On Greater Challenges

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.

Death right on your doorstep

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.

17 thoughts on “On Greater Challenges

  1. Gaff

    Direction spamming is your friend. On another note, every PVP server I have played on has been like that–doesn’t seem to be much point, but I certainly participated in ganking allies whenever possible. They started it, after all.

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  2. Aberron

    hmm TorilMuD ‘eey? *makes notes*

    I’m unsubscribed in WoW currently for just this reason. I could rant here; must…resist… :)

    Sure, after a bad day at work I like a bit of normal mode just like the next guy. Most of the time however, I like a game that fights me back to the bitter end.

    I absolutely love the server segregation idea. Imagine two WoWs where no-one moans about it being too easy/hard. That’s half the QQ gone right there. Blizz would be free to make the Ultimate Merciless WoW and Ultimate PartyTime WoW.

    You know what, if both were available I’d pay for both. In fact seperate subs would really nail the QQ down; in the game itself that is, where I care about it. The forums would explode of course but who reads those anyway.

    Yeah I’m naive :D

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  3. bluelinebasher

    Harder as in its harder to grind but you get better rewards? Or harder as in like a diablo hardcore mode where if your toon is gone, its long gone?

    I’ve always thought MMOs should offer one of their servers to be an insta-end game/level cap server. Would WoW benefit from an auto 80 Hardcore War Server where you reroll if you die? Would it help guide and build your grind toon? Would it make you a better player?

    It would be nice if Eve had a fleet arena server to play on to practice team play PVP without cost of losing a ship (I suppose faction warfare is close). But we pay for the full game, would be nice to have access to all parts of it.

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  4. Jesse

    When I was leveling my first main character in WoW, whenever I got bored with questing I would solo the elites that used to be guarding the entrance to all the dungeons. My second main I leveled as a healer to gauruntee getting into the dungeons to level, and nowadays with the new dungeon tool I level exclusively in dungeons. The way I see it the game is what you make of it, and the option for more challenging play is there for the taking.

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  5. boatorious

    There’s a lot of challenging things in WoW that nobody has ever done, or literally like a few hundred people out of 10 million have done. And if you count achievements the top ten achievers in the world US and EU I think all have different totals — either nobody’s completed every achievement or only one person has.

    I think it’s disorienting to old MUD and EQ players though, because challenges in WoW are almost always at the back end of the game, rather than at the front end like it was in MUDs and early MMO’s.

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  6. bluelinebasher

    Or do you mean like a playthrough 2 option? Where everything is the same quest wise but enemies are scaled and the loot drop is better like Borderlands?

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  7. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    The real question is if people will pay for harder gameplay.

    I think the big problem is that harder gameplay is a niche interest. Most people aren’t good game players. One of Blizzard’s stated design philosophies is to “make everything overpowered” as stated in Rob Pardo’s GDC talk. After all, a player who romps through things is going to be happier than the person who got their butt kicked five times in a row and can’t figure out the strategy to get beyond it.

    I think it’s more accurate to think of WoW less as a game and more as a low-impact social activity. It’s more like hanging out at the sports bar with your friends than forming a sports team with your group. So, the business question is: will you pay more to play as a sports team? Or should game designers keep building bars and hoping you’ll visit theirs instead of another better-advertised one?

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  8. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Jesse – You’re responding to somebody who is part of a regular group that is pretty much leveling via instances for the second time through. The challenge isn’t really there. If dungeon finder groups can roll through these instances, a group that has played together for over three years certainly isn’t going to have much of a problem. My weekly posts are becoming a challenge to write because I hate to just keep saying, “We win again! Go us!”

    @Boatorious – While I like achievements, that is sort of a meta challenge. As noted directly above, the walk through levels 1-80 is where I would like to see more challenge. The back end of the game, which is raiding, has no hold on our group. We aren’t up to the time commitment challenge even if we could summon.

    Anyway, I was asking if Blizz, as an example, should offer greater challenges. Your answer, and Jesse’s, appears to be “No.”

    @BLB – That is exactly what I had in mind. I just can’t imagine an argument that would put Blizz on a path to that in the next five years. That seems like something they wouldn’t get to until the game was well and truly out of date and they wanted something to keep subscriptions up for the hard-core faithful, like EQ’s progression and 50/51 servers.

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  9. Vyll

    This is something I’d love to see, but can’t ever see happening. I miss my early days in EQ where if you were at the max level, it actually meant you were a pretty good player. So many people just didn’t have the skills or the determnation to make it much past 40 (at original release). Unfortunately, I think that WoW has really spoiled the MMO consumer base and I question how many people would REALLY want the game to be harder.

    I’d pay for a harder server.

    All mobs over 10 are elite level (compared to WoW mobs)
    Roaming aggro guards in many/most zones
    Exp penalty for death
    Reappearing naked at your bindpoint regardless of where your death occurred and making a corpse run to get your gear back
    Levelling blocks – must complete X quest or Y dungeon before you can get past Z level
    No indicators of where to pickup or turn in quests – Read the quest log
    Limited 3rd party addons allowed – No DBM/BigWigs

    One of the biggest things I dislike about WoW is there is 100% no concern over death. When I died in EQ, it was downright painful. If you were in a group and someone caused said group to wipe, they kicked you and you were often blacklisted.

    I just can’t see a large enough percentage of current MMO players willing to subject themselves to these difficulties for a company to invest in making it happen.

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  10. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Brian – I think the special EQ servers I mentioned in the previous comment bear out, to a certain extent, that there is a small segment of players that will gravitate towards something different or more challenging. And with a population the size of WoW’s, that segment might be worth paying attention to at some point in time.

    One of the key aspects of an MMO business plan is how to keep people paying your monthly subscription. WoW, which I only used for illustration purposes, but like always edged out all other discussion, caters to this with the raiding and heroic instances angle and with what I will call the “distractions” angle (achievements and things like holidays and Argent Tournament).

    I just wonder if it might be worth their time to create an alternate, more challenging, separate server leveling experience when we’ve made all the alts we feel we need to and start talking with our regular social circle about finding another sports bar that shows, say, hockey as opposed to basketball.

    And the answer might be “no.” They might prefer we move to their new space marine themed bar which still shows basketball, but has different colored umbrellas in the drinks.

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  11. Xyd

    As a long-time Toril player – both good and evil – I think there would be renewed interest in WoW for me with a “hard mode”. I found WoW’s PvP servers annoying at best and only subtly more difficult to play. WoW PvP servers are “more inconvenient” rather than “more challenging”.

    The experience whack on Toril was big. Losing 1/4 level hurt – a lot – especially at higher levels. I think the death experience penalty was well done and added to the challenge in Toril. As for ressing, well, you remember how that worked too, huh?

    You feel a pang of loss.

    (Or something like that.) Permanently losing a character attribute point for a “failed” ress added even more challenge. Do I ress or don’t I…? Add that to WoW!

    I don’t think forced grouping for quests is the answer, nor is making everything elite. I think that fewer quests (especially the “find n of y” variety) with more depth per quest would make it more interesting. Again, back to Toril. Remember the Druid moonwell quest? Or Sorcerer planeshift quest? Or cleric resurrect quest? Those were excellent quests – they added depth, believability and interest to the game.

    So translate to WoW: spells that aren’t purchased but earned through questing. Quest chains that would take MANY game-hours to complete because the item-carriers wandered or because the item-carrier changed each day or reboot. Hell, make some of them wander between zones. (Remember global trackers in Toril? Yikes!) Make some of the higher-level quests run by real humans controlling chars you would need to find and interact with. Make some of the zones significantly harder to enter like Jot or Brass on Toril.

    I think it could be done. And I’d welcome it so I could un-suspend my account. :-)

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  12. dorgol

    I would welcome a hard-mode server. Not sure I would pay more (I’m paying because I’m having fun, adding harder options is additional fun, but not necessarily MORE fun).

    Once I unlocked the option, I only played Diablo II in “hardcore” mode – where death was permanent. I think my highest character made it to 64 or so… :)

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  13. Bhagpuss

    I have absolutely no interest in playing the same MMO already on offer while wearing lead boots. If a Hard server just offers the exact same content with all the mobs doubled in hit points or all the solo mobs replaced by elites, then what would be the point? That’s just the same experience I can already have but on slomo.

    The Torilmud example you began with isn’t like that , though. Neither was Everquest when I began playing it. What those MUD/MMOs offered wasn’t just harder gameplay, it was more complex gameplay. When your race is hated by every other race and you can’t even get on a ship to get away from your isolated island home without every guard, sailor and even shopkeeper trying to kill you, you spend more time thinking than fighting.

    I would play any of my favorite MMOs on a “Complex” server. A server where faction really, really mattered. A server where getting from one place to another WAS gameplay. A server where what you had done could be read from what you’re character could be seen doing in the world, not just from a website.

    When I played EQ back then, seeing an Ogre using the bank in Freeport told you a lot about that character and the person playing it. Seeing a tiny level 3 gnome wizard levelling up outside Qeynos gates let you know you really were looking at an adventurer. It was a big, dangerous world and everyone was in it together. There were no “elite” or “group” mobs. There were just things you could kill and things that could kill you and it was up to you to learn one from the other.

    I’d like some special ruleset servers for people that like to think while they play, aren’t in a tearing hurry, and value the character of their characters over their gear.

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  14. Jesse

    I think I see what you are talking about now, and I agree for the most part. Most of the challenge when I play WoW now comes from getting a new player in the pickup group and having to teach them the basics of grouping, or having to deal with a wide variety of jerks. Maybe instead of a whole new server type they could add something like a Heroic mode for lower level dungeons except it’s meant to be played at level instead of at the cap, and special achievements like they have for the Wrath dungeons(see Glory of the Hero). If it weren’t for Glory of the Hero and battleground fun I might as well delete my characters once they reach the level cap because I don’t have the time for raids and I don’t bother with most regular quests let alone daily quests which is what the faction grind is all about now(excepting the tabards). In the meantime, have you guys considered battlegrounds? WoW doesn’t have nearly enough of them to hold your attention all the time, but they are great fun if you like that sort of thing.

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  15. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Jesse – I’ve been running my shaman up levels by using the dungeon finder and it can make for some interesting groups. Challenge can certainly be found in that.

    We were actually talking about forming the world’s worst five person arena group at one point, just to say we’d done it.

    The arena gear reward system is odd though, in my opinion. The higher your standing, the better the gear you can buy… which then helps you stay high in standing since you have better gear than your challengers.

    Personally, I enjoy Wintergrasp and Isle of Conquest and Vikund is decked out in mostly PvP welfare epics. But I am not sure the rest of the group shares my enthusiasm.

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  16. Jesse

    And while we are on the subject of wanting more from games, what happened to dungeon mazes?There are a few dungeons in WoW where it can be hard to find your way the first couple times, but where are the traps with pits or poison darts, confusing passageways that all look the same, vertical roundabouts where the only way to go down is to go up first, rooms with the walls slowly closing in, a fierce Minotaur roaming around, spiders dropping from the ceiling, a kindly old man who guides you to a deadend and turns into a crazy monster, hidden passages, a Sphinx with funny riddles that eats you even if you get the answer right, and lots of deadends?

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