MMOs are built on the backs of many interlocking systems, some more crucial to the experience than others. While I have great appreciation for the core systems that make up these games, such as combat, crafting, and chat, I must admit that my imagination and devotion are often set aside for the satellite systems that offer more innovation and flavor.
Today I’m going to point out 10 clever features that I think should be in more MMOs. I’ll pick one game to highlight each of these systems, although the game in question may well not be the only one to harbor that feature. And if I can get through the entire article without making a Jurassic Park “clever girl” reference, I’ll be golden.
1. Lord of the Rings Online: Player music system
LOTRO is not, by far, the only MMO to have a player music system in it, and I am glad to see more of them emerge. But for a good long while, it was a shining example of what could be done if a dev studio turned something as simple as music over to the community. As the years have gone by, player bands and concerts have bubbled up in the game, including an annual Weatherstock festival in which groups battle it out to the entertainment of the masses. It’s such a great way to encourage creativity to the point that I can’t understand why it’s not standard in all games.
2. Warhammer Online: Trinket system
For all its failings, Warhammer Online was not short on ambition and interesting ideas, including a “trinket” system to offer players additional ways to customize their look. Characters could acquire special items and then hang them about their person, from shiny medals to grisly body parts of vanquished foes. I always loved this idea and wished we could see more of it.
3. Star Wars Galaxies: TEF PvP system
PvP is never my bag, but I do have a grudging respect for how Star Wars Galaxies handled it with its “temporary enemy flagging” free-for-all system. Players could choose to be covert Rebel or Imperial agents, selecting when and where they would come out in the open for fights against the other side. From all reports, it took open world PvP to a glorious new level, and why we aren’t emulating that today, I do not know.
4. RuneScape: Collectible jukebox music
RuneScape remains one of the very few MMOs in which you can actually collect the in-game music and add it to a jukebox for future listening. Considering that the sandbox title has well over a thousand songs in its files, there’s some serious potential for die-hard collectors here.
5. Fallen Earth: Real-time crafting
Most MMOs have crafting, of course, but Fallen Earth set itself apart by including two notable features. The first was allowing players to take up all of the crafting disciplines on a single character and be able to make around 90% of the gear in the game through it. The second was giving players the ability to queue up multiple crafting recipes that continued to progress whether a player was online or off. Weird enough, this approach sucked me in unlike most crafting systems.
6. City of Heroes: Mentoring and sidekicking
If you’re going to be a level-based MMO — and I am perfectly fine if you are taking that approach — then you really need to figure out how to allow players of disparate levels to play together. City of Heroes had an elegant solution by allowing for temporary level boosting and reduction through its mentoring and sidekicking system. It didn’t matter what level you were; you could always group up with others. Awesome. Let’s do more of that, MMO industry!
7. RIFT: Instant adventures
Speaking of getting players grouping up no matter what their levels, RIFT’s instant adventures take the level boosting/reduction concept and married it to an endless chain of randomized group activities in certain zones. It’s a brilliant reuse of existing assets and content that gives players another path to leveling. Plus, it’s really dang fun!
8. Vanguard: Diplomacy system
I think we can all agree that MMOs have a grasp on how to gamify combat. But what about turning other RPG aspects, such as socializing with NPCs, into something that’s fun? Vanguard had an interesting idea with a card-like minigame that handled diplomacy encounters. It was a different mechanic with cool flavor descriptions, and it deserves a new life in more MMOs.
9. Elder Scrolls Online: Justice system
Nothing really grabbed my eye about ESO before the designers decided to import the justice system from the single-player games. Seriously, it’s a brilliant concept to give thievery, assassination, and bounties a structured system that allows players to operate outside of the virtuous path of heroism.
10. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Companion system
It wouldn’t be a BioWare or a Star Wars game without companions joining you for adventures. While SWTOR players take companions for granted these days, I’m still impressed by how much they add to the game. They offer commentary on your choices, open up new stories and missions, and even do your dirty work by selling junk and going on crew missions.