Intro to Crafting Systems

by Jessica "Allahweh" Brown, November 9 2011

One of the most important factors to me in picking a MMORPG is diversity. I like games that strike a good balance between quests and high adventure, player-vs-player combat, and crafting. This provides several choices of things I can do when I log in, and thus if I don't feel up to questing I can team up for some combat or craft elite gear.

mmorpg crafting
Sometimes one tool is all you need to have a good time

Crafting is an interesting beast. Crafting and upgrading gear is often an important aspect of games centered on adventuring or even player-vs-player combat, yet the degree to which this importance is carried out varies greatly from game to game. Some titles allow you to go out into the wilds to gather materials and then bring them to looms or the smith in order to slowly craft very complex gear while others focus on making consumable items or upgrading existing equipment. Each of these styles caters to a specific audience and each of these deserves to be examined a bit closer.

On what I would define as the “low-end” of the crafting world would be the system by which armors are upgraded. There are a plethora of free-to-play MMORPGs like Fiesta Online, Dragon Nest, or Wind Slayer that make use of this. Essentially a system like this boils down to collecting runes or other upgrade-materials and visiting a smith to enhance the armor or weapon in question. In Dragon Nest, all gear is upgradable without any risk to +6, but in other games a failed enhancement to +2 could technically result in the destruction of the item. Fiesta included various insurance items that could be used to increase the odds of success and players could even use the cash-shop to purchase things that could all-but-guarantee a positive outcome. For many free to play games, their primary source of income is derived directly from this simple upgrade system.

Guild Wars and all related titles in the first-generation of games are also somewhat “low-end,” but they do offer the ability to craft goods. Yet, players do not have the ability to craft anything themselves. Instead, they can visit various merchants spread throughout the lands of Tyria and provided they have the right amount of money and goods the merchants can craft armor and weapons for them. The requisite materials in Guild Wars are generally gathered from items and gear found while adventuring, requiring the player to use crafting kits to deconstruct items into source materials that can be used to forge new things.

Ultima Online was one of the first generation MMORPGs to really offer a deep crafting system. Players could engage in lumberjacking, blacksmithing, carpentry, tailoring, and pretty much every artisan skill you can imagine from medieval times. Crafting in Ultima Online doesn't really require players to adventure to high level, dangerous parts of the world in order to compete. It showed how important a sandbox system could be when creating a game with an important crafting component.

ultima online crafting
Phat lewt awaits you in the forest of Ultima's a bit raw though

There is a wide range of games that exist somewhere in between the simple crafting systems and the very complex ones. RIFT is a good example of one of these titles. In RIFT, players can gather wood, stones, and various shrubbery while out exploring, and they can also make use of butchery to get bones and other materials from creatures they kill. Most towns and outposts have crafting stations that can be used to turn basic materials into low-end items that, in turn, can be turned into higher-level gear. The system isn't overly complex and there isn't much of a rate of failure, but it exists as something that both PvE and PvP players can do on the side in order to craft unique items. Of course, those that don't wish to bother with such things can also simply use their money in the game to purchase goods from merchants or at the Auction House.

Final Fantasy XIV has one of the most surprisingly complex crafting systems of any MMORPG that I've ever played. This might perhaps be due to the fact that as originally envisioned, Final Fantasy XIV had a leveling system split between physical level and skill levels. The skill levels were based on proficiency with magic, various weapons, or crafting arts whereas the physical level was based on the experience gained while working on these skills. As such, it was entirely possible for a player to make a character that solely fished, cut down trees, gathered shrubs and other materials, and spent their time crafting expensive gear for other players. And, interestingly, you could in theory maximize your physical level and never once have to get into a fight with a creature or another player. Crafting started with going out and collecting various goods from the sources spread throughout the world, yet there was no click-this-and-gather-that feature, but fishing and chopping down trees and all took careful timing and skill. The resources gathered would be very rudimentary and could be used in order to make simple materials like cloth that would later be used to make shirts. The cloth shirt would then be an ingredient in a piece of light-armor. Thus, crafting was incredibly time-consuming, but at the same time was very realistic and resulted in a rather real-world economy of scale.

Many will argue though that Final Fantasy XIV doesn't hold a candle to EVE, which is known for creating one of the largest virtual economies that can be found in any online game. Entire crafting empires have risen and fallen since the game's debut in 2003 and the economy easily rivals, if not surpasses, that of Second Life. EVE represents the ability to truly explore the stars, gather materials from distant asteroids and planetary bodies, or even become a marauder and steal the materials from others. It's a very cut-throat world, yet one of the most rewarding experiences out there to those who can succeed at it. In Eve, everything in the game is creatable by players.

Want a giant capital ship? Go build one!

There's a lot of ways to handle crafting. The above are some strong staples of the genre but certainly don't represent all that's available to us. Is there a crafting system you really enjoy? What makes it unique? We would love to hear your opinion here.