The Daily Grind: Does law and order add to MMORPG worlds?

The Daily Grind: Does law and order add to MMORPG worlds?

As of late I’ve been going through the Thieves Guild DLC in Elder Scrolls Online. The result of this has taught me that (a) I’m rubbish with pickpocketing, (b) wicker baskets will fool even the most determined guard, and (c) the justice system adds a lot of immersive value to the game.

I haven’t played many MMOs where there is even a hint of a legal system, even a basic one, past the occasional NPC being disgruntled at your actions or a bounty system for PvP. But having my naughty actions — such as trespassing, stealing, or killing — rack up heat and bounty in ESO has livened things up and made me wish for a similar system elsewhere. Maybe I just enjoy life on the run from the law!

What do you think? Does law and order add to MMORPG worlds, and if so, how would you like to see it added to your game?

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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Jim Bergevin Jr

It can make a difference if done correctly, otherwise it’s just flavoring, like your choice of outfit.

Essentially, devs would have to craft a chunk of content the same size as their main content to accommodate such a system. A character going down a path if crime would, logically, not be able to partake of the basic storyline which is generally written with a heroic viewpoint in mind.

It would make no sense for a character who has gone through life as a thief and murderer to go help and NPC find her lost sheep as a side quest. So those who truly want this kind of system need to have their characters locked out of that kind of content.

Rolan Storm

Actually I thought about ESO when I saw the headline. Yeah, it does add to the game.

But ESO is so mild-mannered in any things that are not main part of the game. You have vampires, but only a skill line. You won’t happen to meet – or become – any of the many forms vampires present on Tamriel. Lycanthropy shares similar fate, though they both have their uses.

And thievery is not in-depth stealth simulation either. Thieves got their skill lines, their DLC and they are part of the world. But not important part in my opinion, rather a nice addition that was relevant at some point when it was new.

God forbid adding my vision of criminal system to the game. Poor developers.


I just finally got my first 99 skill in Runescape (Hadn’t played for 11 years). It was Thieving. You tell me whether I enjoy it or not. :P

There’s also a ‘Court System’ in there where you can play either the prosecutor or the defense. (Though it’s unrelated, in that you get a court summons and you’re trying/defending one of the lore people for crimes they supposedly committed…and it really doesn’t seem to add a whole lot to the game.)

It used to be if you got ‘caught’ you’d be teleported to a cage where people could throw rotten veggies at you, but they seem to have removed that ‘random event’ type stuff.

They changed it so getting higher agility skill makes you get a chance to pickpocket more than once. (‘Your lightning fast reactions allow you to steal x amount of loot’…increased by level on some NPCS) I really like that. If only they’d made it so it wasn’t based on the whole ‘You get conked on the head and you’re stunned for a bit’ when you fail concept…which got really really annoying having to do the 90 rank guys and they basically made it like you were a noob again…getting stunned and sitting in stunlock for awhile instead of picking their pocket…that kind of stuff is dumb. Though they do also have a bit where you can get a blackjack and knock them out/steal from them, and at one point, they gave you distraction techniques/the ability to lure them/distract/blackjack them, and steal from them. That was more involved/fun…but was just another way for them to make it so it took longer to gain stuff. They also added safe-cracking, but then they made it so they get dedicated bags that just gain ‘loot’ % as you gather from them, and you occasionally find ‘higher quality’ loot that gives an extra ‘reward’ from the thieving guild..(Mainly just more reward points to use to buy stuff like a stethoscope that goes on your toolbelt or a lockpick for it, or upgrades to your loot bag…or some ‘shock absorbers’ items that are consumables..that help when you’re getting thwumped and stunned…those would’ve been useful if they weren’t consumeables…but consumeables are worthless if you get stunned so often even at high levels…) and there was things like an amulet or gloves or an outfit that boost your thieving skills…

I finally gained access to the elf city and the way they did it there is so much better than the whole game’s version. You can pickpocket as long as you want, but you gain ‘strikes’ in factions (There are 8 factions there) and as you gain strikes, the clan gets more and more suspicious, and once it’s 3 strikes you’re out, they lock you from thieving that group for a set amount of time (Around 20 minutes) because they ‘warn the clan’ about your shenanigans…so you end up having to steal from various clans..

I wouldn’t mind other interesting systems…but most games tend towards flagging you for pvp (Which is ridiculous if you can’t steal from other players…and they can use that as an option to harm you..) or some other dumb ‘justice’ system that involves wasting your time somehow as ‘punishment’ for being a bad bad little thief.

I really enjoy playing the sneak thief/rogue idea in games. I wouldn’t ever succeed at it in real life because I have jack for manual dexterity and I’m a big person in real life so kind of hard to miss/they keep an eye on you, but in games I can play that rogue/scoundrel idea to the hilt and have fun with it…even if I’m not really like that at all. People always are like ‘But you got something you didn’t earn’…well, I view it as ‘Do you know how hard it actually is to steal something, much less doing it without getting caught? Maybe that deserves a reward by itself?

Or, for those who are less fortunate/don’t live a wealthy life…it may be their only recourse…I’m real tired of the ‘Just go get a job’ line from people who don’t understand that not everyone has the capacity TO work. Maybe it shouldn’t be that people NEED to steal to survive. Shouldn’t society as a whole support those people so they don’t feel they need to resort to those methods?

Barnoc N'Draak

I generally favor games that allow for player freedom, including the freedom to do bad things and make yourself repugnant to NPC factions. Law is one way of doing that, but can end up feeling superficial. ESO makes it pretty trivial to get rid of your bounty.

I kind of miss games that would let you irrevocably throw in your lot with one faction at the cost of never being able to show your face elsewhere.

Fenrir Wolf

I feel that if it goes far enough to add tangible consequences to actions which hinder other, real, players and flavour to questing? Yes.

The Elder Scrolls Online was pretty good about this. As an avid Thief aficionado (the sort who’s played most user made levels and always uses the highest difficulty as there’s no good reason not to in those games), I appreciated the experience.

Overall, I must admit that it did feel a wee bit watered down. There was room for improvement.

The guards were a touch on the blithely oblivious side without nary even a line of dialogue to illustrate their empty-headed stupor contrasted with bizarrely shrewd opinions; the hidey-holes were absolutely a deus ex machina that resulted in mass amnesia; and it lacked fun, diverse interactions with the guards as a means of managing them (no cudgel, noisemaker, flashbangs, et cetera).

On the upside, it didn’t have anything that annoyed me nearly as much as those alarm-bots from Thief II, which were doubly irritating because they used the voice of their creator who sounded far too much like an irritable Droopy.

Yes, THAT Droopy.


Get back here! Damn it! Going to cut you of–oh, hello! I assume this is your big brother. I… grenades? That’s just rude!

Oh, Thief II.

I’d expose you all to this but I can’t find any videos of just that, you should probably be thankful.

Still, despite the shortcomings of the justice system, it was still some of the most fun I’d had in an MMO. It recaptured what I loved about, yes, Free Realms, Guild Wars 2, and Dungeons & Dragons Online, which all offered us weary travellers so tired of combat and grind something special.

And honestly, you could set Benny Hill music to catching the attention of as many guards as possible, then doing the linens basket shuffle.

I guess what it comes down to is that it has to feel meaningful, they have to have thought about it. And whilst it was on the shallow side, ZOS clearly had given it more thought than most.

Multiplayer Thief is still a distant dream, though. God I want that. With all the personality and quirkiness that that would imply, none of the po-faced and unnecessarily dry, dour, and damn nearly deceased denizens of Dishonored and is ilk, either. Those games bored me to tears, so depressing. When did games lose their ability to be fun?

Sorry this ended up being more about Thief, I really did love Thief.

~~ Edit ~~

Interestingly enough, as well, I feel most of the thievery missions in ESO were designed by those who were at least a little familiar with the idea as the maps had handy routes of avoidance that weren’t overly obvious. I enjoyed that, as it allowed me to show my partner I’m not terrible at all 3D games. Just most of them.

At least I still rock the 2D titles, but alas, the world has mostly moved on to embrace this third dimension. I’m going to be so lost when yet more become included.

Fenrir Wolf

I knew I’d forgotten something! Another thing I felt ESO sorely lacked was sound design, this is a point I’ve talked about on game development forums.

The guards and players alike are too silent, there’s no need to worry about the kind of material under your feet. You can cross freely over anything without fear of making an unsightly, unprofessional noise that’d shame just about any thief in training. Add to that the aforementioned lack of dialog? Everything about it becomes too austere.

It’s not creepy, there aren’t enough ambient qualities for that. It’s just… very quiet. I think that if another game did employ a series of quests related to thievery, they really should hire a sound designer to consider these factors. I feel they’re so necessary to a good heist-y experience.


Silent? its hard to find any other game that has almost everything voice acted. Maybe you had silenced something in the options? I know the few times I stole and 2 of them got caught the guard talked to me with voice acted dialogue

Random MMO fan
Random MMO fan

I have played ESO too and have experienced this “justice system” when doing Thieves Guild quest. And it was very disappointing, simply because it was easy to avoid NPC guards and other players could not do anything to stop me. Same goes when I was observing other players stealing stuff – was pretty immersion-breaking that I couldn’t punish them in any way. Worst “justice system” I’ve seen in any multiplayer game.

Fenrir Wolf

The first point was my biggest contention as well, as I feel they made the guards overly insensate as an effort to balance that they provided us with no means of coping with them beyond moidah.

I did enjoy the feel of it, though. There were ways to illustrate genre savviness, as I mentioned. Paths where there were no guards, if you spotted them. Some of them were tricky to navigate and required those dreaded jumping puzzle skills (which I enjoyed).

In fact, I think it’s one of the few instances in ESO where I was tasked with any kind of mobility. Up until that point it’d felt so static it might as well have been a board game.

And, while I do agree with you that they should’ve instanced it so that you couldn’t see others doing the half-inching dirty… which… sounds perhaps worse than it had in my head. Hm, should I delete that? No. I stand by what I type. I guess the most problematic part of that is that Americans likely won’t be familiar with cockney rhyming slang, coupled with how inching has a very different connotation in that culture.

…where was I?

Right. They should’ve definitely instanced players, but I absolutely do not agree with inconveniencing other players unless they openly consent to such. It’s supportive of dark triad traits to allow players to do that to others unless clear consent is given.

And, really, how often MMOs tend to groom dark triad traits is a point of unnecessary duress to other players.

Random MMO fan
Random MMO fan

I absolutely do not agree with inconveniencing other players unless they openly consent to such

You automatically give consent when you engage into criminal activity, just like when you attack NPCs or live players in games like EVE ;-) Don’t want other players hunt you or report your crime? Don’t steal or murder anyone, or at least do it in a way where neither NPCs nor live players can spot you doing it (if you’re not spotted doing it = you’re not flagged as criminal and can’t be reported or arrested by other players). I think that’s a pretty fair system and most importantly MUCH more immersive than the current ESO garbage where you just stand and watch other player pickpocketing NPC with 0 ability to do anything about it.

You might argue “but what if some other player will camp the NPC whom I have to rob or murder for quest?” – well, you just instance the area if you need to do this with a specific NPC. This way other players won’t be able to grief you by not allowing you to rob those NPCs or locations undetected. And after a few quests like those, you can raise the challenge by asking the player to rob a non-specific NPC in a non-instanced areas (any area would be valid), this would add more challenge since other players/NPCs could spot you but would also prevent other players from griefing you if they don’t know which target you will select.

There are MANY ways to make this system more interesting by involving other players who can spot and report your crime or arrest you themselves, and any one of them would still be better than just playing the utterly boring “avoid NPCs cone of view by standing at the right corner at certain time” game throughout the whole quest line for Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood.

blah blazh

Didn’t Age of Conan have a law and order system similar to ESO?


There is a limited stealth system and some restricted areas where you have to avoid NPCs, but I don’t recall anything like the bounty system from ESO

Oleg Chebeneev

“I haven’t played many MMOs where there is even a hint of a legal system, even a basic one, past the occasional NPC being disgruntled at your actions or a bounty system for PvP”.

Justin, ever heard of Face of Mankind?


Agreed as a concept but truth be told it was used a lot of times as a griefing tool. Generally its hard to have a community driven justice system and be sure players will use it as intended. I only saw it work on MUDs because players there were more focused to RP immersion than griefing


The whole legal system here is one of the few things that gives me a challenge in the game. The open world combat became too easy with One Tamriel, but being a pickpocket (especially one that doesn’t kill people – that’s the biggest way to get a challenge out of it) and getting away with it takes a bit of work.

The heat system there is really interesting and fun. I’d like to see stuff like that and things like the old type of reputation system I read about that EverQuest had/has in more games.

Fenrir Wolf

“[…] takes a bit of work.”

So many invisibility potions.

I agree, though. Especially if you aren’t over-reliant on those invisibility potions, which sometimes I wasn’t and sometimes I was. If you picked your target carefully and ensured you had a valid escape route available should things go South like a felon desperately trying to cross the border, there’s a decent go at getting out of dodge without a ludicrously giant bounty.

I think the bounty was my least favourite part of the experience. Flub it, and you get a time out like the naughty, nnnaughty perp that you are.

Go to your room!

Couldn’t I just listen to an hour’s worth of polka instead?


I love legal systems like these… If it’s not connected to PvP. On paper I like the idea of being able to play as a merchant, getting attacked by outlaw players. But in reality, its just a ganking shit show.

But when it comes to PvE, like ESO’s, I really love being able to play as a thief or assassin. I definitely think it adds something to the game. I’m not a huge fan of ESO, because I’m not a huge fan of Elder Scrolls and when you strip that layer of paint away, ESO is just a fairly generic MMO. But I really like the thieves guild/brotherhood stuff.
You can’t get the depth that you can get with actual stealth games, because in MMOs everyone has to be able to do the content, but it’s still good fun imo. ESO had some good ideas, although some wasnt implemented very well, like heists being pointless to do co-op. I wish more MMOs would give it a go too.

Fenrir Wolf

May I join you in the lament and wish for a genuinely good, legit multiplayer Thief experience? ESO was pretty decent, to be sure, but oh how I would love to jump rugs in dimly lit corridors with my partner.

Not as questionable as it sounds! Thief fans will know precisely what I’m talking about. Bloody tiled floors.