How PvP Combat Has Affected the MMORPG Genre

15 04 2009

This is a slightly updated re-posting of my popular article about MMORPG PvP.

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“The present – World of Warcraft”

Player vs. player combat (PvP) has certainly evolved over the last ten years. From split-screen play to online connectivity from all over the world, the concept of being able to play against other people rather than a computer is ingenious. There is a certain competitive quality that emerges when two humans throw down that just can’t exist in single player games. As time has gone on, this feature has infected several genres, including: first person shooters, platformers, real-time strategies, and even role-playing games. No, I’m not talking about traditional ones like Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire; instead I mean the division of role-playing that took the world by storm, the MMORPG.

The “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game,” or MMORPG as it is commonly referred, is pretty much just that. These games usually require a dial-up or broadband connection, allowing you to then enter an imaginary world where you can play alongside thousands of other people. Chatting, role-playing, participating in quests, exploration, all of these are usually the most popular aspects of an MMORPG, and it is real easy to get caught up in the madness. Over time though, players began to grow tired of mindlessly trudging through brain-dead AI and began yearning for a chance to battle each other. In the mid-to-late nineties several MMORPGs began utilizing this feature. One in particular, was the underrated Asheron’s Call.

Just like any other MMORPG at the time, whether it was Ultima Online, Runescape, or Everquest, the main attraction of the game was the player vs. environment (PvE). Exploring vast worlds with friends, working together to beat quests, and just chit-chatting the day away was always what we would do the most. Yet, soon after we had spent hours upon hours of building up our characters, there was something that each of us wanted to prove; who was the “stronger” player. Any of us could defeat the computer controlled monsters, but what we wanted to see was who developed their character the best. Thankfully, Asheron’s Call offered a player vs. player feature, and even though we were on a white or “PvE” world, the game offered a chance to become a “player killer” for a short amount of time. That is when the fun started.

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“The past – Asheron’s Call”

Spells flew, swords swung, and bodies dropped, ah the carnage that ensued. Thanks to Asheron’s Call’s use of realistic physics, players could dodge spells or arrows, and use the environment to their advantage — all in real time.

No turn based fighting or techniques that act like homing missiles, just good old fashioned twitch-based contact, similar to that of first person shooters. Asheron’s Call was truly ahead of its time and paved the way for advanced PvP combat in later MMORPGs. Dark Age of Camelot followed up with a unique PvP style that incorporated class based combat and actual objectives. These included stealing particular relics, capturing towns, and competing in events similar to “king of the hill.” Later, console based online RPG games such as Phantasy Star Online would introduce player vs. player combat. Though limited, it featured quick based combat and knowledge of how to counter particular weapon types. As time went on, more and more MMORPG companies grasped the importance of a PvP feature and just why it was needed in a genre supported by millions of people.

Speaking of millions, does World of Warcraft come to mind for anyone? Using the popularity of their franchise name, making an MMORPG was probably the most intelligent thing the company ever did. Thanks to the Warcraft title and the work they put into the project, World of Warcraft has sold well over 10 million copies – meaning well over 10 million players. And just like many MMORPGs before it, Blizzard introduced a PvP system similar to Dark Age of Camelot‘s. Though a little less polished due to the rough balance of some of the classes and the lack of a true “physic” system (Asheron’s Call), there was plenty on the table for any newcomer to sink his/her teeth into. Objective based battles, worthwhile equipment rewards, and quality graphics all brought the experience alive.

Yes, while every company making an online game should consider player vs. player combat, there is also another factor they need to consider: balance. An issue in most MMORPGs today is the lack of balance consideration when updating the PvE or PvP. The two definitely do not go hand in hand, and with each update, the player base may become separated based on the two different styles of play. For example, a PvE player may want their particular class to do more damage to a type of monster, yet if this change takes place, it may affect how much power that player may have over another human player. Knowing what types of changes and alterations should be made before each patch is something that every MMO company needs to look into beforehand; as it has led to the collapse of many titles in the genre.

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“The future – Darkfall”

In the end, player vs. player combat continues to evolve in the MMORPG genre. In upcoming games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Darkfall, the PvP that is being promised is expansive, with the latter having infinite possibilities. Whether it be objective based, faction based, or a total free-for-all, PvP will always be needed due to the competitive aura it creates. Also, games that have this style of play tend to have more last-ability than others, as it just happens to be an extra thing to do when the primary part of the game has been beaten. Nevertheless, the genre is still young, so anything can happen. After all, it is a genre that requires a little imagination on the part of both the developer and the player.

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