Ever since playing the original Wasteland back in the late ’80, I’ve had a high fascination with post-apocalyptic settings. Yet it’s not been the most fertile and frequent playgrounds for MMOs, aside from niche titles like Fallen Earth, Defiance, Crossout, and Auto Assault.
Now, I love me some Fallen Earth, but every time I log in it makes me think of just how rich and fertile this setting is for MMO studios. Considering just how rampant fantasy titles are, I feel strongly that devs need to be exploring outside this well-trod path to other genres, and the post-apocalypse is a perfect place to start. Here are my reasons that we need more post-apoc MMOs in our field.
They’re a fun genre mish-mash
“Post-apocalyptic” isn’t a cut-and-dried setting with clear boundaries and tropes. There are many, many sub-genres within it, and some settings play fast and loose with genre blending to make combinations that we don’t see elsewhere. I loved Stephen King’s The Dark Tower for its take on a post-apocalyptic world because it would quickly flip from contemporary to horror to science-fiction to fantasy to a Western and not feel out of place for doing so. How cool would that be in an MMO?
They emphasize survival and ingenuity
Many modern post-apoc video games that I see these days have really embraced a survivalist aspect, from The Long Dark to State of Decay to Fallout 76. It’s not about being in a world that coddles you; it’s about being in a world where basic survival is not assured. There’s something hugely addictive about exploring a very hostile world and scrounging for every essential, and that’s something I’d like to see more in the multiplayer space.
Crafting in post-apocalyptic games makes a lot more sense
Crafting in most MMOs seems to reside in the land of “hobbies” or perhaps “start-up enterprises,” but almost never is it a crucial part of the gameplay experience (especially in themepark games). Crafting in post-apoc titles takes on a new meaning, since you’re not just working your way to making that purple tier-six armor set — you’re trying to make a basic weapon or sew together clothes to keep warm. It’s all in the context, and here the post-apocalyptic setting gives a weight and importance to crafting that it might not get elsewhere.
The contemporary connections makes these more relatable worlds
I’ve argued this in conjunction with The Secret World, but I truly believe that since we live in a contemporary world, we naturally relate more to contemporary trappings in MMOs. We may like fantasy, but we don’t relate to it, if you get my drift. However, post-apocalyptic settings are full of connections to the world we know and experience now, even if that world is in a new context.
They allow you to rewrite the rules on how things are “supposed” to be
Getting stuck in tropes and design decisions annoys me, particularly when I see the same ones across several different MMOs. Post-apocalyptic games seem to be having more success in rewriting these generally accepted (and worn-out) rules. There’s not only the previously mentioned survivalism simulator streak but also an embrace of things like permadeath, open-world housing, and chainsaw arms. We can never have too many chainsaw arms.
Yes, zombies are all the rage in the post-apoc genre, but I’m an old-fashioned guy in this regard. Give me mutants and lots of them when I mosey across the irradiated landscape. Show me the awesome power of the atomic age when it grows ants to 10 feet tall and gives farmers a second head that sarcastically quips at the first.
They’re extremely popular as a setting in mainstream video games
I think that MMO studios have gotten tunnel vision for fantasy and are overlooking just how popular post-apocalyptic games have become in the industry. They’re just everywhere these days, and people eat them up like crazy. We love the zombies. We love post-apocalyptic playgrounds. Studios need to grab a piece of that action while it’s hot.
The weapons, oh my goodness the weapons
In every post-apoc game I’ve played, the weapon selection just out-does weapons in every other type of game I’ve played. This is thanks to the genre cross-blending because you get to sample from many lethal columns: modern firearms, sci-fi concepts, jury-rigged melee weapons, explosives, chainsaw arms, and so on. I hardly ever think about the type of weapon I’m using in fantasy MMOs, but I’m just fixated on them when I pop over to the post-apocalypse.
Grouping could happen more organically
The atmosphere of the apocalypse has drummed it into our heads that we need to stick together to survive and probably kill each other for TV ratings. But mostly survive. Giving players good incentive to be social and group is forever a challenge for developers, and post-apoc has an advantage in this regard as well. These aren’t worlds that favor the lone adventurer; these are worlds that, through their very setup, make us want to seek out and stick with others. Harness that properly, and it could cause organic grouping in a way that we don’t often see.
Because gritty can be more interesting than rainbow unicorns
Listen, I love beauty. I admire it when it’s done well in video games and other art forms. But there’s something vastly compelling when a game can step away from making postcard-perfect zones and get some grit on its mug. Post-apoc worlds are ugly, broken places full of death and the worst humanity (and mutanity) has to offer. Not only does that make them feel more “real,” but it places a premium on the true beauty and virtue that remains and is upheld in those worlds.