Part 3 in my look back at “what MMORPGS have lost over time” series.
One of the more interesting and complex things from EverQuest, waaaay back in the day when the game was new, was the faction system. EQ had hundreds of different factions for you to gain or lose favor with as you progressed your character forward. Although we have not completely lost the idea of gaining or losing “rep” (as it is so often called now), how it is used has changed and what it should do for the game, and the world, has been lost.
I have so many experiences with the faction system. My main character for a very long time was a Dark Elf Necromancer. We were haaaated by the Freeport militia. Getting anywhere near the city guards, whether in the city or near their little postings in the Commonlands, etc., meant certain death for a low level. This didn’t stop me or any other Dark Elf though. We had to use the boat in Freeport for transportation to Faydwer (if we didn’t get a teleport). We had to sneak around inside the city and memorize guard patrols. I remember entering Freeport for the first time and following someone who said he knew the route to take. We ended up getting lost and having to dodge guard patrols, feeling nearly petrified as one would start coming our way as we tried to round a corner.
Faction was also complex enough that a Human, in his own starting city of Freeport, would be hated by parts of his city. Wandering too close to a certain building as a Human Shadowknight could have you dead in seconds if you were a newb – that pesky Gnome hated Shadow Knights and would charge out the door towards you! Certain guilds did not want you anywhere near them if you didn’t have proper faction. Figuring out which ones liked you and which ones didn’t was part of the fun.
Gaining faction, and losing it, was a great way to develop your character. Even for those who didn’t roleplay, raising faction high enough to enter Freeport as a Dark Elf could be seen as an accomplishment. Sure, it involved grinding (controversial!) and I’m sure the usuals will make a comment on how horrible it was, but that’s how faction worked. It’s not so much about how it worked, but the outcome of the system. Troll Shadow Knights, if I remember correctly, were hated everywhere. You could return to your little swamp to train and that’s about it. Going anywhere else meant always keeping your eyes open for possible aggro. It made that combination feel unique.
The faction system operating like this made the world feel real, dynamic, and on a different level from what we see today. Having to sneak into areas just to get exp was a pain for some, but an adventure for others. Spending time raising your faction to be liked by your enemies was a way to feel connected to what you were doing. Often times I would want to visit a location but realize I couldn’t because they hated me. If I still wanted to go there after learning this then I figured out what I had to do to get them to like me. Did I have to donate something to them or kill their enemy enough to prove that I’m committed to their cause? Sometimes becoming friendly with one faction meant angering another and I would have to weigh out whether or not it was worth forsaking my heritage to move forward in a new direction.
It also made for a great sense of atmosphere in the game. Going to Greater Faydark usually meant seeing lots of Wood Elves, some High Elves, and the occasional “good-like” race. You would almost never expect to see something like an Iksar there, but when you did you were absolutely shocked! You immediately knew what that player must have gone through, what he/she accomplished, and how interesting it was for them to be there. Playing on an Iksar Monk, I once saw a Dwarf running in the Iksar city. I didn’t like that he was there. For some reason it felt wrong. I was quite the roleplayer on my Iksar (I think I was on a RP server then…) and I remember the players giving this Dwarf a hard time just like some of the NPC’s he wasn’t friendly enough with yet. We would tell him to leave, to get out, and that he didn’t belong. Eventually though the players like this Dwarf proved themselves and oddly enough we started to think of him as a pet. He had busted his little rump to get here and it meant something. Seeing him a day or two later still working away, mind made up to be liked by Iksar, actually increased my enjoyment. That player, doing his own thing, added to the complexity of the game world for me.
We’ve lost most of what made the faction system great. Now it’s used to get items. Do you have the 250,000 rep for that chestplate? No? Okay, go grind it out until they will sell it to you. Want a dragon mount? Get Exalted with the people who sell them. The faction system has been detached, devalued, simplified. It operates much in the same way to an untrained eye, but the spirit of the act is gone. The connection between faction, character, and world has been severed and now it simply ties the player to an action. In a way, today’s MMORPGs lack the consequences, for good or bad, of the faction systems of old.
Faction brought great depth to EQ. It was another rung on the ladder of character development and another opportunity to emphasize the importance of the game world (as I wrote about yesterday) and the choices players have to make their own way or take a new and different path. I would like to see the emphasis on faction brought back in future MMORPGs. How faction is gained will, perhaps, need to be rethought for the proponents of accessibility. Rewards and incentives will likely need to be added for the loot whores. As long as the system impacts the player, has consequences based on the factions he works towards or against, and then connects him to the world then the rest should be able to work itself out.
I’m sure many of you have great stories about faction in EQ or other games. Share them with us! Those who never had the opportunity to experience something as dynamic as this in their MMORPGs can live vicariously and those who did can enjoy recalling similar experiences.