Tying character or skill development to the virtual world.

Reading a thread on Reddit about skill-based character progression system design set my imagination wandering in a slightly tangential direction. What about tying character development or skill acquisition to the virtual world of the game? What about, for instance, if you could only learn specific spells at certain wizard colleges or from the spell’s creator? Certainly earlier Elder Scrolls games had this style of system (not the MMO though).

Maybe take that to a broader context beyond spell recipes. Different martial skills could equally be tied to certain cultures or master trainers that you have to go find. What if you have to do them a favour or prove your worth before you can learn that new skill? Guild Wars 2 had a hint of this with the skill point system. Some were simple “click on the glowy light” affairs but others required you to fight a champion or trainer to prove you were worthy of the skill point reward. A very simplistic idea but one that could be fleshed out into something more varied and robust – where you receive a specific skill instead of just a skill point.

Stepping away from combat-oriented spells or skills there’s other examples of this kind of learn by finding/exploring. Back in early World of Warcraft if you had engineering as a profession you always wanted to run the Black Rock Depths dungeon to grab the schematic for making the ever useful Repair Bot.

I suppose one reason why this idea might be less common or never fully realised in MMORPGs is the overwhelming deluge of wiki sites and databases that give detailed locations and instructions for finding every last item or NPC that you might need. So exploration doesn’t really come into it anymore unless you shut the browser and play in self-imposed “ignorance mode”. Even before such sites became popular it was difficult to avoid spoilers – if the self-same WoW engineering character ran dungeons and responded to a request for a repairbot with “I don’t know that recipe”; it’s likely they would be told “go run BRD”. But maybe the wonder of randomly finding such items, NPCs or skills is only one side to this – the other side is to give meaning to character development beyond selecting bland, yet balanced, talents or skill options as characters grow in power. It would link character development with your character’s journey and actions.

Do any modern MMORPGs do this?

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6 Responses to Tying character or skill development to the virtual world.

  1. Interesting idea. The only MMO I can think of doing anything like this on any major scale is Elder Scrolls Online. There’s a fairly involved process to becoming a vampire or werewolf and unlocking their associated skill lines. Though it can be somewhat trivialized by purchasing a bite from another player, or avoided entirely by a cash shop purchase.

    Arguably the guild skill lines (Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, and soon Thieves Guild) could count too. You level them up in part by doing things out in the world — slaying Daedra for the Fighters Guild, finding lore books for Mages Guild.

    Supposedly this is also how EverQuest Next will handle a lot of its multi-classing and skill development. A lot of exploring the world and learning from specific trainers.

    I think ESO’s take is the right way to do it, honestly. If your entire progression is based on going certain places and doing certain things, I think it’d start to feel less like an adventure and more like a chore. Save it for the more niche and exotic skillsets.

  2. Shintar says:

    Vanilla WoW had some of this (as I’m rediscovering on my journeys on a private server). If you wanted to train a profession past a certain skill you pretty much always had to find a trainer in a certain location, do a quest or both – my paladin for example is in the process of learning how to become an armorsmith and it’s incredibly grindy but also interesting, as I was initiated into a secret brotherhood and given a trinket that can conjure up a magic hammer (which is a very good weapon at level but disappears after an hour or two). I think Blizzard got rid of all this stuff in the name of streamlining the journey to the level cap – but you’re right, there’s no reason not to have this kind of thing if your game isn’t purely focused on getting people to the end.

    • Meznir says:

      You just reminded me that WoW had this for some class skills. A quest that taught Belf Paladins resurrection, the aquatic form chain for Druids, Polymorph: Pig for mages and the warlock & paladin mount chains. All of those quests are gone now. Blizz said many were removed as people were missing core skills at max level as they missed them – I can understand that with the rez case – but most of the others were flavour.

      There are a few examples left though like the Ancient Dalaran teleport / portal for mages and the warlock green fire chain.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    You’re basically describing EverQuest! One of the most memorable parts of my early years there revolved around many trips to dangerous places to meet NPCs who had some spell to teach me or sell me. The trip for Enchanters to HighHold Keep, for example, was a real rite of passage.

    In many cases there were spells that could be bought easily at your own, safe guild at one level, but much less safely and at much greater risk elsewhere a few levels earlier. Sometimes there was a range of choices, sometimes only one and that one very challenging.

    It’s a great system and one I’d love to see in all the MMOs I play. I remember when I began playing DAOC at launch how outraged I was to find that my spell upgrades just magically appeared in my spellbook. Over the years I’ve gotten used to that – most games do it – but I’d much rather have it back the way it was.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Guild Wars 1 had this as its main theme. Each character could have 8 skills at any time, 1 of which could be an “elite” skill. To gain that skill, you had to defeat one of several possible champion monsters — one that had that same skill. There were hundreds of these out in the world, and a tremendous part of the gameplay was figuring out what skills you wanted, where you could get them, and how to actually go about it.

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