An interesting thing happened to me the other day in Rift. I was roaming around Stillmoor in the off hours and came across a level 50 tear. I can generally solo these through the forth stage but on the fifth I tend to die when there isn’t another person available. Luckily another cleric ran up and started to help me in the endeavor. She was perfectly kind, had the same goal as me, and we worked well together. At least, as best we could. You see I am an Elf and this cleric was an Eth. We are sworn enemies and could never, ever, work together towards a common goal. The lore says we hate each other and the game rules dictate that we cannot group or aid one another. I’m sure this makes sense to someone but it doesn’t to me. Why is it necessary to create two factions in a PvE focused game? The honest truth is that it isn’t. This (and I’m not trying to pick specifically on Trion here, I just happen to love and play their MMORPG currently) is just another “World of Warcraft did it” feature that we haven’t gotten rid of yet. There is no doubt in my mind that two faction PvE MMORPGs are obsolete!
World of Warcraft set the tone for the two faction MMORPG by bringing forward the opposing sides from their wildly successful RTS franchise. In that aspect it makes sense that the two groups would be at war (even though forcing the major races to pick sides when they’d all gladly kill each other didn’t make sense lore wise). The major failing with this original arrangement is that WoW is a PvE focused game. This system worked exceptionally well for Dark Age of Camelot but the focus there was on realm vs realm combat. The Albion hated the Midgard and on a daily basis the two would go out to kill each other. They could impact the game world by taking over territory and artifacts. The rules mirrored the lore and it made sense. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, created battlegrounds to play out the “war” between the two sides. A pointless game of capture the flag to decide who would be victorious in the great conflict! How this made sense on a lore level I cannot say.
Romeo, Juliette, and Choice
The major casualty in this type of MMORPG is the player. We’re stripped of our ability to make a choice and live with it. What happens if a night elf decides she doesn’t like living among humans? What if she falls in love with a blood elf? What if she is simply a mercenary who likes money? Can she do service with the horde? No. Her player is not allowed to make that choice. This character is given a very narrow world view that cannot be changed. As a player our opportunities to build back story and attach ourselves to our character is diminished. We cannot be who we want to be, only who Big Brother tells us to be. Rift’s elves will kill defiant. That is it and any other view is inappropriate. Of course it doesn’t help that this is a PvE game and the rule set generally makes it impossible to kill the “enemy” (not that I even want to)! We can only kill them if they flag or if we are whisked away to a magical battleground in the sky to play capture the flag or open a special rift. What breaks immersion more? Battlegrounds in the sky or a defiant and guardian hanging out as friends.
Two faction MMORPGs create a rivalry not in the game but in the player base. They do this so well, in fact, that you will always see an “us vs them” theme in every action you take. By rolling a character you’re immediately put into the thick of this battle. How many times have you heard how your side sucks at battlegrounds or that the other side has better newbie zones? How many times do the games with different classes have them compared constantly and in detail. Even the most reasonable of player can be swept up in this fictional rivalry. Players will spend more time complaining about the mechanics of their side than worrying about the lore. How many players actually know why the two sides are fighting? How many have an opinion on which leveling experience is better? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there are a lot more of the latter. Especially since they may have a point.
A waste of content
If there is one universal truth in MMORPGs it is that more content is better. Having lots of things for players to do keeps them happy. Two faction MMORPGs miss the boat hugely in this regard by creating a whole set of content that is immediately denied to half the player base. My elf will never experience all of the amazing wonders that are available to the defiant side. All of the carefully crafted quests that take me from 1 to 50 are wasted unless I play a second character. What sense does that make? You have to play a second character to experience everything you purchased? How many players play on both sides? I truly believe that this is content wasted. Content that could be viable and amazing for everyone and to make that happen is not an impossible challenge.
A far better mechanic
As much as I’m sure people are tired of hearing me say this I have to point out that EverQuest did factions right the first time. Why we deviated I’ll never know. In EQ each race had a certain standing with every other race. In some places you would be killed on sight. In others you would be treated with mild neglect. The one thing that made this so exciting was that most factions could be raised. If you worked hard enough you could make friends with those that would kill you and have access to their cities and quests. If you wanted to be an evil high elf that was your option. If you preferred to be an ogre with a heart of gold you could do that too. You had the choice as a player and those choices had consequences. The content that was available to you was based on your actions. More importantly, the game rules did not stand in your way. If you were a dark elf shadow knight you could group with a high elf paladin. Why you would do so is up to you. The point is you could. Why don’t we use this anymore? Why didn’t someone expand on the EQ system to ensure that enough work put in would allow the player to be fully accepted in any location? That seems more immerse and exciting to me.
I’m afraid I see the two faction MMORPG as obsolete these days. I’d dare to say it was a bad idea to begin with in any PvE focused game. Why a developer would deny both choice and content to their players is beyond me. The separation just feels so artificial and scripted. Nobody would believe that 100% of individuals on each side of a war are incapable of seeing anything but an enemy in 100% of the other side. I think it would open up a lot more options to individual characters and keep us engaged longer if we as players could make up our own minds on these issues.