Playing World of Warcraft Classic last night I commented on how nice it is to have crafting feel so relevant. It’s not trivial to level and gather materials for crafting in this version of the game, plus bag space is painfully restricted early on so gathering all the materials means more time spent wandering for nodes or back in the nearest city for banking or vendoring.
In Classic we have a leveling static of four so there’s a good spread of professions and gathering skills across those characters. Add in the alts some of us have as well and any synergies or dependencies between professions are much easier to deal with. World of Warcraft tends to make the crafting professions very much a part of a balanced and coherent world. You sometimes need crafted items for a random quest; you have the option to make them, or to tap a guildmate or even buy them from the auction house. It’s a really nice reminder that professions are worthwhile and helps to link different aspects of this MMORPG together.
This positive game design choice can become negative, however, for soloists if one aims for self-sufficiency. I imagine if I were to play Classic strictly solo I’d end up with a lot more alts because of this. The post linked above immediately made me think of another game though: Lord of the Rings Online. I’ve been part of Kins (i.e. guilds) for all the time I’ve been in that game, but I’ve tended to engage with the crafting system from a self-sufficiency point of view. All my characters have a vocation (the name in LOTRO for a combination of three gathering and crafting skills) and actively work on at least two skills as I play them.
There are some in-built overlaps and dependencies in this system: although each character has some combo of three skills, several of them require by design help from another character to fully develop proficiency (e.g. the Armsman can gather and smelt the metal for weapons but cannot process any of the leather or wood that is sometimes needed). This is a nice system, it can encourage the player economy, and I would argue it makes the crafting system more interesting. There are few dependencies of this type in World of Warcraft’s crafting even in the Classic era.
In practice any time I’m playing LOTRO and trying to focus on progressing my main’s gear or level, there are constant reminders and the temptation to also switch over to alts and do some crafting. If my Champion main is lacking buff items or food, it makes me immediately want to get on my cook or historian characters to churn out trail food or a mitigation buff scroll or ten.
It’s a self-made problem, if anything a sign the games crafting and gathering systems are a little too well integrated. The dependencies between them lead naturally to the desire to level multiple vocations and that requires multiple characters. I see it as being another example of the design balance Shintar was writing about in the linked post above – older MMORPGs did seem to have a better grasp on how to have different aspects of game systems, or even different systems entirely in balance to encourage gameplay.
On the one hand I prefer games where such systems work off one another – it makes crafting feel more rewarding. On the other hand it makes more aspects of the game into a massive potential time sync: one that I can ill afford thesedays…