MMOs have changed a lot over the past decade and a half. Maybe that’s why, even as I ran around in the bare-bones City of Titans, I was hit with equal feelings of nostalgia and regret – nostalgia for how much fun I had in City of Heroes and regret that, if City of Titans reaches its final form, I probably won’t have much interest in an MMO running on a 12 (or more)-year-old engine.
That got me thinking about other free-to-play MMOs I like, or used to like, that just seem antiquated by today’s standards. There’s still life in them, but time seems to have passed them by. That’s not necessarily their fault; you can’t completely rework a game’s mechanics and its engine five-plus years after it came out. Still, if I could push a giant reset button, here are the games I’d like to see get a more modern treatment.
(None of this is to say that these games are “bad” or should be shut down or replaced – or, given the costs in making a new MMO, not to mention licensing issues, that they ever could be made. But I would tend to think that, if they possessed a magic reset button, even the developers, in most of these cases, would like to do something similar.)
City of Heroes
Let’s start with the game that inspired this trip down memory lane. City of Titans, while nice, looks to be pretty much a straight-up copy of the original. As I said, that will be nice, and City of Heroes was still popular when it was shut down, but it’s unlikely to do much to hold the modern MMO player’s attention for too long.
While “crashing the evil villain’s lair” – i.e., instanced dungeons/raids – would still be a thing, I’d like to see more active, large-scale street-level action, something akin to modern dynamic events. Imagine a giant robot rampaging through the city that heroes have to confront, or a disease sweeping through town that tasks players with finding the cure before it’s too late. That’s the essence of “being the hero,” in my mind – fighting crime and helping the ordinary citizens.
CoH actually had a little bit of this, all the way back in 2004, along with the sidekicking system, which let players of different levels play together. It was “modern” in several ways, it just needs some fine-tuning and a new coat of paint.
The Lord of the Rings Online
You knew I’d bring this one up, right? Turbine’s tried to modernize its MMO, adding a form of dynamic events and even removing monster tagging, but the game is still shackled to an engine that still can look pretty at times, but often shows its age, both in its graphical clarity and performance. Toss in a mostly WoW-style questing and loot system and it’s hard not to pine for something a little more adventurous in the greatest fantasy IP of all time.
Other than the obvious performance and graphical upgrades, I’d want the “new LotRO” to find a way to put the emphasis on the journey more so than the destination. Seemingly 90% of the Lord of the Rings books has the characters going from one place to another, with little actual time spent in Moria, Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, and other notable places.
How to do that in an MMO, where people expect to repeat closed spaces over and over to gather loot? Maybe something similar to ArcheAge’s trade routes could be a major part of the game. There might be some “physical” rewards, like gold and items, but perhaps the main goal would be gaining renown and fame for your glorious deeds. If there was ever an IP that could plausibly encourage something other than loot gain, The Lord of the Rings would be it. After all, in the books, the main characters start with the greatest treasure in the world and they’re actively trying to get rid of it!
Unlike CoH and LotRO, Rift is a newer game. And I’ll re-emphasize what I said originally, that no, I don’t think it should be shut down and instantly replaced. A lot of people love it, and it’s still really popular.
I tend to think of Rift, though, the same way I think of Magic: The Gathering. Magic’s creator, Richard Garfield, has said that, if he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t have lands in Magic; they’re uninteresting and just take up space, and many CCGs have figured out how to do resources without them.
Rift was the first MMO to really put an emphasis on dynamic events – heck, the game’s even named after them – but it still couldn’t resist putting in traditional World of Warcraft-style “kill 10 rats” questing. It was unquestionably a fallback move, put in there just in case this crazy rift idea didn’t work.
Now, a few years later, a game based entirely around dynamic events, with limited or no traditional questing, doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. I like to think that, just as with lands and Magic, the developers would love to be able to “start over” and make the game all that it could be without archaic questing holding it back.
Star Wars: The New Republic?
Star Wars = money. That’s just the way it is. Even those “awful” prequels raked in over a billion dollars in theaters, and that’s not counting all income from comic books, action figures, t-shirts, DVDs… and video games.
There was no MMO produced based on those prequels, because Star Wars: Galaxies was in development/released and we had The Old Republic to fill in as a mostly unexplored part of the Expanded Universe when SWG went away. But with the new movies coming out over the next few years, I think it’s all but inevitable that we’ll see a new MMO based on them… someday.
EA and BioWare’s contract to produce Star Wars: The Old Republic probably runs until sometime in the early 2020s, by which time Episodes VII to IX should be wrapped up. Of course, actually making an MMO would take years beyond that, so maybe we’re not even looking at getting this game until 2030(!) or so – but again, Star Wars = money. You know someone is thinking about it.
What would it look like? Honestly, given the tremendous costs in creating an MMO based on one of the most popular licenses in history, I can’t imagine it taking any huge risks – in other words, it would probably follow SWTOR’s lead in that case.
However, who knows how MMOs will develop over the next 10-15 years? Maybe sandboxes will be all the rage again and the new Star Wars MMO will mimic that style (and all F2P payment models will be less like SWTOR’s). Then you’ll finally have your second coming of Star Wars: Galaxies.