All hail the modern MMO gamer — a twitchy, frothy mess

April 14, 2009

A brand new post over at Tobold’s place got me thinking today.  I’m one of those people who harp on how the letters RP are being forsaken in the acronym MMORPG, but I mostly focus on story and improvisational acting.  I’m more about the situation and the experience than I am the fat loot or the power.  But I realized something else in that post that Tobold put up — RPGs are losing their tactical background as well.

WoW, LotRO, and the other games just like it are all fine and dandy, but they are missing that element of tactical thinking.  Standing around and doing a gimmick is not tactical combat at its finest, nor is calculating the arc of the next arrow you’re about to fire from 50 feet.  There is a happy medium somewhere in there, but that’s still not the point.  The point is that our games are losing that tactical edge.

Tobold is right — take the gimmicks away from the boss fights in WoW and your skills don’t matter.  You end up with a whole UI loaded with junk and crazy people attempting to theorycraft their way out of a virtual paper bag.  It all comes down to what armor your wearing at the time, because that’s what WoW does to make sure people don’t get ahead of themselves.  (Because content lockdown via random item drops is the best thing a game designer can make.)

People don’t want to take the time anymore to actually deal with tactics and calm gameplay — one of the reasons of the death of the turn-based RPG system.  But I hate the assumption made amongst people that real time combat is somehow “better” than turn-based tactical combat.  They’re two very different flavors of gaming ice cream.  Some people prefer one, other people prefer both, but it never means that one is greater than the other.  They both offer two different experiences.

I would, however, like to see a return of a turn-based system.  It allows developers to control where the characters are during battles, allowing for some really cinematic fights and amazing magical effects.  It also allows developers to get back to challenging gamers logic senses rather than how many times they can faceroll on their keyboard.  You can also put skills inside menus, dropping the compulsive need to have an entire screen filled with buttons, charts, and whistles with a small little window to see where your character is standing.  (The main reason I don’t go grabbing random mods and rely on intuition during raids.  I like to actually SEE my game.)

Right now, all I have left to hold is basically Final Fantasy XI and EVE Online.  Both feature slower battle systems that allow players to make tactical maneuvers regarding combat, rather than being based on who can press “1” faster than the other.   FFXI even has the skillchain system, which triggers bursts of elemental damage when players use weapon skills one after another that match certain combinations of elements.  It requires some coordination and thinking on behalf of the party, but it’s 10x of fun when you get one to go off and completely wreck your enemy.

I look forward to the day where I can engage in a game with a great story that me and my friends can get into, paired with exciting, dramatic turn-based combat that is worthy of a cinematic movie.  That’s what I originally thought MMORPGs were going to become… but I guess I was very wrong.


  1. MMO designers are turning into babysitters trying to cajole a bunch of idle, spoiled kids into enjoying their game time.

    People don’t want tactical thinking. The mindless people who used to sit on their asses watching stupid crap on TV while stuffing junkfood into their mouths have now moved from TV to MMORPGs. They bring their fragile little egos and obsessive greed with them. Hence we get character classes that now focus on putting out gigantic shiny numbers to flatter their egos, and lots of shiny purple loot and achievements for them to collect compulsively.

  2. 100% agree with you Colin. The reason that I can not press “1” as fast as some other guys drives me away from the PVP element of WOW. I just hate the facerolling gameplay.

  3. I’m a huge fan of tactical gameplay. There are many reasons I’ve logged more time in FFTA2 than in WoW, and more time with TRPGs than with MMOs altogether. (OK, portability is big element, but the tactical gameplay is far more interesting to me than hotkey spam and theorycrafting.)

    Have you poked around in Atlantica Online? It has a tactical timed turn-based combat that is a nice alternative to the mainstream DIKU MMO design. It has its share of macrodesign problems, but the combat itself is interesting and fun.

    • Actually, I have not poked around Atlantica yet. I’ve looked at it, I’ve covered it, but I just never installed it and jumped into it. XD I’m behind on my games, as I still need to review Mabinogi, and then check out CoH’s architect, and then re-check out Age of Conan, and plus try out Free Realms in the middle of all of that, while still raiding on WoW and running a guild. >.<

      But, I promise you, I will certainly try to fit in some Atlantica! It has intrigued me.

  4. Hrm. I don’t really feel rushed for time when playing MMOs… reliance on anything approaching twitch reflexes is typically quite minimal in the PvE parts anyhow. A lot of games still break PvP down to strafing and jumping though, which is admittedly conceptually annoying.

    Wizard101 has turn-based combat of course. I really enjoyed beta testing that game. I’m not sure though that turn-based combat is especially cinematic in general; the fact that everyone acts in a rigidly ordered sequence seems really artificial if you’re watching it.

  5. Hey there, this is Josh “WaxPaper” Bashara, an editor at ZAM.com (parent site of Allakhazam, WoWHead). Just wanted to let you know that your editorial here inspired one of my own, which you can find on the front page of ZAM.com for the next week (“Kill 10 Rats: The Modern MMO Paradigm”), or directly at this link:


    I cited your editorial in mine and featured a small excerpt from it. Really nice work.



    • Hey, thanks for the nod Josh! I’ll be sure to read it in full tomorrow, as my eyes are too unfocused now to read it. 😀 But from what I glanced over, it looks great and I can’t wait to read the rest.

      And thanks for giving me the heads up and dropping by! Really appreciate the feedback. 🙂


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