Hey! You Got Your MMORPG In My Single-Player RPG!

Dragon Age: Origins appears to have replaced typical single-player RPG gameplay mechanics with conventions taken directly from MMORPGs. What are the implications of this design, if any?

One of the things I've been fascinated to see in BioWare's new Dragon Age: Origins is the obvious use of gameplay mechanics copied directly from conventional MMORPGs:

  • Area of Effect (AoE) phenomena (including "friendly fire")
  • "snare" abilities to briefly hold enemies in place
  • buffs ("sustained" abilities) and debuffs (reduction in enemy attributes)
  • aggro (including an actual "Taunt" skill)

Rather than getting into my personal reactions to this design choice, I'd like to focus on what -- if anything -- this may signal for BioWare's future single-player RPGs and possibly for single-player RPGs in general.

First, does it work? That is, does enthusiastically implementing standard MMORPG mechanics as the core gameplay mechanics of a single-player RPG feel right? Do any "old-style" mechanics from well-received CRPGs like Baldur's Gate or Fallout seem to be missing? Or were those really just MMORPG-style features from the beginning, and Dragon Age: Origins is merely making those aspects explicit?

Are the MMORPG-style mechanics so much better than the old-school mechanics (different for every gameworld) that DAO feels like an improvement to the genre? Or will MMORPG-style mechanics allow DAO to feel instantly familiar (and fun) to the millions of gamers enjoying World of Warcraft and the other MMORPGs who share the mechanics in the bullet-point list above?

The more important questions concern the future. Is DAO merely a one-off experiment to explore whether MMORPG mechanics can work in a single-player RPG? Or is it the harbinger of a new breed of RPGs that can no longer be considered "single-player?"

To put it another way, is this the beginning of the end for the single-player computer RPG?

Will Mass Effect 2 play like Mass Effect (only better), or will it be modified to use the MMORPG-style mechanics of Dragon Age: Origins?

Will the elimination of unique gameplay mechanics in DAO in favor of conventional MMORPG tropes be so successful financially that other single-player RPG developers copy this model?

Finally, who drove the decision to use MMORPG mechanics in Dragon Age: Origin -- designers at BioWare who wanted to try something different? Or suits at corporate parent EA who want to cater to the millions of MMORPG players, and who also want to force online authentication of single-player games? Or both EA and BioWare?


I have the feeling that BioWare's blatant copying of MMORPG mechanics for their single-player fantasy RPG is going to be either an "oops, oh well, guess that didn't work," or "OMG, this is The Future!" with very little middle ground....

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