MMO Mechanics: Eight annoying MMORPG mechanics that grind my gears

The inspiration behind this edition of MMO Mechanics is a recent conversation I had with my housemates about the column and the inner workings of our favourite games in general: It took a turn toward hilarious when we ranted on about the most annoying mechanics we’ve encountered, and I knew I had to start taking notes for a future article. I managed to make our rambling vaguely coherent by whittling down the list to the eight most annoying mechanics in MMOs, but the fun part is that the list is torn straight from our conversation. I present points from a range of opinions that I may or may not agree with, but I’ll be sure to explain why each mechanic made the list. Expect the discussion that lies ahead to be derailed by plenty of inconsistencies, blanket statements, and brazen exaggeration by our debaters!

everquest 2 - tab targeting

1: Tab targeting

This one made it to the top of my fiancé’s list, and I can’t say I disagree: Although I do appreciate hybrid systems that employ tab targeting to a smaller degree, I don’t think I’ve often found such a bland, just-because mechanic as tab targeting. There’s nothing intuitive or imaginative about tab targeting, and I’m kind of glad that more exciting action combat mechanics are now in vogue. I feel as though action combat is more immersive, and I understand the geography and the nature of enemies much better when I am required to navigate fluidly around them to avoid hits and take aim. The popularity of tab targeting might be dwindling, but it’s still common enough to have made our list.

wow - Fetch Carry Quest

2: Fetch and carry quests

Massively OP’s own Brendan Drain came up with this entry, but I think we all ended up agreeing with him once he brought it to our attention. Mechanically, there’s nothing compelling about the typical fetch quest, but I can at least see why they’re historically used. Fetching and carrying usually involves travelling through rather dangerous areas, so these repetitive little tasks were employed because they would help a developer tally just how much XP a player might earn in a given area by setting that drop or natural occurrence rate appropriately for the area’s enemy density and respawn rate. So many much more engaging and mechanically challenging quests exist, so gamers are justified in wanting something more than quests that downscale their beefcake characters into couriers or looters.

gw2 - simple skill rotations

3: Simple spell rotations

I wouldn’t have had simplistic skill rotations on my own personal list, but since I loved playing an arcane mage in the bad ol’ missile-spam days, perhaps I don’t have much taste in this department. Spamming the same buttons regardless of what you’re trying to kill isn’t very exciting, admittedly, so I find a nice happy medium in Guild Wars 2 with its simplistic skillset and heavy reliance on situational skill selection. Having a usual rotation is fine, but I much prefer systems that include skills with specific uses in certain scenarios so that I am able to really switch up my strategy to get the best out of my abilities. There’s nothing more satisfying than a well-timed reactionary ability or planting that CC at just the right moment, so it makes sense that I prefer systems that really showcase that flexibility. For me, button mashing isn’t a skill so I don’t care how complicated a rotation is, but I do like having an additional supportive toolkit for added punch.

ff11 - Tons of health to create difficulty

4: Excessive enemy health pools

Brendan pointed out how annoying it is when the main challenge in an MMORPG boss fight is draining down an overinflated health pool, and I most definitely find myself agreeing. Attempting to mechanise health in order to extend an encounter is such an unimaginative move, yet we see it pop up quite frequently in our genre. Give me a boss fight with varied mechanics throughout the fight, not a sack of HP that has nothing fancy in its arsenal. It’s not challenging to pummel something for longer in order to kill it, it just takes up more of my precious gaming time. Real difficulty involves so much more than health pools, and I expect a fight’s challenge to come from the boss’ repertoire or clever environmental mechanics.

wow - Flight making world small and easy(skipping enimes and zones)

5: Flight mechanics

Flying was fairly contentious within our group: My brother and fiancé both felt that it makes the beautiful, vast virtual worlds we inhabit feel much smaller and the challenges we find within much more trivial. I’d argue that it’s all about implementation: Travel options should be chosen to suit the map scale and the fine line between quality of life enhancement and lazy-mode enabling should always be observed. I like having several instant or fast travel options in my MMO and never begrudge mounts, but this should be kept in check so that I still engage with the virtual world I’m meant to be inhabiting.

swtor - Forced group event

6: Forced group events

This one comes from my own list of pet peeves, which is more than a wee bit hilarious since I’m such a social little bunny! I absolutely hate what forced grouping does to the social element of MMOs, though: I want to join like-minded people who desire my company rather than being thrown into a group that don’t want to thrown into that scenario in the first place. Forced grouping more often than not makes people clam up and just run on through the content to get it done, and I find that it can actually put off those who prefer to be a lone wolf.

eve - Forced openworld PvP(eve)

7: Forced always-on PvP

My fiancé really dislikes when he doesn’t have the choice of whether or not to flag himself as a PvP target in MMOs, so massive open-world “gankboxes” will never appeal to him. Brendan and I didn’t quite agree: Obviously Brendan championed EVE Onlineand although I’m not into PvP, at least you know what you’re signing up for when you take on an open-world PvP MMO. I can totally see how the sense of danger and risk makes for amazing battles, and the strategic element to orchestrating these encounters is not to be downplayed either. On the flipside, I can’t ignore how offputting newbies can find such environments, and when you do take heavy losses I’m sure it is very annoying, so on the list it goes!

gw2 - Stun abiltys(stun locks)

8: Crowd control mechanics

I’m sure that every MMO player can identify with how enraging it can be to be constantly kept under CC: Fear, polymorph, stun, sleep… whatever the effect, it’s so disempowering to disarm your toon in such a way. I particularly dislike CCs that make my character perform actions I have no control over, especially when a well-timed fear forces me to pull a passing mob and my whole party wipes because of it. I’m a massive hypocrite, though, because I love being able to CC others, but when the tables are turned I see red in a way I don’t usually. I guess I need to learn to let the devs play with the same toolset they throw my way, huh?

Over to you!

I really enjoyed sharing a little at-home debate with you all for this edition of MMO Mechanics. Sometimes I forget that I have three other MMO enthusiasts in my home that I can draw inspiration from, but I should really get their opinions down on paper more often.

One person’s dream MMO is another’s hellish nightmare, so I’m sure that some of the mechanics that we found annoying would never have made your lists. Share your own personal gripe list in the comments below, or better yet, put the question to your friends and try to make a collective list together. You never know, it could point your gaming group toward a new MMO that avoids the pitfalls that irk you all.

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
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161 Comments on "MMO Mechanics: Eight annoying MMORPG mechanics that grind my gears"

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jakubtyl2
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jakubtyl2

I need to know, what is the Boss on the title picture of this article? I thought it could be something from Gould Wars 2, but I didnt find such in GW2. From which game it is? Thank you

solaru
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solaru

This might be controversial…

Trash Items are the worst answer to economy issue.  I miss FFXI’s system of where every item had a use, and even the most common “trash” drops could be re-crafted into materials or were materials.  Crafting was a choice, but providing back to the economy was necessary.  For crafters, it ment there was rarely a drought in materials (unless it’s the really difficult to find stuff) where as for wanders and adventurers, everything was a question of “Does this make something” or “can I NPC it more then the markets right now?”

ZenDadaist
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ZenDadaist

vinicitur Anarchy Online has snares that can last up to half an hour. If you didn’t happen to have enough snare-removal stims or kits with you… well good luck! Who in their right minds thinks half a bloody hour is a reasonable time frame to leave a character crippled for?!

ZenDadaist
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ZenDadaist

1. Tab Targeting – eh I’ll have to disagree right off the bat here. I like having variety and different styles of game and combat suit different types of targeting better. Mouse targeting in a massively busy scene is a nightmare. Straight up aiming targeting in every game means that unless your FPS skills are on point, you’ll fail at playing an MMO which is silly. In other words some games suit tab targeting much better than mouse or FPS, and vicer versa.

2. Fetch and Carry quests – ugh. Just… no. DONE with those. In total agreement here.

3. Simple Spell Rotations – again, agreed. 1,1,2,4,3,4,5. Rinse repeat for the next 5-35 minutes, adding in some fire-dodging or the occasional press of 6, 7 or 8. I much prefer an ability priority system: ‘if this, then that’ instead of something so rote and repeated you can get a basic programmable keyboard to do the whole thing for you.

4. Excessive Enemy Health Pools – agreed! In vertical progression games, with increased player stats comes increased mob HP. Bosses become giant bullet sponges and lower level mobs are one-shot kills. There has to be a smarter way of maintaing progression to allow for more advanced characters to kill more advanced enemies without devolving it into a simple ‘more numbers’ game, and without trivialising lower content. Controversial opinion time: I actually like the idea behind Aegis  in TSW as a means of solving this. Lower mobs don’t have Aegis so Aegis progression doesn’t reduce TTK on those, preventing the steamroll by higher QL Aegis gear. Higher mobs do have Aegis so that’s where your progression lies and whilst yes, technicaly it is ‘more numbers’ it’s different types of numbers you need to keep an eye on :p

5. Flight Mechanics – in a zone/area/game designed for flight I absolutely love it. But it depends on what you want out of it. Full-on flying simulator style, accounting for wind speeds and thermals and aerial combat vs just flying a jetbike from A to B. 

6. Forced Group Events – well, that rather depends on how it’s done. I don’t like it if, for normal story quest progression, you absolutely HAVE to form a group and go to X place to do Y thing, and in particular if you have no choice in the matter of who you get stuck grouping with. On the other hand the one-click Join Raid button for a zone event boss in Rift is fantastic.

7. Forced always-on PvP – if there aren’t some safe areas then it’s crap. If it’s also not communicated that this area/event/mission/entire game is open flagged pvp then that’s doubly crap. If it’s a self-described full pvp game then, well, it’s doing what it says on the tin!

8. Crowd Control Mechanics – one word: Stunlock. Begone! CC is great in small, controlled doses. Anything that takes control of your character away from you for more than a few seconds in a combat situation leaving you at the mercy of whatever is just no fun. Might as well go afk and do something else because you’re not even playing the game at that point. But I will conceed that in Anarchy Online having my character be Mind Controlled and then rush off and start killing someone else is hilarious, and it can happen right back at me too. It’s something that only occurs in about 3 places in the game (Deranged Xan, Sector 7, Pyramid of Home) so it’s not a random surprise and everyone’s prepared for it. Those last 2 points are the key difference.

Valkyrie Noel
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Valkyrie Noel

Listed simple skill rotations as something they hate; uses Guild Wars 2 as an example of a good middle ground. One of the worst skill rotation game ever to be created. A game with garbage CC, and gun-to-head inducing game play for optimized rotations.

jonny_sage
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jonny_sage

Line with more hugs jonny_sage MatthewRiddle thats because once you remove competition, its not a sandbox, PVP cames arent trying to be WoW though, they are happy to be niche and their players like it too.

jonny_sage
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jonny_sage

TrippinNinja jonny_sage Syppi exactly. action combat feels a bit more action though

srmalloy
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srmalloy

orionite One of my pet peeves is the open-world mission goal on a long respawn
timer, and the variant of having a particular unique mob drop an
extremely desirable item with an absurdly low drop chance, both of which
result in time-wasting camping, sometimes with large groups of players
stacked up waiting for their turn to interact with the goal (assuming
that they’re not jerks and ninja the goal when it respawns).

srmalloy
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srmalloy

mysecretid orionite Well, the flip side of the escort character running into every spawn of enemies you pass is the spawn of enemies standing around watching you pound their buddies into the stonework and not responding at all, because you’re outside their aggro radius, even though you’re flinging enough industrial light & magic to moonlight as a Fourth of July celebration. “Oh, that’s just Fred and his crew getting beat up again. I never liked him.”

lorenleah
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lorenleah

dragonherderx lorenleah …yes, that was my point? I was saying that it’s not so much that I love tab targeting as that I hate the alternative?