I was talking today with my friend, Rich, and an interesting topic came up: The End-game to MMORPGs. Between the two of us, we’ve played a lot of MMORPGs (indeed almost all the major titles) and they seem to largely come in two types: Those with a definitive end game, and those with no real end goal.
For those games that have an end game, there’s a definite rush to get to the max level and then start getting together gear to play the hardest content. World of Warcraft is *the* incarnation of this concept. In WOW, you play through a semi-linear world, chaining from leveling area to leveling area. From about lvl 15 on, there is always an instance you can get some xp and gear from. Then when you reach 70, you can start on the end-game lvl 70+ instances. These also chain in a series of difficulty, and guilds spend months or years learning and mastering them. Then once they finally beat the final instance’s last boss, they feel the need to master their technique and farm him for the coolest stuff. This cycle repeats with each expansion pack or added end-game instance. Blizzard is getting very good at making end-game bosses difficult, but beatable (See also: Ironic Bonds)
Other games have no real end game, or an end game that is up to the player to create. To beat a dead horse some more, the original Star Wars Galaxies was this type of game. Players could decide what they wanted to do, and how to do it. Even with character being able to unlock and make Jedi characters, there was no real end game. Many players simply decided not to care about the Jedi system, and for a while Jedi were very rare (as they should be). Players could decide if end game was to become the best crafter on the server, or to become a feared bounty hunter. They could just want to collect a lot of cool stuff or get all the in-game badges. It was up to them.
To add another perspective, there are also games like Project Entropia. This game has no real skill cap, and no level system. There is no innate point to this game, only what the player wants. The player has ultimate control on what he wants to skill in and what he wants to do. A player can spend his entire existence gathering dung and fruit or he can become a millionaire businessman, or a master hunter. It all is what the player wants.
The differences aren’t that great in enjoyability. All three types are enjoyable, but cater to different audiences. Younger audiences need the structure of an end-game based MMO. Older and more inquisitive players would enjoy the more free-form games. Structured MMOs are easier to learn and play (though game difficulty varies) and free-form games have a harder learning curve. It is largely up to preference, although I think a more free-form game requires less patch-based content addition and will keep players for a longer time.
Coming up soon: a look at crafting. Love it or hate it, it’s present in almost every MMO that’s been released lately.