Home > Champions Online, Fallen Earth, MMO Games > Freedom to screw up

Freedom to screw up

September 27, 2009

We always seem to want more and better options for MMOs that we play. More skills or powers, more levels etc. Sometimes we complain about the somewhat rigid DIKU-like model many MMOs are in. But are people prepared to get what they want?

This September has been a bit extraordinary in that there has been multiple interesting MMO releases in the same month; Champions Online and Fallen Earth. Both games provide the option to develop your characters pretty much any way you want. No fixed classes/professions or skill sets – you can be whatever you want from what is offered.

But for choices to be meaningful there must be good and bad choices (given some context) – if every choice would lead to an equally good result, then why make the choices at all? And if the results are just spread between good and better, will that not just trivialise the context for that choice?

Power and characteristic choices will make a difference in Champions Online

Power and characteristic choices will make a difference in Champions Online

As an example, in Champions Online there is pretty much complete freedom to mix and match any powers available, as well as control the character attributes. No class or archtetype restrictions and no inherent capbilities.  What you choose is what you get. So there has been occasions where people have made choices that gives them trouble in combat – more troble than others. This could be a bad choice of powers and characteristics for combat in the game.

This is as it should be – it must be possible to screw up. If there were no bad choices here then combat would be trivial for those that make the better choices – which in the end would bore most people. But it must also be possible to correct mistakes with a reasonable amount of effort. Experimentation should be encouraged.

However, this reasoning also only works well if you actually care about the result of a choice. But there may be cases where you just want something. Taking Champions as an example again, if you do not care about making a superhero that handles combat great and only want something that matches a concept – then the choices may be in the way. You just want something “good enough”. In that case the choice becomes an obstacle.

Fallen Earth also offers a lot of freedom in building your character

Fallen Earth also offers a lot of freedom in building your character

In time I think games with plenty of freedom of choice such as Champions Online and Fallen Earth will have various guides on fan sites, both for mix/max:ers and those that just want “good enough”. But now in the early days for both games, I think you probably need to have at least a reasonable amount interest in comtrolling the improvement of your character and experimenting with that.

Personally I am not a mix/max:er and concept is more important. But I do like to tinker and learn about improvement for my character, so choices still matter. And I love that I have enough freedom that my concepts do not have to fit in some predefined class/archetype structure. I have made good and bad choices, but I think at least I have learned from my mistakes and my understanding improves. That in itself makes the game experience quite rewarding.

  1. Bhagpuss
    September 27, 2009 at 13:39

    I like to make and play weak characters. Not all the time, but I do like to have a range of characters that includes a few who are somewhat ill-suited for the line of work they are in.

    It used to be possible to do this just by taking a weak race/class combination, for example. Gnome clerics were once thought to be at a disadvantage in EQ, as were half-elf druids. Not only did it not stop people playing them, but some people, myself included, chose to play them deliberately. I found it helped to define the personality of the character.

    Nowadays most MMOs seem insistent on ironing out all racial differences, so that the race you choose is purely an aesthetic choice. The devs spend years struggling even to “balance” the different classes sothat none is deemed “better” than the rest. Of course, that rarely succeeds, as players will perceive advantages even where none exist, and will move en masse to whatever class is currently felt to have even the smallest edge.

    One thing an MMO like CO with such huge potential diversity might try is Templates. Let those who want to jump straight in select from a range of off-the-peg superheroes designed for specific roles. I don’t see why MMOs generally can’t offer a choice at character between a fast, generic build and a detailed, personalised one.

    But then, one thing MMOs are very, very bad at is offering meaningful variety of access.

  2. September 27, 2009 at 13:41

    Isn’t it entertaining that with all of the wishing for MMOs to try an innovate that of the three recently release games Aion is the one that is generating the most buzz?

    Personally, I’m having a ball in Champions. I did have to use freespecs on two characters, in one case it was to realign a hero with a change in conception and for the other it was to correct not picking a defensive power early enough.

    I would add to your criteria that it is also important to be able to get enough information up front on choosing a power, talent, etc. I think that Champions needs to have a little more information in-game on what powers but especially talents and other bonuses do.

  3. September 29, 2009 at 06:38


    While not specifically aiming for weak characters, I do pick “odd” combinations or choices in some cases. It certainly can help with more interesting character development.

    @Bhagpuss & @Blue Kay:

    Cryptic have had “total customisation” as one of their selling points, so I think they do not want to or have not thought of making templates or too detailed guidance.

    I do think they have a fair amount of info in the game though, but much of that has been in different “Info” sections at NPCs, including in the tutorial – but without option to review those at a later point.

  4. Tesh
    September 30, 2009 at 22:08

    I wholeheartedly agree with this, as it’s something that I’ve been calling for for a long time. We must have choices, and we must have ways to change choices that we don’t like for *any* reason.

    To me, that’s essential to the notion of “play”, and the whole point of making choices in a “what if” scenario. Yes, we need to be able to screw up, but we also need to be able to learn from that and change it with a minimum of fuss and cost. This is especially important with long-play games. If the only way to change things is to roll an alt, that’s a deeply underwhelming option.

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