By Omri Petitte
One of my best friends is missing.
When I last saw him, his eyes were filled with amazement as he beheld the untamed lands of “World of WarCraft” for the first time. His eagerness to explore the storied regions of Azeroth was supplemented by a deep appreciation of lore and an aspiration to breach the unknown was nothing short of heroic.
“Farewell!” his expression silently conveyed to me as he boarded a ship bound for high adventure.
Meanwhile, I unenthusiastically killed 15 ghosts for a quest reward I couldn’t even use.
For a time, I was just like my friend. I couldn’t take two steps without becoming enchanted by sweeping vistas or terrifying beasties. But after six years of repetition, the playing is getting intensely mundane.
To be sure, massively multiplayer online gamers crave constant content updates to keep their interest in check, but surely other solutions exist to eliminate dullness. Here’s some that might work.
Make the story important
I know, saying the story is important in a role-playing game is like saying the sky is blue. But all too often, MMO content is devoid of a worthwhile backstory.
Rudimentary excuses don’t cut it anymore — a quest-giver sending me off to collect crocodile skins because their feet hurt doesn’t exactly make an epic yarn.
Quests should constantly tell me that being a hero carries some weight in a time of conflict and upheaval. I don’t need excessive John McClane-esque action sequences, but I would like the tasks I receive to provide a tangible impact to the plot at large.
“Star Wars: The Old Republic” has a method of elevating its heroes as keystones of influence in the war between the Empire and the Republic. That is a good step toward giving the story a key role in games.
Make the world interesting
If “Red Dead Redemption” nailed one thing perfectly, it was immersion. Critics lauded environments like the parched deserts of New Austin and the majestic forests of West Elizabeth for their authenticity and multitude of random events.
So why not transplant those qualities into MMOs?
I wouldn’t be adverse to suddenly encountering a fledgling Night Elf priestess fleeing from a marauding band of Orcs, or recapturing escaped Orc convicts for a wayward military convoy. I really don’t like Orcs.
Quest hubs (concentrations of quest-givers in a structured environment such as a castle barracks) lack that sense of unpredictability that an open-ended world should have.
Keep things simple (and moderate)
Ratmen ransacking a village? I’m on it. Thieves pilfering the king’s coffers? Say no more. Nonessential quests don’t need to be burdened with extravagant explanations on why they need to be done.
Yes, Sauron was once the lackey of Melkor during the Ainulindale and the First Age of Middle-earth, but I don’t need to know that while I’m slaying goblin sheep poachers at the behest of a jilted ranger in “Lord of the Rings Online”.
Leave the important exposition to the more notable characters actually qualified to dispense such wisdom – like a king or a semi-senile wizard – and you’ve got yourself a valid goal to achieve.