MMORPG: The Sloppy, Bloated, Inferior Cousin of the RPG

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if you hand me an RPG, I can play it for tens of hours as I work through the story and then the multiple sidequests which pad out the gameplay taking it from a mere 40 or 50 hours to potentially 70 or even 100. However long an RPG ends up being, chances are the main gameplay never feels as repetitive until you get into the side missions where it might just boil down to hunting down a monster and killing it or retrieving x number of items. But at least the main story is long, creative, and full of varied gameplay. The same can't really be said of MMORPGs though, which is weird considering unlike a regular RPG, new content is being developed for it on a regular basis - the initial roll-out is just the first stage of its public life. And yet, they still can't always get the balance between mission variety and storytelling right.

Maybe it's due to the epic size of the game or the fact that it has to appeal to a much larger collection of human players acting in symphony from around the globe that the variety of gameplay is so stunted, but compared to the RPG, the MMORPG has a disproportionately low level of diversity in storylines when measure against the length of time it's supposed to entertain us. All the MMORPG can really boast is a huge duration of gameplay and possible social interaction (you know, to a point). Now, I'm not advocating against all online play, nor am I saying that the shortcomings of the MMORPG prove online play is only suited for first-person shooters or poker, but there has to be some middle ground where the rich storytelling of the single player RPG isn't so completely compromised to make missions universally accessible.

Far too often, such as in the case of DC Universe Online, World of Warcraft, or the failed Final Fantasy IV, the easy answer for the standard MMORPG gameplay is nearly identical missions that pop up on different places on the map with enemies who look different but are essentially all the same with the purpose of offering the player a half-assed distraction as they collect/decode/save a certain number of items/devices/persons to meet a pre-specified quota that equates to "Mission Accomplished". And yet, even as the game tells you the mission is "accomplished", due to the fact that countless other human players are at different stages of completing that same mission, the location where you just finished your mission looks just as destroyed and monster infested as when you arrived. There's never any sense of completion or accomplishment to accompany what you did.

Assuming that flaw doesn't bug you, another key feature of the MMORPG is, naturally, the presence of other human players. For the most part, you have the option to virtually ignore everyone else and run every mission solo and treat the game like a normal RPG, albeit with all missions feeling like carbon copies of the one that came before as they lead up to a dungeon raid and a mini-boss. Of course, ignoring the other players doesn't always work (like if one snakes an item you earned, etc.), but if you want to you can play through like they're not there. But what's the point? If that's the experience you want, you're better off playing a normal single player RPG which, though finite in its scope, will most certainly have a better story and a more rewarding sense of gameplay.

The worst thing an MMORPG can do in trying to make itself as widely accessible as possible is to model storylines where it's just the same mission over and over with slight variations each time, just so they can be viable for group play and repetition by many different players entering the mission from different stages of play. It's a hard formula to get right and typically every expansion of an MMORPG tends to nudge the game closer and closer to that ideal, but as of yet these flaws seem to exist within the most popular MMORPGs today.

Is there an MMORPG out there that manages to get it right?

Mar
18
2013
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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