Series: Choosing MMOs – varied PVE activities

This is the next post in a series on choosing between all the many MMOs available to players at present. In this post I’m looking at the variety of PVE (player versus environment) activities available to suit different tastes, different playstyles and differing levels of commitment. As I mentioned in the original introduction post  I won’t be covering PVP (player versus player) content here since that is very different and I have no real experience or interest in it.

As with the previous posts I’m thinking up a trio of sub-topics related to the title as a means to judge or rank an MMO compared to others. With PVE content there are some fairly universal core concepts: quests, exploration and crafting. I’ve already done a post on story  so that’s not included here as a sub-criteria despite it usually being tied to closely to PVE content. Also combat is technically a type of content as well but again that’s already been covered.

Quests

Quest have been the major type of activity in most MMOs for years now. There are story heavy quests, grindy ones, long chains and standalone quests and everything in-between. The ‘questing’ process can be a simple matter of following marks on the map, or it can involve solving clues and making decisions with consequences. Ideally I think questing needs to be variety of these types. Longer chains of quests help to guide players through story and world. However having simple and quick quests in the mix as well fits the bitesize gaming that is also more popular today. I couldn’t talk about quests without mentioning ‘dailies’ or daily quests. This sub-category of repeatable quests on a timer is contentious, some love them, others loathe them. In this case I am looking at the mechanics of questing and gameplay styles -not the quality of story or world presentation which already has been covered previously.

I would argue that an MMO should offer a variety of tasks and in doing so should make good use of quests as a story-telling mechanism. Quest text, or the cut-scene videos that have been used in a few more recent games need to be well presented to the player – not labouriously long without purpose, but also they can and should provide some notion of the character you are interacting with. A shortened ‘tl;dr‘ version should also be available in the quest log to remind you of the quests objectives if you come back to it at a later date.

Exploration

MMOs invariably have a ‘world’ to explore. Whether it passes you by largely unnoticed as you level, or  you are constantly stopping to marvel at the sights around you; having a world to explore is important for MMOs. Quick travel options, mounts and teleports allow shortcuts to travel but travel is also content in and of itself for PVE gameplay. I’ve posted many times about beautiful sights or intriguing locations that I’ve witnessed in a game. Goalless exploration, just for the sake of it, is not for every player but if the game offers some reward for exploration whether it be achievements, rare creatures or treasures or just interesting hidden ‘easter egg’ style features then I count that as a good thing.

Very few MMOs actually actively encourage exploration as an active activity within the game (Guild Wars 2 with the map exploration achivement is one, Wildstar will be another when it launches). However just having interesting landscapes , such as ruins on distant hillsides, can be enough to make exploration feel worthwhile. Randomised content can also make this more enjoyable – rare creatures that wander far and wild for instance or rare crafting materials that spawn in more remote locations.

Crafting

Crafting is a pretty huge topic but it gets lumped under this category since it is a type of PVE gameplay. Good crafting systems do not need to overly complex or difficult. I think the most important aspects are to give meaning to crafting within the game economy.

I also think crafting needs to link to the wider game beyond just making new combat gear (armour or weapons). Crafting housing items is a very good example (presuming that there is even a housing system). Also finding crafting recipes in hard to get to places is another less obvious way to make crafting part of the world and not just a mini-game.

So I would qualify a good crafting system as one that supports a healthy player economy, one that provides just enough content to keep players interested over the longer term and one that is well integrated into the wider game. Crafted gear should be of use for leveling characters as a minimum, it should also ideally be of use for solo and small group end-game content as well. Most forum discussions I have read seem to indicate that crafting the best end-game gear for characters runs counter to the concept of large group instances where gear drops as a reward (i.e. raiding with bosses dropping the best in game gear). It’s no surprise to me that most MMOs allow crafters to make the second best gear in a game, but never to equal top-level raiding gear. Crafting often plays the role of providing ‘consumables’ items that either provide a small boost to your equipment or a temporary boost to your character (e.g. gems to socket in armour or a potion for a temporary stat increase).

Summing up

Here’s the customary scorecard for PVE activities.

Score
(1 low; 5 high)
1 2 3 4 5
Quests Questing is synonymous with Kill 10 Rats. No effort at story or variety. Some variety of questing. Quest log is basic and unhelpful. Some variety of questing. Quest log does track multiple quests and offer a history. Good questing variety, with links to world and lore. Tl;dr summaries available. Excellent questing variety, fully integrated in world and lore. Tl’dr summaries and info on NPCs, locations, & objects of note are available.
Exploration No need to explore, fully instanced game or world is lacking any interesting detail not directly related to quests. Some variety and interest in the open world but a general lack of non-quest details. Exploration is possible though only the main paths of questing offer a reward. Hidden areas and hard to reach locations exist only for quests, otherwise they lack any detail. Exploration is rewarding and generally supported. Hidden locations exist and some offer a reward beyond a nice screenshot. Exploration is both rewarding and well supported. Lots of hidden areas and hard to reach locations that offer a lore or loot reward.
Crafting Crafting is basic if available, limited to bartering for items Crafting has some variety. Characters can make items themselves but there is little reason to do so. Crafting is varied and has some links to the rest of the game. However the economy is distorted,few players concentrate on crafting over adventuring. Crafting is varied and has good links to the rest of the game. The economy is distorted but it is possible to concentrate on crafting over adventuring. Crafting is varied and well integrated into the game. Economy is healthy. Crafting is a perfectly valid  alternative gameplay style.

Are there any major categories of PVE content that cannot be slotted into the above three critera?

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