I have played a lot of MMOs. It’s inevitable, given enough years in this job and hobby. And the sad thing is that I wind up seeing the same things over and over again. There’s always a class called the Warrior, for example, and if your game doesn’t have classes, you still have a “recommended path” that makes you a dude with a big two-handed weapon that smacks things. There’s always an opening questgiver. You always need to collect animal parts.
Yes, even in games where there’s no wildlife. Don’t ask me what street thugs in Champions Online are doing with bear hearts; I just need the experience.
Of course, there are always bears. In fact, there are always pretty predictable enemies roaming around. Every MMO has at least some of the same things from the same bestiary, so it’d be nice if we could just accept these features of the omnipresent lineup and term them as such.
1. The low-level thing that does nothing
Zombies, rabbits, low-level worms, who cares? These are the enemies who have exactly one attack (helpfully labeled “attack”) and even at the appropriate level could kill your character only as a result of some extreme advantage — like if you caught on fire and fell asleep at the same time. They’re there for you to show off how cool you are at low levels and also for the game to introduce the concept of “hit a button to do a thing” in case you’re unfamiliar with it.
Many of them are also cute, so you feel like a jerk for doing it. But not too cute, as that would interfere with…
2. The annoying, omnipresent cute mascot
Somewhere, there is a piece of wildlife that has evolved for one purpose and one purpose only: selling plush merchandise. And it works half of the time, too, as evidenced by the fact that I still have a Rowsdower plush from WildStar on my mantel. They’re not memorable in any other way, but they’re cute enough that you want to pick one up and cuddle it.
Special credit here goes to Final Fantasy XIV for making this the helpful Carbuncle. I love my radioactive fox-squirrel.
3. The slime
It’s always a slime. It’s a puddle of goop. It indicates that someone, somewhere, was out of ideas and didn’t feel like actually designing limbs and a face and stuff. Just move on.
4. The first enemy that’s actually dangerous
I remember when I was playing City of Heroes around launch that there were a few fights with Skulls that served this purpose for me. We’re not, as a rule, talking about hard fights here; we’re talking about fights that you can, in fact, lose. Below a certain level, the game doesn’t want to hurt you too badly so that you keep playing, but eventually it cracks its metaphorical knuckles and decides to actually fight back.
This is also usually the point when the game starts getting much more fun because the punching bags, well, aren’t. If you’re lucky, this is early. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be playing a game where everything is still a punching bag well into the max levels.
5. The wandering jerk near stuff you actually want to fight
World bosses, wandering high-level monsters, even just slightly higher enemies that path a bit too close to one another: There’s always that one dangerous thing that likes to prowl at just the right place to catch you in its jaws and make a light snack out of your organs. And it never looks that bad, you can probably pull around it, and whoops aggro there I go again.
Special credit here goes to World of Warcraft for downright weaponizing this with the Fel Reaver. That sucked, sure, but it was also pretty awesome.
6. The horrible world boss of kill everything
Most MMO boss fights are scripted to some extent so that you can learn the pattern and engage smartly. You dodge certain mechanics, pay attention to what’s happening, and mitigate things. This is achieved, in part, by the fact that these boss fights have a hard cap on how many people can possibly participate. But there’s always one world boss out there who has no such caps, and compensates for “there could be four hundred people beating on me” with “I will fart pure death constantly.”
It’s not that these fights have no mechanics; it’s that between the huge numbers of people and the lack of clarity, even if you can avoid every single scrape in the fight, it’s going to feel like everyone gets murdered. And sometimes, such as with Final Fantasy XIV‘s Odin FATE, everyone will literally get murdered at some point.
7. The annoying status beast
Most enemies you fight try to defeat you by reducing your health to nothing. It’s a time-honored strategy. There is always something that defeats you by inflicting you with four million status ailments and then slowly plinking away at you for miniscule amounts of damage. Yes, you want to fight back, but you can barely move and you’re taking poison damage and darn it, just fight fair.
Unless, of course, you can remove its debuffs. Then it’s just obnoxious.
8. The low-level thing that still does nothing but is now high-level
Remember when all of the enemies were literally just bags of numbers that you beat up until they popped and gave you treasure and experience? Here they are again! Only now the numbers are scaled up. The problem isn’t that it’s a re-used enemy, the problem is that it’s a re-used enemy that doesn’t do anything worth caring about, so you wind up just mowing through it slightly slower than you did when you were low level.
At least it’s a chance to show off how cool you are again, though. Sure, the process has become more ornate, but I do appreciate that I’ve gone from setting a rabbit on fire to making the ground open up and douse a rabbit in lava. Of course, that raises further questions about how durable they’re making rabbits in these parts, but…
9. The cool enemy you want to actually play
I am fully convinced that half of all player theories about how one faction or another is secretly good is just about how players not-at-all-secretly want to sign up with the enemy faction. And it helps that half of the time, the enemy faction has cool uniforms and weapons and abilities and just looks neat. So it’s a slippery slope.
Of course, sometimes you go all-in like in Star Trek Online and then you have to retroactively justify why a Starfleet captain is using a captured Vaadwaur ship instead of, you know, an actual Federation ship. Life is hilarious sometimes.
No matter when the game is set or how many hoops you have to jump through, sooner or later, there will be dragons. Accept this. Someone is going to need to slay them, and because video games are what they are, that someone is going to be you. Ask not why you must slay; ask whether or not you get a cool hat.