Reading the numerous blog posts and subsequent comments about SWTOR, the thing that has struck me most is the amount of players recognising that there are no attractive MMOs on the market at present. While many are having fun in SWTOR, a great number of them also admit that this will not be their new long term game. It is a stop-gap while they hope that a new game will emerge to not only capture the imagination, but to give players the possibility to emotionally commit to a character and an online world for a long period of time.

This is what makes an MMO; an online organic world that is always growing and evolving based on what the players themselves do and decide. It’s why SWTOR won’t be a long term hit – story is wonderful in a single player game, but an MMO needs to be player driven. Players can take seemingly mundane game attributes to new and exciting directions that the developers never dreamed would happen. The auction house in WoW is a fine example of this.

Goblinworks have released their third blog instalment for the new Pathfinder Online MMO. In it they outline how they hope character progression will proceed; things can change of course, and they acknowledge that. This is the first blog installment where they come out and say that they will be adapting many of the core game processes from EVE Online to their game. Ryan Dancey is the head of this new game, and he worked for many years on EVE. I have seen numerous bloggers and commenters in the past cry for a fantasy version of EVE – now it looks like they might be getting their wish. Ryan admits that there are downsides to the EVE system, but they feel that the upsides will outweigh those negative aspects.

There are many things in this blog post that get me excited. Not excited enough to go out and purchase a repair kit for my ancient inflatable woman, Suzie, but excited nonetheless. The core idea is that instead of levelling to get new skills, you will get new skills in order to level:

“… In Pathfinder Online, we’ve turned the system on its head: instead of using experience points as a prerequisite for improving in a skill, improving skills are part of the prerequisite for gaining new abilities. Your character must earn all the things needed to qualify for a new “level,” and then you’re rewarded with a special bonus …”

There will be 20 bonuses available for each class which give a nominal 20 levels. How long will it take the first players to reach level cap? Ryan hopes to not see the first level 20 character for at least 2 years of real time. The gloves are off – these guys want a long time commitment from their player base. Is this fair? Well, isn’t this what MMOs are supposed to be about?

One of the features of the Pathfinder tabletop RPG is the freedom to switch between class skills, and this aspect will be replicated in the online game. So a fighter can choose a cleric bonus or a mage bonus etc. That gives a player a lot of customisation possibilities. However, stick to the one true path and level up a pure 20th level fighter and you will get an additional capstone ability. While this is nice, the volume of uproar on the forums over this means it may have to be changed. Time will tell if the developers stick to their vision. I hope they stick to their vision because this system gives players choice with real consequences, something lacking in most games today.

There are a couple of things that cause me concern, however. The use of attributes as in the standard RPG model is nice, but the way in which they are generated will be crucial, otherwise you will see every player running around with scores hovering at 18. Alignment is very briefly mentioned, but this sets all sorts of warning bells off in my head. Witness SWTOR’s attempts to introduce merely a light/dark side system and one wonders who this could possibly work in a player driven world with no set story, let alone all the possible alignment combinations. Merit badges are set out as a way to get new abilities, but I dread the thought of it degenerating into the awful achievement system that is used to keep players busy as a substitute for an uninspiring game world.

All in all though there is a lot to be hopeful for here. The teaser at the end about crafting characters is welcome news indeed, and I eagerly await the next blog to see whether Pathfinder Online will be a cross between EVE and Minecraft. If so it may just be the MMO that hard core players have been waiting for.