Massively Overthinking: The best cooking in MMORPGs


You probably thought tonight’s Massively Overthinking would have a gratitude theme, what with the holiday and all. Nope, not this time, although it’s sort of Thanksgivingy. We’re going to talk about food!

Video game food, that is. Y’all know that I’m not an amazing cook in real life, but I absolutely love cooking in video games. It’s much less messy, nothing ever smells bad, you never have run to the market because you ran out of something, and nobody’s gotta do dishes afterward. Also no calories!

My main MMORPG character for the last few years is literally a chef, but truthfully, that game is far from the only one with a satisfying and useful cooking system. So let me hear it: Which MMORPG offers the best cooking system, and why is it so good? Bonus question: Which MMO without a cooking system could benefit from having one?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Oh man, this one’s tough since most MMOs don’t do cooking justice. I know Star Wars Galaxies had cooking, and I’m sure someone will give it the love it deserves, but of the non-offline games I can think of that aren’t on emulators (RIP Asheron’s Call, Darkfall, also SWG, and now Crowfall), I’d like to mention Istaria/Horizons.

While it’s mostly a simple fill-in-the-blank crafting as opposed to SWG and Crowfall’s deeper and largely more satisfying ingredient quality systems, Istaria does a few things different than your average WoW clone. The first is you can add or subtract materials to affect your success rate. A higher skilled chef doesn’t need to use as many ingredients as a trainee, and that always motivated me. Second is that, at least at launch, Istaria was 100% a player-driven economy. Food gave unique buffs, and when last time I visited, it still did. In fact, I had recipes that haven’t been available to the playerbase since I think 2004. Food helped with buffs, taking out the sting of death but you also had to eat a balanced meal to make the most of it. That meant no doubling up on dessert. It’s a minor thing, but it helped turn food into meals rather than reskinned potions.

Honestly, I think every MMO should have better cooking. I’d love something that merges Cooking Mama style minigames with the SWG/Crowfall systems so you can make substitutions that change effects. So many adults I’ve met can’t cook, so having some kind of simulation would help further not only their knowledge of the basic concepts, but hopefully help them better appreciate the process, especially if if you combine it with Istaria style limitations so they can’t eat the same thing all the time and get the same “benefits.”

Andy McAdams: Cooking is one of those things in MMOs that only seems to exist in extremes — either basic as hell or so convoluted that you need spreadsheets to even hope to understand. Neither approach feels super engaging to me. I like Culinarian in FFXIV, but the sheer scope of ingredients you need (and the cost of those ingredients) had me grinding my teeth as I was leveling it instead of really enjoying the process. I think part of it was the “by the time I could cook it, it was obsolete” vibe — but that’s hardly specific to cooking – every crafting MMO seems hell-bent on making leveling crafting a gold sink instead of an actual part of the game. But that’s neither here not there. If you were to force me to pick a system, I would go with either Guild Wars 2 or FFXIV because if I’m given the choice, I will always pick complexity over click-button, faceroll simplicity.

But in truth, I don’t think there’s good cooking-as-crafting in any MMO.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I think the only MMO I’ve tried to cook in is Elder Scrolls Online. It’s OK. I’ve never been overly excited about crafting in any game and cooking seems even less so, for the most part.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My MMO of choice is and has been Star Wars Galaxies – that’s where my chef was from the first year of the game, and that’s where my chef is now (on a rogue server). Cheffing is just what I do there, and I think it’s very hard for most MMOs to beat it as crafting is so tightly integrated with the rest of the game. When I say I’m a chef, I mean that’s literally my character class (Domestics Trader); it’s how I make the vast majority of my money, and she can’t do much of anything else.

That said, SWG cooking isn’t the most… visually appealing. Most of the time, I’m working with stacks of resources and crates of components, and the foods and drinks look like, well, like they were modeled before 2003. Because they were. Moreover, its recipes are extremely limited, and most of them are not worth crafting (a problem with the base game, not the emulators). So while the economy around SWG’s cooking is perfection, I’d actually always rather be over in LOTRO doing cooking. The food there is just beyond cute and satisfies that part of me that wants to see meats and produce and breads and cheese and coffee and all that. (It reminds me of Asheron’s Call, which had the same vibe, for obvious reasons!)

As far as MMOs that haven’t got cooking… it’s always seemed weird to me that City of Heroes’ crafting systems are still so terribly limited. I wish it had more of a consumables crafting mindset in general.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Honestly, I don’t have too many horses in this kind of race, primarily because crafting has never been done well in the games I’ve played. If I have to give one nod to one game, though, it would be Final Fantasy XIV simply because the food looks tasty. Tasty enough to create a cookbook, even.

As for food as a mechanic, I’ll have to nod in appreciation of Valheim here, primarily because it’s one of the few survival sandbox titles that used food as a boosting item as opposed to an absolute necessity for just doing anything in the game. That’s nice. I wish more survival games did that.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I don’t have particularly strong feelings about any one MMO’s cooking being the best, but I like that, when Guild Wars 2 added ascended quality cooking, it was not content to simply bump up the cooking level cap and throw a few recipes with better stat combos or longer-lasting buffs at the player. Nope, it requires a whole achievement chain that involves traveling around Tyria and learning cooking techniques from master chefs of each of the five playable races. A bit of a grind, maybe, but it adds a bit of flavor that other crafts lack (pun intended). Plus, its high-tier food is sharable, so rather than mess around with mailing food to anyone who forgot to bring the correct buffs, you can drop a clickable feast in front of a world boss spawn or in a strike mission hub so your group can buff up before a fight, as well as anyone else who happens to wander by. Because who wouldn’t scarf down a plate of Peppercorn-Crusted Sous-Vide Steak a stranger whipped out of their backpack and set up on a fancy platter on the ground before charging into battle?

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): When it comes to cooking — an exercise I often don’t engage in unless I can physically eat my creations — two examples come to mind. The first was the launch of Guild Wars 2, when I was momentarily enticed by the “discovery” nature of its crafting system and had some good fun making meals. The second was growing and brewing coffee in Lord of the Rings Online, which I feel should be a standard supplement provided to all adventurers. I guess New World’s food system is fine, especially when I run down turkeys and butcher them for sandos.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): Cooking and crafting are so not my thing. It just doesn’t do a lot for me. Even in real life I usually eat either a cup of yogurt or a milkshake. Those are two-thirds of all my meals, mainly because they are easy and fast. Can I go on a tangent instead? I liked the cooking in the offline game Spiritfarer. It wasn’t much different from MMO games, but I recall enjoying it.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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