I have a confession… more like a dilemma. Yeah, let’s go with that. You see, I love the concept of MMOs. Large persistent worlds, growing your character into a badass and hooking up with other players both friend and stranger to go on epic adventures. MMOs, more than shooters in my opinion, perfectly marry the structures of ‘gaming’ and ‘being online’. They are bound by each other; you go online and play the game. It’s not Call of Duty or Halo where you can reasonably put together a LAN party. MMOs are a great concept, I always felt this way. But… I don’t like MMOs in practice. Their actual ‘gameplay’ is boring to me, most up until this point share very similar structures, and while the social aspect is there… the presentation is lacking. And then Destiny, The Division, and GTA Online came along. These are persistent worlds that catch my attention, but not because they’re shooters at heart. Mark my words this is the dawn of the shooter-MMO genre, one that may define next-gen consoles.
MMOs as we knew them were all basically made from a blueprint; whether it’s WoW, Eve, or the late City of Heroes. And that blueprint had a strong underlying RPG origin, which factored into gameplay. In my youth I was a huge RPG nut; going on adventures and grinding for rare loot and doing the old ATB thing. Cast spell… wait… toss some flame… heal, etc. I was never into WoW though I played the hell out of City of Heroes, which naturally scratched my superhero itch – but it was still this number crunching RPG that had other players in it. Around this time my interests shifted to more action oriented games. Like the difference between Zelda and Xenogears, I had more fun swinging a sword and dodging at my own reflexes rather than queue these actions up and watching the results. You can begin to see the issue here as most MMOs clung to the gameplay style I was losing interest in. Were MMOs simply not for me?!
Phantasy Star Online, a spinoff from a series I had no prior interest in, revealed to me that there’s still much more to explore in MMO game design. While the RPG trappings were there, and it was still a degree number calculations going on, it featured a much more involving combat system with a catchy timing based attack system. I didn’t get into this gem until the Gamecube port, which had the 4plyr splitscreen option (back when developers cared about that sort of thing). Trekking through stages and taking on monsters-alien things with my brothers made a summer for me. And when I tried it out online I finally thought this was an MMO for my tastes. ‘Universe wasn’t quite as profound for me, but by this point it was clear consoles weren’t too interested in having MMOs available anyway. I started believing again the genre simply wasn’t versatile enough to offer me anything, and SEGA is being real stingy about Phantasy Star Online 2’s American release (which, by the way, should be a Wii U exclusive).
Putting Two and Two Together
Ya know, this past generation had no real technical issue with rendering living persistent worlds. There wasn’t an objective reason for them not to have MMOs, just business details. And I’m not a PC gamer, so seeing something like Champions Online get canceled for 360 was a let down. I’d ask myself, “Can’t I just have Zelda…. with a party of players?” Well we’re getting a Zelda MMO, probably ever, but if MMOs of any sort were to arrive on consoles, why not merge the concept with something tried and true – the console shooter.
I mean… duh. We’ve seen a taste of this with Borderlands, an admirable effort for my affection but not fully open as I’d like it to be (and I never was too crazy about the art style). So when I first heard about Bungie’s Destiny, my head kind of exploded. This is a shooter, from the people who defined modern shooters, that is also an MMO. Big world (galaxy, really), persistent characters, group adventures, all there – just in a game that plays with the emergent action I look for these days. No ATB meter, no queued up attacks; it’s all you. And it didn’t stop there! Enter Ubisoft’s The Division, more or less an MMO Ghost Recon on a post-apocalyptic bent. The E3 trailer was amazing, even with the cheesy mic chatter scripted in, but it was to convey an idea.
Shooter-MMOs are a thing now.
And while this may be a tad reaching the recent GTA5 trailer showing off GTA Online, treated as a separate entity altogether, certainly fits the bill of persistent worlds with consistent players doing as much as their reflexes allow. You still have the social aspect, the coop aspect, even the PvP aspect, the persistent character aspect, gaining experience but grinding in a way that will always be fun and emergent. Champions and DC Universe Online promised to offer a more action oriented spin on MMOs, but neither dived in at the level of these games. And more importantly, these three shooter-MMOs will bring the best traits of the concept to an audience that probably doesn’t partake, through a genre that dominates consoles. It is truly like putting two and two together!
All Together Now
You know how consoles have ‘Killer Apps’? System sellers that make a consumer believe in a console enough to buy it? I believe console generations and concepts also have Killer Apps. Super Mario 64 was not just N64’s Killer App, it was the 3D era’s Killer App. Resident Evil was not just Playstation’s trump card, it was the Killer App of the DVD based era of gaming. These games sold ideas. That’s what I see in Destiny, The Division, and GTA Online – Killer Apps for the very concept of console MMOs, nothing is sacred – it works and you can play it for yourself. This is the sort of thing that should encourage SEGA to bring over Phantasy Star Online 2, an ‘MMO action game’ of sorts (and again make it exclusive to Wii U, I have reasons for this!). And why stop there, what other worlds will be opened to us, waiting for our parties to explore, offering us the gift of grand adventure?
I mean seriously, at the end of the day we all just wanna be like the Fellowship of the Ring, a group of warriors bound by one quest. Except it doesn’t have to be fantasy, or swashbuckling, maybe it can start with a good old shotgun. Maybe from the familiar, we can move on to even more imaginary things.