MMORPG with no grind
How would an MMORPG look with no grind? Let's go a bit crazy here. Insist on instant creation of characters of any class, any level, with any equipment!
Let's describe game basics to draw some background for further discussion. Consider a conventional MMORPG. WoW-like controls with little change, if any.
3D environment. One character to control at any given time. 3rd person view. Can move camera further from character to get from-the-top view. Movement via WASD and/or by mouse-clicking on the ground.
Gameplay is centered around fighting enemies. Combat abilities are activated by first selecting an enemy using mouse click, then pressing corresponding hotkey on the keyboard.
Some playstyles require extensive movement in combat. Almost all players benefit from mastering movement in combat.
Why would anyone play it? What's the fun? This is the most important question for any game.
One-sentence answer would be the following. It is fun to tweak selection of character abilities to become more effective in combat.
Therefore, such game must encourage players to spend much effort tweaking their effectiveness. The game does so by rewarding for difficult achievements. The best reward is appreciation from fellow players for completing tasks that are known to be challenging. The most dificult achievements are the ones player issues himself. The game only have to track them.
There's a suggestion how to implement that in real game.
The game proposes a set of fixed quests of constant difficulty. The player himself chooses the power level of character to use for each quest. The lower character's power level, the more difficult (and more rewarding) the achievement is going to be.
Upon quest completion player receives an achievement record in their public profile. List of such achievements player ever made is visible to all other players in game. For each achievement game also remembers (and publicly shows) the lowest character level used to gain the achievement. Community statistics for each achievement are also available. Player profile shows something like: "Killed Huge Evil Monster being character level 15. Only less than 5% of playerbase ever managed that. Good job!"
Other self-applied penalties are also possible to track, like: never being resurrected during mission, killing less than 5% of enemies (stealth completion), etc. The more such handicaps are taken, the more honourable the achievement is.
Described above is the core of gameplay fun. Other fun things are also possible as a side activities, such as: good story, customizing character's visual appearance, enjoying cooperative play, competitive PvP, etc. - as in any other good game there is.
Player levels are still needed
Surprisingly, despite the requirement of instant creation of characters of any level, a good game would still limit a new player in many ways.
The reason for that is simple. If the game throws at player all the abilities and everything supposed to be hi-level in conventional MMORPG, the player's brain is likely to explode instantly. Player would close the game and never run it again. And would be right.
The game needs some kind of tutorial system to gradually introduce player to all its features. Perfect tutorial would teach at exactly the same speed at which player can comfortably learn. With that in mind, the perfect solution for the problem turns out to be a leveling system designed as a tutorial instead of as artificial slow-down. That's how it could be implemented.
- Players have experience.
- Player level depends on their total experience.
(Player level and character level are different concepts. See below.)
- Experience is gained by making achievements.
- The more difficult the achievement, the more experience it gives.
- Achievent made on lower character level (and/or with other penalties) is considered more difficult and give more experience.
- Player level depends on their total experience.
- Players have a set of abilities available to them.
- Abilities become available to players when they reach certain player level.
- All abilities (and therefore all possible builds) in game are available to player up to his player level.
- From player abilities players select a subset to become character abilities.
- Player may change set of character abilities at any time when not in quest (dungeon) instance.
- Each character ability has an experience cost.
- When selecting character abilities players are limited by their total player experience.
- When player revokes character ability, they get all the experience back, no penalty.
- Character level is calculated from the total cost of character abilities the same way as player level
is calculated from total player experience.
- Therefore, player with player level X can create and play as any possible characters up to character level X.
- Players are encouraged to use characters with as low level as sufficient for the task, as it gives more experience and unlocks more difficult and rare achievements.
- Game starts as a single-player game with no class selection and level 1 character with simple gameplay and a couple of very basic abilities.
- While playing, player permanently unlocks more abilities and classes to use.
- There is a selection of goals at every moment during player's progress. Game uses these goals to guide the player:
- Gain levels and learn to use skills as they become available.
- Change character's specialization (i.e. class) and skills as needed for each goal.
- Find groups and play with other players.
- Notice achievements and titles.
- Titles show in different colors above the player's head depending on how many other players completed the achievement on player's level of completion.
- Customize character's visual appearance.
- Finally, goals are used to tell the story.
Not flawless, but still looks rather playable to me :)