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.