The three types of MMO winter zones


Winter’s been on my mind more lately, partially because the season has turned to fall here in Michigan and partially because I’ve been adventuring through Whitevale this past week on my Medic.

Generally, I like winter. I’m weird that way, but I think it’s important to find something that you love in all of the seasons instead of taking sides and preferring one at the expense of loathing another. After all, if I’m going to be saddled with three or four months of snow and ice, I should make peace with it. And I do: I love the look of snow, the whole lead-up to Christmas, the coziness of sitting inside somewhere warm while the wind is howling outside, wearing winter clothes and jackets, and having fun with my kids outside. There’s a simple pristine beauty that winter can demonstrate that the other seasons can’t.

So I’m also drawn to winter zones in MMOs. We make a lot of jokes about how MMOs have been using the same generic biomes that have been in video games since the days of the NES, but to be fair, many designers do come up with different twists and shades of those biomes that end up putting each in their own categories. So it is with winter areas.

There are the “Christmas” winter zones, as I like to call them. These are welcoming, bright, and full of fluffy snow. WildStar’s Whitevale is a great example of this. Plenty of cozy and inviting settlements with traditionally festive winter activities — building snowmen, for example — and lights and vivid pine trees. The sky is bright, the air is clear, and one wishes that one had a snowmobile to travel around on.

Alternatively and less rare are the “desolate” winter zones. Winter here isn’t a set dressing, it’s a nasty force of nature that’s out to oppress and kill. Lots of ice, mountins, howling snow, blizzards, frozen landscapes, and few if any settlements. LOTRO’s Misty Mountains could fit into this category, or perhaps SWTOR’s Hoth.

Then you have the “Scandanavian” zones, which can be a mix of the above two, but throw in the northern lights, more greenery, and some jagged fjords. There’s a different sort of beauty here, one that’s wild and breathtaking and bold. These areas have more moose and bears and other tundra/boreal forest fauna. World of Warcraft’s Howling Fjord is a prime example.

There are probably more divisions than these, but the above three are the ones that I commonly notice in MMOs. Which is your favorite?


8 thoughts on “The three types of MMO winter zones

  1. Grant September 24, 2015 / 10:06 am

    Snowy biomes tend to be my favorite zones in MMO’s (probably because I spend so much of my childhood in west Texas)

    For me though, the key to a memorable snowy biome isn’t the type of snow/landscape but rather, the type of ambient music that plays. The music is what really sticks with me after I have left a zone and what contributes most to those feelings of nostalgia when I look back at them.

    I think thats why I enjoy the Shiverpeak zones so much in Guild Wars 2, I just love the serene music that goes along with the areas.

  2. skro9899 September 24, 2015 / 10:30 am

    I would rather use Wildermore over Misty Mountains as “desolate winter zone with winter as a nasty force of nature”, first because I have problems to see Misty Mountains otherwise than a mountain ski station at the end of the season (I don’t know, snow isn’t as pure as it should be, sky is depressing), second because in the Misty Mountains, the ennemy is not nature itself (as it can be in Forochel, for example) but real bad guys (dwarves, goblins, wargs and giants), ahd last, but not least because Wildermore fits more with the description (telling more would be spoilers)

  3. jason wolcott (@woolydub) September 24, 2015 / 10:53 am

    Frostgorge Sound in GW2 is pretty amazing as is Forochel in LOTRO just based on looks and design. My kinship used to go to the top of the mountain where the raid entrance is in Misty Mountains and there is a place there where you can slide down the mountain. We used to have competitions to see who could go the farthest and still live. I love that map for that reason. The giants are cool too, I guess 😛

  4. Fredelas September 24, 2015 / 12:14 pm

    I really enjoy the alpine and Scandinavian style zones. The music in WoW’s Grizzly Hills is my absolute favorite game soundtrack of all time, even though I quit playing WoW before that expansion. And for some reason, the design of the Shiverpeak maps in GW2 (and its Norn culture in general) really appeal to me. When I visit Hoelbrak, the quiet ambient sounds are incredibly relaxing.

  5. bhagpuss September 24, 2015 / 12:54 pm

    Snow zones are probably my second favorite MMO biome after deciduous forest (preferably with the leaves turning reddish gold). Oddly, the MMOs I play most, EQ2 and GW2, have rather poor northern territories. I think GW2’s Shiverpeaks are quite a weak entry in the field, particularly Frostgorge, which seems to be mostly flat white ice. EQ2’s Everfrost is possibly worse.

    Both of those games are eclipsed by their predecessors. The Shiverpeaks in Guild Wars is a fascinating, rich and detailed landscape and Everfrost, The Great Divide and Eastern Wastes in EQ are classics of the type.

    Possibly my favorite, though, is in a game I have a lot less time for than any of those – Rift. Iron Pine Peak always struck me as the definitive forest in winter.

  6. Rowan September 24, 2015 / 1:14 pm

    I agree with Fredelas, the Grizzly Hills theme music is among the most evocative in WoW. And that’s actually saying something. I do however disagree with your characterization of Howling Fjord as wintry, especially when compared to other Northrend zones. As far as favorites, Hoelbrak (GW2), hands down; followed perhaps by Dun Morogh (WoW), the first MMO zone I ever experienced. As Blizz (heh) says, Hoth (SWTOR) is just a bunch of cold white sand. It doesn’t really make any sense why there would be much fauna there at all, and certainly nothing the size of tauntauns and wampas. Ironpine peak is a nice entry in the list, Bhagphuss. I was trying to think of different games and their zones.

  7. othnieltcs September 24, 2015 / 3:03 pm

    I don’t think I’ve made it far enough in more than 2 MMOs to appreciate the variety here. Like you, my vote is for all of the winter zones in general. So many people complain that they’re boring, but I think they’re serene, beautiful and (paradoxically) cozy.

  8. kaiodan September 27, 2015 / 6:24 pm

    I love Forchel in LOTRO. I love watching the auroras in the sky over the bay.

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