Tobold's Blog
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Not like a MMORPG at all

As I said before, 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons was a huge change for the game. And as it always happens with huge changes, you get people who like the change, and others who don't. And to an extent which I don't remember happening when 2nd or 3rd edition was released, the release of 4th edition caused something generally known as the "edition wars". People claimed their favorite edition of D&D to be the "true Dungeons & Dragons", and better than whatever edition others preferred. And one of the arguments / insults used in this edition wars was that fans of earlier editions dismissed 4th edition as being "like a MMORPG". That is a remark which always puzzled me, because looking at it from the other side my main problem with MMORPGs is that they aren't more like 4th edition.

The major difference between 4th edition and other editions of Dungeons & Dragons is that 4E is a tactical miniature wargame to the core. Spells and powers do things which can often only be expressed in game terms, but which wouldn't make much sense if you tried to express them in role-playing terms. People calling 4E "unrealistic" certainly have a point, although I'd say "less realistic", with wizards and fireballs not really being realistic in the first place.

In every game I always like to look at what the player is actually *doing*. Not the make-belief part of him saying "I throw a fireball", but the actual part of where he points on the battlemap to indicate where the fireball is centered and rolls some dice. The reason I am looking at this is because it is the actual activity which ultimately determines how much fun I am going to have. Are there "interesting decisions" involved, to quote Sid Meier? Are there good moves and bad moves possible? How important is it that I make the right decision, press the right button, and how important is it to press that button as fast as possible? Two games which have exactly the same make-belief situation, let's say my fighter character in a sword fight against an ogre, will feel very differently if they have very different actual activities, e.g. one being fast button-mashing and the other being tactical combat.

So in my mind 4th edition isn't like a MMORPG at all. If I had to compare 4E to a computer game, I would point to tactical role-playing games like Disgaea, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Fire Emblem. World of Warcraft or similar MMORPGs simply do not play like tactical role-playing games. Both the decision-making process and the speed are just the opposite of a tactical role-playing game. The only similarity I can see between a MMORPG and 4th edition is having spells & abilities (powers) with different "cooldowns". But even there the decision-making process ends up being a very different one. MMORPGs don't have "daily" powers, extended rests, and the like. Using a daily power in 4E is a strategic decision, taking other combats of the day into account. In a MMORPG the decision to use a power with a long cooldown remains a tactical decision, as usually the cooldown isn't long enough to affect several fights.

I very much wished there were more tactical role-playing games for the PC around. And it would be an interesting exercise to think how a cooperative multiplayer tactical role-playing game could work online. But current MMORPGs aren't like that, and thus I don't find the comparison with 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons to be valid.

It might be interesting if MMORPGs did introduce things like daily powers or long-cooldown activities.

Technically they do have a few things like that. Often crafting has cooldowns measured in days. But the closest thing in WoW to a daily power with tactical or strategic influence is deciding whether to go on a 'second-best' raid which might lock you out of a possible better one!

Oddly enough MMORPGs do sometimes have powerful, limited-use items, but of course players hang onto these and never use them. Something with a use-it-or-lose-it one time a day option would be more interesting.

I suspect there maty be a perceived balance issue. How do you tune a raid for 25 characters with powerful once-a-day options? Do you let them all use their powers on one boss and draft in new characters for the rest? Can they kill one boss a day in a 7-boss raid dungeon using all powers?

Not saying there can't be answers to these, but if you care about balance they are a problem. Of course balance is one of the major destroyers of the RPG element in MMORPGs, so it might be a good thing to stop caring about it in some games...
Not like a MMORPG at all? So when you said, "I mentioned before that I detected influenced of MMORPGs in the 4E rules" in your post on Jan 12, 2012 were you just joking?

This isn't all just old-school fogeyism here - the creators themselves admitted to taking ideas from modern MMOs like WoW.

You're telling us that terms like "Strikers" and "Defenders" don't remind you of "DPSers" and "Tanks" at all? What about the idea that class abilities were changed to "Powers"? That certainly reminds me of WoW-style MMORPG abilities. Or that class balance was key, or healing surges, or the stylized cartoonified art, etc.

And I believe that games like WoW are very similar to 4E in terms of tactical combat especially in late-game raiding. It's all about assembling the right party and using powers at the right time. Seems pretty tactical to me.
You're telling us that terms like "Strikers" and "Defenders" don't remind you of "DPSers" and "Tanks" at all?

The *terms* are the same, the make-belief part of one player seeing himself as the "tank / defender" who is protecting the others. But now look at what a tank does in a MMORPG, and what he does in 4E: In a MMORPG he just needs to push a taunt button, in 4E he needs to be physically between the enemy and the player he protects. In MMORPG a taunt always works, in 4E the enemy can still decide to get the -2 and opportunity attack against him and still attack the healer or mage in the back.

Concepts are the same, gameplay is extremely different. I wished MMORPGs would have gameplay closer to 4E.
Also bear in mind that the very idea of "tanking" came from D&D. After all, if the wizard took damage, s/he couldn't cast reliably.

I distinctly recall a friend asking another if he would tank for the group when I ran a AD&D 2e game back in '97.
MMORPG are unrealistic in this regard. Why would one smash the fellow with the shield instead of the robe wearing healer who keeps him up or the fellow with the hat? Or, why not just try to kill one of those and switch target like in PvP? PvP players draw their "PvE is faceroll" arguments from stuff like this, and they do have a point.

But it isn't like that in every game! ARPG/MMORPG crossovers like TERA, GW2 and ARPG like D3 don't have a holy trinity. They do have some group heal, buff or self heal and a rather unreliable threat mechanism and do have the mechanism of melee standing in-between the ranged and boss as physical block even catching ranged attacks with their body as well as having certain amounts of range/yards to determine the threat.

MMORPGs like EQ had long CDs. WoW has been running away from them. Vanilla had Tranquility, Lay on Hands, Shield Wall CDs with 1 hour. Healer Tranq is now 3 min, LoH 7 min (glyphed), SW 3 min. The only leftover in CD area is shaman self resurrection of 30 minutes. Even HS CD is lowered due to guild level. VP cap is weekly, 7 dungeons a week instead of 1 a day, 25 daily quest limit is gone in MoP. 5 instances an hour cap still remains. It is clear that WoW is slowly but surely moving away from high CDs, making them more flexible in one way or another.
The unrealism is mainly down to giving players a heroic, rather than a realistic experience. CRPGs and most computer games other than strategy games work best when the monsters are stupid. The monsters in DOOM could have easily held Phobos Base against the most skilled player if they simply put about ten guards on the door. (Tidying up the weapons they left lying around inside would have helped too.)

There's no sense getting worried about the lack of realism. It's there so the player characters can be super heroes.
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