’s dated graphics, unintuitive questing system, and lack of race/class variety didn't exactly keep me glued to my computer screen. All of that changed when I finally got my character to level 20 and unlocked the Skirmish system. Skirmishes in LoTRO are special instanced PvE scenarios that can be attempted either solo or with a group. Each Skirmish’s difficulty (and potential rewards) scale depending on how many players are attempting it, and most Skirmishes have randomized boss encounters and/or objectives, giving them some added replay value.

I’ve longed for the day when other MMO's would adopt a similar system of accessible, replayable instanced PvE content as a means of alternative character advancement but so far, no dice. World of Warcraft came close with the three-player instanced Scenarios it introduced in its Mists of Pandaria expansion but the Scenarios are only available to max-level characters and Blizzard promptly abandoned Scenarios (or at least the instanced replayable kind) in Warlords of Draenor. The solo adventures in DCUO I mentioned earlier come close but, since they’re all based off of adventures from the main story campaign, they quickly grow stale unless you invest in DLC.

I would love to see an MMO that took LoTRO’s Skirmish system and refined it into what I’ve always wanted it to be: a fully-fledged alternative to quest grinding that offers short, fun pieces of engaging instanced content that can be undertaken either alone or with buddies no matter what level your character is. For players who don’t have a lot of time to kill but who also don’t want to constantly subject themselves to monotonous quest grinding, such a system would be a massive boon.

World of Warcraft’s Class Specializations (Previous Version)

World of Warcraft has come a long way in its ten years of operation. New content has been released, features have been tweaked, systems have been refined and streamlined, and I’d be willing to say most of it was done for the better. However, one area where Blizzard might have overcorrected was in its handling of class specializations. Each character class in World of Warcraft has three different specializations. With each new expansion, Blizzard tries to make these specializations easier to understand for new players, mainly by trimming down the total number of abilities and attacks available and refining the different talents each specialization has access to.

While this refinement process has no-doubt made World of Warcraft a more inviting game for newcomers, it has also caused many of the core classes to lose their sense of identity. There used to be major differences between playing an Assassination or Combat Rogue. Now, aside from a few ability swaps, they feel virtually the same. Warriors used to be the undisputed weapon masters of the game, now they can’t hold two weapons at once unless they choose the Fury specialization and are practically forced to pick up the Arms specialization to go with it. You used to be able to tell which specialization a Death Knight had chosen simply based upon the weapons they wielded, now they’ve become so homogenized that there’s virtually no difference between the three specializations.

I’m all for giving new players a low barrier of entry but when that low barrier comes at the cost of class identity, I’m left wondering whether Blizzard made the right call. In my ideal MMO, each class would have a number of specializations that all felt unique and were all fun to play. World of Warcraft certainly has the large number of specializations, but few currently feel unique and fun to play.

Destiny’s Endgame Gear Progression

Ah Destiny, what is assuredly the most contentious game of 2014 and will likely remain so well into 2015. Love it or hate it, I doubt many can deny that, under the right circumstances, Destiny can be a lot of fun to play - even after you reach the game’s soft level cap of 20 and begin the long, slow grind to light level 32. While I’m definitely a guy who doesn’t agree with much of what Bungie is doing with Destiny’s endgame, there is one particular element that I do like: the endgame gear progression.

To elaborate, I like how there’s actually a rather small selection of different armors and weapons you can collect. What this means is that you’re meant to stick with the armor and weapons you earn for the long haul instead of simply replacing them a few hours after you get them. Most games stick you onto a seemingly endless treadmill of acquiring better and better gear once you reach the endgame, but Destiny allows you to keep treasured weapons and armor by allowing you to upgrade them to more powerful versions. One could argue that Bungie is simply swapping out gear grinds for resource grinds, but I’m still in favor of allowing us to spend some time with weapons and armor sets we take a shine to instead of having them collect dust in our bank vaults because they’ve been replaced by a fancy new Raid drop or quest reward.

Other MMO's do have ways of allowing players to retain the looks of favored weapons and armor (World of Warcraft’s transmogrification system, Guild Wars 2’s weapon and armor skins, DCUO’s wardrobe feature, etc.) but only Destiny allows us to acquire a new weapon or armor piece at level 20 and keep viably using it all the way to level 25, 30, and beyond.

Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World PvP

I’ve had an interesting love/hate relationship with the PvP aspects of most MMO's but if I had to make a list of which PvP mode I enjoyed the most out of all the MMO's I’ve played, Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World PvP would certainly be at the top. In World vs. World (WvW), players from three different servers come together on a large instanced battleground and fight over various keeps, castles, and supply points spread across the map. WvW allows players to participate in large-scale sieges and battles without the pressure they would feel in smaller PvP skirmishes.

Since participating in WvW temporarily boosts your character to the level cap of 80, you can join in on the action no matter your character’s level and since WvW experience points (which allow players to gain new WvW ranks and unlock WvW-specific abilities) are shared across all characters on an account, you can make steady, uninterrupted progress through the WvW ranks even when playing as multiple characters. Best of all, any experience gained through WvW activities is also applied to the standard leveling track of non-max-level characters, which means if you get in with a good group, it can serve as a viable alternative to leveling characters should you get tired of the standard PvE grind. Since there isn’t really a way to “lose” in WvW (the ownership of structures constantly fluxuates and is reset every week), it’s also well-suited for players who don't do well in other PvP modes.

Now, my ideal picture of WvW would be slightly different than how it currently works in Guild Wars 2. I’d want an easier way to hook up with pre-existing groups (currently you have to physically run out to wherever the group is which can be tedious and time-consuming if they’re far away). I’d also add in more ways in which a single player could contribute (virtually every objective in WvW is meant to be tackled with multiple players). Still, despite these minor gripes, I think WvW is an excellent template for PvP that all players can enjoy regardless of prior experience or individual skill level. If my ideal MMO were to have a PvP component, I’d want it to resemble Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World.

The Secret World’s Story Progression and Quests

It’s a shame that Funcom’s modern horror MMO The Secret World is so frustrating from a technical/gameplay standpoint, since the game’s lore and story progression is hands-down some of the best of any MMO I’ve ever played. The game obviously has its fair share of typical “kill this number of certain enemies” and “collect this number of certain items” quests but it also has quests that tax a player’s brain instead of their combat reflexes or patience. Many quests in The Secret World have no combat at all, and instead task players with parsing together clues, paying attention to their environment, and figuring out both narrative and environmental puzzles.

These quests help players become immersed in the game’s lore which is equal parts Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, and Indiana Jones... three names I never thought I’d list in the same sentence. My ideal MMO would take a similar approach, offering quests and tasks that didn’t just lock players into a monotonous routine but which also challenged them to explore the world, soak it in, and have those satisfying “ah ha!” moments that you really can’t get from slaughtering ten rats and collecting their tails. The Secret World’s more technical aspects may only be enjoyable to the truly dedicated, but how the game handles the presentation and pacing of its story is something MMO players of all skill levels can appreciate.

Got a particular MMO feature you’re fond of? Feel free to share them in Chatty!

From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 16, 2015 11:32 PM

    Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: Piecing Together The Perfect MMO

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      January 17, 2015 12:04 AM

      Total openness, everything you can see you can reach. No zones or loading screens.

      Vanguard came the closet to this for me and I'll never not miss it.

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        January 17, 2015 5:29 AM

        Guild Wars 2 really let me down with the openness thing. That's a big reason why I didn't get into as much as I hoped to.

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        January 17, 2015 10:55 AM

        Vanguard was the best for exploring. You would see some construct far off in the distance and then set off on an adventure to get there and find some crazy shit.

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      January 17, 2015 1:32 AM

      UO, EOT

      • Ziz legacy 10 years legacy 20 years
        January 17, 2015 3:42 AM

        Yep I looked at that thinking nothing from UO, really?? UO you could pretty much do anything you wanted.

        • Ziz legacy 10 years legacy 20 years
          January 20, 2015 2:34 PM

          And it had crafting etc that you didn't have to go out and kill stuff to get materials. Fishing etc. And plus the community is better in UO. Auctions, Chicken Fight Club etc etc oh and Raresfest is always cool.

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      January 17, 2015 2:03 AM

      EVE definitely seems to be making the best of the MMO premise, everything else is just a slightly dodgy RPG

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      January 17, 2015 3:55 AM

      I miss the old days when you had to explore to find stuff instead of googling.

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        January 17, 2015 4:20 AM

        Get off my lawn!

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        January 17, 2015 7:59 AM


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        January 17, 2015 9:28 AM

        Agreed. I basically only got that out of Everquest and AC. It's not even the information access we have outside the game. Within the game they tend to make travel incredible trivial which makes the world feel very small. Also quests hold your hand accompanied by mini-maps that point you exactly where to go. The overworld poses very little danger regardless if you follow the road or take a shortcut through the woods.

        Generally MMO's are streamlined to a fault and aiming for the lowest common denominator to maximize sales.

        For me I'd like to see the theme park setup die.
        Get rid of instant travel or limit it to a class.
        Get rid of quick travel, flight paths.
        Allow mounts but have them function more as a item mule so you can stay in the field longer.
        Make the world very difficult so playing solo is dangerous.
        Bring back the long travel, like the boat ride in EQ.

        I kind of think the above is why I really enjoyed Vanguard and Archeage since they touched on a few of the above.

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          January 17, 2015 10:23 AM

          I thought Archeage was a complete mess?

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            January 17, 2015 10:35 AM

            It is last I knew. I mainly played the alpha and had a ton of fun. Release was a different story. The writing was on the wall that Trion would be bashing their head against the brick wall known as XL games.

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          January 17, 2015 10:40 AM

          I agree with everything here. Going out in to the wilderness should feel like a big deal. Going from one side of the world to the other should feel like an ordeal.

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            January 17, 2015 10:40 AM

            But then the rewards should reflect that as well.

        • reply
          January 20, 2015 7:26 PM


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      January 17, 2015 4:16 AM

      more greg burke top 10 lists. meh.

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      January 17, 2015 6:31 AM

      The original Planetside is still so interesting in my mind, I really think SOE goofed up by not doing a remake of that game with Forgelight

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        January 17, 2015 9:33 AM

        That game still has the ultimate weather system. To this day I remember defending a base, looking at the world map and see a storm system coming in from over the ocean. After about an hour it would hit land and you could see the sky turning black in that direction. Then it rolls in on top of you. Just a massive dust storm and can't see shit.

        Wish I could find videos of the weather system in action but they are near impossible to find.

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          January 17, 2015 9:35 AM

          Weather is coming to ps2, lets hope it's awesome. I love that game.

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      January 17, 2015 7:03 AM

      Cataclysm's talent trees really were the best in WoW.

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        January 17, 2015 9:56 AM

        I agree. I don't understand the author's opinion on this matter at all.

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      January 17, 2015 10:00 AM

      Diablo 3 has some great features that make it fun to keep playing at max level: adventure mode, rifts, greater rifts, the enchantment system, and the fucking awesome loot system.

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      January 17, 2015 10:53 AM

      3 realm PVP from DAoC (clossed frontiers / battleground), housing / crafting / trade from SWG, PVE / Raids form WoW, Quest from Elder Scrolls Online.

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      January 18, 2015 3:26 AM

      The Secret world there's a tanker MMO if I ever saw one. The Problem I see is WoW came out Hit it Big and everything else has been trying to copy that success, Destiny honesty (And I don't like destiny FYI) is the most unique MMO to come out after WoW, DCUO Sucks ass, Guild Wars II is a WoW clone, WildStar is failing slowly. We need a Dynamic MMO Combat system and Less Invisible dice rolls with an area. my 2 cents.

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      January 19, 2015 11:46 AM

      No mention of DAOC

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        January 20, 2015 8:46 AM

        I concur!. Mark Jacobs and his team for Dark Age of Camelot had the best PvP in an MMO ever and the diversity of realms and classes has yet to be matched in any other MMO. I fear the author of this article though may be to young to have remembered that game like you and I do? ;-)

        • Ziz legacy 10 years legacy 20 years
          January 20, 2015 2:31 PM

          I got bored of DAOC faster then any other MMO. And PvP was to blame, was with some people I'd played with in UO and all they wanted to do was grind up so they could PvP. I'd get up from the computer and be left behind and have to try figuring out where they were now. And I've never been big on PvP.

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      January 19, 2015 3:21 PM

      "If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." - Henry Ford

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      January 19, 2015 7:33 PM

      The customization and key remapping of WoW.

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      January 20, 2015 5:23 PM

      I actually enjoyed the simplification of WoW (and D3 for that matter). There's so many different classes and so much to do in each, and there usually ends up being only 1 or 2 maximum DPS builds that everyone plays, so they don't need 8 or 9 builds of the same character. If you need an Excel spreadsheet to play a game, then it isn't fun.

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