MMOs have been my game of choice since Ultima Online. I've played so many massively multiplayers that I've probably logged more time in virtual worlds than I care to even discuss. Suffice to say, there are a lot of games that have come and gone that I have been privy to. When World of Warcraft was announced, we were all very excited to see Blizzard take on a genre that was still, admittedly, in its conceptual infancy and add some of its famous polish to the concept.
What we got in World of Warcraft was the smoothest MMO ever. Bits and pieces of the entire genre were fine-tuned and polished to an extraordinary degree, with some of Blizzard's trademark innovations taking center stage. Instancing, for one, was huge.
Now, a new post-WoW generation of MMOs has begun, and with them comes innovation building off Blizzard's immense success. Some of these MMOs have ideas and concepts that WoW hasn't even touched (but maybe should consider). Warhammer Online, RIFT, EverQuest 2, and other games all had some cool new ideas that Blizzard might want to think about using and polishing up even better. Here's what I think Blizzard should crib.
AoE looting: RIFT
I got to try out the last beta event for Trion's RIFT, which so far is a pretty awesome amalgamation of WoW features with a little ingenuity. In fact, RIFT reminds me more of WoW than it probably should, adding some pretty cool new features to the traditional MMO format that WoW perfected.
One such feature is AoE monster looting. I didn't even notice this happening until I realized that sometimes a monster's corpse would give me the sum total of all of the other monsters that I killed in a small area. AoE looting ... it was glorious.
WoW could benefit greatly from AoE looting. The system already has a need/greed roll system in place that, in groups, automatically pops up when anyone in the group attempts to loot a corpse with a "rollable" item on it, so AoE looting wouldn't be breaking the current loot system. Also, people who solo multiple mobs would only need to loot one corpse and not peck around with their cursor to make sure every piece of loot was off nearby corpses -- one click gets everything in a small radius.
Public quests: RIFT, Warhammer Online
Public quests, or PQs for short, came into the mainstream with Warhammer Online and were subsequently co-opted and iterated on by Trion for RIFT. PQs involve an open area in which events take place that players participate in, helping kill the boss and move the event through to completion, and then are awarded gear bags depending on the amount of their participation.
The system wasn't perfect in Warhammer, but iterations of it later have become more stable in RIFT, where players fight evil creatures after rifts have opened up from other dimensions. For instance, the first stage of the public quest might be to kill 12 of a certain enemy, stage two would involve shutting down some machinery, and stage 3 would involve killing a boss monster. Players who enter the area are put into a public group automatically and help each other complete the objectives. When it's all over, you're disbanded and go on your merry way.
Public quests have the potential to push WoW storytelling further than ever. Imagine if an event like the assault on the Bastion of Twilight with Garona and Mathias Shaw could have been a public quest, where you could engage in the battle, help through the stages of the event, and then fight a big boss at the end for loot, points, and other gear? There are tons of places in Twilight Highlands, especially, where public quests would have been pretty cool.
I think with the famous Blizzard polish, public quests could be absolutely groundbreaking.
Appearance slots: EverQuest 2
EverQuest 2 contained an excellent feature on the character pane called the appearance tab. This tab held armor pieces that only changed the cosmetic look of a character yet granted no stats or bonuses to the player. These pieces of armor were totally just for show.
Blizzard has stated that it likes having control over your character's visual progression, but with so many excellent armor sets and clothing in game, as well as the limited amount of bag space available (and heavy cost barriers in place to prevent players from gaining too much inventory space), it would be awesome to see something like this added to give us more appearance options for our characters. We aren't likely going to see more character customization in the future, and I believe appearance slots or vanity slots are a decent compromise.
One concern is that, during an arena match or battleground, you cannot quickly discern the gear and potential ability of your opponents if they are hiding their armor underneath vanity slots. Simple -- disable vanity slots during arena and battleground PvP. Abilities already are disabled in arenas, so why not just make vanity slots not work there?
Dual targeting: Warhammer Online
Warhammer Online was a lot of fun, especially in the scenarios, which functioned very much like WoW's battlegrounds. Blizzard eventually implemented Warhammer's "queue for BGs anywhere" feature, which made Warhammer and WoW battlegrounds more accessible and entertaining.
One feature that Warhammer introduced that was absolutely phenomenal was the concept of dual targeting. Each character had the ability to target both one enemy and one friendly target at a time. When you clicked on a friendly target, their target window would show up alongside the enemy you had already targeted. You would not lose your friendly target if you clicked on a new enemy -- only your enemy target would change. All of your friendly spells would still go to your selected friendly target.
This type of targeting allowed the mechanics to take a step further. Each class had abilities that had dual effects. One effect would, say, damage your enemy target but also put a buff or a heal on your friendly target. It was an awesome system. Can you imagine how much better interrupting and doing the occasional DPS as a healer would be if you could just cast your spells without having to re-target both your main heal target and your enemy target?
WoW uses a focus target system for an extra target, sure, but the system feels clunky. Clearing your focus is a little more difficult than I would like; you have to set a new target, as opposed to the Warhammer system, which just works like regular targeting. This was insanely powerful for a class like the warrior priest, which has abilities that have dual effects -- one on the enemy target and one on the friendly target. You never have to reset your focus like in WoW; you just select a new target.
Epic quests that teach: Vanilla WoW
This time, Blizzard needs to crib from themselves and the original World of Warcraft. Class quests are awesome -- they provide great flavor and unique fun for each class in WoW. When they are just fetch or kill quests, some of the fun and class pride is lost. However, back in the vanilla golden days of WoW, some classes got exceptional quests that tested the player's knowledge of their class, along with making the player better through teaching mechanics.
Rogues had Secrets of the Tower for the Alliance and Mission: Possible But Not Probable for the Horde, two quests that were specifically designed to test a rogue's ability to use all of his skills and stealth to complete the mission. Each creature took varying levels of damage depending on the ability, and certain mechanics like pickpocketing were crucial to finishing the mission.
Hunters and priests both had epic quests that lent themselves to teaching a player how to use their abilities or excel at their roles. The hunter's quest began from the Ancient Petrified Leaf, which had a chance to drop from Majordomo Executus' Cache of the Firelord in the Molten Core, alongside the priest's epic Eye of Divinity. The Ancient Leaf quest required a hunter to traverse the world and hunt four demons, each with its own unique set of mechanics and vulnerabilities. The skilled hunter would have to know his traps, kiting maneuvers, and a bevy of other abilities to successfully complete these tasks.
Priests lucky to grab the Eye of Divinity were sent on an epic journey to save the feeling citizens of Stratholme from a ghastly fate. This quest, called The Balance of Light and Shadow, required the priest to heal and save 50 Stratholme ghostly peasants before 15 were killed. A skilled priest would need to triage dangerously low ghosts while making sure HoTs were applied to new peasants and maladies cured. The quest even states that "every ability, prayer, and spell that you have learned will be tested."
Blizzard, please bring back these amazing, creative, and ridiculously fun events for each and every class. They test the abilities players should learn and know, and they give great story elements their time in the spotlight. As a priest in vanilla WoW, I can't think of a moment of more pride as when I held Benediction high after completing my trial.