While development of areas is becoming good (ashes of creation), I can't find a fantasy MMORPG game with an exploration system that excites me. Well, I've been out of the loop for a few years so that might be the reason. But I imagine a game where a server starts with nearly everything being wild. Not only can towns and areas (in AoCs case, nodes) be built up with actions and quests, but directly with resources as well; given the mayor uses funds to expand the area. But! for exploration, there are no set or predetermined paths/roads, or at least not pre-developed. The area has to be explored, and then a path created via resource harvesting in the area while fighting off wildlife. Eventually a basic thin path is created, and to develop it further, actual resources are needed; likely via taxes and a decision to invest it from the mayor or large guild. Every level of development of the path allows the path to be bigger making it so less monsters attack players (maybe they can't spawn on paths). This way, exploring is integral to development. Mix it with being able to keep good undeveloped paths a secret, and it allows for guilds and gangs to keep an edge.
Also, keep areas on official maps a secret or at least very vague. Have players be able to draw on these official but vague maps that can be sold to others, kept secret, or be straight up lies. I like how some games now have a fog of war, but take it a step further.
And keep rare resources only in specific areas in specific biomes, with some biomes small, rare and full of danger, making these areas fun to find and challenging to get to (ideas: tough creatures, rough landscapes, diseases that doesn't allow non native races to stay in certain areas for long) so it's both rewarding and keeps explorers relevant.
There are a few other smaller things, but wouldn't this be fun to add to MMORPGs which are already great at combat, economy, crafting, and now development. The only other thing I can think of is technological advancement via development, city/guild investments and resource missions to make relatively advanced items a thing that gets normalized as it spreads throughout the world, but it starts out as rare at first, and which can all that knowledge can be lost if the development is not spread and the city destroyed. This would only work if items can break over time and player crafting of these lesser known advanced technology can only be done using a public workshop exclusive to the cities with knowledge of it. Mix it with rare resources while exploring being combined with what was seemingly useless and common at first, and again exploration, and farming basic resources, is important.
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