I’ve only participated in the crafting system of four MMO games to any extent. Those games are, in order:
World of Warcraft
Star Wars: The Old Republic.
To say that Rift was informed by World of Warcraft is akin to saying that Social Networking is informed by the internet. While it might technically be true, it does a poor job of conveying that fact one simply would not exist without the other. However, the intent of this post is to discuss something that no one has done a great job with, crafting once you reach the top level. Crafting as part of your leveling experience is something else entirely, so I won’t begin to touch on that. To get it out of the way, I will definitely say that World of Warcraft has done the best job at this goal, even over Rift, which is basically a mirror, but it forgot a lot of little stuff. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look at the various things WoW has going for it as a top level craftsman.
1) Item Enhancements – These range from leg enchantments (leatherworking or tailoring), scrolls of enchantment (enchanters on the whole), gems (jewelcrafting) to an extra socket for a gem (blacksmithing).
2) Consumables – Flasks, potions, and food (oils and stones in the days of yore)
3) Fun items
That’s it. It’s a sad commentary when that’s the best that high level crafting provides in a game. Now, you’ll probably notice that I left out things like raid item patterns. I did that intentionally, because by the time you can actually craft the patterns, you probably don’t need them. They serve as stop gap measures for gear progression. Most of the time, these items went to serve alternate characters, or people that were looking to get into raiding and were willing to burn money over time. Completely reasonable, but these type of patterns rarely serve the group who have reached the top level of the game and are looking for things to do. Even worse, in a staggered content release cycle, which seems to have been adopted by all recent MMOs, the patterns you get in one cycle are useless in the next, and are worth a fraction of their price. This “starter set” method is fine, if that’s your model for end game, but it doesn’t make crafting any more or less compelling. It does keep it more relevant in the game’s life, but not in the actual end game.
SWTOR’s crafting system, while overall a better system, though not any more engaging, let’s be honest, misses even the above three points. It has one skill that creates consumables that people will want for end game content…and that’s it. Sadly, this ruins the coolest thing about SWTOR until that point, which is building your own equipment with the orange quality gear. You fill the different slots with various mods, armoring panels, and chip enhancements to produce any type of armor or weapon stat set that you want. Now, this is limited by the pairings, so it’s still not perfect, but it’s pretty cool to pick up gear you like the look of and run with that as your gear as long as you want…until you hit 50, that is. The mods at the moment cap at level 50 quality, and the first gear you pick up has level 51 parts. Not only that, but they are not orange items, so you can’t cannibalize all of the parts. No, they are purple quality items, meaning that they have the armoring portion already built into the item. This means that it simply outclasses any other orange items you could put together. You could come close, but it just wouldn’t be as good. The thing about MMO gearing and progression is that the 2% difference in stats does make a difference. In order to get further, easier, you will want those tiny upgrades. It’s a game of inches, or centifurlongs, if you prefer. The armor and weapons and parts you can make are great for fresh 50s who are looking to start the gear grind, but it’s not anything more than that. This means that the vast majority of crafting sits used, save for helping out people as they achieve the max level. It doesn’t have any sort of enchanting skill, I am certain they meant the modular crafting to take care of their needs, but their top end gear contradicts that, so who knows? One skill that produces consumables isn’t enough to be compelling to anyone, though it is enough to make everyone pick up the skill because the others are terrible right now. There aren’t any fun or just for show skills, like tinkering in EQ1 or engineering in WoW had. Both of those skills had actual applications too, but making a jet pack or rocket boots were fun flavor. A lot of people like that sort of weird, catch all category of crafting.
The question is then, is this an acceptable model? A few things to do all the time, forever, and a few things to help out up and comers. My feeling is that it’s enough to ensure just about everyone will pick up the skill, but not enough to make it an interesting decision or skill. There simply needs to be more to do with high level crafting to really integrate it into the game and make it a more complete portion of the game. Allowing the skills to be used in instances to take short cuts or gain access to small, additional content is a good step, but that’s not enough. Every craft skill should have things to do once they hit max level, and it should really be more than just a single trick or catch-up crafting.
So what are my suggestions? I’ll go into detail about those on Tuesday.