Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Five Game Features I'm Thankful For

In honor of Thanksgiving, a few game features that I'm thankful for (and wouldn't mind if other games copied):

Currency, mount and quest item storage

Basically all of the major games offer some form of out-of-inventory storage for items players are obligated to collect. In WoW, it's mounts, minipets, keys, and currency tokens. In Warhammer, it's currency tokens and quest items. LOTRO also stores certain quest items (monster parts, not items players use on something) and will be getting a mount panel, but is sorely lacking in token storage. EQ2 has a very inconsistent system, with some mounts and minipets classified as spells and others taking up space. (EQ2 tokens do not get a separate tab, but many are heirloom and thus can be sent to bank alts.)

Either way, developers are learning that, if they expect us to collect things, they need to provide some way to store them.

Travel with tradeoffs

Between LOTRO's reputation/deed-based swift travel routes and WoW's Argent Tabard, there's an encouraging trend toward allowing players to get to places where they have already been through the local quests more quickly.

Meanwhile, I got an interesting item from the low-level Hunter's Vale dungeon in Warhammer - a cloak that offers a 50% runspeed buff that breaks on any damage, with a 5 minute duration and a 20 minute cooldown. This cloak is a clever low level travel time solution for getting back to town that does not take the place of a true mount for later in the game.

Overall, I'm not always opposed to in-game travel on principle. I just think that the travel needs to be limited to reasonable amounts of time. In my view, this kind of solution offers a creative compromise that doesn't totally remove distance from the game, but also does not punish players with large amounts of travel time for the crime of actually attempting quests (which tend to send players places).

Any race, any class
This is an EQ2 innovation that adds a flavor of uniqueness to the game's characters.

Turbine and Blizzard stubbornly argue that their lore forbids certain class combinations. Though it's true that Tolkien's Hobbits don't practice magic, the overwhelming majority of Hobbits are also peaceful agrarian folks who do not put on heavy armor and wade into large packs of foes swinging two large weapons. It is understood that player characters are not part of the helpless silent peaceful majority - if every NPC in the village were as capable as the players, they would be able to handle all of the local threats themselves.

The fact is that the lore is vitally important to the developers when they're trying to justify limiting options on the character generation screen, but completely dispensable when they want to slap Mr. T's head on player characters or set up their travel and death systems in such a way that it makes sense to jump off of cliffs as a shortcut back to town. There's no reason why the player characters, who are by definition exceptional members of their societies, cannot be exceptions to narrow lore restrictions.

Cosmetic, Dye-able Outfits

Warhammer has armor dyes and EQ2 has cosmetic armor slots, but only LOTRO offers BOTH dyes AND not one but two cosmetic armor outfit slots. When I complete a quest, the first thing I do is check whether one of the quest rewards looks unusually cooler than what I have on. A quick trip to the broker allows you to dye your latest trophy to the appropriate color. In Allarond's case, I realized that I had collected some armor that would look great in green for the journey into Mirkwood, while the second slot allows me to preserve my old navy-blue look for traveling less forested locations.

Text-assisted vendor sales interface

The vendor interface is one area where Blizzard has inexplicably declined to make significant improvements to WoW. Items accumulate in your bags randomly as you loot them, and it is up to the player to scan each icon individually to determine what it is and whether to sell it. By contrast, LOTRO and EQ2 have alphabetically sorted lists that display the name of the item and allow you to safety lock items you don't want to accidentally vendor.

These things may seem like minor touches, but they do a lot to streamline the process of clearing out your bags at the end of the day's adventuring, and I wish that Blizzard would borrow one or more of them.

That's my list, what features are you happy you have in your game of choice?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Thallian said...

"There's no reason why the player characters, who are by definition exceptional members of their societies, cannot be exceptions to narrow lore restrictions." I totally agree with this. There really is no reason other than "they though it would make races more unique" Which it does actually, if you think about it.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Heh, I agree with your list for the most part. I'm divided on the last part, though. One thing I like about WoW's vendor interface is that its the same as the inventory interface. I can just put all the crap I want to sell in one or two bags and keep track of them that way.

LotRO works well, though, because you can "lock" items. However, this does add an extra step in dealing with items: take out out of the "stuff I sell" bag to keep track of it, then add a lock to it. But, it does make it easier to just "sell all" vendor trash when you get back to town.

AoC used a list system to sell items, and without the vendor lock I found that system to be a real pain in the ass, personally.

To contribute: I'm thankful for games without player factions, or games that at least allow communication between factions. I found it irritating that I couldn't interact with about half the people on a WoW server. I like it better when I can interact with anyone, so being on the same server is meaningful.

Longasc said...

I am a bit torn on the LOTRO sales interface:

The buyback feature only saves some 16 items or was it 32, roughly 2 bags, not all 5. Well, my point is you usually sell more at once than that. I have 1,5 bags filled with locked equipment and then always sell more than it can save at once.

I once lost my very first horse to this system, the vendor lock is more a safeguard in this respect than a real boon. It is necessary for the system to work.

Aion does not allow super fast sale, but I quite like WoW's and Aion's system. Esp. Aion allows people to place a number of items for sale in a window and then press "sell". And this really works well, I never sold an item unintentionally in this system.

Aion has an auto-sort inventory feature and the simple grid interface make it a very comfortable inventory system. You can also search your inventory (text search). The LOTRO list only displays few items on screen instead of making better use of tooltips.

Age of Conan had the best questitem storage system so far, many other games, including all you mentioned, often place none or only half of the items in quest-related tabs. This has also to do with the way quest items are used. Many games require you to click the item, instead of placing a location you can click in the game world.

I wonder if they will ever expand the appearance slot system to weapons in LOTRO.

Aion has another approach to this: After level 30 you can reforge almost every weapon and almost every armor with the looks of weapon A with the stats of weapon B for example.

So, even if I no longer play Aion for other reasons, there are some things that other games can learn from Aion. :)

Since Token systems and reputation grind seem to have become common in most MMOs, you are right, a Token Tab is sorely lacking in LOTRO. Even more so as they plan on adding more factions and tying even more rewards and travel options to them.

Jayedub said...

A great list. But I personally like the class/race restrictions for the most part.

Feycat said...

I seriously disagree with you on the "any-race any-class" section, being a LOTRO player who really cares about lore. That being said...

Scaling instances. CoX does this really well and no one else seems to have made any serious effort to copy it. I really can't understand why not. More enemies of higher levels spawn in the dungeon when there are more people there, and less when there's less people. If loot drops commensurately with the strength of the enemy, there's no reason why 2 people doing something like Grand Stairs or Stratholme can't be rewarded in a way that scales appropriately.

Ryzom's live world. Season changes? Mob behavior changing depending on the type of animal it is? Migrations? Please YES! Anything that would make a world feel more like a world and less of a backdrop would be awesome.

Tesh said...

I love "any race, any class" design. Of course, I'm one of those "no class, supreme flexibility" nutters, too.

Nice list! I really did like LOTRO when I tried it out, but still won't pay a sub for any game. If it were marketed like Guild Wars, I'd still be playing LOTRO today.