There’s been a considerable amount of controversy in the MMO blogging community about City of Heroes’ mission architect system. Some bloggers (two distinct links there) feel that mission architect has given players the tools to create grind-intensive farming missions that destroy the spirit of the game. Until recently, I hadn’t experienced one of these farming missions. I played around with mission architect when it first launched and loved it. I’m a writer, so naturally I made a story-based mission right away, complete with custom enemies, a rescue arc, and an underlying love story (between two ladies in a motorcycle gang, I’ll add). When I read that other players were “abusing” the system to create missions for the sole purpose of gaining experience and tickets, I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to judge, though, until I had actually played through one of these missions. Now that I have, I feel comfortable giving my opinion about this new development: I still have mixed feelings.
On one hand, I think about the existential questions of MMO gaming. Is an immersive story less important than achievements? Do players even bother with reading quest text or other story devices? Are farm missions ruining the game experience for those who prefer a story-driven game to an achievement-based game? Part of me worries that they are, that interesting, story-based missions are going to go unplayed while Massive Rikti Farm #4257 will have teams going through it by the thousands. I also worry that massive farming missions cause players to level too quickly. My defender went from 31 to 37 in about two hours, highly unusual considering I typically gain one to two levels per play session. I also earned 10,000 tickets in that time, ten times the amount of tickets I had earned in two weeks of playing with the mission architect system.
On the other hand, I can’t help but see the farming missions as a helpful device for casual players. Never been to max level in a game before? Want to see what your tanker is like at level 50? Just look around for an “AE farm,” sit back, and watch your level rise. There are plenty of players who would rather power through content than read story. Usually I’m one of those players who avoids reading long quest text, and I’m an avid reader and writer; I’d assume gamers who don’t enjoy reading or writing would be even less inclined to read quest text. If players want to create a grind-intensive experience and power through levels, why should I or other bloggers or Paragon Studios try to stop them?
As for my personal experience with the farming missions, I am of two minds (again…you’d think, as a blogger, I could formulate a single opinion). I enjoyed power leveling a blaster yesterday, as I had always wanted to experiment with one but hadn’t really had the chance before. I also hope to power level a controller, another class that I have trouble getting into during earlier levels but might enjoy later on. It’s nice to have the opportunity to sample classes that seem appealing but have always been out of reach for one reason or another. It’s also great to have a steady stream of architect tickets, as they can be used to purchase high level enhancements, meaning I can use my influence for silly things like different costumes or adding wings to every alt I make.
There is this teeny, tiny problem I have with the farming missions, though. As I said above, I wonder if I am going through the content too quickly. Imagine making a level one human in World of Warcraft, then three hours later you’re level 30 and you still haven’t left the starting zone. That’s sort of what farming missions are like for newer characters. My blaster is level 17 and she has only left Atlas Park to visit my supergroup base. Ordinarily she would have seen at least three zones by now. I wonder if I’m missing out on some part of the game experience by powering through the levels so quickly. After all, I don’t know what exists in City of Heroes at the “endgame.” As far as I know, there really isn’t one. If I power level my healer to 50, will I be disappointed when I get there? Will I feel like it was all for nothing?
That’s the interesting question, though. If the endgame of City of Heroes is as limited as I’ve heard, is it better for a player to have spent lots of time working to get there, or to have gone from 1 to 50 in a few days with little effort expended? A long leveling experience could mean the player feels she had an enjoyable time playing the game even if her endgame experience is lackluster, or it could mean that the player feels her time spent in the game was wasted, that she spent months getting a character to the level cap and ultimately received nothing for the effort. If it only took the player a couple of days to reach level cap, would it be more or less disappointing if the endgame experience has nothing to offer? More disappointing because the player rushed to see an endgame and found nothing, or less disappointing because the player didn’t have to spend a lot of extra time trying to reach a non-existent endgame?
Existential questions aside, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a problem with farming missions. It’s nice to have the option to participate in these missions if I want to, but ultimately their existence won’t affect me negatively should I decide not to participate. I think it’s highly possible that The Powers That Be will do something to halt the increase of farming missions — it’s probably not in Paragon Studios’ best interest to let players power through content in two days when it should have taken closer to two months. In the meantime I’m totally in favor of letting players do what they want with mission architect. Whether that means creating grind-intensive farming missions or writing a mission that involves fighting off big-breasted, airheaded “Playtime Bunny” girls (thanks, “Easter Basket” mission), I’m fine with it. The purpose of mission architect is to allow players to create the kind of experience they want to play. If farming missions are what the players want, then let the players have them.