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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Online, and 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!
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.