One of the things that bothered me a lot while playing World of Warcraft is that most people really just didn’t care. If you got too many monsters in the same fight, or an elite was just too strong, many people just gave up, took the death and came back. The penalty for losing was so soft that no one minded, and in fact many relied on it to test the waters. “Hey, let’s try this! What’s the worst that can happen? Lose a couple minutes and a little money on repairs?” It added an element of fearlessness to the game, which had its own merit, but in the long run as you come to count on that losing doesn’t hurt, winning doesn’t feel as awesome. Winning is just something that happens. Winning, in World of Warcraft, is inevitable.
Meanwhile, back in the dark ages of 3D MMORPGs, death could easily cost you a couple of days worth of experience points if you couldn’t get a cleric to resurrect you. In some ways, this was bad because people were less likely to try things unless they were pretty sure they had a good shot at winning. However, a charismatic enough leader could convince just about any group to try anything once. “I know we don’t have a cleric, but I’ve grouped with this druid before, and we have an enchanter to slow, we’ll be fine!” That was the basis of some of my most memorable moments in the game. Five monks and a druid as a group in Old Sebilis, ranger tank in the Plane of Storms, and so on. But the greatest effect of a stiff death penalty was the will to survive. If a pull went bad, or a wandering monster joined in your already iffy fight, not one person ever said, “Hey, let’s just die and come back in a couple minutes.” Instead, the chat window would immediately be filled with chatter about who was tanking what, or what mob was going to get pulled away and rooted, or which mob to focus on as various forms of crowd control were tried. My memories of EverQuest are filled with moments of healers being out of mana while the group is surrounded by five monsters all mesmerized and the enchanter ensuring us they could hold it while I yelled at the group, “No one touch ANYTHING until the cleric says he’s ready!” and people making sacrifices, “I’ll off tank this, but I can’t last more than a minute or two, if you don’t finish by then, I’ll be dead but I wish you luck with the add.” I fought many fights where bad agro killed the cleric and the rest of the group fought tooth and nail to stay standing as long as they could. Failure hurt, but snatching victory from the jaws of defeat felt incredible.
Many people will tell you that harsh death penalties are a thing of the past and that today’s players wouldn’t stand for it, and they are right. The people who would never play EQ who have flocked to WoW aren’t looking for that sort of risk, just a few odd minutes or hours of entertainment. But to me, that sort of investment in a game is what I’m looking for. I want a game worth fighting for.