In a recent article on MMORG.com, the author talks about how the MMO design philosophy — combat above all else — has managed to royally screw up D&D’s multi-layered approach to role-playing. I know I’ve talked about non-combat options in MMOs before, but reading this really struck a chord — I’m really afraid we’re starting to lose the “RP” in MMORPGs altogether.
After all, most new MMOs these days don’t make a lot of extra allowances for role-players. LOTRO is the last title that I can remember to go the second mile in providing tools for its subscribers to have their characters show ability and talent beyond mere combat: the music system, the various skills that would be nothing more than eye candy (the Captain’s ability to make others bow to him, or the Lore-Master’s ability to tame a non-combat pet), the attempt by the devs to have quests that didn’t use a lick of combat (running races, playing hide and seek, turning into a chicken, and so on).
But these elements have become the minority feature of most all MMOs today that they’ve earned a rather condescending nickname — “fluff”. Doing anything aside from combat and crafting — fluff. Having gear that is just for looks, not for stats — fluff. Vanity pets — fluff. Player housing — fluff.
Before WAR ever launched, I got irked beyond belief at an interview in which one of the devs (Paul, I think) derisively slammed fluff and happily boasted that there’d be none of that crap in the game. Lo and behold, at launch, there really wasn’t, aside from trophies. Except that in doing so, the game world became a lot less “real” to players, because it really just became a combat simulator of sorts. Your character didn’t live in that world, it just moved through it and killed things. Perhaps sensing their error, Mythic has since slowly been introducing fluffy things, like non-combat pets and fluff-filled live events, all of which were met with approval and popularity.
Not to single WAR out in this, because plenty of other titles have woefully undersupported any development or equipment of characters for non-combat adventures.