The doom of factions

So it’s been a busy week for gaming news, with updates pouring out of Gamescom and several games lined up to go head to head on August 28th. One piece of news that attracted surprisingly little commentary in the blogosphere was the announcement that RIFT would be minimising the divide between player factions.

(If this post is slightly less coherent than usual, you can blame the lovely head cold I’ve got; I’ve been sleeping about 18 hours a day, and coughing for most of the rest. Hooray!)

The news broke on RIFT’s forums, where CM James Nicholls posted that

With the death of four of the dragons much has changed in Telara. Old rivalries are questioned as new challenges arise, the greatest the Ascended have ever had to face. Destruction of the Blood Storm is now essential if this world is to ever find peace – Guardians & Defiants must unite if they are to ultimately travel to the planes and defeat them.

The powers that control Meridian and Sanctum still remain at odds and it will take time for those wounds to heal… but as Ascended the choice to work together is now yours to make outside the city walls.

Now, this is being spun as “RIFT is doing away with factions”, but that’s actually not the case. Instead, it’ll work much like, say, The Secret World: you’ll be able to group, trade, chat, use LFG and so on with players from the opposite faction. (Unlike TSW, cross-faction guilds will also be allowed.) However, the NPCs will still have factional allegiances, so I expect that a Defiant wandering into Sanctum is still going to have a miserable time of things. I haven’t yet seen any info on whether zones will be opened up to the opposite faction — will Guardians be able to do the quest chains in Freemarch?

Speaking personally, I absolutely applaud this move on Trion’s part; I just think it doesn’t go far enough.

Factions - Sith Empire, Dragons, Defiants, Horde

Let’s face it, the factional divide is a legacy of WoW’s dominance, and it’s the result of the franchise being based on a 2-faction RTS series. (If Blizzard had made World of Starcraft instead of World of Warcraft, would every MMO now feature three equally-balanced stalemated factions?) It made sense in WoW at the time, given the series’ backstory, but Blizzard’s continual adherence to a static (and arbitrary) political divide was frustrating in the face of global threats like the Old Gods, Arthas and Deathwing. And even the Big Bear Butt’s nine-year-old thinks the renewed emphasis on the Horde-vs-Alliance war is boring.

The problem with a factional divide is that unless the devs are going to put a lot of work in, it’s going to feel extremely stale and limiting after a while, because – contrary to actual politics – nothing ever changes; everyone’s loyalties are fixed forever. It’s even worse in RIFT where the divide is somehow philosophical and racial. You mean to tell me there are no religious Eth? No apostate High Elves? Surely not. There’s no co-operation in the face of existential threats — despite the dangers posed to the entire fabric of the world by the Lich King, Regulos or whoever, the opposing factions would rather spend their time taking potshots at each other and it’s down to the heroic player characters to save the day. (Whether or not you think that’s reflective of RL politics, depending on your level of cynicism, it doesn’t make for fun or heroic stories.) As Green Armadillo puts it over at Player vs Developer, as long as everyone is fighting the same enemies, a two-faction system simply feels like an unnecessary obstacle.

There are some games where the factional divide makes sense and is well-implemented. In SWTOR, for instance, the struggle between the Sith and the “good guys”, the fundamental opposition of Light and Dark, is an intrinsic part of the story’s setting, and they are each other’s ultimate enemies; there’s no third party posing a serious threat to the entire galaxy. In DCUO, all the factional content is nicely opposed — if you’re playing a hero, you’re actively engaged in undoing whatever dastardly deeds the villains have done (and the story instances, in particular, are often nicely mirrored, with one faction’s instance storyline being a reaction to the other’s).

But in general, factional divides don’t add much to a game unless they’re an intrinsic part of the basic setting. Far better, I think, to adopt a system like Guild Wars 2, where factional conflict is World vs World; LotRO, where the opposing faction is a separate PvP-only part of the game; or The Secret World, where you can work with anyone you like regardless of where your loyalties lie.

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3 Responses to “The doom of factions”

  1. rori
    August 18, 2012 at 11:43 #

    Something EQ2 did which I love (and WoW did with their 2 sided faction based dailies in Northrend) is giving players the ability to change sides. Allowing you to basically say “You know what. Screw you guys, I think Thrall has a compelling argument and just because I’m a dwarf it aint gunna stop me!”

    EQ the original had some servers set up to be deity based factions (mostly for pvp) and some that were based on other things, but I’m not sure if you could change it or not.

    The thing is, Thrall can play nice with the Alliance from time to time. Hell almost all major players on both sides has drifted in the storyline at some point. (like my big sweeping brushstroke?)

    Introducing things like being kicked out of your guild, and having your hometown disown you… there are tons of elements which could really be fun to play with.

  2. Belidos
    August 28, 2012 at 23:10 #

    “Let’s face it, the factional divide is a legacy of WoW’s dominance”

    Absolute rubbish. One of the few things that WoW did not do first in the MmO workd is factioons, factions in have been a major part of MmO’s since almost the beginning.

    Dark Age of Camelot had midgaard, albion and hibernia, three factions fighting against eachother for dominence of the frontiers.

    Starwars Galaxies had Imperials and Rebels batlting it out in the galactic civil war and so on.

    Factions are not “WoW’s legacy” they’re a legacy of games far older than WoW.

    Why the hell does everyone try to compare everythign to WoW? It may have the biggest player best of all of them but it isn’t the be all and end all of MmO’s

    • August 29, 2012 at 11:34 #

      Because, for a long time, WoW dominated the market and thus plenty of MMOs that came out in the next half-decade adopted a lot of WoW’s mechanics and approach to things.

      I never said that WoW invented factions, and indeed I played SWG myself (along with various other MMOs pre-WoW). However, few MMOs implemented such an absolute factional divide — even in SWG you could interact quite normally with players of the other faction, and you weren’t prevented from playing with them if you wanted to. WoW didn’t pioneer the “all war, all the time, can’t even talk to enemy players!” approach, but it did get millions of players and plenty of game devs into the mindset that that’s how you do things. And RIFT, in particular – given that the devs were quite upfront about how much inspiration they drew from WoW – almost certainly inherited this ‘feature’ from WoW.

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