Either make player characters truly immortal or build the game around death being a meaningful and inevitable event. In this article I’ll discuss removing death from PvE MMORPGs.
We can see that moderating the effect of death leads to a watered down, minimal slap-on-the-wrist. Death is not a notable event more than taking a flight path is an event. Serious players deride weak death concepts because if death doesn’t have meaning, then, in an analysis of mechanics, combat where the only punishment for failure is death cannot have much meaning.
PvE MMORPGs generally have long, steep vertical advancement. These games are reward ladders intertwined in an interesting fashion. The decisions the player makes aren’t on the “what should I do to kill this lizardman”-level, but instead on the higher level of abstraction on which rests character advancement and time budgeting. Long and dramatic advancement encourages the player to invest a lot of time in a single character. The player naturally hates the concept of losing that character—and the time it represents—in whole or in part. PvE MMORPGs are supposed to be fun, and seeing 300 hours evaporate in the context of a game is not fun.
In a PvE MMORPG, skill growth is easy and short. You learn how to play the basic aspects of your character in the first few levels. Over the next several hundred hours of your character’s life, the game will grant you access to new abilities at a slow trickle, giving you plenty of time to fully adapt your play to use whatever has become available. The content doesn’t give you a reason to learn to play at anywhere near an optimal level, either. Because players don’t have much room to grow their skill, there’s little skill carry-over to make being forced to start a new character (because your old one is permanently dead) anything but a chore compounded on existing chores.
Death is a pointless mechanic in PvE MMORPGs. It means very little and usually has a crappy lore justification. When designers tack penalties on to death in order to give it meaning, players will avoid interesting, risky content, and when they do die they will end up unhappy for no particular gain. Let’s get rid of it.
Make the game so that the player character can’t die. The player can fight indefinitely against any enemy and eventually probably win, but he can’t be killed and forced to respawn. Give the player an ability that allows them to teleport out of battles (or bad places that would usually cause death) at will. Let the player disengage an enemy’s aggro, but then bump the enemy’s health and expendable resources back to where they were before the battle. Build the game around rewarding players for efficiently dispatching with enemies. It’s already this way in effect, why not make it the central issue?
Removing daeth would make PvE MMORPGs a smoother and more enjoyable experience, while sidestepping the awkwardness and mechanical faux pas that a concept of death needlessly brings to such games.