Message in the MMORPG

 


Artists of all types often embed messages in their work. My personal opinion is that Intrepid Studios has done the same with their MMORPG in development, Ashes of Creation. The basic lore describes a world that has been corrupted, driving people away and after countless years they return to start anew and forge their own destiny. Now maybe not so dramatic but I can see parallels with this story to the MMORPG genre. Over the years since the first MMORPG, the industry has fallen into practices that a large number of gamers nowadays can't stand - in a sense the experience we grew up with and grew to love has been corrupted. It's driven us away from those fun experiences we used to know when the genre was fresh and new...and now from this destruction of gamer morale, Intrepid seeks to rebuild and make MMOs great again. Meme potential aside, it is a lofty goal to take on responsibility to reinvigorate the genre. 

Steven Sharif, founder and CEO of Intrepid Studios, is a gamer. His roots stretch back to when multiplayer gaming was in its infancy. Over the years, these shared experiences helped shape his vision for the future of MMOs and the development of Ashes of Creation. In the spring of 2017, Steven brought his dream to Kickstarter and a cord was struck with the gaming community. To many, Intrepid Studios was fulfilling a dream, making the game that any gamer with the same resources would make. It was an exciting and crazy month for the indie developer - raising nearly $3.3 million in funding with nearly 19,600 backers. This momentum continued with a summer funding round for those not able to pledge with Kickstarter – raising another approximately $300,000. Keep in mind the project was entirely self-funded before going to crowdfunding but only went there to expand the scope of the project. 

So, over a year later, the team of 30 or so industry veterans has grown to over 100 with plans for continued growth as the game prepares to enter the first part of their Alpha 1 phase. The team is forecasting to reach the 200 employee mark by year end. The anticipation from gamers who have been with the community from day one to those who have just joined is truly palatable. Speaking with any member of the community, I’m sure you’ll hear multiple reasons why they are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the title even in the early stages. In full disclosure, I am by no means totally impartial as I took part in the Kickstarter funding round. However, I will honestly express my point of view on what’s got me excited about this polarizing MMO entry. 

Worldwide Metamorphosis 

While not an entirely new concept, it is by far one of the most intriguing concepts shared by the developers about Ashes of Creation. At launch, players will step into a world that they themselves will shape by their actions. Scattered throughout the world there will be nodes that gather experience and grow as players perform activities within their zone of influence (ZOI). As the node is built up, a settlement is born and continues to grow as players remain active in the area. Player action not only builds up a node, it will also unlock content based on where players chose to focus their attention. Each node doesn’t develop in a vacuum however. Advancement on one node may lock out certain levels of progress for others. 

On a larger scale such as this, the relative sameness we’ve experienced as players on a month on month basis or even server by server basis is thrown out the window. Servers could evolve in completely separate ways with completely different content available to players. There’s no denying the potential of this system as a core design element. The developers have described this system as branching or condition based with curated content gated by choices the players make – their goal to debunk the idea that the only game in town in a MMORPG is end-game. The developers believe in player choice above all and these choices create events organically in the world. Players drive the narrative forward. All of the previously mentioned elements converge in what is described as a “Reactive World” by Intrepid. The developers will lay the foundation and the players take the reigns from there. What quests they choose to complete, what nodes they choose to develop, what they buy and sell, where they stake their claim in the world with housing and many more systems will decide the path forward for the world. 

Staying Classy

Class and character progression is just as potentially elaborate as the previously described node system. Players will face two separate choices of 8 base archetypes (tank, cleric, fighter, mage, rogue, ranger, summoner and bard) to bring their class to life – once as a primary which defines their baseline skills and again which defines their augmentations – a set of choices that impact the nature of their primary archetype’s abilities. The goal of the augmentation system being that even given the same choice of primary and secondary class, players could have significantly different “builds” that suit different playstyles. In addition to class choices and archetype utility skills, race, in-game social organization, religion crafting/artisanship, and weapon progression systems will allow for further customization for players. 

The group dynamic and balance leans towards group play – with an emphasis 8-man parties that scales up to 40-man raiding encounters. The development team often has spoken of putting the “massive back into MMORPGs.” With player interaction being so important to the development and evolution of the world, it makes sense that the team would lean on larger group sizes to foster interaction among the community. They also expect the larger group sizes to allow for more flexible group compositions, especially with the addition of a four element of support (e.g. bard) to the standard trinity of tank, healer and dps. 

Can’t We All Just Get Along?... Maybe, Maybe Not.

Some people want change, others hate it. These ideologies are just two ingredients in Intrepid’s recipe for “meaningful conflict” that is another common thread in the Ashes of Creation design. Those elements are definitely not the only catalysts for conflict that are planned - Resources will be scarce and lucrative caravans will be the only option to transport larger quantities of resources between points of interest. Unique legendary items of power hide in the world waiting to be sought after… and potentially fought over. Any or all these items in one combination or another can jumpstart battle between player characters. 

The game will employ a flagging system that will allow conflict to organically happen in the world while penalizing those that wish to “PK” indiscriminately without purpose or prey on lower level players. Players that attack other players that are unwilling or unable to fight back (too low level) will gain corruption which will negatively impact their PvP effectiveness. With enough corruption, players also pay a heavy penalty on death that includes experience debt they need to repay and the potential to lose valuable equipped items and resources. Players who chose to engage in PvP will gain some experience debt and lose any resources they might have on their person upon death, however they will not gain corruption if their victim chooses to fight back. One thing of note is that players that chose not to fight back will still gain experience debt and lose some resources as well when defeated. There are also some situations where players are auto-flagged so no corruption penalty will apply (i.e. attacking/defending a caravan, participating in a siege). My background isn’t necessarily as a PvP player and I find this system to be a good balance of risk versus reward, encouraging conflict but not perpetuating the “griefing” style of play. 

One of the most visible aspects of an MMO is the combat system. In recent months, the team have been expanding upon the tab-target based system they introduced in Alpha 0. Their plan for Alpha 1 (Q4 2018) is to bring in the action combat elements and start testing what they previously called a “hybrid” system which will involve both tab-target and action elements. Alpha 1 testers will be able to test this system first hand along with the siege mechanics. The developers have said that the system we will see in Alpha 1 will be “night and day” different versus what we have seen in pre-alpha (Alpha 0). They expect the testing process to be iterative and they anticipate they will make changes throughout the alpha and beta cycles to ensure the combat is fun and to their high standard. 

When Crafting Matters 

In a player driven world one would expect that crafting would play an integral role. The Intrepid proposed crafting system once again aims to address where similar systems have fallen short in other games. While some randomness is expected in the more experimental professions (i.e. enchanting), the team’s intention is that a player that heavily invests in crafting will be rewarded for their efforts, gaining access to many “dials” in which they can use to create and customize their wares. 

Crafting is planned to also have much more relevance in the local economy, not only due to the scarcity of resources but also the investment required to be a top tier crafter – the player crafter is expected to be much more connected to the community than ever before, far beyond just seller/buyer contact. Crafters will have to interact with each other as crafting will have 3 distinct skill trees: gathering, processing and crafting. Interdependencies between these 3 types as well as player adventurers drive the economic health of a local area. This symbiosis between crafter and community is expected to really drive the relevance of the crafting professions in the game. Crafters also will play a role in the meaningful conflict in the world, expected to enable construction of siege weapons in addition to supplying needed armor, weapons and other battle-oriented enhancements. 

Hearth and Home 

One of the most fun aspects of my first MMO, Ultima Online, was the ability for my character to stake a claim in the world and build a home. Adding to and upgrading my in-game home became a great source of pride as well as making vendors available to sell what I had crafted. Ashes of Creation will capitalize on this sense of accomplishment by allowing housing to be built within a node as well as the surrounding area or ZOI. In order to make the world feel alive, there will be limits on in-node and placeable housing, but instanced apartments will be present at certain stages of node development to address player housing needs. 

The surrounding area housing, known as freeholds, are expected to be configurable through buildings that a player can place to perform various functions – this might be crafting stations or vendors with crafted sellables for example. Players will also be able to place and run a tavern in game, which will provide buffs to players that stay awhile and will persist if they are in the immediate vicinity of the tavern location. Taverns will also be upgradable by the owner at some point, allowing the expansion of services offered including additional game systems like battlemaps that allow players to plan attacks, bulletin boards for quests or bounties to be posted and parlor games that allow players to pass their time when not adventuring. 

Nodes will also be subject to player-run governments with a city hall being the center where those in power make decisions on the node’s direction. This includes building placement or destruction, available services like an auction house or making more space available for player run kiosks. Just like no node will be a fixture in the world for long, the same can be said for the player run governments. Players have the right to overthrow node leadership that isn’t doing what they feel is in the node’s best interests. This puts a great deal of power in the hands of the players indeed. 

The Final Word 

Ambition is described as a “desire to achieve a particular end.” To say Steven Sharif and the team at Intrepid are planning an ambitious entry in to the MMO genre would be an understatement. They continue to share tidbits of information of what they have planned to change the landscape that has been MMOs for nearly 2 decades. Some of what they have proposed may not be new ideas, but rather taking us back to our roots, with the benefit of hindsight. If they are able to accomplish what they have in store, the bar will be definitely raised and they will send a very powerful message in an MMORPG. 

About the Author 

Daedelus is part of the official content creator program and YouTuber for Ashes of Creation. You can find him at
the links below: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheAshenHerald Website: http://www.ashenherald.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/theashenherald 
He is also a proud member of the Sons of Seven, a PVX NA/US guild specifically focused on Ashes of Creation.

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