Dying: It's what Extra Lives are For

by: Tony "RadarX" Jones

If there are two things you'll find in every popular videogame, it's goals and death. Ok, maybe hot looking females also because let's be honest the industry hasn't evolved beyond that yet. Death in a game is simple limitation of play like an impassable body of water or a wall of mountains. It's a boundary put in place to help you learn things like "Hey, maybe letting the Ranger pull targets WASN'T smart because he keeps running circles" or "Did you know that hailing a raid mob makes him angry?"

Coming from the old school world of MMOG’s, I played my share of EverQuest 1, Ultima Online, Dark Ages of Camelot, and others that shaped the industry into what it is today. I remember how brutal some of the penalties were for death and how simple circumstances could result in a frustrating session of play.

If you are new to the MMOG, you might not be familiar with corpse runs. Anyone who played EverQuest 1 remembers running their happy butts across the universe carrying nothing more than a rusty toothpick and a thong you had sitting in the bank for such an occasion (at least we hope that’s why you had it in there). After an epic journey over deserts and through jungles you reach the temple where you body lies and realize “Crap, how am I going to get in there?” This tastes like frustration.

Experience loss is another familiar mechanic used to dissuade death. There was nothing more heartbreaking than having that shiny level you recently gained snatched away from you. As adults we realize losing happens in games at times, so we do what any mature person would. Vow revenge and begin reaping the soul of every creature within 3 miles of what killed you.

Those were archaic times and fortunately only exist in the games they originated in. That leaves us with the question of where the balance should be. No one is arguing there needs to be a penalty for dying otherwise you are basically playing in god mode. Why are so many people hell-bent on reinstituting those horrors of the past? Why are we attempting to suffer upon new blood the sins of the father?

The answer seems pretty simple to me and I call it Grumpy Old Man syndrome. If you aren’t familiar with Dana Carvey’s skit on Saturday Night Live, he would dress as a very old man and make outrageous statements about “in my day there was only ONE bank” or “we only had ONE game and it was called stare at the sun till your eyes bled.” What he always ended his statements with, was “That was the way it was and we LIKED it.”

Veteran players of MMOG’s remember the glory days of EverQuest 1, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, etc… and they LIKED it. Easier death penalties are just one more change to the gaming world they aren’t ready for. They want to stand around for boats, and wait for people to teleport them, or yell in the zone for a group. The key element they are missing though can be summed up in three words. It’s…not…fun.

Lord of the Rings Online seems to be trying to find a balance between what we’ve seen in World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2. You don’t suffer experience debt reducing your experience gain as you do in EverQuest 2 but you do take equipment damage like in World of Warcraft. While there is no run back to your corpse and you start off with all your equipment, you do suffer short term effects of a recent death which accumulates like dirty dishes.

It seems Turbine has found a happy medium but the most amusing thing about the death penalty is there is no death. That’s right, you don’t die. That thief that was violently stabbing you or the giant tree that wanted to stomp you just incapacitated you. They then carried you back to a stone circle where no one stole your wallet or ate your last Twizzler.

All in all, I think the penalty is right about where it needs to be in LOTRO. You have to run all the way back to where you were, your equipment gets a beating (costing money to repair), and you suffer a short term negative effect. What else do you need? If you really want to run back to your corpse naked, who is stopping you? I think you’ll find people diving out of the way honestly. There is enough grinding and masochism in MMOG’s these days, if that is really what you are looking for I think EVE has a free trial.

Have an opposing view? Be sure to get Martuk's take on the death penalty right here.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016