Approximately a thousand years ago in the lost age of 1997, I remember inching my way across an isometric Ultima Online screen, fighting insane lag and rollbacks to make my way to a player-held castle where OSI gamemasters were holding a custom event just for players. It’s been a long-standing and (almost) unbroken tradition in the MMORPG that coined the term, seldom joined by other games, though of course many have tried or promised it along the way and not measured up because… well, it’s hard and expensive. (Broadsword is still doing it, though!)
In any case, here comes another contender, though it’s not actually an MMO: It’s the co-op Helldivers 2, whose devs told PlayStation Access that they’ve been inspired by tabletop RPGs and will have gamemasters who essentially interfere with players, “observing the gameplay as it’s happening and responding in real-time.”
“So we have this game master functionality where we can drop in more or less things like buffs, but sometimes it’s debuffs will happen too,” the title’s deputy game director says. “A good challenge sometimes can be really valuable. Imagine how tight it was towards the end of some of those missions. What if you had to hold and defend the extraction zone for twice as long as you did? Especially at the higher difficulty levels, those marginal differences could be the difference between success and failure.”
This is apparently mind-blowing (that’s PSA’s term, not mine) for newer gamers, who are curious about how it’ll turn out, though of course MMO players can tell them it’s messy and chaotic and unsustainable and unfair and fun. It goes hilariously wrong in all the ways you’d expect, and there’s nothing new under the sun. But hey, at least somebody’s trying, so it’s hard to be mad about it.
Helldivers 2 launches on Steam tomorrow, as it happens.