Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Lord of the Rings would have been a rather short book if Frodo had had a flying mount to travel all the way from the Shire to Mordor, or if he had used a teleport to cover most of the way. The last perilous journey I did in a MMORPG was running at level 10 from Freeport to Qeynos in the original Everquest 9 years ago. Since then a desire to reduce "downtime" has led to more and more, easier and easier, ways of travel, with zero danger involved. And while it is understandable that people consider long travel times as an obstacle to grouping, removing travel from the game is nevertheless cutting out an important source of adventure.
I was thinking about that when reading Keen's latest comment on Darkfall, where he says: "I can travel from one side of the map to the other, but why would I? There is no destination, purpose, or incentive. Players have no reason to congregate anywhere publicly outside of their own Clan or alliance circles. There are no regions of the map which someone would say “I need to go there to get x or y or z”." Because this isn't limited to Darkfall or PvP games. There are a lot of games where it basically doesn't matter where you are, and which are huge, but feel empty. And other games, with a densely populated world full of content, where it is far more important where you are, but then the developers provided you with some fast and risk-free way to get there.
When Wrath of the Lich King came out, I felt a burning need to level up my mining/jewelcrafting and herbalism/alchemy fast, faster than I could level. So I was sneaking through zones with mobs 5 levels higher than me, searching for ore or herb nodes, and that was great fun. There was a sense of both exploration and danger, paired with a reward for finding the resources I wanted. Today the two characters in question are level 80, have epic flying mounts, and gathering the same resources is extremely boring: The exploration is over, there is no danger, and the resources are less useful, because my tradeskills are already maxed out.
There are some single-player games, often SciFi spacefaring games in the Elite tradition, where you need to get resources or trade goods at some place, and then transport them on a perilous journey to another place of the universe, where they are rare and worth more. That is a concept I'm missing from MMORPGs. You not only travel instantly and without risk, you can also transport goods the same way, so most wares aren't worth much more in one part of the world than in another. The closest we get is EVE, but even there there is only a difference of resources based on how dangerous the space is, there are no resources that are abundant in one corner of 0.0 space, and rare in another, worth trading, smuggling, or waging war over. But the next couple of years will bring more spacefaring MMOs, so I still hope that there will be elements of trading by transport and perilous journeys (PvE, not PvP) involved.