Seven Things Wrong With Modern-day MMORPGs
There are not enough static dungeons. This is strongly related to number four on this list, but I decided to give it its own category. In any case, where are the huge static dungeons, caves, mazes, etc.? Not in games like WoW, that is for sure. I hate to sound like a broken record by bringing up EQ again, but in EQ there are actually dungeons and such that are part of its permanent world that can be accessed by all players. In other words, there are not hundreds of thousands of five-man groups running around in separate instanced dungeons like there is in WoW. This comes with its own pros and cons of course, but I personally think it is more fun and epic to see other groups of players navigating and interacting with a dungeon and its denizens, including other players, than to be stuck in a dynamic instanced dungeon with only four other people. This brings us back to what I have been saying before that current MMORPGs feel like single player games with chat rooms. Another thing I have noticed is that dungeons in modern MMORPGs do not feel like actual dungeons. There are no traps; there are no hidden passages; there are no ladders; there are no alternate routes; there are no underwater passageways; there is no mystery.
Inadequate penalties for death. A 10% durability loss on equipped items (World of Warcraft)--or being able to die 10 times before your stats are reduced by 50% for four minutes (Rift: although you can heal yourself for a small amount of money (price of vendor trash) before your stats are reduced)--are not adequate penalties for dying in any game, let alone a massively multiplayer role playing game. Imagine if Nintendo had made it so dying in Super Mario Bros 3 meant respawning at an earlier checkpoint without the loss of anything; so, anyone, even your grandma, could eventually beat the game because everyone would effectively possess an infinite number of extra lives. Is that superior game design? Is that fun? I do not think so. Another example would be legitimately beating Contra versus beating Contra using the famous infinite lives code. The former would be much more challenging and sometimes even frustrating, but it would ultimately lead to more gratification than the latter scenario. Solid death penalties make games more exciting, challenging, and they encourage players to become better. Unfortunately, most MMORPGs as of late have dropped the ball in this regard.
There are not enough ways to develop your character(s). In the original Everquest released in 1999 there are the following tradeskills: alchemy, baking, brewing, fletching, jewelcraft, poison, pottery, smithing, spell research, tailoring, tinkering, and fishing. And for skills (you know, the things that Blizzard took out of WoW recently, such as weapon skills) there is common tongue, barbarian, erudin, elvish, teir`dal, dwarvish, troll, ogre, gnomish, halfling, thieves cant, old erudin, elder elvish, froglok, goblin, gnoll, combine tongue, elder teir`dal, lizardman, orcish, faerie, dragon, elder dragon, dark speech, vah shir (languages that can be learned and spoken); and then there is begging, alcohol tolerance, throwing, swimming, spec: evocation, spec: divination, spec: conjuration, spec: alteration, spec: abjuration, sense heading, offense, meditate, hand-to-hand, dodge, divination, defense, conjuration, channeling, bash, alteration, abjuration, 2H blunt, 1H blunt, taunt, riposte, piercing, parry, offense, kick, double attack, dual wield, disarm, bash, archery, 2H slash, 1H slash, and evocation. (I'm not sure that even this is the complete list of skills.) Regardless, this impressive list of skills and languages sounds like something out of an actual role playing game. Each one of these skills adds to EQ in some way--whether it be enhancing atmosphere, providing opportunities to roleplay, distinguishing your character, or just adding an additional element to combat. One could argue that some of these skills overlap, but that would be a moot point because a MMORPG could have a multitude of skills without any of them overlapping. On top of this laundry list of skills, EQ character creation includes tweaking your character's ability scores (strength, charisma, etc.)--yet another way to truly create a character in the sense of D&D tabletop (you know, the game that sparked the MMORPG genre) and to differentiate your character from others.
There is a lack of emphasis on grouping with other players, especially during the time before end-game. The genre is called Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game. Let that sink in for a moment. MMORPGs are not single player games with integrated chat rooms. That being said, there is too much of a focus on solo-play in modern-day MMORPGs. Although I have no problem with there being a class or two that is designed for soloing (e.g., in EQ the Necromancer is the only class explicitly designed for soloing); that way, people who like to solo can select a soloing class. However, designing an entire game in such a way that it can be easily soloed from level 1 to the level cap means that the game is not challenging (i.e., boring), making grouping completely optional and even a redundancy. When I play MMORPGs like WoW, it seems to me like leveling has been treated as pointless filler instead of an exciting journey. When I play current MMORPGs I feel like everyone is playing their own instance of the same single player game with the occasional interaction via trade or Chuck Norris joke. And if players feel like letting other players inside their little circle (group invite), then so be it; and if not, then so be it.
It takes too little time and effort to hit level cap. I do not care if in a given MMORPG the primary way to gain experience is through killing monsters, or through questing--or a mix between the two. But for the love of the MMORPG genre, please stop churning out games in which players can hit the level cap in a week or two. Level 50 in Rift? Who cares. Level 90 in the original EQ? Holy $#!^. What is the difference between hitting the level cap in two weeks and having to run the same instanced dungeons over and over again for gear and hitting the level cap in a month or more and having to run the same dungeons over and over again to get gear? There is no difference in the sense that one is more "grindy" than the other; they are both grindy, but that is part of the MMORPG genre. The time spent progressing your character should never be called "grinding." The only time that word should be used is when referring to boring progression--and leveling does not have to be boring. If every level you obtained a new cool-looking spell or skill, would you not be excited about leveling, even if it took you a month to hit the level cap? Actually, if every level you obtained an awesome new ability, would you not want the level cap to take a long time to hit? Moreover, would not a MMORPG with a high level cap and a lot of end-game content be more valuable than a MMORPG with a low level cap and an equal amount of end-game content?
The way in which NPCs behave is lacking. I am talking about being able to run away from attacking NPCs until they magically stop chasing you ("SORRY MAN, MY MOM'S CALLING ME FOR DINNER!"), becoming invulnerable, and then running back to their spawn point at 500% speed. First of all, they should not become invulnerable and run back to their spawn point at 500% speed. They should stop chasing after a certain period of time--depending on how much aggro you have generated (and the type of NPC they are)--and then walk or jog back to their original location, attacking whoever is in the way (if they are hostile to whoever is in the way, that is). This makes things much more immersive and interesting. Some argue that some players would use this to grief other players, but there are things that developers could do to lessen the chances of that happening (e.g. you will only be added to a NPC's aggro list if you stay around them for more than 10 seconds while they are attacking their original target). Secondly, there will always be players who grief; and the player willing to grief one way but cannot for whatever reason will probably try to figure out another. Despite the precautionary measures taken by Blizzard in their game WoW, by which they have dumbed down game, there is still griefing. I would be as bold to say that there is just as much griefing if not more griefing going on in that game than a game like EQ. The only difference being EQ is not dumbed down. Consequently, I do not think it is a good idea to focus too much development time on finding every possible way a player may grief another, and then change the game accordingly. A lot of times this just leads to dumbing-down game mechanics, as we have seen with the way in which NPCs generate aggro in newer MMORPGs.
Faction is uninteresting. I hate to bring up that 12-year old game again, but in EQ your faction standing had a much more serious impact on gameplay and served to further immerse players in its virtual world. To give one example, creating a Shadowknight (class) Iksar (race) in EQ meant many NPCs would hate you, not talk to you, not barter with you, or even attempt to kill you if they saw you. Put simply, the way faction is done now, and I speak mostly from the perspective of a former WoW player, is boring. Merely using faction as another means to reward players for grinding is not the way to go.