Quote from the “help orc” screen on TorilMUD:
Warning: As one of the six evil races on TorilMUD, the orcs are extremely difficult to play and face many hardships. Their hometown has been specifically designed to make life hell and death waits around every corner. Orc will most certainly encounter situations that would be deemed “unfair” to any of the non-evil races. We did this to create a new challenge for those advanced players who have “beaten” the challenge of life on the surface world and are looking for something more difficult. You should NOT play an orc unless you are a *very* advanced player and are used to the TorilMUD style of MUDding, or are willing to face the hardships without complaint, as it will NOT be easy.
This little blurb from a help file in a MUD I played regularly for many years has come to my mind more than a few times since the instance group moved over to the horde side of the world in WoW.
Certainly changing to a PvP server made things a little more challenging. And by that I mean mildly less convenient. 90% of the time for us PvP means a level 80 character one-shotting group members for fun. Actual, near-level PvP is a pretty rare thing. Otherwise life is about the same as our alliance experience.
But back on TorilMUD, if you played one of six races referred to in that quote (for the record, they are Drow Elf, Duergar Dwarf, Ogre, Swamp Troll, Illithid, Orc, and Yuan-Ti), your life started out considerably different than if you chose any of the good races. (Barbarian, Human, Halfling, Half-elf, Gnome, Grey Elf, or Mountain Dwarf.)
Your home town was considerably less friendly. Aggro NPCs wandered the streets and more often than not the town guards would side with them if they attacked you. Bam! Dead.
And with that death came a loss of 25% of a level in experience, and if that put you down to the previous level, so sorry. If you weren’t careful, it could become easier to re-roll a new character than carry on with one that died too many times, as your experience tally would go into the negative if you were still level 1.
Even getting out of town for the evil races could be a challenge. It wasn’t so bad for the drow or the ogres, but everybody who rolled a troll remembers trying to get by the lizardmen standing on the only path from Ghore to the rest of the world.
Even when I went back to TorilMUD to check the exact location of the lizardmen, there was a corpse in the first room. Some poor player in noob gear insta-killed walking out of town, a tale as old as the MUD.
Some of this “evil races should be harder to play” was carried over into EverQuest, at least early on. By the time EverQuest II rolled around, balance, equality, and fair play were the watchwords of the day. WoW and EQ2 are certainly on a level footing when it comes to that.
And even in TorilMUD, the hardships of the evil races were not all that onerous in the end. Newer players tended to be the ones who bore the brunt of much of what was “harder” about playing the evil races. Once you were above a certain level and had figured out the paths around the spots not safe for evils, life was not all that different.
Still, when you made it to level cap you felt like you had accomplished something more. You were a member of a slightly more exclusive club, having mastered the challenge of the evil races.
Should MMOs offer a similar harder path?
And, if so, how should they do it?
I will use WoW as the example, since it is arguably most in need of a harder path.
I don’t think they can go the route of making one faction or race more difficult than others on the same server.
One might argue that a PvP server provides a greater challenge. My own experiences in that regard show that only a small fraction of the PvP action is actually a challenge to anybody, since most of the time it is a level 80 player (or players) from the other faction rampaging through a lower level area and one-shotting people. Insta-death is not a challenge.
No, I think if there would be a greater challenge in WoW, a greater PvE challenge, it would have to come in the form of special servers.
Would you play WoW (or substitute in your own favorite PvE biased fantasy MMO if you want) if they offered a server where, say, all open world mobs over level 10 were elite and every quest was a group quest?
How about if they offered special “hardcore” achievements so that if somebody looked you up in the Armory, it would be clear that you didn’t just hit level 30, but you did it on a server designed to be much harder than normal? What if Blizz got around to consolidated account achievements so you could show off that you had “done it all” in both normal and hard mode?
What else could MMO companies do to make their games more challenging for that small sub-set of players who want to run through a more difficult experience?
Or should a game company bother? I mean, being easy certainly never hurt WoW’s bottom line.