My first 3D exploration in an MMO was in World of Warcraft. There were some delicious herbs to be found off of Westfall’s shores. Stranglekelp was found amidst roaming Murlocs, and when the herb was smoothee’d with some Blackmouth fish oil, my priest could be underwater for in-game hours checking out wreckages, looking for pearls, and generally enjoying the freedom of the z-axis. There was one area, if I recall correctly, in Stranglethorn Vale where some elite Murlocs were guarding a sunken ruins. I played an interesting game of agro-Operation trying to swim down to the bottom without alerting the bug-eyed fish-lizards to my presence. It took a few tries, but I remember being so proud and feeling so clever. The quest suggested a group of people after all.
The z-axis is appearing more and more in MMOs as another dimension to be explored. In most MMOs players can jump, fall, and explore structures with multiple stories from the ground. Underwater provides a fully three-dimensional exploring space. Then flying is also becoming more of a mainstream item with World of Warcraft having received player controlled flight with the Burning Crusade expansion, and Aion Online’s entire game being built around the flying mechanic. Flight actually even came up in dev discussions on Lord of the Rings Online because, you know, giant eagles carried Gandalf and the hobbits. One of the Turbine devs however remarked that many of the maps looked pretty terrible from above, and it was unlikely that the great eagles would stoop to mere steeds in the sky.
Even with the current aerial progression of exploration in MMOs, I like underwater exploration better than flying. Flying requires ground content below it to be notable. Then there may or may not also be in-air content as well. For underwater places, what is underwater is the content. Sure there can be shipwrecks and mer-giants walking on the sea floor, but it doesn’t feel like the seafloor is really the originating plane. I might also like it better because swimming is real. It’s something that I can relate to, whereas flying only occurs on the silver screen and in my imagination.
This leads me to a Guild Wars 2 tidbit I touched upon in an earlier post. ArenaNet is creating a complete underwater continent. They don’t want the danger of air to factor in either, and an easily gained consumable will be available for your fish-breathing enjoyment. Exploration is one of the key goals to this zone (or zones). It excites me that their focus is on having underwater explorable content rather than it being a small slice of the normal E-pie (as in EASK, or what have you..ummm… pie). Afterall with that badass dragon in the trailer coming from below, it only makes sense.
Lord of the Rings Online, which is my MMO pony of the moment, has no three-dimensional combat that I can think of. Either the mob will go into exploit mode or run up the cliff face. Plus players can only swim on the water. The three-dimensional architecture and level construction found in the game can be amazing. The Forges and the Grand Stairs, two Mora instances, are beautifully designed multi-leveled zones. For the moment, though, the game as far as combat is concerned might as well be compared to the jumpless, “2-d” Guild Wars. Maybe this will be rectified someday, but I feel we will get mounted combat before 3-d combat in the MMO. Amazingly enough, I had not really noticed the deficiency until writing this article. Of course I was quite happy playing years of Guild Wars without a jump button until ArenaNet suggested that maybe it should have been there in the first place.
a half-crustacean band