…with apologies to Scott Adams, of course.
We’ve bandied about a handful of ideas for an “ideal MMO” in previous articles. I’m not convinced that there is “one MMO to rule them all” any more than I’m convinced that WoW is the epitome of game design. There are commercial successes, and niches that can be served well, but since humans are naturally such diverse critters, I don’t think that there will be a universally appealing MMO.
So, digging a little into a niche that I’ve not looked too much at, I wanted to look at why there is no Valhalla MMO. It’s not the same thing as Nirvana, but really, looking at the Wikipedia definition for that one suggests that it’s not the best MMO material. Apparently, Nirvana “is the state of being free from both suffering and the cycle of rebirth.” That sounds like permadeath in MMO terms, or maybe just “god mode”. Neither is all that friendly to game balance, despite sounding pretty paradisiacal to some folk. On the other hand, Valhalla sounds more like what the squabbling hordes could really dig into:
“Valhalla is an afterlife destination where half of those who die in battle gather as einherjar, a retinue gathered for one sole purpose: to remain fit for battle in preparation for the last great battle; Ragnarök.”
That’s more like it; an immortal afterlife where it’s all about gearing up for the endgame. The WoW raiding scheme is child’s play compared to Norse warrior afterlife.
Our MMO avatars are pretty “immortal” after all. Whatever the death penalty, anything short of permadeath in a game could be framed nicely as immortality, and what is death but a temporary setback in the relentless grind for perfection? (Perfect epic/legendary loadout, of course.)
I’m not sure if Valhalla has quests or “phat lewts”, but looking at the setting as a place for glorious warriors and heroes to live out their postmortal existence, anticipating the battle to end all battles, honing their war skills and catering to the whims of the gods…
Yeah, that’s got MMO written all over it.
Titan Quest: Immortal Throne beat me to the punch a little bit. In that game, the Elysian Fields are being invaded by the minions of Hades. I thought that was kind of silly, on the one hand, since invading a realm stuffed full of legendary heroes seems like a bad tactical move. It did make for some pretty visuals, though, and the opportunity to rub elbows with Greek legends was pretty cool from a storytelling point of view.
So imagine the potential for an MMO based on doing legendary tasks for the Norse gods, maybe even playing the role of the Valkyries, dabbling a bit in the mortal world. (After all, what are Valkyries beside errand girls for the gods? No, Valkyrie Profile games aren’t canon, no matter how cool I may think they are, which is very cool.)
You could go with the Greek theme, and the Elysium; an Egyptian theme with the Kingdom of the Dead; do a riff on the Mexican Day of the Dead (and a Grim Fandango variant?); a Chinese afterlife story where their zodiac defines the player classes (and the notion of reincarnation holds further mechanical interest); or even go all out nerdy and try a Sto-Vo-Kor game with the Klingons. (Their afterlife’s version of paradise means constant battle. Perfect.) There is just so much rich cultural lore around the afterlife that it’s a natural fit for the “immortal” combat-thirsty avatars we play as in MMOs. Of course, like with Valkyrie Profile, we’d be running whatever cultural notions we use through a filter, but still, it could work.
…am I missing something (probably)? Is there already a game that does this? Is this just a stupid idea? I’m just a bit surprised that such a potentially rich vein of lore hasn’t been tapped for the MMO genre, when it seems a custom fit. Are writers just afraid of annoying people by misunderstanding their concepts of an afterlife and theology? (Not that it stopped the VP games, Grim Fandango or Diablo.) Are they just too enamored with their own ideas that they don’t look to the potentials of real world lore and myth?
Storytelling has a long and storied history among our petty squabbling tribes on earth, and few stories are as rich as those surrounding death and our fascination with the same. Why are we content with generic “kill ten rats” quests in stock high fantasy tropes when we could be trying something with even deeper roots?
I’m baffled that this hasn’t been tapped more… but maybe that’s just because I’m baffled in general.