I thought about this while commenting the EQ2’s video here below.
Have you noticed how in ALL mmorpgs ALL the monsters ALWAYS move just in straight lines? They aggro and run to you, or they flee, more or less randomly. In between there’s not much.
One of the things that caught my attention while I was playing God of War is how all the monsters had rather complex movement patterns that I would find hard even to describe technically. Complex rotations, retreats, fast dodges. They all look rather “fuzzy”. Not so easy to recognize and predict, in particular when you fight more than one at the same time.
That’s another element that has significant role in that game and one that completely misses in mmorpgs: the movement.
And another that I would really like being developed more, both aesthetically and for gameplay (different movement patterns during combat).
Think how much it would be cool to assault a goblin camp and have all those goblins start to fight in groups, parse the environment to take cover behind trees/tents as they fire arrows at you and while another small squad of three or four are running toward you to engage in melee.
And then you can work to “branch up” from a typical goblin mob to create a number of different variations, depending on the weapons and armor they use, their rank and so on. Instead of one mob type cloned everywhere, you would obtain a more organic environment that could offer much more interesting and deep gameplay.
This is again what the genre has still to offer. You just need to not stop at a very superficial level and “dig the myth”.
Then again, there are technical hurdles to overcome. This goes along with the lack of “physicalness”. The sense of contact, weight, solidity. In mmorpgs everything that moves is immaterial. You cannot reach out and “touch”. You just move through. Phantom-like. This isn’t just a limit for the emotes (cannot really “hug”, for example), but also for the combat, where you never really feel an impact. Stuns and roots are as far you can get. The monster cannot, for example, grab your arm and toss you away, or jump on you and keep you blocked under his weight. And if you are disarmed you are only losing the use of your weapon for a certain amount of time, you don’t see your weapon bouncing away and you don’t have to jump after it to use it again.
I think next-gen games will have to start to delve more on those patterns, see what’s doable and push some more the technology.
That’s innovation too. Without the need to look at other genres or fancy business models to experiment.