I remember back in 2003 when I started playing my first ever MMO. It was pretty popular back then as one of the only ones in the market available at the time. Runescape. The experience was rich. You didn't have any set quests to embark on. You didn't have anything stopping you from traveling to other zones and exploring (save for gold fees and monsters who love to one shot you). It was up to you as the adventurer to choose your path. Whether you wanted to be the best lumberjack in Lumbridge or the greatest warrior, clad in Dragon armor was ultimately up to you. Coupled in with friends and strangers that you met, it was a really fun experience trying to compete or simply have fun with the events. After some years, World of Warcraft was really starting to steamroll the market. I thought I'd dive in after it's very first expansion: The Burning Crusade.
After watching Lord of the Rings, the Elven race really left an impression on me so I decided I would make a Blood Elf. I had no idea what I was in for coming from a very open world like Runescape, but I soon discovered the magic of lore. And boy did the Blood Elves have a lot of it! I learned so much as I embarked on a series of quests after quests. Questing was entirely new and fresh to me and I loved what I learned as I did them. It really pulled me into the WoW universe and I was able to get attached to the characters and sympathize with them. Leveling felt more impactful in the sense that you earned your talent points to divvy in your talent trees and traded out different pieces of gear with increasing stats as you got stronger. Wrath of the Lich King was the expansion that I'd kick it into overdrive and become a 'hardcore' raider. Min-maxing gear was another aspect of the game that I hadn't tackled yet and I found it challenging, yet extremely rewarding.
Over the years, I've tried my hand at many other MMOs like Final Fantasy 14, Guid Wars, TERA, Neverwinter, Elsword, The Elder Scrolls Online, Blade and Soul, Black Desert Online, Albion, Perfect World, Ether Saga Online, (list goes on). Blade and Soul managed to catch my attention for a good while due to it's robust combat system and gearing process. The combat is akin to a fighting game where combos are important and the gearing just makes you feel POWERFUL. But as I switched between my favorite MMOs, it's been slowly dawning on me that the experience just isn't the same. Min-maxing doesn't feel as rewarding anymore. Questing seems dry. The open world experience doing whatever you want doesn't seem as magical anymore. In WoW, the requirements to get certain things are now gated behind something called reputations which are not easily attained anymore. Even after grinding out these tedious reputations, the gratification isn't completely there. In Blade and Soul, gearing up isn't easily done anymore due to the limited flow of certain materials, which make for extremely expensive upgrades. The MMO markets are changing certain aspects of their games to retain their playerbase, boost their online number statistics, or simply cash grab, but in doing so makes achievements much harder to accomplish.
I think one of the most attributing factors to the magic being lost in MMOs is having already experienced it over years and years. There's only so much you can do design-wise with your open world without making it a copy-paste from other franchises. This makes me worry for the future of MMOs, because for the longest time this is what I have known. I'm not sure what I'd do with myself if I didn't get to have an alternate life, exploring the wilds and slaying dragons.
What are some of the things that keep you enthralled with MMORPGs? Do you feel like business models are shifting somewhere undesirable?
TLDR; MMOs used to be fun, but I feel they're going in the wrong direction.
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