Crafting in 5 Subscription MMOGs: The Good, the Bad, and the Blah
Jeffprime examines the best and worst aspects of this cornerstone system with a look at state of crafting in the current generation of MMORPGs.
Indeed, the most important component of any crafting system is the crafting system itself. Not every crafting system is equal to one another. One system may have some fine points in one area, but found to be lacking in another. Another game might have some innovative features, but can be clumsy and confusing in execution. Many crafting systems share similar features, usually because one system may “inspire” the system in another MMOG. Let’s be honest: game companies look at what other companies have done to see what works and what doesn’t. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, is there? No matter the true origins of the crafting system, each game looks to put their own spin upon it to make it stand out from the crowd.
Our mission (should we choose to accept it….which we have or else you wouldn’t be reading this!) is to examine the crafting systems of five different MMOGs that are subscription based and look at the good, the bad, and the blah that the different systems offer. We’ll start off with a cursory glance at each game’s crafting system and then go over what they offer, good or bad. Please not that I won’t be doing a detailed step-by-step guide to crafting for each game, but just a general overview of the system they have in place. The games that we’ll be examining are World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Star Trek Online, Warhammer Online, and Rift.
THE GAMESWorld of Warcraft: This game’s crafting system can be viewed as the standard due to WoW being the 800 pound gorilla of MMOGs. In WoW, players can learn up to 2 primary professions (such as Blacksmithing, Mining, Skinning, etc.) and any number of secondary professions (Fishing, Cooking, First Aid, etc.). The basic system is that you go a trainer who trains you up to a certain level in a profession and from whom you can also purchase recipes to make various items. You can also gain rare recipes from loot drops, faction grinding, and raids. To create an item, you must first go out and gather the necessary raw materials (either from a profession such as Mining or Skinning or by using the Auction House). As you create items, you gain skill in that profession. Items have a level associated with them so that as you increase in skill, lower level items will no longer give you xp towards your profession. In addition, if you choose to replace a primary profession with another primary profession, you will lose all the knowledge you had gained in the old profession. For example, if you have Blacksmithing and Mining, but then decide to replace Blacksmithing with Enchanting, you will lose everything you have learned in Blacksmithing.
Warhammer Online: WAR shares some similarities with WoW, but there are some differences. Here you can pick one crafting skill (Apothecary and Talisman Making) and one gathering skill (Butchering, Salvage, etc.). Skill levels are associated by the equipment you buy (such as vials). If you choose to learn a new skill and unlearn an old one, the skill in the old skill will fall back to zero. While there are trainers from whom you pick up the skill, there are no recipes in the game. Creating items is totally based trial and error, but the game will inform you before you try your recipe of whether or not you should feel confident of the final result. There are crafting guides that have recipes on third party sites, but nothing in-game.
Rift: Rift follows the same method of WoW (again, why reinvent the wheel?). Rift allows you have up to three different professions, chosen from both the gathering professions (Butchery, Mining, etc.) and the crafting professions (Armorsmithing, Runecrafting, etc.) You will go to a trainer who will train you up to the next crafting rank and will also sell you recipes. You can also gain rare recipes from doing daily quests. Like WoW and WAR, you’ll need a certain skill level to create specific items. The main addition to the crafting system in Rift is through the use of Augmentations, which are items that can add a variable amount of bonuses to the item being created. Like the previous two MMOGs, you can choose to unlearn a skill.
Age of Conan: By Crom, there are some differences to be found in the crafting system in AoC as opposed to WoW and Rift. You can choose two crafting skills out of five (Armorsmith, Gemcutting, etc.) and you can learn these skills at various trainers once you hit level 40. There are multiple tiers of crafting and to advance to the next tier, you’ll have to do a series of quests for the master trainer once you’ve amassed enough xp to hit the next tier. As always, there are plenty of resource material gathering, but you can create some different things in AoC. You can build siege weapons to be used in large-scale PvP warfare and you can create building for use in guild cities. While most recipes are available from trainers, you can pick up rare recipes from loot drops or raids. The highest level recipes will require the use of special buildings that can only be found in the highest tier guild cities, so if you want to fully maximize your crafting, you will have to join a guild that has a great city behind it.
Star Trek Online: STO has recently revamped their crafting season with their Season Three update. Just like any other crafting system, you create items by first gathering raw materials. However, you don’t need any specific skill to gather these materials. You just have to search through space and on planets. After you’ve gained a few levels, you’ll be given a mission to go to Memory Alpha (if you’re Federation) where crafting takes place. Klingon crafting takes place on Qo’noS. Players create schematics which are then later consumed in the creation process (unless you’re making a consumable which does not require a schematic). Unlike other MMOGs, there is a general research skill so a player can create a variety of items from healing items to personal weaponry and shields to ship systems.
The Good, the Bad, and the BlahRather than listing good points followed by bad points, I’m going to list certain characteristics that I think should be found in a good crafting system and then discuss MMOGs that follow that guideline or fail to do so. The reason for this is if I list “having awesome crafter titles” as a good characteristic and WoW has that feature but WAR does not, I don’t have to discuss the same topic in two separate places. With that in mind, let us turn our crafty minds to what makes a good crafting system, in my humble opinion.
Ease of Use: Crafting should be simple to do so that it can be easily understood by the players. Who wants to have to know quadratic equations or the phases of the moon to harvest some mats? To this end, most of the games cited above meet this standard. Learn a skill, gather the needed mats, and follow the recipe. The one game that stands out that does not do this is WAR. With its trial-and-error method, frustration easily builds for the crafter. Why isn’t this working? What else do I need to add to make it work? You don’t know what is needed as there are no recipes. While you can look at other sites that have listed recipes, you are unable to do so within the game so WAR fails at this topic badly.
Useful Items: You should be able to craft items that your character can use or else put on the Auction House. If you can’t make something that benefits you, then why make it in the first place? WoW, Rift, and STO allow you to make items that are beneficial as you level up. AoC items are pretty good if they’re top tier, but otherwise items you receive from loot drops at least equal what you can make. WAR is similar in that loot items tend to be as effective as crafted items as you level up, with the exception of talismans that add buffs. Why craft when you can loot something as good or better?
Accessibility: This criterion is twofold. First, you should be introduced to crafting early in the game so that you can take advantage of the system as soon as possible. Second, you should be able to travel to a crafting location very quickly to allow you to make whatever items you want to create. You shouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes running across a giant zone to the only forge to be found in the kingdom to do some smithing. For introducing crafting early in the game, only AoC fails while the other four introduce it very early on in your questing career. Age of Conan fails miserably because you don’t get to start until you’re level 40. That’s pretty insane. That’s like playing a first-person-shooter, but you can only use the pistol for the first half of the game and then you’re allowed to use a rifle for the second half. Plus, having to do quests for the trainer to get to the next tier is cumbersome. It just adds a time-sink that the player has to wallow through to make something better.
As for access to crafting locations, WoW, WAR, and Rift are pretty good at having multiple crafting locations. AoC fails yet again in that many top tier items require access to special buildings that can only be found in top tier player cities. There’s no room for solo crafters in old Hyboria, hombre. You better join a posse (guild) to get the cool stuff made. STO gets a fail too in that you have to travel to Memory Alpha (for Federation) or Qo’noS (for Klingons) to craft things. Why can’t you craft items at any starbase? Again, this is just another forced time-sink to keep you wasting time travelling when you could be doing exciting things, like playing dabo or phasering tribbles.
Your Crafting Choices should be Sufficient: What I mean by this phrase is that when you choose a crafting path, you should be able to create anything you want from that specific crafting school and not rely upon other crafting schools. If I choose Leatherworking, I should be able to craft some wicked leather armor and not need items created by a Blacksmith or a Tailor. Yet, all of these games, with the exception of STO, force you to need items from other crafting professions to make certain items. They do this to promote “the social experience and grouping dynamic,” but we know the real reason. Again, it’s another time-sink where you’ll either grind out some gold to buy the needed mats from the Auction House or create an alt that has those needed crafting professions. It’s utter crap. If they want to force you to need items from other crafting professions, then they should allow you to learn those other crafting professions and not limit you to 2-3 professions. Since STO relies only upon a general crafting level, you don’t have that problem.
All Recipes should be Attainable by Solo Play: I know that many people hate the fact that most game content can be soloed today, but that’s the nature of the beast. To that end, restricting certain recipes to raid drops is dumb, dumb, dumb. If you want to force the players to grind out faction favor, I can understand that for really good recipes (even though I still hate grinding). Forcing players to group in a raid setting, which can be nerve-wracking for casual players, only serves to force players to play an aspect of the game that they might not want to do. There are many players who love raiding, and there are many players who hate raiding. I don’t see the need to penalize players who don’t like raiding when there can be an alternative. STO is the only game that meets this test, while the other four fail. A good alternative would be something along the lines of the epic crafting quests in EverQuest 2.
Crafting should be Fun: Crafting should be an enjoyable part of the game for the player. If it’s not fun, then why is it in the game? A game is supposed to equal fun! If crafting is grinding work, then why do it? I don’t see big sales for Bathroom Shower and Tub Tile Grouting: The Game, do I? To this end, WoW, AoC, STO, and Rift get a blah. Crafting can veer from “that’s a cool item!” to “let me kill another 100 beasts so I can make some mittens to hit the next tier in crafting.” WAR gets a fail for their lousy crafting system that sucks the joy even from a baby’s laugh. Why not have the ability to create some whimsical objects with crafting? Something that may not be useful in the powergaming sense, but an item that brings a laugh or a cheer from other players? Making a funny costume, some fireworks, or wind-up toy soldiers could lighten the mood. You could even make some mini-games out of what’s created, such as a soap box derby race or a pie fight. There are so many possibilities.
WoW, Rift, and STO) but fail in other areas, such as needing mats from other crafting professions (non-STO games). While no single game has the ultimate crafting system, most of them have capable systems, and most players should find little to fault in them overall. (I’m just picky!) I would say that WoW and Rift have the strongest systems, and WAR definitely has the worst. Agree or disagree with me? Give your opinions in our forum.