I have long been of the opinion that there are few more terrifying animals on this planet than bears. Sure, there are sharks, the mighty kraken, and that little fish that may or may not swim up your urethra and summer home there, but as I live primarily on the land, I think that the odds are greater that a rampaging bear might ruin my day.
True story: When I lived in Colorado Springs, one morning I left home to drive to work and there was a black bear sitting in the middle of the road. I looked at it, nonplussed, and then sloooooowly backed up into my driveway and called in a sick day. Bear days should totally be a thing, however.
I have also been of the opinion that bears are consistently underestimated in MMORPGs. They’re low level trash mobs or pets that finger players as complete noobs for not picking something more exotic. More exotic? Son, if you have a bear on your side, you have won the game. Period. One swipe of its paw and any raid boss’ head should pop right off.
There is a plague of bears in MMOs. Today, let us delve into the ursine horror that curses our genre.
Yes, it’s the famous “bears, bears, bears!” video made popular by WAR’s Paul Barnett, who was speaking of the industry’s tendency to make you turn around and kill the same mobs you’ve already killed. WAR’s approach was to reward you for your retroactive actions for having killed bears previously. For fun, count the number of time that Barnett says the word “bear” in the video. Anyone up for that? Post it in the comments!
2. and 3. Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft
If you can’t beat your enemy, become your enemy. Both LOTRO and WoW assumed (possibly rightly) that there was a niche audience out there who were perhaps too eager to drape on a bear suit and go roaring around the world as if that was a perfectly normal thing to do. The Beorning and Druid classes certainly delivered on this fantasy as well as the fantasy of “staring at a giant bear’s butt 24/7.” Nothing like having a furry rump obscuring 20% of your screen’s real estate!
This summer’s new class, the Warden, comes equipped with a bear pet, and if you don’t think that the expansion won’t be wall-to-wall bears, you are seriously kidding yourself. Personally, I want to know the backstory of how this Warden found an abandoned bear pup as a child and then brought it home so that it could grow up to be his brother. Sure, they fought from time to time, and once the bear ate the babysitter for her insolence, but for the most part, they went on wacky adventures that mostly revolved around honey.
Like clowns, bears don’t really need anything else to be inherently scary, but that doesn’t stop some designers from trying. In TSW, bears aren’t quite as prevalent as they are in some MMOs, but when you do encounter one, they tend to be decaying zombie bears pooping green toxic waste in their wake. Yes, that’s my new top nightmare, above speaking in public in my underwear about the subject of death and divorce.
I throw a lot of shade at H1Z1 because it honestly kind of deserves it for so many reasons. But giving credit where it is due, it is one of the very few online RPGs where bears are treated with appropriate fear and reverence due to how badly they can mess you up. If I had to pick between fighting zombies or bears, it wouldn’t even be a contest. I could probably handle a zombie; a bear would use my skull as a chamber pot.
It’s good to see fantasy MMO designers trying to do something different with bears, but I have to admit that my reaction to seeing Crowfall’s Bog Bear wasn’t the awe that the team might have anticipated. Instead, it kind of looks like it’s wearing a long scarf, and that makes me think that it’s a wizard going off to Hogwarts, and how awesome of a Harry Potter novel would that be? Harry Potter and the Ursine Sorcerer. I’d read it.
In the mad science labs at Wizards of the Coast, the makers of D&D’s bestiary probably have weird off days where iconic creations like beholders aren’t just coming. On those days, the team flips open old copies of Ranger Rick and starts cutting and pasting various animals together. Hence, I imagine, was the origin story of the owlbear, a nocturnal hibernating freak of nature that is also incredibly endearing. I just feel bad for it because it wants to fly so bad yet must live tethered to the harsh mistress of gravity.
Of course, long before World of Warcraft’s Hunter population was enslaving an entire generation of bears, DAoC was already making it the trendy thing to do with the Druid. It makes a little more sense for a nature-attuned class to somehow have the magical ability to palaver with a bear and convince it to become a bodyguard. However, I’ve seen the videos, and I can’t say that these pint-sized animals really strike fear in the hearts of foes. More like, “Aww, that reminds me: I need to order more Snuggles fabric softener!”
The most terrifying and insidious bear of them all, the carebear lurks and prowls through the night, infiltrating your MMORPG with an entitled attitude and a neverending supply of forum whines. They’ve never had to really game a day in their life, but subsist on welfare epics and casual-friendly nerfs. “Hardcore” and “PvP” and “gankbox” are curse words to their society, and they have obviously destroyed the entire genre from within like the Trojan Horse.