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Some Assembly Required: The ultimate MMORPG

Jef Reahard

It's been raining for four days straight, and I've been cooped up in my house with nothing but a head cold and a bunch of time to think about my ideal sandbox MMORPG.

For this week's Some Assembly Required, then, I'm shamelessly borrowing the format from Massively's MMO Blender column to construct a perfect(ly) theoretical hybrid. I've done so once before, but this time I'm going to put the focus on fantasy instead of on the sci-fi stylings of Star Citizen and Star Wars Galaxies.

DC Universe Online - melee combat
I guess we should start with combat, since you can't really have an MMO without it. Well, actually you can, but not many people will play it. Despite my unabashed loathing for most of what passes for MMO combat, I've finally found some inspiration in DC Universe Online. SOE's superhero actioner is a pleasing combination of traditional hotbar abilities and twitch dexterity, and it's balanced to the point that you can be successful (in PvE, at least) even if you're not particularly skilled at one or the other.

The combat also has a certain weight to it, for lack of a better word, and it's the only MMO I've ever played where I'll actually log in simply to beat stuff up. It works well with either a keyboard and mouse or a console-style controller, and there are plenty of combos to learn and nuances that keep it interesting whether you're on your first character or your 30th.

In short, it's simply a lot of fun. It's also gorgeously rendered and animated, and there are dozens of weapon and power-set combinations that would translate well to a fantasy universe.

EverQuest II - crafting forge
For my frankengame's tradeskill system, I'd rip off another SOE title, though I can't decide whether it would be EverQuest II or Vanguard. Both have complicated crafting minigames that are fun in and of themselves. Both at one time also made use of component crafting to build up items and provide a lot of variety and desirability in tradeskilled items (though EQII moved away from this as it simplified its system over the years).

I'd also pilfer EQII's peerless tradeskill questing system. It's very possible to create a crafting-only character in Norrath, as the devs have stuffed the game full of crafting quests and quest timelines that offer ample rewards, interesting stories, and progression on par with the game's substantial adventuring component.

Finally (and here's the part where you get to point and laugh), I'd also experiment with some of the consequences inherent in EQII's original tradeskill model. The best example of this was when I, as a newbie armorsmith, actually died at the forge after botching a button press and presumably mishandling a pot of molten steel. Or maybe I forgot my safety goggles and took an errant spark to the eye -- who knows? Naturally this led to plenty of guffaws in guild and trade chat, but the larger point is that a crafting system through which you can't AFK to max level is the way to go.

Oh yeah, I'd throw in Star Wars Galaxies' item naming system, too. I've yet to see another MMO where absolutely every crafted item, from sub-components to finished items, can be given a unique maker's mark. I don't know whether it's a database overhead issue or if devs are just reluctant to have to implement another sort of profanity filter. Whatever the reason, it's a quality-of-life feature that's sorely missed.

Star Wars Galaxies - band
Non-combat gameplay
My ideal fantasy MMO would have extensive non-combat systems. Foremost among these would be some sort of class or skill set devoted entirely to support and/or leisure activities. The class would need to provide essential gameplay value to combat-oriented players (much like Star Wars Galaxies' Doctor buffs and Entertainer mind pool healing).

I'd go a step further and make my theoretical entertainers into a sort of muse for crafters, too. Whether it was something as simple as a buff to production capabilities or the ability to create unique and desirable skins or gear based on player inspiration, I'd love to see commissioned artists as an integral part of a game economy.

ArcheAge prisonerAs to the economy, there's no need to go into a lot of detail here. Basically take EVE Online, sprinkle in a mix of SWG's NPC vendors and small business simulation aspects, and voila: instant badassery.

Yeah, there would have to be housing, too, and again, why reinvent the wheel? EverQuest II's system is markedly superior to every other attempt in terms of usable items, placement and sizing options, bells and whistles, and the nearly limitless construction potential. The only thing I'd change about it would be its instanced nature. Open world housing is preferable in my opinion, provided you don't lose all the original functionality.

My non-combat feature set would also include pure fluff pursuits that have nothing whatsoever to do with progression. I'm thinking mainly of Lord of the Rings Online's epic music system, but I wouldn't stop there. Age of Wushu got me thinking about in-game painting (though I'd make it actual painting, perhaps via mobile touch screens, instead of a match-the-shapes minigame). I'd like to include some sort of board-based strategy game too, the fantasy equivalent of chess if you will.

None of these activities would be tied to classes or skills. That said, there would be some sort of optional leaderboard or ranked matchmaking system for the chess analogue and maybe a collectible or achievement-based system for advancing your artistic capabilities.

Finally, I'd implement a riff on Ultima's thieving system and ArcheAge's court and jail mechanics. My justice system would have teeth, though, and there would be a non-negotiable permadeath penalty predicated on a certain number of provable offenses. Criminality would be an option, but sustained criminality would be challenging to the point that few players would be able to pull it off.

And that's basically that. With all of those systems in place, plus plenty of questing, dungeoneering, and optional PvP on the side, I could stop hunting for that elusive perfect MMO!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

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