Lost Pages of Taborea: Content needs to meet the versatility of gear-upgrading

Last week I compared looting and class-bending in Runes of Magic with similar features found in RIFT. RoM's system of gear customization was a part of that article. This week, I want to talk business. Don't worry, I'm not a business major about to sling pie charts at you or talk about quarterly earnings. I want to talk a bit about business, specifically about how it might relate to decisions developers make concerning what kind of balance to put into an MMO.

RoM's gear system is extremely flexible on the outside, but inside there are some restrictions. Some of these restrictions are imposed by the game, but some are imposed by players. In this week's Lost Pages of Taborea, let's take a look at how the flexibility and choice of RoM's gear system -- and other systems -- are in opposition to the game's content and some desires players have.

Variety vs. options

Variety can provide options, but most games like to play it safe. Players who like the status quo don't desire new ways to play so much as they want more fun ways to play what MMOs already have in them. I think RIFT does a terrific job at providing variety in class make-up and how you can switch between those classes. I also see a lot of potential in some of RoM's systems to be about variety and options, but that can be dangerous business territory for devlopers.

Playing it safe

It's sensible for game companies to play it safe. They know they can keep profit margins up without risking too much. But I see built-in systems Runewaker implemented that might rip the safety net out from under it.

Choice with RoM's gear system

RoM's gear system isn't just about variety; it's about options. In an MMO like RIFT, I see variety in new features to play the content, but they don't dynamically affect content. A healer is still a healer. The different classes are fun in the way you can play with them, but you are still approaching the content like you would in any MMO. RoM's gear system lets you break that. You can affect the content, and that gives the player more than variety: It also provides choices.

A player can choose to gear past a dungeon without ever setting foot in that dungeon. Healers could choose to slap on a bunch of stamina and dexterity and go after content with hammers or daggers. Players could choose to keep things as challenging as they want with gear or over-gear to one-shot everything. This ability to have true options excites me and is one more thing that keeps me playing RoM, but the problem is the lackluster content.

The flaw

The make-up of dungeons and the requirements for doing that content are very similar to those in other Western MMOs. You go in, cut through trash mobs and some bosses, get gear, gear up, and move to the next dungeon. It's a standard mode of progression that's been around for a long time. But RoM's content is too straightforward at the moment.

Mobs inside and outside of dungeons aren't diverse enough. It's tough to equally appeal to every class combo let alone appeal to different options for things like multiple avenues of progression. Boss fights themselves aren't all that elaborate. Runewaker tries in places by making you avoid an area every once in awhile, but it's still mainly tank-and-spank. I'm not trying to make it sound bad as much as I'm saying it's stale. It also gets hard, in a linear fashion.

The higher level you go, the dungeons get so hard that it's a lot of pressure to simply concentrate on statting in a linear fashion. Even if you can put so many different stats on every piece of gear, the best option is to stat for your class. If your main class is a Rogue, stack dexterity. Mages stack intelligence and wisdom and so on through all the standard classes. There are some other stats to mix and match, but they're pretty straightforward. There's a little wiggle-room, and I'll be exploring possibilities, but the high-end content forces out a lot of the variety and options the gear system allows.

Forging ahead into unknown territory

The content is holding back the options and variety the gear system is providing. This could be a small problem for Runewaker. The company needs to decide which direction to take. Does it strip true, dynamic choices and options from the game, appeal to the linear progression or find a new way? Does it go for the old standard of tight-knit, neatly boxed content with some variety, or does it create new, different content that can work in unison with the systems currently in place?

The gear system is one of the most unique -- and arguably best -- aspects of RoM. Players love having that ability to customize and add power to characters, but at the same time they hate inequality. You can't always have options and variety with the brand of equality the status quo players currently want without the content meeting those needs.

This could be risky business for Runewaker. It's done fine in the past adding plug-and-play features like housing, housekeepers and pets, but it might have to start playing around with existing and future content.

Is Runewaker looking ahead?

I've said before that I think Runewaker has some forward-thinking developers, and Chapter 4 shows me the team is continuing to push forward past old ideas. The devs changed not current content but how that content is approached.

The crimson stats were added as rewards for earning Phirius Shells in all of the minigames, resulting in an option of how to progress through the game. The new zones allow you to level quickly with nice quest rewards that make it easier to get geared for a dungeon like Cyclops Lair. New recipes and better low-level gear are being discovered, and there's a lot of other little changes that are smoothing out the kinks. There were always some bad spots that left people running only a few specific areas of content monotonously to earn gold just to keep enjoying the game. The Phirius Shells also are highlighting minigames that may have been becoming ignored, and the minigames might be more enjoyable that farming the same dungeons ad nauseam. The devs have smoothed out hiccups in progressing, added a new way to control content-gating, and implemented an optional way to progress.

Another interesting aspect that may have been unintended points players to content they may not have known was there before. There are new epic weapons that are achievable via collecting items. Some of those items come from planting. It's like holding up a big sign stating "Hey, look, there are minigames and planting in RoM."


Trion Worlds found a remarkably fun way to implement classes, break monotony, and stay safe by not messing with idealistic notions of balance and equality, but RoM may have to go down a different road. Players can break equality by way of freedom, and it's one of the main aspects of RoM. Should Frogster look to old yet solid game design or try something different?

Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or an in-depth look at the Rogue/Priest combo, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to jeremy@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.