What is a death penalty in an MMO? Some people think its a tedious mechanic that needs to be removed, others feel it is a needed feature to make death feared and be something to avoid. The death penalty in an MMO is a learning tool. It is something used to ensure people are inspired to learn from their mistakes and constantly improve their skills in order to avoid it. Modern MMOs are getting soft on this mechanic including Lord of the Rings Online.
My personal experience in MMOs is pretty long. I have experienced nearly every Major MMO on the market and a few not so major ones. In each the death penalty varies from experience loss, experience debt, and repair charges. Everquest was known for its harsh penalties for falling in battle. If you died there you could lose experience points and even a level if you werent careful. What did this do for the game? It made players learn. It made each level just as valuable as the next, and it made players fear the thought of death. I dont get this same feeling when I fall in battle in LOTRO. While I enjoy the game, I dislike certain features and the light handed death penalty is one of them.
Vanguard: Saga of heroes I think has the best adaptation of the death penalty for any current MMO. If you die there you lose experience, but you cant lose a level and if you fall to low on experience, the loss will turn into experience debt. This is a penalty that stings and those are great for an MMO. When you fall in LOTRO the penalty you sustain is a few minutes of dread, which reduces your stats temporarily and a hefty repair bill. I have never been a fan of money sinks as a death penalty, but the current penalty is a solidified part of the world now and there is no chance it will ever change. Still, for the game it was made for it works.
In other worlds such as Vanguard and Everquest the death penalty is a mechanic used to inspire teamwork, cooperation, and constant improvement, but those are different worlds and we all live in Middle Earth. While I dislike the death penalty in LOTRO, I do enjoy the world. The fact I do enjoy LOTRO as much as I do allows me to look past this one feature I dislike. If anyone had asked me a year ago if an MMO with a weak death penalty could foster a good community of skilled players I would have said likely said no. In my own experience, people in LOTRO have proven me wrong on this view.
I come from a different age of gaming. Our penalties involved experience loss, debt, and even the corpse run. Corpse runs can become tedious at times and maybe its good to see them go, but still, I miss them. There are so many people with tons of war stories relating to corpse runs. It could be tedious at times, but it was a good community builder and another aspect of stinging death penalties long passed. The new generation of MMO gamers likes things faster. People want to get back into the action quickly and this penalty allows that. If a person falls they can be right back into the battle in the time it takes them to run back to their group. For this world that penalty works and it keeps the action flowing quickly.
A MMOs death penalty can help make the game challenging or quick. Either way has its advantages and disadvantages. Ask any MMO veteran that prefers the slower more harsh penalties of Everquest and you will see they view the less harsh penalties of MMOs such as LOTRO and WoW as a dumbing down of the content. Ask that same question to those who prefer the weaker penalties to those of old and you will see they view the older penalties as draconian or tedious. The two groups will never be happy with each other, but that is the beauty of choice. Online gaming is growing and providing us with more choices each year. There is something for everyone and even more on the way. The death penalty of an MMO has always been something I felt needed to be strong and harsh to make death something to be avoided, but LOTRO has shown me that an MMO can do well with its community, even without the stings of death.
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