Falling damage in MMOs


The other day GamingSF had a post on a subject that I was actually thinking about recently: whether or not falling damage was a good thing in MMORPGs. He notes how some MMOs have it, while others (notably RIFT and The Secret World) have elected to do away with it.

So is it better to have the possibility of death or injury from falling in an MMO or is it simply more fun to suspend this element of reality and let players plummet to their heart’s content without worry of having gravity smack them on the face?

I think the right (and probably weasely) answer is, “It depends on the game.” Some games simply work better without falling damage. It makes sense that TSW doesn’t have it, because your character is basically a superhero anyway, and superheroes aren’t usually concerned with stubbing their toes when they trip. They’re big-picture characters. I feel that RIFT’s decision to elect out of falling damage (it used to have it on launch) made the game more fun to explore, especially in light of (a) our characters are “ascended” and virtually superheroes anyway, and (b) there are no flying mounts yet lots of vertical spaces.

LOTRO is interesting in that it not only has some falling damage, but also tacks on a debuff (which slows you down for up to 45 seconds) to mimic a sprained ankle or broken bone. In fleeing an enemy and jumping off something, I always have to judge whether or not it might be worth the drop to do so.

Putting together a pros and cons list for falling damage as a mechanic:

In favor of falling damage

  • It forces players to take the game world/environment more seriously and turns the environment into a challenge that must be navigated and conquered successfully
  • It allows devs to add skills, traits, and fun items that help to counter this threat, giving players utility tools in their exploration
  • It can imbue the game world with a feeling or sense of realism that mirrors our own (we instinctively understand that falling from a great height = bad from our own real-life experience)
  • In PvP situations, it gives players another way to vanquish their foes
  • In worlds that have flying, falling damage feels more fair to have since flight counters it. It also makes flight seem like a better value since it’s overcoming that danger

In favor of freefall bliss

  • It removes a frustration and obstacle to exploration, which in turn encourages players to poke around the world and not be afraid of it
  • It provides another option to traversing zones, even giving players a strategic option (to climb up high and then jump down on top of their destination or hard-to-reach places)
  • It takes away instant death from falling and annoying or impossible corpse runs resulting from that death
  • It’s a game, after all, and designers have the freedom to choose which rules to implement and which to exclude
  • In non-flying MMOs, it’s a nice consolation prize
  • It helps out immensely if you’re doing platforming or jumping puzzles and miss a jump

Generally I’d come down on the side of just not wanting it most of the time, but I think some MMO worlds would feel less authentic and more “gamey” if it was removed. I wouldn’t want it gone in LOTRO, for example, and WildStar’s exploration path needs all of the environmental challenge it can get.

As a player who jumps between MMOs frequently, I will say that it is not always easy to keep track of which game allows for unlimited falls and which penalize me for it. I’ve plummeted to my death more than a few times because I forgot which game I was in and just jumped off cliffs with wild abandon.

7 thoughts on “Falling damage in MMOs

  1. Sylow January 12, 2017 / 1:16 pm

    This is very much along the lines i also already wrote there. It’s very much a question of game design and the important part is that i has to support the image you want to transmit of the character.

  2. Bhagpusss January 12, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Try playing GW2 on multiple accounts, some of which have gliding and some which don’t! I’m fairly good at remembering which is which now but for a long time I was gleefully hurling myself off cliffs expecting my glider to unfurl only to find myself falling like…well like someone who’d just stupidly decided to throw themselves off a cliff.

  3. UltrViolet January 12, 2017 / 3:27 pm

    Personally I prefer falling damage, otherwise I feel like I’m playing the game in a developer testing mode.

  4. Dolvic January 12, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    FFXIV has an interesting hybrid take on fall damage. While out in the world, falling will give you damage, but not kill you. You might be left with 1 HP, but you’ll live. However, if you’re in combat while falling and the damage is big enough, you’ll die.

    Some dungeons actually have sections where you fall down a huge shaft/cliff/pipe etc. but you don’t even take fall damage there. It’s just level design. Some bosses however will knock you off a platform and that’s instant death.

  5. DDOCentral January 12, 2017 / 10:39 pm

    The lack of falling damage in The Secret World makes sense as all of the “bees” are immortals. However, Rift should have falling damage as it is a standard fantasy MMO similar to WoW.

  6. Sylow January 13, 2017 / 7:27 am

    On the thing with FFXIV, that is exactly the one thing i would not want to have: “random” falling damage. Sometimes you don’t take falling damage at all, often it stops you at 1 health and sometimes it’s instant death? That’s inconsistent and thus would annoy me to no end.

    And on the examples where no falling damage is fine, i also used DC Universe as an example at GamingSF. Just like in TSW, the characters in DC Universe are superhuman. I mean, who would expect Superman to fall from a skyscraper and die from that? In contrast, characters in TSW already have it much harder. Those in DCU just then use their super-movement abilities to get out of there, by climbing or flying or hovering on discs of light or whatever. Those in TSW then have to find their way up again, which in some cases can be quite a challenge. So it’s not like falling into a deep ravine goes unpunished, you might live, but you then have to find the tunnel which leads to the ramp which allows you to get to the bridge which… i think you get it… 😀

    The more important thing in the game design here is that if your game has no falling damage, you actually have more work to do. If you have falling damage, all your deep canyon needs is a floor for people to die upon. If there is no falling damage, the canyon walls and floor must be properly modelled and if your characters can’t fly or something like that, you also have to build a way to get out of that place again. (Unless your game is based around the mechanic that all your player characters end up stuck in one or another hole in the ground in the run of time… 😀 )

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