Massively Overthinking: Which MMORPG, living or dead, offers the all-time best crafting experience?


Over the last couple of weeks, when I was putting in sometimes 18-hour days working on the site, I didn’t really have much time for big blocks of gaming – sleep and work won out. I did, however, manage to sneak into Star Wars Galaxies Legends a few times to flip my harvesters and craft a few things to restock my vendors. Stuff has been kinda flying off my virtual shelves as players visit my vendors, which stuns me; I’m on an emulator, after all, and since I’ve been there only a few months, I don’t have the resources to make the very best of much. And yet it all sells, for absurd prices, whether it’s server-best or grindy. It’s been so much fun to re-enter a game where crafting is engrossing and crafters genuinely matter – where crafting isn’t just some cosmetics minigame for economy PvPers to mess around in when they’re not playing the “real game.”

I can’t find find that experience in many other MMORPGs in 2018. Or can I? For this week’s Overthinking, I’m asking the writers and readers just this: Which MMORPG, living or dead, offers the best crafting experience, and why?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Star Wars Galaxies really had/has one of the best. Horizons/Istaria might be a distant second, especially in its prime when all armor, weapons, and most advanced spells were player made, as was housing. Darkfall was similar, especially since it had items breaking for good, assuming you weren’t dry looted.

Still, I remember SWG the most, and I say that as someone who didn’t try it until near the end. The resources constantly changed, crafting wasn’t static, so much could be customized (and yes, randomized too)… These days, I feel like this is the kind of system you might only find in a game that also monetized your resources, and that’s a shame.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): So obviously I love Star Wars Galaxies’ crafting. But I can also see its deficiencies, having obsessively played it for so long then and now. It worked for so many reasons: The game mechanics, the whole set of gameworlds, it was all built around an ecosystem where resource gatherers and crafters and merchants all had a real place, a true reason for being there, and being full-time in their specialization, just as much as the combat characters and the entertainer characters. While the gathering and mass-production took a lot of time, it was predominantly offline time (via harvesters and factories), which simultaneously stopped it from feeling grindy once you’d mastered a skill and ensured a single person couldn’t blow up or permanently secure a market in an afternoon. As Koster has said, you can’t just take a system like that and drop it in any ol’ MMO; it has to be baked in from conception.

However, when it came to the intricacies of actually crafting a single item? It wasn’t that awesome. I concede that the experimentation system, with all its resource inputs and options, was – is!- truly interesting, but if I squint, I can see that it’s still just click-to-craft. Yes, click-to-craft with some math and RNG and buff food mixed in sometimes, not to mention days, weeks, or months or preparation for the craft, plus the knowledge of resources and all that. But it’s still mostly clicking when you boil it down to the process.

SOE attempted to course-correct that problem, in my estimation, with EverQuest II, where the process of crafting a single item was effectively a minigame. But for a hardcore crafter, it became a tedious minigame rather quickly. And I’m not sure it’s much better when games create an NPC underclass we can send away to do literally all of the clicking for us. I feel like we’re still waiting for a revolution on this front, and so far we haven’t seen much – I’ll lay that at World of Warcraft’s feet. Other games pioneered click-to-craft, but WoW fixed it as a standard from which MMOs are afraid to deviate.

So, yes, SWG gets my vote on the overall “crafting experience” angle. It’s hard to compete with a sandbox where a pure crafter, pure gatherer, or pure merchant is a highly valued member of a server’s society. But I still think there’s plenty of room for improvement on the template, particularly in regard to the physical process of Making A Thing.

It's patch day, oh yeah.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I’ve said this before, many times, to the point when I no doubt sound like a broken record. But it’s still true that Final Fantasy XIV’s crafting is far from a sideline, and in many ways is more engrossing than some of the crafting systems I hear touted as engrossing by others. There are, of course, systems I haven’t played, but I remember hearing a great deal about Ryzom’s crafting… which was, at the end of the day, a more advanced system than many, but the actual act of crafting still boiled down to “click button, watch bar fill.”

That is, quite honestly, boring to me. If I’m setting up a bunch of things to automate the gathering and crafting for me, I don’t find that interesting; I find it basically one step removed from a clicker game. (Which is fine, I enjoy those, but that’s not really the same thing as being an interesting crafting system.) By contrast, crafting an item in FFXIV comes with a whole system of actions and counterbalances to make sure you’re producing the best possible quality, and there’s a lot of theorycrafting and discussion about the best ways to get high-quality results from all sorts of materials.

None of this would matter if crafting didn’t matter, of course, but the fun reality is that it does. Crafters are considered valuable. My own main characters is on the lighter end of crafting, and it still saves me a huge amount of time and money to be able to craft things; when I feel like playing the economy I can, but there are always active trade wars I try to avoid. One of my friends does a lot of play on the market boards, to the point that it’s her primary means of playing the game, and it pays off. Things like furniture, equipment, potions, and food are all reliable and near-constant sellers, and the funny reality is that Balmung hosts some of the most dedicated economy players and the “cheapest” economy, simply because so many people are invested in the crafting side of the game.

The fact that you can set up a certain amount of automation with your retainers is just icing on the cake, as far as I’m concerned. Crafting is about as far as possible from an afterthought in the game, and while it has some failings in crafting progression, it remains rich and robust through and through.

so bye

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’ve said this before, but I was really impressed with Fallen Earth’s crafting system for a few reasons. First, you weren’t restricted in your gathering and crafting, so it was up to the player how much they wanted to get into this system. Second, a vast majority (90 or 95%) of the game’s gear, weapons, ammo, and vehicles could be crafted. Those two factors gave Fallen Earth that great post-apocalyptic “scavenger” feel that, for me, was the meat of the game. You were carving out a living among the wasteland and using what you found to ensure your future.

Finally, I loved the real time queue format of the system. Similar to EVE Online’s skilling system, you would queue up crafting recipes and then they would complete in real time whether you were online or off. It made for some fun strategy to queue short-term projects for while you were in the game and long-term ones right before you logged out.

The effort and time that it took to make my first motorcycle in the game paid off and gave me a mount that I ended up loving because I know that I made it — and didn’t buy it or have it gifted to me.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): As MMORPGs is the question, I’ll leave any discussion of survival games out. My top crafting games are definitely dead ones — not counting emulators. I’ll admit these are pretty biased and focus on games I played quite a bit, but the whole point was the crafting system had to be good for me to be playing games for a long length of time!

Hands down Star Wars Galaxies was the best overall crafting system. You didn’t even have to participate in the full gamut of it to have lucrative business dealings; you could focus lots on harvesting to supply the crafters if you didn’t want to be one yourself. Then if you were a crafter, you made all the things! More than just gear, too. Also it was top notch that you could name the items, either marking yourself as crafter, giving a really epic name, or renaming items to fit a different decorative purpose (like labeling a fountain a shower or a painting a ceramic tile). And basically whatever you needed in game came from a crafter, so you had a genuine player economy.

But when discussing great crafting you can’t leave out Vanguard! I really liked how you had to stay on top of the craft, countering events in order to successfully make quality items. The same with the original crafting of EverQuest II (which I loved tremendously!), when if you didn’t counter you could actually be injured and die at your crafting station! These weren’t passive activities, and your quality of goods depended on skill and attention to details. One thing Vanguard did differently is that you had to load materials into your crafting table for countering events, and space was limited so you had to choose wisely; EQII only used skills. I also loved having subcomponents and how it created an interdependency for the crafting community, making folks who were low-level relevant as well. I really hated when that was removed from EQII.

Are there any current games with great crafting systems? None that I can bring to mind. (I don’t call Fallen Earth a current game for me since the account migration or whatever locked mine and I haven’t been able to play in years lol! But had I played more I think I would have really liked it’s crafting; I just didn’t have a chance to get into it much.) I’d like there to be, because I happen to like that pastime, and I really like being able to supply and outfit my friends. Also, I want to have a specific business guild in a game again, and the crafting will be a key component. And no matter how fun and engaging a crafting system is pointless if the items are vital in game.

Your turn!

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