The Daily Grind: How can MMOs repurpose older zones?

    
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One of the best gaming experiences that I had this past year was going through the entirety of the Bingo Boffin storyline from start to finish in Lord of the Rings Online. It wasn’t only goofy, rewarding, and oddly touching at times, but it was a thrill to be able to quest through some of my past favorite zones without having to roll up another alt.

Repurposing older zones for new content is something that the LOTRO devs have latched onto as of late (see: 10th anniversary quests), and I for one applaud this kind of initiative. It feels like such a waste to outlevel a zone and then never see it again. So much work goes into these places, so why not come back to them on occasion and squeeze some more enjoyment out of them?

What do you think? How can MMOs best repurpose older zones? What would be cool to go back and do in those classic zones with your current character?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Zen Dadaist

Make them relevant to the current progression. Characters still have to start out at level 1 with a sharpened stick and a rusted helmet, and still have to earn their power in some fashion.

Streamline quests and update rewards to be relevant. Tighten up mob spawn logic and behaviour. To take an example from Rift: add in random zone events with interesting rewards. In particular, incentivise (but DO NOT FORCE) auto-levelling appropriately to the zone. Make people want to go back to these already-developed areas of content without making them feel as if they absolutely have to.

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Tandor

Battle scaling is obviously one way, but doesn’t really help when a game is story/quest focused and the player has already completed all the story/quests in the zone. It’s particularly useful, however, in a game with more leveling zones than a character can complete at lower levels so that some of them can be visited at higher level with all the benefits still gained from doing them – One Tamriel was an excellent improvement to ESO in that respect.

I like the idea of new content that is added through DLCs and expansions being accessed from within old zones rather than just by tacking on a detached new zone that is accessed from a portal, as well as the occasional revamping of old zones so that they spring a surprise or two to those who revisit them whether with a veteran character or a new alt.

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camelotcrusade

Reading this has me thinking about it through a D&D lens, where I’ve been (and continue to be) a content creator and DM for over 25 years now. I was musing about how though I save notes on story arcs we’ve played through, I never re-use them in the way an MMO would (that is, exactly the same play-through but with a different team). Similarly, I am just not interested in published adventures that are updates to the same thing, edition after edition.

Why? Well, it occurs to me that there are some people, like me, who always favor new adventurers over old, and it’s boring for me *and* for my players to re-tread a story we’ve already made our own. I also rarely re-read books or re-watch movies–entertainment, once consumed, is most often finished for me. I can’t be the only one like this.

In D&D, what I do instead is call-back to the history and tie it into new adventures. That NPC they met is up to something new, the war is over, etc. but now there are new politics, etc. It’s building on what came before, not Groundhog Day.

All this leads me to say that, in MMOs, I don’t want to play the same thing again, I want it to remain changed, and if I return to it – or bring someone new – I’d like opportunities to spring from that. Sure sell me a turn-back-time potion if I want a do-over, but I doubt I’d ever use it while I’m still engaged in what’s happening (maybe I would if I returned after a long absence and felt disconnected from the story and my achievements).

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Paragon Lost

Honestly in an mmorpg like Lotro they really should have had scaling from the start. I sort of wish they’d actually do it now, along with the 64bit client update. One can wish. Regardless I really think that scaling is the overall best answer if done right for mmorpgs in regards to older zones.

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Michael18

LOTRO is pretty good at it, but in the domain of theme park MMOs, FF14 is by far the best in keeping all zones relevant.

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Robert Mann

I detest character scaling, especially forced, so I’d say avoid the trap of levels to begin with. Make a different type of character progression if desired, and have areas have a mix of difficulty within. Anything to avoid some nonsensical mechanic of reduction in power for daring to go back, because that is just annoying.

In my ideal MMO, you would slowly grow stronger, and some foes will be outclassed, sure. But… without the traps of levels and gear that won’t be nearly as much an issue, I believe.

Xijit
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Xijit

Never make them “old” in the first place by designing low, mid, and high level content into everything to keep players cycling back into prior zones as they progress.

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thalendor

Guild Wars 2 comes closest to getting this right, IMO. Level scaling a character down, but not up, keeps a sense of progression without completely trivializing old zones. I would argue that they need to retune their scaling a bit since going back to those zones is still pathetically easy, but the mobs in those zone can, at least, scratch your character if nothing else. Additionally, adding level appropriate rewards for going back to old content can, if done well, provide a reason to go back. In fact, at one point, it could be argued that GW2 did this, perhaps, a bit too well back when Queensdale loot trains were a thing. Perhaps what is needed there is some reward unique to low level areas that high level players still need, while still keeping many necessary rewards only in higher level zones?

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starbuck1771

WoW and Destiny 2 do it better. Why penalize the player when you can just scale the MoB’s to player level?

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thalendor

I disagree. In my opinion, it’s not about penalizing players by not allowing them to go where ever they want whenever they want, but about a rewarding sense of progression by being able to open up, explore, and conquer new areas that were previously beyond your capabilities. That is why I prefer Guild Wars 2 style level scaling over WoW: Legion (or ESO) style scaling even while preferring what Blizzard has planned for scaling in older WoW zones in 7.3.5 over what is in place currently.

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Robert Mann

I think the point was that the reduction in power feels like regressing to many. Just because your post seems to be going a completely different direction than Starbuck’s post…

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thalendor

Maybe. I took Starbuck’s post to be an objection to only scaling the player down for lower level mobs and not up for higher level mobs as that bidirectional scaling how scaling essentially works in WoW: Legion or, even more so, ESO after One Tamriel. I haven’t played Destiny, nor have I followed it at all, so perhaps, as he cited that as an example as well, I would have a different understanding if I was familiar with that as well.

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starbuck1771

With Destiny 2 the mobs scale to the players level. So if your level 20 the mobs will be level 20. It is the same with the new area’s in WoW.

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Robert Mann

I’d rather cite Rift as a potential example, since it’s voluntary. Choice is always better than forced.

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thalendor

If you like how Rift does things, that’s fine. I haven’t played Rift since it’s early days, when I don’t recall it having any scaling (granted, I didn’t stick with Rift all that long either) so I can’t comment on it’s model with any specificity. However, one additional thing I like about the GW2 model is that it is forced — higher level characters may be more powerful in those lower level zones compared to level-appropriate characters, but not orders of magnitude so due to being downleveled. If you don’t like it, that’s fine… there’s more than one way to solve this problem, and it’s probably for the best that different games use different solutions.

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Robert Mann

I detest forced, personally. It’s part of why GW2 was a very short venture for me.

I agree there is more than one way, and that different games should go different routes. The thing I liked about Rift’s system is that you could reduce to anywhere in the level range you liked… letting you pick your own level of challenge if you want rewards, or even just stay overpowered and help people who wanted to rush through. That choice makes a world of difference, personally.

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Kala Mona

I am a huge fan of reusing older content. Having several big continents with trivialized content, while all the new stuff is happening in another small isle, feels such a huge waste of resources. I think the solution is already there.

Just allow downleveling yourself temporarly, but still get “high-end” (real-level) rewards if you start and finish a quest, event, raid, whatever while downlevelled to the necessary level. Imagine if in WoW you could finally finish those WotLK and Pandaria quest chains while downlevelling to lvl80-90, but still getting Artifact Power or whatever is the current currency.

There are several MMO-s which do this, Rift comes to my mind. Rift even forces downlevelling during certain events, so high level ppl cannot just one-shot an epic boss that requires many lower level players to beat.

Also there are pockets in EVE which allows you in only if you use a frigate or whatever, so even if you already drive Battleships, you have content for Frigates. Yes I know it is a bit different, I just liked this idea.

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Anstalt

As others have said, vertical progression is the root of the problem so whilst it continues to be overused in MMOs this problem will exist.

You can go for scaling content, mentoring systems, mixing in different levels of content in a single zone or use events, but these are all just crap band-aid solutions that don’t address the underlying cause.

Even switching to horizontal progression wont solve the problem completely – it would at least keep all content relevant / “on level”, but if you’re sticking to a themepark model then presumably the majority of your playerbase would still move on as soon as they’ve done the quests.

So, in addition to horizontal progression, add some sandbox features to a zone – a town/city that you can level up on your server but that also gets attacked regularly. If your server doesn’t defend then city gets downgraded to town, then village, then homestead etc. Obviously flesh such a feature out properly but you hopefully get the idea.