Crafting has always played a relatively large part in just about every commercially successful MMORPG. Sure, some might forsake it for a greater emphasis on the art of killing things, but crafting systems have long been a way to help round out the online experience and provide players with something to do when completing quests or taking on dungeons begins to lose its charm.
But while we might not feel the void left by a bad crafting system, no one can dispute that an incredible one can make all the difference. For a genre heavily based on the social interactions of players, crafting is a timeless way of knitting your communities together, binding them by the mutual desire for better gear and more items.
This week, we're taking a look at, in no particular order, some awesome crafting systems that really helped make our favorite games what they are.
Star Wars Galaxies - Before the New Game Experience
If you really thought that we were going to talk about crafting and not name-drop Star Wars Galaxies right off the bat, you must be crazy. Sure, Star Wars Galaxies has been dead for quite some time (god rest its soul), but it would be a crime to not give this game some recognition—if only because we like beating a dead wookie.
So, what is it about Star Wars Galaxies that inspires us to stand on digital shores, staring out to sea like tragic widows? Well, part of it is because Galaxies had a crafting system that was equally as emphasized as its other aspects, perhaps even moreso. Unlike modern MMOs, Galaxies didn't treat crafting as a hobby or an afterthought, it was a fully fledged system that allowed players to pursue it full-time in lieu of combat-oriented professions.
Not only that, but crafting was so immensely useful in Star Wars Galaxies. Almost everything in the game was created by crafters—especially some of the best items. Furthermore, just about everything had durability levels that meant it wouldn't be long until you were forced to take your gear back to a crafter to have them fix it up for you.
These layers of interdependence were the foundation that built a community that truly felt dynamic and alive. You weren't running through villages erected by developers doing most of your interactions with NPCs, you were socializing and working with real people.
But even if the social element of crafting were stripped away, Galaxies would still be worth mentioning due to how complex its crafting system was. Unlike most other games, a given recipe in Galaxies didn't require specific materials. Instead, each recipe gave you a material type that it needed, and left the rest up to you. If a gun needed a certain type of metal, you sometimes had over a dozen to choose from. Each one would impact the stats and quality of the gun in their own way, which leads to a staggering amount of diversity in weapons when you consider that many recipes required multiple components capable of affecting the stats as such.
At the end of the day, Star Wars Galaxies still tends to blow most other MMORPGs out of the water (from beyond the graaaaaave!) in terms of crafting. The complexity of it mixed with how the system became a focal point of the game itself was responsible for making Galaxies the compelling online community that it was.
In the same vein as Star Wars Galaxies, EVE Online's crafting system is so robust and so fully ingrained into the social element of the game that without it the whole system would likely collapse. The big difference is that, in EVE Online, just about everything can be outright destroyed in combat, thus creating a never ending need for more ships, modules, implants, and more.
Like just about everything in EVE Online, crafting is a massive branching network of niches, sub-industries, and spiraling possibilities. Though you could just stick to the basics of mining minerals and producing basic modules, there is a an insane amount of areas to break into like Tech 2 blueprint research, Tech 3 crafting, capital ship crafting, moon harvesting, ice mining, gas mining, tech 2 module crafting, drug manufacturing, and more. Each of these is their own specialty with skills and equipment required to get the job done right.
Crafting itself is done either in the relative safety of high-sec, where you'll produce modules at NPC owned stations, or out in the treacherous depths of wormhole or null-sec space where your operations could be at the mercy of rival gangs. The system itself is rather easy to comprehend: grab a blueprint, grab the required resources, set up the job, and then wait.
But, like Star Wars Galaxies, its how that system feeds back into the large social foundation of EVE that really makes it shine. While you can certainly, with enough gusto, carve out your own niche in New Eden and build a production empire, many players use crafting to help fund their corporation's needs and keep their friends flying.
Like so many other elements of EVE, crafting isn't dependent on how skilled you are as a character, but also the level of ingenuity you bring as a person to the game. Just because you can craft doesn't mean you're going to become space-rich, you also need to build your empire like any business and knee-cap the competition to give yourself an edge.
Ultima Online has faded since its golden years, but it still deserves recognition for how it implements its crafting systems. Like the rest of the games on this list, Ultima Online's crafting was so special because of how it fit so perfectly with everything else in the game.
But one aspect that I want to give special attention to was the way Ultima Online encouraged players to build reputations that tied with their prowess as a crafter. Back in the good ol' days, there weren't any in-game systems to help protect players from scamming you when you needed a piece of armor repaired. You actually had to hand it over to the player in question when it was time to oil up the ol' chainmail.
While this certainly led to its fair share of betrayals, it also created a system where crafters began to build a reputation among the community. As players began to trust you more, they'd spread your name around to their social connections and, before long, you had a real virtual business with real clients!
It made crafting feel like so much more than just making items and tossing them up on an auction house somewhere to make numbers go higher. There was an attachment to your image as a crafter, and the desire to do good work in order to expand your brand and further build those relationships.
Everquest 2's crafting system doesn't quite have the same socioeconomic impact that some of the others above have, but what makes it so special is what an active process it is. If you've played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, you're likely to already be well versed in Everquest 2's crafting system seeing as it was an ancestor of Final Fantasy's.
For the uninitiated, crafting in Everquest 2 isn't about selecting some items from a recipe book and then watching a meter fill up. The system requires active participation from you as a player in order to create the item. Crafting classes are entirely separate from combat classes, and they also come with their own skills that can be used during the crafting process. It helps if you kinda think of crafting like a battle. Your goal is to fill the progress bar by using your abilities while simultaneously preventing the durability bar from falling too low. Failing to do so will result in a lower quality item or, in the worst scenarios, failure of the attempted craft. Another layer of complexity comes from events which happen periodically while crafting. Events tend to have negative effects on your progress but can be countered by using various abilities.
Final Fantasy XIV takes this system and refines it into something that, by today's standard, is much deeper and more engaging. There is a huge amount of crafting skills to learn. Those skills are also unique to separate crafting classes but can be borrowed once you've unlocked them by other classes. That means you'll likely want to look at leveling every crafting class you can in order to gain access to the best skills.
Elder Scrolls Online
Few games can manage to make crafting as rewarding at level 5 as level 50, but Elder Scrolls manages to pull this off really well and earns bonus points for being a much more modern game. Crafting in Elder Scrolls Online is a flexible system that, at times, hearkens back to Star Wars Galaxies with its open ended components that allow you to impact the stats of a weapon depending on what you use to create it. There is also a unique research system that allows you to take gear with lucrative stats and sacrifice it in order to learn how to apply that bonus to other pieces of similar gear.
What really makes crafting in Elder Scrolls shine, however, is how there are several facets to it that all feed back into the greater design as a whole. While you do have a crafting level that acts as a rudimentary benchmark of your progress, you'll also want to devote time to researching bonuses, breaking down gear for rare materials, and also hunting down new recipes. There is also the ability to craft gear according to each of Elder Scrolls' racial aesthetics, which adds a new layer as you work to purchase the books that will unlock those styles piece by piece.
Crafting can be as rewarding as combat when it is implemented effectively. Sadly, too many MMORPGs these days are too eager to leave it as an afterthought rather than build it into something truly unique and memorable. That said, there are a lot of games with aspirations for crafting beyond what we mentioned above. If you have a favorite that wasn't on the list, let us know in the comments!