MMOs are places of great imagination, where developers take fantastic concepts and make them real (in a sense). MMOs are also places of great copycatting because tropes are so strong and it’s really dang hard to be 100% original. Plus, consciously or subconsciously, devs draw upon other games when they make their own because that’s what they know.
So we end up with this enormous array of virtual worlds — mostly fantasy — and it’s hard to ignore the fact that we end up encountering the same places in different games over and over again. Some of these places are pretty generic (ooh, another wolf den), and some are oddly specific (chapels with back rooms that reveal a sinister secret), but chances are that you’ve seen every item on this list more than once.
The spider cave
OK, yes, there are plenty of caves in the world and lots of spiders who love to hang out in said caves, including this charming fellow, but MMOs are just overrun with such places. As we’ve established previously, there’s nothing that a developer loves more than a giant spider (it doesn’t take much imagination to make and it taps into many people’s arachnophobia), so the spider cave is ubiquitous. Spider cave, spider mine, spider quarry — they all have plenty of creepy-crawlies, web decor, and still-writhing cocoons as if you just stepped into the Aliens movie set.
The active volcano fortress
So when you’re going to pour thousands of man-hours (Dwarf-hours?) into hewing through rock and constructing a mountain fortress, location is probably quite important. Maybe I’m missing something, but picking a geologically unstable volcano with molten rock spewing all over the place is probably not going to be key real estate in this scenario. Every time I encounter the active volcano fortress, I have to wonder how many people burned to death horribly to make this place.
The brightly lit and oddly spacious crypt
Fun fact about me: I’ve performed several funerals in my life. As such, I’ve been to many crypts and mausoleums. They’re somber, incredibly quiet places that are usually immaculate and freezing. What they aren’t are blazingly lit aircraft hangers where wandering soldiers of fortune just stumble through, cracking open caskets and fighting the odd skeleton. Maybe in New Jersey, but not where I’m at.
The chasm you can’t escape
It’s bad enough that MMOs are just littered with valleys, chasms, canyons, and pits where you fall into them and are afforded no clear exit strategy. Because there’s just nothing more wonderful than wandering along a crack while the camera ping-pongs off of the narrow walls, just hoping that you’ll find a ramp back up. There comes a time when you resign yourself to your fate that you’ll probably have to marry the next person who falls down here and start a new civilization of chasm-dwellers. You sincerely hope it’s not a frog-person. How would that even work?
The throne room you can walk into without an invitation or proper credentials
Of course you’re going to have lots of palaces and castles in MMOs; it’s just how government is done. But man is it weird how we — relatively unknown adventurers — have unlimited access to the throne room at any hour of the day or night and how royalty doesn’t seem perturbed by it. I’d love to see an MMO feature bodyguards who do a flying tackle into your kidneys if you barge right into such places.
The hippie tree city
I have a strict maxim that nothing good lives in trees. Ewoks? Elves? Faerie folk? Giant Brazilian spiders that shriek as they dive-bomb your skull? None are good. Yet MMOs plague us with these tree cities that are full of hippies who have eschewed traditional plumbing and sewage treatment to fling their filth from a hundred feet off the ground and then lecture us on what savages we are.
The torture chamber
While they should be some of the most disturbing places to visit in any game, torture chambers are almost like invisible set dressing these days. It’s like, oh, there’s the rack and the iron maiden and a token skeleton and a couple of pools of blood carefully placed in accordance to the room’s feng shui. It’s about as impactful as wandering through one of those Halloween stores that set up shop for a month a year. Ooh, fake blood capsules are on sale!
The sudden biome climate change
Melding radically different zones together is an art form, but apparently some game designers are like toddlers slapping together different-colored Play-doh before calling it a day. The stitches that hold together an ice zone and a jungle zone are always apparent, and one has to wonder how this world’s weather system can offer such precise boundaries between sub-arctic chill and balmy tropical breezes.
The pirate camp
Arr! You know what I’m officially sick of? Talk Like a Pirate Day. Yes, it was amusing for a couple of years, but pirates have been wrung through the pop culture gauntlet too many times to offer up surprises. Likewise, we could probably do with about 2/3rds fewer pirate camps/ships/caves in MMOs. Throw up a few tents, have a table with a map spread out on it, pile up cannonballs, and come up with four pirate types to copy and paste about 10 times. There, I’ve just designed the next pirate camp. MMO studios, please throw a few royalties my way.
The overrun prison
No MMO prison has ever successfully held its population without a mass outbreak. This is a cold, hard fact of life. I will eat my virtual shorts if one day I discovered a prison where all of the inmates are safely locked away instead of roaming the halls as if they really don’t want to leave — they just wanted to stroll around the place.