Weather systems add more to MMOs than you’d think

This past Monday I complained about the waste of effort that goes into making underwater environments, travel, and combat for most MMOs. I’ll stick by that as unnecessary, even if it’s a personal preference. But today I want to look at a smaller system that I think needs to be in all online virtual worlds because of what it contributes — and that is a fully featured weather system.

I haven’t played a lot of MMOs with weather systems. If I’m lucky, I’ll get one that has a day/night cycle (and this isn’t even standard any more) and the occasional light rain shower. I remember when weather went into WoW way back when and I thought it was so cool — until I realized how little the devs planned to do with it.

I’ve heard people raving about the weather system that’s in Black Desert, and I have to admit that it sounds cool. But what’s got me thinking about weather systems lately is my sojurn into FFXIV, a game that doesn’t see such a feature as superfluous or unnecessary. In fact, it’s actually integral to parts of the game, as weather affects things like fishing (and there are — I kid you not — weather forcaster NPCs in the game that tell you what’s going to be happening to which zones).

But what wowed me is how much the current weather or time of day would radically transform the landscape through which I was adventuring, almost to the point where it felt like a completely different place. Considering how much backtracking and reuse that these zones get for questing, it’s quite a welcome feature that keeps it looking visually fresh. And I am flat-out amazed how awesome the thunderstorms are, with black nights being punctuated by flashes of light and then peals of thunder seconds later. It honestly feels more like the real thing than most MMOs.

Of course, weather is not without its controversy, especially if it’s used in a non-cosmetic fashion in any way that could hamper a player’s gameplay. If weather is used to slow a character down (wind, cold), severely cut down on vision (fog, blizzard), or even impact combat in some way, then you’ll end up hearing as many complaints as you would praises for the “realism.” Some developers — particularly of little indie start-ups — talk big game about dynamic weather that will make a real impact on the game world and play experience but then back down when the product comes to shelves.

At least for me, weather does a great job of contributing to the sense of adventuring through a world and making me feel as though my character is exposed to the elements instead of merely jumping around some decorated landscape. That, combined with a day/night cycle, are a couple of my must-haves for MMOs, and yet so many decline to put them in, especially lately.

10 thoughts on “Weather systems add more to MMOs than you’d think

  1. Chrissy The Blesser January 8, 2016 / 9:13 am

    I love interacting with the weather. For example, in ARK a fog bank or darkness can hide a predator that can now get a head start on targeting me as I don’t see them as quickly and wander too close and aggro them. It really ups the danger factor and makes it easier to immerse myself in the game. I love the fact that if I am dehydrated and it starts raining, problem solved. The moonsets are incredible too. Your points are so valid that is it MUCH nicer to have the weather be part of what I am gaming with instead of just being decoration. Changing the landscape to lessen boredom in repeat areas is really nice. Thanks for pointing it out so well. 😀

  2. Aywren January 8, 2016 / 10:56 am

    Sometimes I’ve heard thunder in FFXIV and had to look around IRL to see it it was actually there! And when it rains, I love how my character actually gets wet, then dries off when you go into town or take shelter.

    The weather system also effects things like fishing – some fish can only be caught in certain weather. It also signals special events. If you go into the forest and the weather is “Tension” (everything has a strange purple-blue tint to it), you know that the Odin Primal will soon appear!

  3. Chestnut's Roasting (@ggchestnut) January 8, 2016 / 11:25 am

    I love weather in games. It makes me eternally happy and makes me feel more immersed in the world. There have been so many times I just stopped in FFXIV to look at what the weather was doing and comment on it to my husband.

  4. Xannziee January 8, 2016 / 12:02 pm

    I agree. The rain and thunderstorms in ESO adds so much to the feeling of the game. I t feels wet and I want to go to a tavern and have some mulled wine rather than continue my quest. I admit im lazy 😉

  5. bhagpuss January 8, 2016 / 1:17 pm

    FFXIV’s weather is very impressive although I found it less so over time. I’m not entirely sure about your premise that weather effects are rare in MMOs though. I’m struggling to think of many I’ve played that don’t have at least some form of changing weather. The quality is variable, of course.

    As a longtime resident of Freeport in EQ2 I can attest that when a thunderstorm rolls in at night there it becomes quite literally too dark to see where you’re going. I have screenshots to prove it. For a long time in EQ when it rained at night in the Karanas I had to stop playing and go and make a coffee or something. They changed that a good few years back for exactly the reasons you outline – actively detrimental weather effects may be quasi-realistic but they annoy the heck out of players.

    GW2 has some very thick snowstorms, particularly in Wayfarer Foothills, and also some spectacular lightning storms. Ryzom I seem to recall has great rain. Rift had some of the densest blizzards I’ve ever seen in an MMO – one early dungeon made a feature of them but they were there in the open world too, as was very heavy rain. ESO has huge storm visuals that I spent a lot of time admiring, trying to photograph the lightning to very little effect.

    Neverwinter I remember having huge storms and lightning now I think of it. So does Dragon Nest. And DCUO. Vanguard had a wide range of strong weather conditions. I remember the Raki starting area suffering what seemed like a perpetual monsoon season and Thestra was dismally wet around the plains of Anguish.

    I could go on – I’m remembering more and more all the time. I’d be interested to know which well-known MMOs *don’t* have significant weather!

  6. Tyler F.M. Edwards January 8, 2016 / 2:57 pm

    Weather is something I wish MMO devs would put more effort into. It does a lot to add to immersion, and often it’s just plain pretty. I was very impressed by FFXIV’s diversity of weather mechanics, and ESO is much the same way. A few weeks back I noticed the sky in Grahtwood was hazier than usual and thought to myself, “Hmm, looks like rain.” Sure enough, ten minutes later, my Bosmer was in the midst of a downpour. That’s the sort of thing that really makes a game come alive.

    I’d stop short of making weather influence gameplay in significant ways, though. It’s one of those things that sounds cool, but in practice will ultimately just be an irritating inconvenience.

    @Bhagpuss: I guess it depends on your definition. Personally I don’t count games that have weather effects, but not dynamic weather. So there might be areas where it’s raining, but it’s always raining in those areas, and it never rains elsewhere. TSW and Neverwinter fall under that category. Other games I can’t ever remember seeing weather are SWTOR, Star Trek: Online, Skyforge, Champions Online, Firefall, Dragon’s Prophet, and WildStar (though to be fair I didn’t spend long in most of those games, so maybe I’m mistaken about one or more). Defiance has weather-like effects for some of its Arkfalls, but no natural weather. And then there are games that technically have weather systems but barely use them, like WoW.

  7. Vagrant Zero January 8, 2016 / 5:43 pm

    Nighttime in the Twelveswood with a thunderstorm. I still jump out of my seat on occasion. Not nearly enough MMOs make use of day/night/dynamic weather. And no, the “fixed” weather of TOR doesn’t count.

  8. Ralt January 8, 2016 / 6:29 pm

    Way back in the day I remember EQ had a spell that druids could cast that would make the zone rain if it was clear or make it not rain if it was raining. It was quite expensive to get the components to cast it but I remember being absolutely amazed when I first cast it that I could do that to an entire zone in an MMO.

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