I get why tropes are depended on so much, but in my opinion, they rob these games of the potential to be more immersive and lifelike. Pretty much most elements of MMO games break down even when you apply the game's own internal logic (what little has been revealed) to it. Chief among these borked elements? Armor.
MMO armor just doesn't make sense, nor does it hold up to even a light level of scrutiny. Today we're going to cast aside the "it's just fantasy, go with it" excuses to investigate why your gear is completely ridiculous from a common sense standpoint. Heck, I wasn't even breathing hard by the time I counted to 10 on this one.
Seriously, someone please explain why a molded piece of steel or a wisp of silk robe can somehow make me more intelligent or strong. I mean, if I'm struggling with 100 pounds of armor on my tank, how does it make sense that I'm stronger instead of weaker? Where do these arbitrary stats come from, and why are they married to our armor? Shouldn't my dexterity rating shoot up when I'm wearing nothing whatsoever? There's no logic behind it, nor an attempt at making it.
Now stats with armor does hold up to a limited degree; armor is protective (so it adds defense) and can allow you to sustain more attacks while you try to strike at the enemy. Past that, who knows? I've heard the "magic runes are engraved on it" explanation, which is pretty much never mentioned in any games I've played, so we can't treat that seriously. Is it just a Simpsons "whenever someone asks that, a wizard did it" excuse?
2. There's no in-game justification for skimpy armor. None.
Man, we've beaten this dead horse for years now, haven't we? And yet it keeps getting more ridiculous, from TERA's spiderweb lingerie to Guild Wars 2's devs attempting to justify why some of their female characters are geared more for harlotry and less for front-line combat.
While it's not hard to figure out why certain developers and players will cling to and defend skimpy armor until you pry it from their cold, lusty hands, it really bugs me that there's zero in-game explanation as to why it's advantageous for your character to be wearing armor that only covers 8.2% of your body. Is seducing a mob the expected back-up to clobbering it with a hammer? Is tanning a huge fad in this universe and nobody has the time to lay in those sunning tubes? Are you allergic to metal?
I assure you, if the game made you wear living poodles or slapped real-world product placement adverts on your gear, you'd probably be putting a hot iron under the feet of devs to explain this nonsense. Bikini chainmail? We don't even blink anymore.
3. Female armor would kill the person wearing it.
Much of the female armor in MMOs is ridiculous for a completely different reason as well: It's a virtual death trap for the wearer. Any fixed (i.e., plate) armor that makes special allowance for individual bosoms is creating a lethal physics puzzle. You can read the full explanation here, but in short, any fall or frontal blow will cause the armor to fold in the middle and skewer its owner.
So it's not just an issue of forcing women to wear armor that doesn't cover everything yet does function as a mating call for any poorly mannered teenage boy in the vicinity; these outfits do the exact opposite of protecting vital organs.
It's true that there is such a thing as ornamental armor: armor that's designed to be shown off in parades and such but never to be worn in combat. So why does most of our armor come across as the latest runway fashion statement to be worn to the yearly gala?
I don't have a problem with armor looking cool, but I do raise a finger of protest when the looks are definitely placed as a higher priority than being a reliable suit of protection. It bugs me how some MMO gear can't get that balance right, deciding instead to throw all of the armor on the left side of the body, to create inexplicable "stab me here" holes, and to tack on pointless froofery that would add unnecessary weight and possibly obstruct actual fighting.
5. Who would wear their armor 100% of the time?
In our roleplaying universes, apparently we are playing the roles of people who have no problem wearing 60 pounds of combat gear everywhere. While jogging. While going to the bank. While heading home. While mining. While jumping off 100-foot cliffs and inexplicably not turning into a metal-encased tub of jelly at the end.
Granted, some MMO armor looks pretty comfortable and might be something that I'd wear on a daily basis, but that's certainly not true across the board. In real life medieval times, it was a tedious process to suit up in armor and exhausting to spend hours in it even if you were riding a horse. Armor was created for a very specific, very important purpose (to help you survive battles), not for /dancing on top of a mailbox.
6. It discriminates against magic-users.
So why are casters forced to wear bathrobes again? This is another trope that bothers me, and it isn't just the fault of MMOs. Somewhere in the history of pen-and-paper RPGs and single-player RPGs, it became an unshakable commandment that if your character displays any magical capability whatsoever, then you have to wear the dinkiest armor available. I've seen lame attempts to explain this, from "you need the freedom to move your arms for spell casting" to "wizards are weaklings who couldn't handle the weight." In my view, it just doesn't hold up, and it's never, ever explained in MMOs.
My theory is that this is outright discrimination and bullying by the jocks of the MMO universe, the warriors. These are the guys who pledged in frats and didn't really study in school, figuring that they could just slap on some armor, pick up a sword, and become a big dang hero after graduating. Then they see what incredible feats of magic that the nerds can do and pressure everyone into making a law that the nerds can't wear the football pads and helmets.
And no, don't ask me where paladins fall in this discussion. Maybe they made a deal with Satan.
We all blame World of Warcraft for this, although it certainly didn't originate there. Whatever the inspiration, shoulder armor has become the focus point of dares between the art department staff to see who could create the largest, gaudiest, and most impractical piece of gear ever. If it caused permanent spine damage to the wearer and obstructed his or her entire peripheral vision, so much the better.
Are shoulders really attacked that much anyway? How much protection do you need on there before you got it covered? Maybe it's to allow for a future feature of landing small unmanned aircraft for rearming and refueling before the next attack.
8. So that land crab just so happened to be carrying a pair of chain trousers that fit me perfectly?
We've all marveled over the weirdness -- and potentially immersion-breaking factor -- of how virtually any mob can be carrying weapons and armor even if that mob is completely incapable of wearing or using them? Even better, how come this armor will fit any sized hero, from tiny Gnome to bulging giant, without a problem?
There is just no sane in-game explanation that the developers can use without yelling, "Hey, what is THAT over THERE?" and then running away, so the onus is on us as players to sew together the fabric of believability with preposterous reasoning. That land crab had just hit up a flea market, see, and bought that suit of plate armor for his good human friend Jerry, who comes down to the shore to fish once a week. You see, a year ago Jerry discovered that the crab was trapped in a hole, and instead of eating him, he rescued the crab. After learning each other's languages, the two began a life-long friendship. Bringing each other little gifts, why, it was just their way of saying, "I love you, man!"
9. The neck is fair game, apparently.
According to most MMOs, the neck is practically invincible and is in no need of protecting whatsoever. Even with full, bulky suits of armor, quite often is a good sliver of neck exposed for kicks. To add insult to mortal injury, the neck slot on the character sheet is given to a necklace.
Seriously, please think about that for a moment. Instead of covering your spine, windpipe, and arteries with a good hunk of metal, you're prancing out on the battlefield with a fetching pearl necklace that is an up-front payment of services to the person who will most certainly kill you.
Very few MMOs give any thought to creating armor that visually protects the neck region. Therefore I'm impressed when classes like, say, WAR's Warrior Priest, show how stupid other classes are being by not including a gorget or other similar piece of armor.
10. Armor is way too common and too cheap.
Perhaps we live in an age when so much of what we buy is historically dirt-cheap and quite common, but that's not a good excuse to ignore the apparent oversupply of armor in MMOs. Considering that good armor takes a lot of skill, time, and materials to produce, why then is it available everywhere for pennies or less? Vendors that nobody uses sell complete suits of basic armor for less than what you'd earn from mowing a neighbor's lawn, and we've already mentioned how the world's economy is funded by armor-toting land crabs.
In other words, armor feels un-special because the game makes it too common and too cheap. Real-life armor, whether today's varieties or those back when knights used to charge across the battlefield, is neither common nor cheap and never has been. Armor, the good stuff here, was really, really expensive back in medieval times, and only a subset of people were able to afford it.
It shouldn't be that we're amazed to see a player walk around in a complete tier 7 set. We should be amazed to see another character have on any armor at all.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.