One of the nifty![TM] features I’ve experienced in a couple of recent MMOs is the inclusion of crafting in other aspects of the game, outside of merely producing five million worthless trinkets to be sold to a vendor, before being able to finally produce the epic quality Toe Ring of Time, which gives your character a best-in-slot 0.01% boost in DPS over anything you can acquire in the levelling game, which nobody will ever be aware of, and which will be replaced by the first piece of end-game dungeon loot that drops.
The first of these is within Star Wars: The Old Republic. Crafting skills in SWTOR can be used to bypass areas of the game’s instanced dungeons – flashpoints. I love the idea of this, the fact that being a crafter of a certain type actually means something. What I particularly liked was that access to a shortcut or bonus area was themed towards the type of crafter who could negotiate that access. A set of tunnels which take the players around several corridors of heavily armed guards might be filled with a poisonous gas, and thus a Biochem specialist would be required to repair the filtration system which would neutralise the obstacle; someone versed in Cybertech might be able to reactivate a facility’s sentry droids, turning them against the mobstacles that litter the paths through the instance. It’s not essential to have a crafter of a certain type along, all the crafting activated events are usually bonuses and shortcuts which make the job easier, and not requisites for successfully completing the instance. I think BioWare struck a nice balance between players getting a bonus for having a certain crafting class, without it being compulsory to ‘bring along a crafter’. M’colleague informs me that, alas, this design featured less heavily in the later flashpoints he experienced.
It was whilst playing TERA that I was reminded of SWTOR’s subtle mechanic for craftily encouraging crafting. In TERA, each crafting node will grant a modest buff when harvested. It seems that these buffs are random, or perhaps tied to the type of node harvested, but by gathering from a number of nodes you can quickly find yourself with a considerable stack of buffs, which although modest in their own right, can result in quite a boost to your combat prowess when their effects are combined. I like this system better than that provided in World of Warcraft, where the gathering profession itself gives you a permanent boost to a stat, or a utility ability, because WoW’s system just becomes another item on the Great Min-Max List (‘Has optimal gathering profession to boost combat prowess?’), whereas TERA’s system temporarily rewards you for the act of gathering itself; for crafters or auction house wranglers this is a non-issue, but for everyone else there’s now a reason to get involved in gathering, and hey, if you have all those crafting materials in your inventory, why not try putting something together? Incidental crafting –which may in turn lead a player to discover a deeper love of crafting than they would have otherwise imagined– is a nice side benefit of such a system.
I really like this blending of boundaries, where consideration is given to the fact that gathering from crafting nodes doesn’t have to exclusively produce materials for crafting, and where crafting doesn’t have to correspond purely to churning out equipment. It draws those mechanics into the main combat-driven system, smudges the edges, blurs the demarcations, but does so by giving modest bonuses to those players who gave it a try, not by punishing those who didn’t.
I’d certainly like to see more features like these in future MMOs, because I feel that it’s very much this sort of parallel design that helps to make a game feel like a world, rather than a series of independent mechanical systems.