PSA: Water levels in MMOs at an All-time Low

We’re facing an epidemic here, people. Over the past several years vast quantities of water have been rapidly disappearing from our online virtual worlds. We’re already at the point where you cannot find a body of water that is more than knee-deep. If we don’t do anything to solve this crisis– Yeah, this bit is going on too long… But really, where has all the water gone? Some of my fondest memories in MMORPGs have been related to water and now it seems like most games don’t bother with it at all.

SWTOR Knee Deep in Water
Water in SWTOR never goes above the knees.

First off I should probably mention that large bodies of water are terrifying. If you don’t agree then you are a crazy person. You don’t know what kind of crazy, messed up stuff is going on down there. Giant sharks, huge kraken things, slumbering old gods, male water horses that give birth? It’s a freakshow, man. And no, I do not have an irrational fear of water that stems back to a horrific family vacation on a house-boat. This shit is legit. On a more serious note… Water can be really frightening but also very exciting. Back in EQ I LOVED raising my swimming skill and exploring underwater locations. When I got the water-breathing spell I was happier than the fat kid in school on pizza day. Of course I was that kid, but that’s neither here nor there.

WoW did do some pretty good stuff with water, and GW2 tried (though I think they missed the mark), but aside from that I can’t really think of another game that has really done much at all to create a real underwater experience, and that’s a real shame. Underwater zones offer the opportunity for some more interesting encounters and tense situations that you don’t normally find on dry-land. It really doesn’t have to be underwater, either. Navigating the ocean on your own ship and suddenly being ambushed by water monsters that leap onto your deck would be AWESOME. Even better would be some kind of giant sea creature, leviathan or kraken dude wrapped around your vessel. I mean, dang… That sounds like it would be so much fun but nobody wants to do it. I won’t go into detail about how many games have promised me boats and straight-up LIED to me. It’s a sore subject around here.

It really bums me out that water is pretty much only knee-high these days. Maybe I’m alone in this but I want the danger and excitement of sailing the open seas, exploring under-sea ruins, and stabbing some fish dudes in the face.

  • If there isn’t a risk of drowning yourself when you have to go afk for an emergency, then it’s an MMO that just isn’t worth the money.

  • Water in an MMO is fine…….. so long as the game engine and mechanics are designed to incorporate it correctly. You’re right, there is something very satisfying about a well designed, well implemented water zone or level. But there is nothing more frustrating than a poorly designed one. Frankly I found Vashj’ir in WoW to be one of the most frustrating experiences of my MMO “career.” WoW wasn’t designed with underwater combat or other activities in mind, and in my opinion it really shows. So yeah, bring on the water, so long as you intend to do it RIGHT.

  • I thought GW2 water areas and combat were done really well. The deep water areas in Frostgorge Sound were some of the most amazing areas in any MMO I have played. It wasn’t perfect but it was better than I ever expected when they first announced it was going to have water combat.

  • I thought EQ2 did a pretty good job. I loved fighting those elite sharks. Dreadwake.. I think that was his name.

  • Pretty much every seasoned MMO dev I know cringes visibly when the subject of underwater combat comes up. Doing it even in mediocre fashion is time-intensive on both the design and engineering side. To justify the expense in doing it really well, you pretty much have to make it a core feature rather than just something for side content. I don’t think I’ve seen any MMO pull it off flawlessly, though some are definitely better than others.

    Some of my fondest EQ memories are of hunting and raiding in Kedge Keep, although I’m pretty sure my mind has spackled over many of the terrible bits. I know I freaking *hated* pulling in Plane of Water.

    I think it’d be a fun challenge to set an MMO entirely underwater. This would also justify the expense of getting the hard stuff like pathfinding and animations done to an extremely high level of quality. Maybe someday!

  • Kedge Keep is awesome. I was there about 2 months ago, and it brought back a wave of memories from years and years ago (mostly this awkward claustrophobic suffocating feeling). Such an amazing and horrific zone.

  • I remember doing Kedge Keep when our only source of Enduring Breath was the waterstones summoned and handed out by mages. Those were expendable and the buff lasted maybe 30 minutes? Definitely gave you the feeling of surviving where you really weren’t meant to.

  • When wow added Vashir, it was pretty fun for the first time but then, almost all my alts never chosen Vashir to level through but instead the Mount Hyjal and so did 90% of my friends/guildies. In GW2 the underwater areas are awesome…you can find underwater caves and channels that really are creepy sometimes and give you that feeling that you may get trapped here and die(but sadly, this is not the point in GW2 🙁 you can breathe underwater somehow..)

    I ended up to a conclusion that I like to see lot of water in my games…I want to go to the edge of a zone and see an ocean..I want to swim to that ocean and maybe go underwater to explore but I don’t want core gameplay underwater…I know its weird, I hate games without lot of water but I also don’t want to fight/questing underwater as part of the gameplay

  • lol yeah i remember getting my swimming up in order to get though the qeynos sewers as a erudite… well im pretty sure that was it.

  • Water is a must-have. And you need to actually be able to jump in and swim (with proper animations). Some of my biggest MMO turn-offs have involved water, either because you couldn’t even enter the water (Fallen Earth) or, instead of swimming, you just walked while in the water (Aion beta, IIRC).

    Agreed about GW2 water. There are some great looking underwater areas, good swimming animations. . . but ultimately it all fails. Everyone being able to breath underwater automagically; that completely removes any sense of apprehension and danger when swimming. Also, forcing a completely separate weapon when underwater; retarded. (You figure out your favorite/best combat moves for combat while on land, and that all goes out the window if your head goes underwater? Whut?)

    Everquest got it right. (Particularly with the boats that could occasionally be found and paddled about; I would love to see that again in a MMO.)

    WoW got it right. One of my good memories there was swimming the “Channel” between Teldrassil and the mainland with my druid. (Seal Form FTW!) =)

  • I think this is just another part of a greater trend for MMOs in general, away from “virtual world” experience and towards social gaming experience, that the industry has been on for the past decade. What I find most interesting is that by doing this industry is not able to capture gamers attention for more then 3 month (3-monthers I believe was Keen’s term) on average and they are not seeing or accept that there is a correlation. If I feel like I am “playing the game”, there is nothing wrong with that, and it could be quite fun, but like any other game it’s only going to last that long. The original magic of MMOs was that you “lived in virtual world” and that last for years. My UO experiences back in those days could only be compared to alternate reality, and certainly not a game. That magic has been long lost and no one seems to have any interest in recreating it. Too bad.

  • Gotta give a shout out to Rift for their underwater experience as well, especially the muffled sounds.

  • I… have to disagree. I find underwater zones to be rarely well done, and always immersion breaking. You mean, I’m swimming in plate armor? And maybe shooting a bow… underwater? Really?

    Now, pirates or sea monsters attacking a boat is awesome. But treading water in chainmail and swinging a sword while “hovering” just seems absurd. Go hop in the pool and try swinging a baseball bat with speed and force while in the deep end and see how much velocity you can get. “Doing it right” means a knife between your teeth and no armor (or shoes!)

    I’m much happier being unable to go below ankle-deep than having adventures in something claiming to be “underwater” while ignoring temperature, pressure, the physical demands of swimming, or anything else.

    Yeah, I know, its fantasy. Just say “but its magic!” and all the problems go away. But I don’t feel the attraction at all. I’d rather see the same resources be put to making better overland zones.

  • As for Boats. I fondly hold on to my boats in VG. yes, it’s just a glorified Mount, but still fast.

    ArcheAge boat combat thing look promising but then how good is it?

    I still fondly remember my Robe of the Kedge gnome Enchanter…. Drowning in EQ was just bad. after Rez, you have to get water breathing right away or die again from drowning.

  • I know it wasn’t a popular expansion, but Trials of Atlantis for DAOC had some of the best underwater stuff I’ve seen in an mmo.