Death penalties in MMOs

The recent discussion around changing gaming tastes among MMORPG gamers has segued into some interesting related topics. I read since Roger’s post and Bhagpuss’ post about Death penalties. Relating to my own thoughts on gaming tastes and that I feel I was always casual and never wanted a “walking up the mountain backwards barefoot in the snow” level of difficulty or inconvenience while gaming. I suspect had I ever played Everquest, Asheron’s Call or any other game with real “corpse runs” I would have quit such a game pretty early on.

Back in the day you ran backwards

As Bhagpuss examines in the linked post above, Everquest had some brutal death penalties. Your corpse contained your items, so you’d be running nearly naked back to your corpse from your bind point to retrieve all that equipment. I shudder to imagine this, as discussed in the post this kind of harsh penalty evokes rather too negative an emotional response for what is supposed to be a pastime.

Although I never played any game with that harsh a penalty some other MMORPGs are still tougher than others. Lord of the Rings Online is moderately old-school in some ways as one example. If you die, you can revive once every two hours or so in place but you have a stat debuff for a while afterwards. Standing back up where you were just defeated might well result in a second defeat thus wasting the ‘free res’, as the monster(s) that downed you may still be very close by. The alternative is to revive at the nearest graveyard, which might be quite a run from where you fell. That’s a more modern take on the death penalty I suppose – you wake up with all gear still on you but have the time penalty of trying to return to where ever you were adventuring, probably through a load of respawned monsters that you had already killed once. The frustration of ‘re-killing’ monsters to try once again at a fight you might very well fail once more in LOTRO and other games has caused me to re-think my session plans many times in this game and others (notably in Rift if memory serves).

Bad memories of multi character deaths here

As Bhagpuss noted, World of Warcraft is a notable outlier here in that many aspects of the game have been made significantly easier over the years but the death penalty is mostly the same. You have a repair bill but also have to return to your corpse as a ghost before resurrecting, unless you take the big stat debuff by resurrecting at the Spirit Healer NPC. Zone design evolution has made things less painful, gone are the long ghost runs across an entire zone because it had only one graveyard (Redridge or Hellfire Peninsula). Old dungeons fitted into this more old-school model in that you had to revive as a ghost at that graveyard and run all the way back across the zone to re-enter the dungeon by the portal, ressing as you entered, and then run through the dungeon to rejoin the group. Woe betide your group if the trash monsters had started respawning on a longer run as any deaths would then become a frustrating rescue mission. All more recent zones and dungeons are much less penalising, but the ghost run to corpse is still there in some form.

This place had some nasty death runs…

In contrast Elder Scrolls Online has a pretty light death penalty system. You burn a soul stone item to self-resurrect in place, or if that’s not possible or sensible you can return to a nearby wayshrine instead. Very simple and painless in comparison. This is in a sense ideal in a game where exploration is somewhat emphasized as a gameplay style – death penalties can really dampen my enthusiasm for exploring new zones.

Star Wars the Old Republic’s death penalty system was always pretty lenient as every character gets a self-res on a moderate cooldown timer. If playing in a group every character can also revive a fallen comrade – this is extra useful in flashpoints (a k a dungeons) as you do not rely on specific classes to minimise the downtime of running back to the group. One other important difference to LOTRO is that your character is stealthed for a few seconds after reviving, this can make all the difference in getting away from the monster(s) that killed you to a safe place to regroup.

Overall I think death penalties are a bit of a relic of an earlier age of gaming. I can understand the need for something like repair costs and/or gear breaking as a means to limit sleazing encounters with “death-zerging”, something that seems to happen rather a lot in Guild Wars 2. On balance, I’m not a fan of excessively severe death penalties in modern games – if I wanted to experience one then older play experiences still exist in both live games and emulators.


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2 Responses to Death penalties in MMOs

  1. Isey says:

    As an old EQ player (and I still play on p1999) the best part about death penalties was that people actually played with care. You are right that there were a lot of bads about it too (disconnect from internet and die? too bad!) but it was part of the game. And the community always rallied around to help people out when it happened (which was also good)

    But yeah, of course, that wouldn’t happen now and it would cause too much outrage. STill, I liked playing knowing my actions, my awareness, and my skill level made a difference on something I wanted to avoid.

    Heck, now in certain games I die on purpose because it’s a quicker trip to where I want to get sometimes…

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