Transparency: 8 features every MMO expansion needs
Expanding on existing content seems to be the name of the game this year for MMOs. We’ve already had several expansions come out, and the year isn’t over yet. The biggest ones coming up are Knights of the Fallen Empire for Star Wars: The Old Republic and Heart of Thorns for Guild Wars 2, but those are hardly the only expansion this year.
With all of these upcoming expansions, I can’t help but think about what I look for in an MMORPG expansion. And I came up with these eight things.
1. New zone
It should be obvious to anyone that an expansion in an MMO should have a new zone for people to play in, right? However, there have been some MMOs in the past that believe that a new zone isn’t necessary for an update to be considered an expansion. And I think it’s OK to have a new combat model and call it DLC or something like that, but to call it an expansion sets an expectation that will not be met.
I think the biggest example of this is the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansions. I don’t mean the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, I mean the couple that came after that: The Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds expansion. These updates were labelled expansions, but they clearly didn’t include a new zone or any new PvE content. Both had major mechanical additions to the game, but it wasn’t a new area.
2. New PvP map
MMOs used to be the type of game that would fulfill multiple gaming desires in one game. Of course, many MMOs have stepped away from some aspects of the game and focused on just a couple of major aspects. Some MMOs have a real hard time catering to all the types of players who are interested in MMOs.
But there aren’t just PvEers, crafters, and raiders in MMOs. PvPers play a major role in shaping an MMO, and many MMOs don’t know how to cater to them at all. RIFT might have its balance issues because it has so many different kinds of classes, but I have to give it props because it’s adding content for PvPers in the next update, Planetouched Wilds. And that’s not even labelled as an expansion, though with all the content that Trion’s releasing with it, I’d call it one.
3. New small group content
In order for a game to be an MMO, it can’t just have single-player content. I’m not saying that MMOs shouldn't have or add content that's meant to be played solo, but if that ends up being the focus or the only content addition in a expansion, it’s not a full MMO expansion.
I hate to bring up Star Wars: The Old Republic again, but its next expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, is supposed to have a very large single-player story attached to it. And zero other content. No new group content at all. Although the single-player content is said to be a lot of fun, can you call it an MMO expansion if that’s all you have to deliver?
4. New large group content
Along the same lines as the small group content, every expansion should build on the large group content, too. Most theme park style MMO players would call these raids, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. It could be large group open-world dungeons or world bosses that require a large group of coordinated players to take down.
Although Final Fantasy XIV suffered from a spectacularly awful launch, it blew everyone’s minds when it relaunched as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Since then it's had one expansion, and people who cover the game on various news sites believe that Heavensward has just about everything that a player could want. I'm not a player of the game, but even I am impressed by the amount of good endgame content for large groups.
5. Crafting improvements
I really feel sorry for crafters in MMOs sometimes. Many MMOs treat crafting as a secondary form of gameplay. Then there are other games that focus so much on crafting that it kind of kills the rest of the game. Although I think that the base of any good economy in an MMO is the crafting system, there are some games where crafting is too deep, like Life Is Feudal.
Elder Scrolls Online actually does a wonderful job of capturing the balance. I know that some would disagree with that general statement, but as far as crafting and expanding on crafting is concerned, ZeniMax has captured that sweet spot where crafters have a nice additional suite of schematics to choose from.
6. New armor and weapons
I think that it goes without saying that an expansion needs to have additional armor and weapons. But I think that rewards in all areas need to expand. The biggest problem with weapons and armor expansion is power creep. You can’t just add bigger numbers to something and make everything better. There has to be another compelling reason to want the armor. Most of the time, interesting aesthetics alone are enough reason. Or in the case of DC Universe Online, nostalgia is a compelling reason for players to want certain types of armor.
7. Additional story
If there is not a drive forward with the storyline, then what purpose does expansion really have? It seems odd, but even a game like Guns of Icarus, which is barely an MMO, contains a story in its upcoming PvE expansion. As it should - it will help the playerbase wrap its collective head around why there needs to be an expansion in the game in the first place.
8. A change in meta
Lastly, there should be a change in the meta of the game. There needs to be new abilities or maybe stat changes that will alter the way, even if it’s slight, players play each class. Some games in the past have added brand new classes - the addition of the gunner class in Tera helped it climb straight to the top of the Steam charts. Even RIFT is adding a new class to its expansion content.
Those are my top eight. There clearly could be more things that every expansion needs, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.