High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.
You walk into a hallway, and there are a few orcs or robots or whatever standing in the corner. They’re staring right in your direction. Not 10 feet behind you are the corpses of their fallen comrades, lying in a giant pile, the loot stripped from their bones. For some reason, the foes don’t approach you or your party. They completely ignore you until someone goes within 10 feet, and then they all run over at once and attack the nearest person. You attack back, hitting numbers that correspond with abilities that refresh over time – and once they do, you cast them again.
Above: SWTOR moves the genre forward in some ways, and holds it back in others
After the enemies are killed, you go into the next room and there’s a boss. You minimize the game and pull up a YouTube video showing off how to kill the boss. You tell everyone in your Vent channel to shut up because you’re looking it up. You could just try and figure out the battle yourself, but the developers want to make the bosses extra tricky, so they gave him unique mechanics that don’t make a lick of sense or have anything to do with the rest of the game. You need to stand on the blue blocks when he turns orange, kite him around the room while he spawns little versions of himself to fight, and hide behind a column when he screams “I HUNGER!” And then you kill him and he drops and item that’s 4 percent better than the one you have. You equip it. It looks a little different than your old one. Everyone is jealous. You do it again.
Massively-multiplayer online RPGs, everybody – let’s give them a round of applause!
The basic MMO formula hasn’t changed much since EverQuest. Hell, it hasn’t changed that much since multi-user dungeons (MUDs). You pick a class, choose a race, grab an item and beat rats or goblins or droids to death with it for 400 hours until you hit the level cap. And that’s when it really starts to suck. See, the developers don’t want their game to ever end, so at level cap, you’re usually given a bunch of extra-hard dungeons to fight in.
Above: Pandas aren't going to save the genre
Those dungeons give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons that give you tokens that you can use to get better gear to fight in harder dungeons.
And then you do raids, which is that same crap with more than a dozen people. PvP and crafting both follow that same model, giving players a carrot on a stick instead of actual rewards.
The worst part is that it’s obvious why they do it: MMO communities are a mess, and they don’t know what they want. Whenever a developer thinks outside the box, the community complains that the game isn’t close enough to World of Warcraft. When they go by the book, everyone calls it a World of Warcraft clone.
Above: Guild Wars 2 has some unique ideas; hopefully they're different enough
That’s not to say things haven’t improved; elements have been refined, with Trion’s Rift being the finest example of a pure MMO to date. The Old Republic switches things up, too, giving the entire genre a coat of beautiful paint, but both of those games, at their core, are still mediocre action-RPGs gussied up in pretty outfits. Really, really, really pretty outfits.
The combat needs to change. Having 30 different stats needs to disappear. The idea of “agro ranges” needs to die. The endgame needs a complete overhaul. Even games that have done a good job at changing things up, like DC Universe Online, The Old Republic and Age of Conan, still eventually boil down to repeating the same actions in different scenarios.
Developers need to stop creating sequels and spin-offs to EverQuest, and start making their own game. They need to take a step away from the norm and create new experiences within the genre, and until they do, everyone is going to act as though every game in the genre is a sequel to the game before it, instead of an actual game in and of itself.
Above: Secret World's unique leveling could be what helps it stand out
MMOs need to evolve, not because I’m tired of killing rats or doing quests (to be honest, I actually like that trivial nonsense), but because the number of people willing to put up with that might have hit its cap. I’ve heard developers say that in order for another big MMO to succeed, WoW needs to fall. There are a finite number of gamers willing to put up with that tired model, and developers are just trading them by the thousand. That’s bad. That’s unhealthy. That will eventually kill the genre, unless someone makes some changes.
And I love the idea of playing with millions of people too much to see it die.