5 Things that MMOGs Can Learn from Witcher 2
Jeffprime delves into the gritty world of Witcher 2 to examine the game elements that can lift online gaming from banal themes and stagnant storytelling.
Offer Meaningful Mini-GamesWhile some MMOGs do have a few mini-games, they can take a page from the mini-games to be found in Witcher 2. Games such as arm wrestling, dice, and bar fights (or fight club as I like to call it) are both fun and quick to play. Many MMOGs do not have mini-games, and if they do, they tend to somewhat stale or time-consuming. The games in Witcher 2 not only keep the player entertained, but they also reinforce the world setting. Wouldn’t it be great if you had 20 minutes to kill before you raid group formed and you could spend that time betting on various arm wrestling matches or playing the tables to enhance your bank account? Only got a half hour to play for the night? Well, if your MMOG had fun mini-games like Witcher 2, you could spend that time having fun playing the games and interacting with other players. Mini-games not only provide entertainment, but they also reinforce the multiplayer aspect in MMOGs.
A Vibrant Game World That’s AliveThe most compelling part of Witcher 2 is that you become totally immersed into the game world. It may be dark, gritty, nasty, brutal, and dirty, but it feels REAL. I can just wander around and listen to and watch the denizens of Temeria for hours on end. You get the sensation that everybody is living a life that doesn’t revolve around you, but rather your character is a cog in the engine of the game world.
Practically all MMOGs have a cookie-cutter world in where nothing changes. Sure, it may be day or night or perhaps it might be raining, but does the world ever change? There are ways that MMOGs can immerse you into their world and make their setting more alive and vibrant. Beggars can harass you for coins, shops can close at certain times, black-market trading only occurs at night, NPCs actually have lives and wander around according to that life, and so on. If a region doesn’t like a particular race (such as elves), players of that race can get harassed by the town guard, be charged higher prices, or perhaps even be imprisoned and forced to pay a fee or do a service to win their freedom. Perhaps a riot breaks out due to the drunken mobs at the rugby field and the players find themselves swamped by rioters and forced to defend themselves or that the rioters loot the shops, closing them down for a time. MMOGs need to make players feel that they’re visiting an organic, breathing world that exists with or without them.
Gripping Story ArcsWhile you can play through Witcher 2 and focus only on the main quest arc, doing so would rob you of enjoying many hours of intricate story arcs on the side that grip you as you play them. Let’s face it: most MMOGs have quests of kill X of this thing or go escort Y to this place or take this item to a particular NPC. Not exactly the most fascinating situations to seize your imagination nor are they the stuff of legend. While some MMOGs have story arcs (such as various adventure packs in Dungeons and Dragons Online or the Defias Brotherhood arc in World of Warcraft), they tend to not be the most gripping of tales. Most mission chains follow a pattern of you get some info to take to an NPC, then you go kill X number of bad guys which leads you to other kill missions, and eventually you attack the lair of the bad guys and finish them off. However, the vast majority of players never become emotionally invested in the overall story arc.
What Witcher 2 does is make you care and fill you with the same fire and enthusiasm for these side quests as you do for the main quests. So much time and effort has been put into these and it shows in their quality. If MMOGs would devote as much storytelling energy into these side quests as they do into end-game raids, players would have a greater gaming experience. When you finish off the last boss in a story arc, you should feel like cheering about your victory, not thinking, “I got to run back real quick and turn this in so I can get my shiny trinket as a reward.” Playing the game and finishing quests should be the reward you’re looking for.
ConsequencesChoices have major consequences in Witcher 2, but not in MMOGs. In Witcher 2, a choice you make can come back to haunt you hours later or end up in a result that you weren’t looking for. Not to mention that many choices offered to you in Witcher 2 aren’t clear-cut good or bad. There are many times where you’ll see that both sides have solid arguments on their side, but you have to make a choice. Do you help out the elves who are being persecuted by the humans or will you help defend the human farmers from marauding elves? If you choose to help the elves, innocent humans will be butchered. If you help the humans, then you’ll help commit genocide on elven villages. What to do?
Witcher 2’s playbook on choices and consequences. To be blunt, there are really no consequences to any of your actions while playing an MMOG. I understand that the nature of the game mechanics and the multiplayer aspect can limit to what you can do, but there can be consequences in the game. You can have merchants refuse to buy or sell from a player if their favor is negative or charge higher prices if the player is mistrusted, but not hated. MMOGs could also not allow NPCs to grant quests to players if their reputation with that faction is too low. You can have an NPC who may not deal with a player if that player killed a relative in an earlier quest. There is a great deal of options open to MMOGs; it’s just that they have to be willing to let actions have consequences.
Embrace Adult ThemesMany people have focused on the sex that your character can partake of in Witcher 2, but that’s only part of the story. The game is an adult-themed game with foul language and adult situations. These elements are not done for shock value, but to make the game real and emphasize the gritty nature of the world setting. So far, there haven’t been any MMOGs that really focus on adult themes and situations. Age of Conan promised a mature gaming experience, but all we got was a glorified PG-13 setting.
The adult situations in Witcher 2 help create an emotional intensity that sucks you into the game. Do you let a house full of innocent people get burned to the ground or do you prevent it? Will you stop the rape of conquered townswomen by your comrades or will you allow it? Such choices, good or evil, make for a heightened gameplay experience and players will remember the choices they made one way or the other. We’re big boys and girls; we should be allowed to play big boy and big girl games. We can safely venture from the G and PG world of current online gaming into R or even NC-17 games and have solid and memorable gameplay experiences. Just because a game is mature doesn’t make it tawdry or sordid.
Witcher 2 that can enhance the gameplay of MMOGs. From making a vibrant game world to having adult themes to the crazy notion of actions have consequences, the five elements cited above can help lift MMOGs from their current position of staleness and sameness. Why play another version of the same kind of MMOG that you’ve played over and over again for the last decade when you can be drawn into an intricate world filled with choices and gripping stories? I think that we, as gamers, are ready for a real adult-themed MMOG that isn’t made for partying frat-boys, but one aimed for actual adults who don’t mind watching Power Rangers with their kids, but sure don’t want to spend endless hours adventuring in that kiddie-themed world. We deserve better and Witcher 2 shows us the way.