Beyond The Grind

Tobold wrote a post about LOTRO being grindy after level 40. I’m going to disagree with some of his points about mmorpg’s and grinding, but before I do, I have to say that Tobold is one of my favorite bloggers and I read his posts with great interest. He’s a thoughtful and interesting writer.

That said, let me start disagreeing with something 🙂

Tobold said “The principal problem is that no MMORPG dares to tell players the truth, that there is a limited amount of content, and once you leveled up to the level cap and did all the quests, the game is basically over.” He talks about how developers address this by including grindable content which rewards players with faction or items.

True enough, I see this kind of endgame in primarily PvE games, the EQ/EQ2/WoW genre. There are other significant games that choose another route for the endgame, though, and this is where I disagree with Tobold.

WoW polished and refined the EQ experience to perfection, but Blizzard purposefully avoided two post-EQ mmorpg developments that may have made Azeroth feel a little more like a home instead of an amusement park.

The first development they skipped was meaningful faction versus faction fighting on a large scale. Blizzard gave us mini-game PvP, a boardwalk-like environment that only mattered while you were in there. It had no bearing on the game outside of the instance. It was also primarily a selfish pursuit, chasing after gear and titles that had little to know bearing on your faction as a whole. Mythic already addressed the PvE/Raid only endgame of EQ with DAOC, where the game was just starting at level 50. They’re including a similar model in WAR, with PvP/RvR action available much earlier than it was in DAOC. Eve Online also nicely avoids the “game over” moment if PvE endgame raiding leaves you nonplussed. Eve’s battles for sovereignty over 0.0 systems clearly has a huge impact on the gameworld and give players plenty of dynamic game options.

The second option that Blizzard passed on was player housing. I’ve played a couple games with housing options (SWG most notably, with your home right in the gameworld, and DAOC, which had an instanced housing option), and it made a big difference in my attachment to the world. WoW seems so transitory. Azeroth is clearly a place for you to visit, but you can’t really make an impact on the world, or create a home.

I think when the shine comes off WoW, which may already be occurring, the lack of controllable territory through PvP and the lack of housing options is going to contribute to the ease with which subscribers can shrug off the game. I know it was difficult for me to leave both DAOC and SWG. In DAOC, I didn’t want to leave my friends behind. It was sad to think of them going on and fighting for the glory of the realm without being at their side. In SWG, I still long for the days in Smuggler’s Cove on Corellia, my house amidst the houses of friends and guildmates, the trappings of my adventures decorating my home.

Perhaps the absence of housing and meaningful PvP was the choice Blizzard had to make in order to make a stellar PvE experience from 1-60. If so, it was a wise choice. There’s not been a better PvE game, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean that all games have to end like EQ/EQ2/WoW, and now perhaps LOTRO. There are definitely engaging mmorpg options that don’t revolve around the endless and pointless gear upgrade cycle of the PvE gameworlds. The game doesn’t have to be over when you hit the level cap.

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