MMOs have forgotten their value on exploration

 

 Who doesn't want to ride a ship? In a game of course.
MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are an abundant machine. Since it’s been discovered that they have the potential to make exorbitant amounts of profit in both subscription based and free to play models, they’ve sprung up like the proverbial weed. Whether you’re into steampunk elven ninjas, elemental combat, or are just intrigued by the perpetual grind that comes bundled with it all, there’s something for everyone buried within the genre. Sure, one out of ten are of actual quality, but there’s a recurring theme I’ve found to be troubling in the contemporary MMO; they’ve lost their focus on exploration and are simply too fast. 

The topic arose upon discussing a few of the most anticipated MMOs with a friend of mine. He declared that he was sick of being forced toward the end game. It wasn’t about eventually getting there; he just was perplexed as to why developers endorsed this bum-rush leveling attitude instead of taking the player through the world they’ve created. Could the content be that embarrassing and/or dated to warrant blasting through to get to the real meat of the game… at the end of it? Yeah, that makes sense. 

 Moseying about the galaxy was actually really cool... for a while.

Certainly not every MMO pushes you through the lower levels with undignified glory, but it’d be ignorant to say that they don’t care about their players reaching the end game. To me, emphasis on exploration and taking your time with the surroundings are what make the MMO an immersive and compelling experience. This way, when finally working your way up and reaching that zenith every game incorporates, it feels rewarding and just damned good. Earth and Beyond, a sci-fi, space-based MMO which is now defunct, had a defined Explorer class that felt right. They wanted you to roam about the galaxy, collecting rare materials, seeing the sights, all while experiencing the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the game ran out of content far too soon, but E&B had the right idea that, I feel, far too many developers now overlook.

 Definitely just looking at the background. Isn't it cold?

Guild Wars 2 is touting a “fast xp” system that I’m still uncertain about. The first Guild Wars maxed out at 20 levels that came far too quickly and I’m wondering if in some way its successor will follow suit. Reaching the end game may have added benefits, but if you’re in such a rush to get everyone there, then why bother having levels? Do something unconventional and allow them to gather and maybe customize gear on a ridiculously intricate and broad scale. Give your players reason to traverse the environments and experience the world you’ve created. Not only is it ominous to enter a dilapidated fortress covered in the skin of your allies, it’s also fun. Well, it should be.

I think World of Warcraft is one of the games I can most related to when discussing acceleration. WoW is a tremendously accessible game that almost anyone can get into. It has enough content to keep hardcore and casual players busy for years, but like every game, it eventually runs out of content if you keep at it. To combat this, Blizzard released expansions to critical acclaim. However, with more places to see that meant a bigger world and a longer trek to reach the new content. Blizzard decided to actually double the experience earned in the “old world” to get players into the new content. 

 Exploring the vibrant landscapes in WoW was fantastic.

It sounds good, but by doing this it effectively voided out half of the places you would have visited if the experience boost wasn’t incorporated. Many of the neater dungeons and parts of the world would be entirely skipped by players. Not to mention, larger dungeons like Zul’Gurub would no longer serve a purpose. And it begged a question; why bother doing the old end game dungeons when you can go to the newer areas and get better stuff off a boar? Really it was too bad that the more creative side of the older content was being neglected due to not being relevant, but at least Blizzard seems to be addressing this in Cataclysm.

Perhaps the best anecdote I can give on exploration is with a title some older gamers might remember, Asheron’s Call. AC was my first MMO experience and I fondly remember exploring areas I really shouldn’t have been near. For example, in a little town called Eastham I was going about my monster killing business as per the norm, when suddenly some high-level dude manifested and casted a spell which placed a swirling vortex of energy some would call a portal in the middle of town. Having a distinct level of curiosity, I inspected the portal to find the destination listed as “???” Still, keeping my curiosity in check was no easy feat and I entered the portal. 

See that grey circle on the southwestern part of the continent? Yeah, I totally got warped there.

Upon exiting, I was alone in what could only be described as an obsidian desert. I looked into the distance and observed creatures I’d never seen before and on my map I was on the other side of the world. I was only level 15 or so and these things were in the upper echelon of the hundreds. Inevitably, a creature known as a Tusker rammed right into me and promptly murdered my ass (I also lost a few items upon death). I was cast violently back to my Lifestone in Eastham and for the next 15 minutes I was shouting for help to find out where I’d been. Thankfully, the guy who cast that spell got a laugh out of my misfortune and helped me recover my body. It’s a tale of woe, but man was that one of the most exhilarating moments I’d ever had exploring.

My point through all of this is that exploring a world is important to the overall experience of a game. What comes at the end of a MMO is important, but the earlier portion of the title shouldn’t suffer for it and the same goes for conventional games. What would Gears of War or Halo be without a story mode? Marcus Fenix would just be an extremely thick dude with a chainsaw gun and the Master Chief would be known as captain space robot man. Don’t be shy developers; introduce your world to us players and the game will be all the better for it.
 
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3 Comments
4 Comments
Posted by infestedandy

 

 Who doesn't want to ride a ship? In a game of course.
MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are an abundant machine. Since it’s been discovered that they have the potential to make exorbitant amounts of profit in both subscription based and free to play models, they’ve sprung up like the proverbial weed. Whether you’re into steampunk elven ninjas, elemental combat, or are just intrigued by the perpetual grind that comes bundled with it all, there’s something for everyone buried within the genre. Sure, one out of ten are of actual quality, but there’s a recurring theme I’ve found to be troubling in the contemporary MMO; they’ve lost their focus on exploration and are simply too fast. 

The topic arose upon discussing a few of the most anticipated MMOs with a friend of mine. He declared that he was sick of being forced toward the end game. It wasn’t about eventually getting there; he just was perplexed as to why developers endorsed this bum-rush leveling attitude instead of taking the player through the world they’ve created. Could the content be that embarrassing and/or dated to warrant blasting through to get to the real meat of the game… at the end of it? Yeah, that makes sense. 

 Moseying about the galaxy was actually really cool... for a while.

Certainly not every MMO pushes you through the lower levels with undignified glory, but it’d be ignorant to say that they don’t care about their players reaching the end game. To me, emphasis on exploration and taking your time with the surroundings are what make the MMO an immersive and compelling experience. This way, when finally working your way up and reaching that zenith every game incorporates, it feels rewarding and just damned good. Earth and Beyond, a sci-fi, space-based MMO which is now defunct, had a defined Explorer class that felt right. They wanted you to roam about the galaxy, collecting rare materials, seeing the sights, all while experiencing the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the game ran out of content far too soon, but E&B had the right idea that, I feel, far too many developers now overlook.

 Definitely just looking at the background. Isn't it cold?

Guild Wars 2 is touting a “fast xp” system that I’m still uncertain about. The first Guild Wars maxed out at 20 levels that came far too quickly and I’m wondering if in some way its successor will follow suit. Reaching the end game may have added benefits, but if you’re in such a rush to get everyone there, then why bother having levels? Do something unconventional and allow them to gather and maybe customize gear on a ridiculously intricate and broad scale. Give your players reason to traverse the environments and experience the world you’ve created. Not only is it ominous to enter a dilapidated fortress covered in the skin of your allies, it’s also fun. Well, it should be.

I think World of Warcraft is one of the games I can most related to when discussing acceleration. WoW is a tremendously accessible game that almost anyone can get into. It has enough content to keep hardcore and casual players busy for years, but like every game, it eventually runs out of content if you keep at it. To combat this, Blizzard released expansions to critical acclaim. However, with more places to see that meant a bigger world and a longer trek to reach the new content. Blizzard decided to actually double the experience earned in the “old world” to get players into the new content. 

 Exploring the vibrant landscapes in WoW was fantastic.

It sounds good, but by doing this it effectively voided out half of the places you would have visited if the experience boost wasn’t incorporated. Many of the neater dungeons and parts of the world would be entirely skipped by players. Not to mention, larger dungeons like Zul’Gurub would no longer serve a purpose. And it begged a question; why bother doing the old end game dungeons when you can go to the newer areas and get better stuff off a boar? Really it was too bad that the more creative side of the older content was being neglected due to not being relevant, but at least Blizzard seems to be addressing this in Cataclysm.

Perhaps the best anecdote I can give on exploration is with a title some older gamers might remember, Asheron’s Call. AC was my first MMO experience and I fondly remember exploring areas I really shouldn’t have been near. For example, in a little town called Eastham I was going about my monster killing business as per the norm, when suddenly some high-level dude manifested and casted a spell which placed a swirling vortex of energy some would call a portal in the middle of town. Having a distinct level of curiosity, I inspected the portal to find the destination listed as “???” Still, keeping my curiosity in check was no easy feat and I entered the portal. 

See that grey circle on the southwestern part of the continent? Yeah, I totally got warped there.

Upon exiting, I was alone in what could only be described as an obsidian desert. I looked into the distance and observed creatures I’d never seen before and on my map I was on the other side of the world. I was only level 15 or so and these things were in the upper echelon of the hundreds. Inevitably, a creature known as a Tusker rammed right into me and promptly murdered my ass (I also lost a few items upon death). I was cast violently back to my Lifestone in Eastham and for the next 15 minutes I was shouting for help to find out where I’d been. Thankfully, the guy who cast that spell got a laugh out of my misfortune and helped me recover my body. It’s a tale of woe, but man was that one of the most exhilarating moments I’d ever had exploring.

My point through all of this is that exploring a world is important to the overall experience of a game. What comes at the end of a MMO is important, but the earlier portion of the title shouldn’t suffer for it and the same goes for conventional games. What would Gears of War or Halo be without a story mode? Marcus Fenix would just be an extremely thick dude with a chainsaw gun and the Master Chief would be known as captain space robot man. Don’t be shy developers; introduce your world to us players and the game will be all the better for it.
 
Enjoyed the article? Follow me on Twitter!

Posted by gakon

I agree completely that exploration is not a thing in MMOs, despite being one of those "big open world" genres that should lend itself to exploration.
 
Part of the issue is that so much of an MMO can become a science.  You get a mod like Cartographer to fill in your map for you.  Wowhead will help you if you're stuck on a quest, or need information on professions, items, or anything else.  Theorycrafting boards will help you figure out optimal DPS rotations or how to prioritize healing, etc.  Sometimes playing an MMO can be a slightly mechanical process, especially when games like WoW, while perhaps heavy on story, don't present it very well compared to other story-driven games.  It's not about discovering new things, it's just about looking up the next quest hub and then going there.
 
Of course, that's mostly an issue with players.  I am one of those people who right now is soaking up all the beta content, but I'm trying to stay away from the new zones and quests.  If I can I'll keep that stuff an unknown for myself.
 
For WoW specifically, I think the introduction of flying mounts removes some of the mystery from a zone, when you can just fly around things, or get high enough that you can see most of a zone.  This is part of the reason Cold Weather Flying exists in Wrath of the Lich King.  As it turns out, it isn't just a "leveling tax".  The devs wanted players on the ground for a bit, perhaps so they could better appreciate the layout and designs of the early zones.
 
So yeah, I really do wish MMOs would reward exploration.  Also, come Cataclysm I hope Blizzard hides some good stuff in Old Azeroth since we'll be able to fly (presumably) anywhere.

Posted by Vorbis

I played Ultima Online for 5 years and never saw most of the world, mostly due to the lack of a quest system you werent forced to go into areas, so there was alot of exploration to be done. Not to mention there were no real levels so even a new player could see most of the world if they wanted.
 
And agree, flying mounts killed all exploration in WoW, back in Vanilla you used to try and jump onto areas you weren't supposed to be, now you can just fly over there.
 
I've never got into EVE but I'm sure there's lots of exploring to be done there.

Posted by Brother_PipPop

I don't know when I first started playing World of Warcraft like two years ago I always loved to just go place to place. But theres only so much places to explore you see alot of it. Once cataclysm comes out I think Im gonna do some more exploring.