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.