Welcome to the 21st installment of the Game Design Spotlight! This column is your weekly dose of my analysis of game design elements across many multiplayer titles, such as Swords of Legends Online's Picture Style feature and the immersive quest design in Lord of the Rings Online.
Last week, I discussed how players in Outriders must be aggressive in combat to survive its challenges. And for today, I'm focusing on Foxhole, a cooperative sandbox MMO. By how the game functions, Foxhole reimagines what "massively multiplayer online" means in the virtual muddy cavities of seemingly never-ending wars with players determining their resolutions.
Indie Canadian developer Siege Camp was purposeful in constructing Foxhole to nail the importance of every player making a difference. In their words, "every soldier is controlled by a player. Players ARE the content."
They must lead the long-term war effort: From weapon manufacturing to base building to developing strategies in real-time combat to logistics and enemy scouting. These phases build a unique narrative around the outcome and duration of the current war as the persistent world stays alive whether players are online or offline.
Combat feels impactful as player-led armies outfox each other to conquer new territories and adjust to those lost earlier in the week. Ammunition is limited, forcing tactical operations and seeking ways to support units needing resources to endure.
The time of day and terrain could determine battle methods, while specialized weapons outperform others in those conditions. And like in a real war, planning to turn the tide of a losing battle or to keep the pressure on an opposing army takes time, commitment, and many soldiers functioning together. In a game where being in the thick of heated combat is just as significant as keeping watch on the perimeter of a supply route, every aspect fuels the purpose of Foxhole's MMO style.
Warfare directed by players in such a format frequently rejuvenates progression and has a micro-level intuitiveness where all activities in the game see some form of return. The resources you sent to the frontlines or flanking the enemy by following a risky strategem could be enough for your faction to pierce enemy lines. But part of the fun is that you never know where things will go due to actual people adapting in real-time to your actions in Foxhole.
Where The "MMO" Lives
Much of the gameplay beats of Foxhole boils down to crafting, gathering, building, engaging in combat, and reactively adjusting to enemy movements. It sounds like a simple loop, but many nuances may force you to look up a guide or two, especially if your green-faced character just popped into an ongoing war for the first time.
But to put it simply, materials play a vital role in securing victory in war. How players accumulate those resources is where the "MMO" lives in Foxhole, tasking participants to salvage diesel to fuel vehicles, mining coal on the battlefields, and other items necessary for mass production. The process plays out as you would expect in a survival game, with mixed low and high-tiered materials being the lifeline of massive constructions needing constant maintenance.
However, unlike games like Rust, where a single or few hands could make significant progress over time, Foxhole requires a collective push of action across its massive map. It becomes a tug-of-war of deciding to maintain priorities on the backlines and conquering/holding territory in war-torn lands as you leave and return to the game.
While there are many moving parts, such as facilities that produce certain explosives and a train system adding another layer of strategy to supply transportation, every player will have something for them to do in Foxhole that matters in the end.
Every Cog Matters
Players are effectively cogs in a war machine. Of course, players have agency on what exactly they would like to do for their particular faction, but the nature of their involvement doesn't change. You log in, contribute to some aspect of the war effort, and log out to do that again at a later date.
As rudimentary as that may sound, Foxhole's persistent world shakes up its MMO qualities enough to make each return exciting. Rivers may be frozen when you log in, so coordinating with your comrades on gathering/transporting resources may be an issue. Even worse, the enemy has a flame tank burning through your fortifications, causing you and others to cut your losses despite all the work you put into the space the previous night.
Knowing where players should fit themselves into this war machine of repositioning elements to win the conflict is quite the puzzle. Though, that's also the main point of Foxhole. The world breathes as players figure out ways of readjusting to situations others throw at them, and the world's systems merely support its primary function.
It is a war game where the idea of a "massively multiplayer online" format makes sense because each player adds something to the table. Like a virtual playground, players can mindlessly or laser-focus on specific goals in a collaborative effort that nails home what it means to play with different types of people in an online, living world.
That concludes another week of the Game Design Spotlight! Does the MMO gameplay in Foxhole appeal to you? Are there other titles like it that you believe make every player's decision matter in the long run? Let us know below! Also, feel free to comment on games you would like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!
- Game Design Spotlight #25: A Look At Stance Dancing In MMORPGs And Its Eventual Demise Across Mainstream Games
- Game Design Spotlight #24: How The Obscured World Map In Guild Wars 2 Begs You To Explore Its Corners
- Game Design Spotlight #23: Path Of Exile's "Ruthless" Mode Is Surprisingly Perfect For Casual Players
About the Author
Anthony Jones is a gaming journalist and late 90s kid in love with retro games and the evolution of modern gaming. He started at Mega Visions as a news reporter covering the latest announcements, rumors, and fan-made projects. FFXIV has his heart in the MMORPGs scene, but he's always excited to analyze and lose hours to ambitious and ambiguous MMOs that gamers follow.
💣 Feature | Game Design Spotlight #20: How Playing Aggressively In Outriders Keeps You Alive In The Long Run
Stay pushing forward to survive what's to come.By Anthony Jones - 1 month ago
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