Player Influentialness In MMORPGs

So anyway, something that hit me the other day is that the primary reason I tend to stick with City of Heroes is that you can build heroes who are truly influential in battle. When I say “truly influential” I define this as being able to change the course of combat gone wrong through your skills alone.

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Most MMORPGs turn me off specifically because they have severely limited how much influence the players have. Chances are they require so little interaction from the player that you simply can’t “try harder”: Engage auto-attack, tap hotkeys in an easy-to-figure-out optimal order, repeat until battle is over. When things get hairy, there’s simply not alternative options (other than to run – in certain balances this may turn out to doom the rest of the party).

In contrast, City of Heroes clearly provides alternative options in at least two fundamental ways.

One is the generally greater potency of the individual powers. You might think that I’m confusing “fighting more foes” with “more potency” but this simply isn’t the case. Powers that can actually hold foes and prevent them from fighting back even when attacked are common in City of Heroes where you won’t find them anywhere else. Many higher-level hero builds can decimate spawns of dozens of foes and it’s primarily through the amount of tactics these greater potency effects give and not simply a matter of bigger numbers on the design spreadsheets.

The second way is in the “Inspiration Tray”, which is filled with several temporary boosts the players can choose to activate in case of emergency. For example, using up two or three defense boosts will reduce most foes’ chances at hitting the hero to about 5% for 30 seconds, granting the player freedom to really cut loose and salvage a battle gone sour.

However, you don’t necessarily have to do something as radical as City of Heroes does to allow players the feeling they can truly influence their fates in combat. Final Fantasy XI is extremely close to the core EverQuest experience. However, two things they’ve added, “Renkai” and “Two-hour powers”, definately make FFXI stand out as a game where player influence matters more.

Mastering Renkai chart takes time and effort on behalf of players, but rewards them for a job well done.

The “Renkai” are a special system of attacks that allow players to combine their powers to gain certain advantages. They’re quite a bit harder to pull off than the Heroic Opportunities in EverQuest 2 (and, for that matter, the foes are a lot tougher) but can potentially result in massively potent attacks.

The “Two-hour abilities” are a special job-related abilities that each character can activate which have massively potent effects. For example, a Paladin has the capacity to simultaneously pull all enemy aggression and deflect all attacks for 30 seconds, possibly saving a battle gone sour. However, these potent abilities can only be activated every two hours of play.

I’m not sure why more games do not grant players this much influence, and this simple mechanic is an important deciding factor to me as to whether an MMORPG is worth playing.

Perhaps they do it because they’re worried that casual players do not want that kind of responsibility. However, supporting of casual players is really no excuse for creating a shallow game experience. I think that if you’re expecting players to invest hundreds of hours into the game, many of them won’t mind that there are certain features that could be accessed if only they were better players. In fact, I think that most would prefer to realize the freedom that brings.

More likely, the reason why player influence is often capped is just because there’s a lot of game developers out there who don’t understand that games exist to be played, and stringing along players with barriers that prevent them from playing their best likely will only get them to hate playing in the long run.

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