RoM's gear-system ensures that you get a lot of variety in choosing what kind of character to make and how you want to play it, but there's a threshold at which the only way to allow for even more diversity among class builds is to offset the linear difficulty of new content by replacing your stats with more powerful versions of themselves, adding refinements and tiering, upgrades that just up your sheer power. Players get funneled into more restrictive builds as they gain levels.
The downfall is in the content itself because it becomes super-easy-mode killing after over-gearing. It's turning on a cheat code. Any need -- or desire -- to manage blood bars or skill rotations gets thrown out with the trash. It's a foreseeable issue in just about any game across any platform or genre in which you would allow the players to gain extra amounts of power. But is there a way to allow for it and keep in some challenge and variety? Some solutions might be to slow down the pace of combat, stretch the utility of player bars, make content more dynamic, or throw in some sandbox behavior.
While cheating to gain superpowers might be fun for a little while, it can remove the boundaries that hold together meaning and purpose. If you could buzz through every level and raid in World of Warcraft, it might be fun once or twice, but it would get old fast. Godmode can easily suck the fun out of a game, but having that choice is kind of interesting.
On one hand, I think the ability to over-power is really cool -- if it's supplied with diverse content. It allows for a lot of freedom in what a player wants to do. Why not have the ability to make things easier for yourself? And RoM's gear modifying is a fun way to do that: It's adding godmode via fun gameplay. Plus we have multiple avenues of progression, like minigames, dungeons, and buying shortcuts to get to any content we want. Now, here's something to think about: If you can just buy endless daily reset tickets, exchange diamonds for in-game gold, and buy everything you need to help you level and gear quickly, and there's still a linear path for progressing through dungeons, why even bother adding crimson stats into the minigames? Because it's providing more options without changing what can already be accomplished in RoM. Designing the content around these ideas of choice could work well.
What I think content needs is to go back to some old-school style design by slowing down as levels go up. What does a mechanic that slows your character's movement when he's hit from behind matter when fights themselves don't last long enough to matter? Fights within dungeons can be lengthened to allow fun skill rotation choices without losing power at higher levels. Adding in strategy that can't be skipped so easily would keep players engaged, and they'd enjoy burning through bosses easily. Ideas found in Hall of Survivors, Arcane Chamber of Sathkur and Kalin's Shrine are good starts. A stronger need to rely on strategies more can allow players of all levels to be engaged more. Besides beefing up the strategy in boss-fights, player bars need more utility.
The mana nerf I was in favor of is one of these issues that I think can bring back more fun by allowing for variety. Many players disliked it, so Runewaker took it out. With the latest patch, the team specifically targeted the Priest's group heal with a debuff -- only one of the original reasons players wanted the nerf. The current group heal band-aid does limit Priests from spamming group heal, but that's all it solves. Throwing in a way to stretch player bars could go a long way toward keeping players engaged as levels go up while retaining the ability to add increasingly difficult content. It might add a learning curve, but not much more than switching from spamming everything and hoping for the best to managing skills and bars more closely. I can't know for sure, but I think that's one of the reasons Runewaker tried targeting mana bars across the entire spectrum of classes.
Sandbox it up
Want more reason and purpose to repeating dungeons, minigames, world events, public encounters or Siege Wars ad nauseam? Add in player-driven content. More specifically: Allow for a truly player-run economy.
I'm not saying I think Siege War has to be changed. I'm actually in favor of separating ranked battles from the persistent world, even if I do prefer persistent worlds that are affected by players, but this serves as a good example. The sudden appearance of solo players and guilds striking deals, bribing and creating alliances with each other to win Siege Wars was additonal gameplay that could've been repetitive in a dynamic way. It might -- or might not be -- best to allow it via Siege War, but it's excellent game design that Runewaker could take advantage of. Siege War is built around allowing anyone of any level to participate, even if many players choose to wait until they are a certain level and gear-level.
After reading about the things TERA's political system is going to allow players to do, I thought back to why a guild lock-out was instituted in RoM. If TERA's system is as open and player-driven as, say, EVE Online, you can bet there will be demands to remove or simplify it. Jailing players, raising taxes on items others can get more cheaply, or adding other forms of unbalanced "power" in any way will be met with cries that it isn't fair, and that's basically what happened with mercs in Siege War. And if TERA decides to remove its political system, it will remove that potentially fun gameplay, which defeats the purpose of the whole system to begin with. It's how I view what's become of crafting in many themepark MMOs.
Crafting can be a means to supply a player-driven economy, and much of the existing content can be used in conjunction with it. I don't know of any way I can say this without sounding like a crafting elitist, but crafting needs to be more important so it can allow all players to have more control over RoM's world. Having a few high-level cooking and alchemy recipes be the only thing of importance -- next to dungeon drops -- isn't cutting it. We barely have an economy. There really is no way for anyone to play digital merchant or for the economy to truly be affected. Make crafted items more valuable by removing the obvious choice to get better versions via loot drops. Trade those drops in dungeons and minigames for gear with the same or less power but with the ability to be disenchanted into material valuable to crafting. More items and equipment made from those items can be made more valuable throughout the level climb. Players can repeat dungeons for a variety of items and gold, the economy is bolstered, and everyone wins.
I just don't see RoM thriving off a continued concentration on being a linear themepark MMO. Having the ability to gear to a certain point for the specific desire to burn through it is fine, but the interactive content needs to be more creative until that happens. Removing the dungeons isn't the solution, but just releasing harder versions of what we already have is stripping variety out, even if we get some fun from reaching that point at which we're over-geared. And removing the ability to over-gear isn't the answer. Increase the utility of player bars as characters level, add in more strategy that has to be engaged until a higher-threshold of power is reached, and beef up the economy through the crafting system to make it more player-driven.
Runewaker has been throwing in sandbox-ish features and linear themepark gameplay, but the company is pitting the two sides against each other instead of weaving them together.
At the rate which Runewaker is expanding, the linear aspect could be a detriment to getting and keeping new players. By the time the world's size and number of dungeons can match that of RoM's triple-A cousins, the level cap will be obscenely high. If the company does continue to raise the level cap to triple-digits and keeps the game linear, the long expanse between being a newbie and endgamer is going to be painful to look at. Runewaker seems to be making the level climb easier already to allow players to close the gap, but that can shortchange the game by devaluing all the content the team spent time making. Everyone's going find ways to skip all the levels to get to the few dungeons that would fill the endgame slot. With only ever having two or three dungeons at endgame that aren't dynamic enough, RoM may wind up a thin experience as an MMO.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.