Monday, December 08, 2008

Feeling like a Hero

Those who have known me for any reasonable amount of time would nod in agreement when I admit to having a hero complex. I often imagine situations where I put myself in harms way in order to protect the people around me. While I do have an ego, and will readily surrender to being fawned over, I don't believe this mentality is primarily for social reasons. Deep down, I believe that having heroes in the world is important, and that people must step up when the need arises.

Last night, I was playing on a private server of Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst. Having just started, I was still getting the hang of the proto-Fable combat style when my two-person team stumbled upon a Dragon's lair. My barely-equipped sword-swinging male avatar, and a slightly lower level, quite cute and short, female mage. Against a big huge dragon.

Now, this fight didn't pan out exactly like other MMORPGs. Normally you just run up and start attacking the dragon itself in those. In PSO, however, it was much more like a multiplayer Legend of Zelda boss. You had to attack its feet, until it fell over, when you could attack its head. When it flew into the air, you had to try and avoid its firebreathing. When it dove underground, you had to avoid its lava-burrowing "hax." Then restart the cycle.

After a few false-starts (as I learned how to fight the thing) the two of us found ourselves locked in a lasting fight with the beast. However, the mage's lack of health made it easy prey for one-shot KOs, and my character spent most of the battle fighting alone.

Well, not alone, as the situation translated as such: The dashing swordsman risks life and limb to fell an epic beast, racing against time as his companion watches, bleeding out on the sidelines.

The fight became not only a game-event, but it became a performance as well. This single addition made the experience more rewarding than any quest I had ever done in WoW, or EVE, and probably other traditional MMOGs.

I feel as though the key difference is that I, personally, had a higher stake in the fight. It wasn't just 'shin-kicking combat,' but an actual engagement. You tend to already have an audience in games like Guild Wars, but I never felt impressed by someone taking out a monster. I knew the mechanics behind the fight relied primarily on arbitrary numbers, instead of actual player skill.

My fight with the Dragon of Forest II had more than just stats involved. Knowing when to go all out with attacks, and from what angle to attack from, all played a part. It was much more fast-paced than the boss battles I've seen in WoW. I feel as though if I was in the mage's place, laying on the ground with a perpendicular view to the world - watching my partner in single combat in this game - I would have been just as impressed as she was.

The point being, I really don't like what combat has become in most online games. Yes, simplicity is very important, but there's the danger of detachment as well. I wonder if most MMOG players have simply come to accept detachment from their characters.

Or, am I just tainted by consideration of mechanics, when playing these kinds of games? If you play WoW, or EVE, or another shin-kicking combat MMOG, do you wish the combat had something more to it?

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