RPGs vs. MMORPGs: A Quest to Find a Satisfying Ending

I was having a mini-discussion with my ex-co-lead from Warhammer Alliance about his new blog and a post he was working on, which discusses endings in various forms of media. Ironically enough, this is a topic I bitch about incessantly to my husband, particularly when we play MMOs.

In an MMORPG, you are not the hero. You will not be saving the day. And whatever good deeds you do accomplish will be undone and redone by someone else. You’re just another warrior in a large army. You’re trained to do as everyone else does. As “unique” and special as we like to make ourselves out to be in MMOs (GM, MT, CC, etc.), we’re still just another warrior, getting a job done. Think of it this way: a sniper and a ground troop person (sorry, not up with my Army-lingo) are told to kill someone. The sniper hides, and takes the shot stealthily. The trooper guy runs right in at the right moment and takes the person down viciously. The job is done, so it doesn’t really matter which route you take (please don’t get into the whole hypothetical situation nonsense–it’s just an example). Whether you are a Mage or a Paladin, a Dragoon or a Monk, you all share the same goal–complete the quests and level up.

Because of this structure, it is difficult to feel any real passion for what you’re actually doing. You go in, kill 10 boars, get some silver, and move on. And while you’re moving on, those 10 boars respawn, and someone else kills them. Here’s a better example: Last night I “saved” this NPC in WoW from some Warlock entrapment spell, and he was able to get out and revive all of his fallen comrades. We then proceeded to kill the jerk who entrapped him, and all was well in the world.

Until about a minute later, when they all fell down dead again, and the guy was trapped once again.

There is nothing worse to trivialize your actions than watching them utterly reversed by a simple set time frame. Perhaps this is one reason I enjoy instances/dungeons so much. They’re generally closed environments with a direct beginning, middle, and end. You infiltrate an area, go through, kill a bunch of high ranking mobs until you finally get to the boss. And when you defeat him, you feel a moment of–rock on. The end. Instance completed.

And then you go out of the dungeon and do it all over again.

In an RPG, however, you are the hero. There is a story with a problem and you–with a select group of fellow heroes–save the world from its utter demise. Wow. Awesome. This is role-playing. You are inevitably forced into following the story line, because you want to know why you’re the hero, how you’re the hero, and what you’re saving the world from. Much like a novel, no matter your gender, appearance, etc., you can easily slip into the shoes of the hero and go.

Now, this isn’t to say that an RPG is always better than an MMORPG. MMORPGs function much more like life itself. It’s open-ended; you don’t have to do every task assigned if you don’t want to. An RPG functions like a book. Each action flows into another action. Now, I’m not saying an MMO is always worse than an RPG, or that an RPG is always better than an MMO; however, I frequently find myself feeling unfulfilled through MMOs BECAUSE I don’t get that firm ending. I raid because I want to feel like I’m saving the world from this diabolical villain, or I PvP because I want to rid the world from the other “evil” race. But ultimately, much like in life, little changes in those worlds.And for me, I like the feeling of completion. I like thinking that I made a difference.

So what do you guys think? Do you need a finite ending? Does it help you enjoy a game more?

Posted in Legacy.


  1. This was one aspect I really thought was handled well in Guild Wars – since the PvE was done in an instanced and campaign-based manner, there *was* an “ending” (to the campaign, at least), and your characters *were* the heroes because no one else was interfering in your group’s instance. You could kill the boss and he wouldn’t “pop right back up again” a few minutes later, because the instance was done and you’d move on.

    • Absolutely. I may not have liked EVERYTHING about GW, but that was absolutely something successful. However, since it seemed to be an amalgamation of MMO and RPG, to me, it seemed to do neither to its best and fullest extent.

      And amalgamation is one of my GRE study words–yay for using it ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. First of all, about the being no no special and just another warrior in a large army thing. I can actually live with that pretty well. I think how much that irks you is very much dependant on what background you have in roleplaying-related things. If you’ve only ever played games that made you the big hero, you’re just used to that and you might miss that in a MMO. Even if you’ve been into P&P, you’re usually the big hero by the end. An activity where this attitude comes up very rarely is during LARP, where you usually ARE a part of a large army (or its camp) and your individual accomplishments are not all that meaningful.
    Also, as mentioned by Aiiane, there have been some MMOs that have tried to fit a single-player-like, heroic campaign into their storylines. Another, more recent example of that would be Aion, which has the Daeva of Destiny questline, which more or less comes to an end as well. I wonder what would happen if a game, instead of shoe-horning in a singleplayer story, tried to emphasize that one-in-a-million feeling for its storyline.
    On to the point about your accomplishments being undone. Now there’s something that really gets on my nerves when playing MMOs, especially since you usually visit places more than once. Seeing that that NPCs is captured again, that enemy camp again filled with hostiles, etc. Now, before Wrath of the Lich King was released, I’ve heard about a system Blizzard called Phasing, which was to solve that exact problem. Let me give you an example out of an interview of Blizzard’s Allen Brack with Eurogamer:
    He gives the example of a quest where a player is sent to rescue villagers from a town overrun by the Scourge. Players who have completed the quest will see the villagers they’ve rescued back at the quest hub whereas players who haven’t done the quest will not.
    Now I’ve got no idea whether this system has made it in since I haven’t played WoW in years, but while it seems to solve the problem, it creates new problems such as the issue of whether I’ll be able to help another player who isn’t as far along the questline as I am.
    But at least we know that Devs are aware of the issue and are actively looking for ways to go around it, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • You’re absolutely right about my background affecting my perception of gaming. I come from an SNES FF-type background. My husband on the other hand, who never particularly minds the open-ness of MMOs, played these games, but he was not as attached to them or as affected by them as I. For example, he loves EvE. I hate it. Perhaps my English background also gives me a preference towards the driven story-line.

      I can’t speak for Aion, because I’m one of the few who did not jump on that bandwagon, but I can speak a bit about WotLK. Phasing is present, but limited. And while I know Blizz has plans to using this technology more extensively in Cataclysm, it’s currently rather limited. The example I gave with the NPC and warlock spell would have been an excellent place to experience phasing. I do appreciate their efforts, and am excited to see how they utilize this mechanism in Cataclysm. Perhaps one day the people like me will have a full MMO (as opposed to instanced, like GW) with full phasing. ‘Cause that, my friends, would be pretty damn epic.

  3. You hit the nail on the head. I love RPGs because they have a storyline which develops as you the player develop. You learn who you are and what you can do in this fantasy world. Most of all, you have an objective and are trying to help people along the way. Your character and motivations are tested, and your decisions can change you significantly. In MMORPGs, it’s just not the same. Your character isn’t taken into account, no one cares about what you accomplished (nor in my case, do I) and ultimately you end up indistinct.
    I love the satisfying ending of a good RPG, one that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly, but with mmos, I always feel strung out, like there’s more that can be done, that my work is never finished. And if it can’t be finished, I just don’t see a point in playing it.
    The only way mmos could be enjoyable would be if they were deemed something like a “sport,” but even then it would be the competitions which were enjoyable and gave purpose to the game, not the game itself being enjoyable.
    And that’s pretty much the jist of it.

  4. Just to throw in my two centsโ€ฆ I like to think that if I am going to play an RPG it better have a very good and captivating story. I haven’t played and finished an RPG since I finally had my eyes opened to Chrono Trigger (although some days I wish I finished .Hack :/ lol). Personally, I think so much more can be done with an MMO now than ever before. MMOs are built for the new age gamer. RPGs in my opinion have taken a serious turn for the worst. A good example is FF13. I stopped playing half way through because the player autonomy that the older Final Fantasies are known for have all but vanished. On older systems, yes, it was very much like playing through a book. Now, it’s more like playing through a Movie. You just end up going through the motions and following arrows. Of course, All RPGs aren’t like this yet, but they certainly are heading in that direction. Rumors of FF7 remakes are always abound, but to be honest, they will probably ruin it with cheap dialogue and millions of cut scenes.

    • You’re right that there is a “new age gamer”–increases in the technological capacities of gaming has created a generation of Min/Maxers who don’t have to patience to delve into a storyline. Instead, they aim to top raid charts, PvP charts, and the like. “Damn the story and damn the character so long as I’m the best!”

      Despite this, there’s still a clear vocal minority (assuming minority at this point), who crave this form of character and story development. Dragon Age: Origins quenched this thirst, but then Bioware/EA decided to take DA2 a different direction–you WILL play as Hawke and only Hawke. Your choice in storyline is made from clearly delineated “Good,” “Neutral,” and “Evil” responses (only those three!). The RP community was pissed, but “OH LOOK SHINY COMBAT” took over.

      I know you and I have talked about Rift quite a bit in the past few days, but I never thought of it in relation to this post. Rift, I feel, has really combined story elements that are relate-able and engaging. The debate between faith and technology and how the two interact is something we see today. Moreover, the fact that both factions are warring despite trying to accomplish the same goal is so perfect. They’re both trying to save the world, but they disagree with HOW to do that. Ergo, they fight. Of course this is a simplistic version of the events in the game, but the sentiment that goes behind that type of plot is an MMO taking the right step in an RP direction, even if they haven’t implemented the phasing technology that WoW has.

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