An article over at Nerf the Cat got me thinking about casual and hardcore players.
I'm not one to make overtly bold statements just for the purpose of gaining attention, however I think Mythic has done something that is both beneficial and detrimental to the mmo genre with Warhammer Online.
Public Quests are amazing. First off, they are a grinder's paradise. Secondly, they're easy to get into. And third, incredibly fun if you find the right ones.
However, is there more to the design concept of the PQ than meets the eye.
It is a no brainer that any gamer can see that mmos have taken a strong turn towards casual play. Even the most devout fans of World of Warcraft have cited that game's lean towards casual play. Games like Dungeons and Dragons Online made the overworld obsolete. WAR allows players to queue up for scenarios (i.e. battlegrounds) anywhere at any time.
Aside from Darkfall, which is aiming to bring the good ol' days of Ultima Online back to life, each game that has come out since Meridian 59 has taken steps to make mmos more accessible and casual.
In no particular order:
1. Developers made death penalties less severe, as is the case in WAR, where there is practically no penalty at all.
2. Quests became easily identifiable. In fact, this is one of the only things that I believe World of Warcraft brought to the genre (!). Quests became so easy that players didn't even have to read the quest text, just a two-sentence synopsis at the end of the quest log.
3. Leveling became easier. No longer were mmos about spawn camping, or at least not completely about spawn camping. Aside from that, rest and bonus experience was introduced.
4. Instances made grinding mobs for epic drops even easier.
And now — after everything that has come before it — I believe the PQ is the next casual step for dungeons in the evolution of the mmo.
First, let's identify what a dungeon is, in terms of the genre. A dungeon is a select portion of the map that usually requires a small group or large raid to enter, with the goal of defeating the end boss and scoring high-end gear. Dungeons can be everything from a simple labyrinth of caves to an exalted temple of fiends.
Dungeons require a time commitment on the part of every one in the group. It is in these dungeons, historically, where players could see how well other group mates were at playing their class of choice. Communication is often times paramount to the group's success.
Basically, here is the layout of your typical mmo dungeon:
1. The group must proceed through many "trash" mobs as they adventure deeper into the dungeon.
2. Occasionally, the group will run into mini bosses that will challenge the group in a way that the trash mobs didn't.
3. The group will finally confront the boss of the dungeon. These fights are sometimes epic in scale and force everyone in the group to focus on the task at hand. Taking down bosses requires precision, strategy and — more often than not — superb timing.
That's a dungeon in a nutshell.
Now, let's look at a PQ in WAR:
1. Adventurers in the PQ area fight through numerous trash mobs in order to progress past the first stage of the PQ.
2. Stage two usually involves some champion-type mobs for the group to focus on.
3. Stage three culminates with the boss of the PQ.
Notice the similarities?
To expound on PQs, starting in late Tier 2, the PQs begin getting more elaborate, often times forcing those who are participating to do a couple of things at once, such as killing mobs while protecting NPCs, or destroying a champion or hero-type mob's power source. Also, additional stages are added to make the PQ more dynamic and lengthy.
The glaring difference between PQs and dungeons — other than the ideological differences that players associate with the two — is that dungeons require a bit of exploration. Understand that I use the word "exploration" in the most minute sense, seeing how most dungeons are extremely straight-forward, there isn't much in terms of exploration. Not all fall into this stereotype, but the vast majority are straight forward and don't require much exploration at all.
In going back to the premise of this article, it seems to me that Mythic has taken the next step at making dungeons more casual.
WAR is often criticized for its lack of dungeons, however PQs offer the same trials and rewards as a traditional dungeon. Both have trash mobs, mini bosses, bosses and loot.
Admittedly, some of the later PQs in WAR have a good deal of exploration, especially some of the High Elf and Empire castles.
Most PQs only take — on an average — 20 minutes to complete, easily allowing players to jump in and accomplish a task.
Each PQ has its own story, just like a dungeon, and evolves as the players proceed through each step.
On paper, PQs and dungeons are almost exactly alike. In fact, I think it is the ideology surrounding the two as to the reason why players draw a distinction between dungeons and PQs.
Personally, invading an encampment of House Arkaneth in WAR, only to look up at the end and see Lady Arkaneth, herself, along with her two bodyguards, fly down from the sky on dark elven dragons, bent on retribution for my group's actions, was amazing. It felt just as exhilarating taking her and her guards down as defeating the main boss in a dungeon.
Was it hard? No, but not all dungeon bosses are hard either.
The background and story was there. The trash mobs and mini bosses were there. And finally the boss and the loot was there.
While this is great for the casual player, will it mean the eventual end to 2-hour dungeon runs?
Will players opt out for an experience that they can get in 2 hours if they can get the same adventure in 20 minutes?
Personally, I believe Mythic did it right. It seems like you can't walk 10 feet without bumping into a PQ. However, Mythic also included traditional dungeons for players to run. I believe it is this combination that is key in giving players the versatile gameplay experience that they are looking for.
If anything, it allows the game to appeal to both the casual and hardcore audiences.
Will the rest of the genre catch on and begin using a similar formula for dungeons like PQs?
Has Mythic taken the most sacred and hardcore section of the mmo genre and turned it into something casual and accessible for players? And if they have, is that a good thing?