Fog of War

I was reading the Bullroarer Release Notes for the upcoming Update 3 for LOTRO the other day, and one thing immediately caught my eye:

“Fog of War” on the world map no longer exists. You will now be able to see the world map in its entirety without having to visit every area.

I guess a lot of players would immediately find this to be a nice change. No more guessing, no more not knowing. It also fits with the latest trend of dumbing down our MMORPG bit by bit. But it actually saddened me, even if the “Fog of War” in LOTRO was only the crude version.

Fog of War (LOTRO)
A map in Lord of the Rings Online. Everything below Windfells is unknown.

Is “Fog of War” in MMORPG slowly becoming an endangered feature, soon to be extinct?

The Crude Version

Both LOTRO and WoW uses the crude kind where an area of the map is revealed (or “drawn”) as you enter it, typically with a total of less than a dozen chunks. For me there’s a lot to like about this system. Revealing more areas keeps some kind of progress record of how far you’ve come. This was especially a nice hint if there weren’t any bread crumbs from a quest hub – just enter the unexplored areas and there would be a good chance that’s where you were supposed to go. MMORPG today holds your hand pretty tight regarding quests, so perhaps that’s one reason for Turbine to skip it.

Fog of War (WoW)
Deepholm in World of Warcraft, only partly uncovered.

But uncovering areas on the map also appealed to my sense of completing the entire game. I could open maps of other zones, thinking: I have uncovered everything here and thus have explored pretty much all of it. Maybe there’s a corner in a zone that you’ve deliberately left unrevealed, thinking that you’ll return later when your reached the level cap. Just to see what it’s hiding.

You won’t have this guide anymore when Turbine removes it.

Another reason I like “Fog of War” is that it’s like unwrapping presents. You enter an area and “BAM!” it’s drawn in an instant, showing you the details of the area you’re entering. I like receiving this in small bits, one by one, instead of just having it all served on a silver platter. Would you rather have all your Christmas presents at once, opening them in one big explosion of wrapping paper? (Well, some of you may already do that, but we certainly don’t in my family.)

Of course, there are also good things to be said about Turbine’s decision. One of the best arguments is that it will be far easier to guide other guildies to a spot, when they ask where a certain camp or area is located in any given zone. If you’re playing on an alt that hasn’t actually been there, you will still be able to open your map and refresh your memory before telling him or her how to get there.

I’m sure there will also be players that hate having an obscure map and would rather want to see all of it immediately, so they can mentally prepare themselves of what to expect from the areas – both geographically and regarding camps. It’s understandable, but I still prefer having a map where areas are initially hidden – at least for your first character.

It might not make sense to some that alts can see a zone just because “big brother” already saw it, but sometimes you have to sacrifice realism for gameplay, which is always king. I’d certainly welcome a check box somewhere in the options that would do just that. Or how about a toggle button that you’d have to hold down to temporarily show all of a zone? Then you could help out that guildie I mentioned before and still return to the uncovered map when you’re ready to push on.

The Detailed Version

EverQuest II recently changed their map and minimap system to look a lot like the crude system used by LOTRO and WoW. There were a lot of improvements there, especially regarding the minimap, but I was actually missing the old detailed system. I felt it was another nerf to “Fog of War”, just like the one coming for LOTRO when they remove it altogether.

The old “Fog of War” in EQ2 was a detailed version, where your dot on the map uncovered a black void like moving a felt-tip pen on a canvas in a paint program. A lot of especially older single-player RPG and RTS also used this method.

Fog of War (EQ2)
Fog of War in EverQuest II, back when it used the old map system.

This added another dimension for me, as I could sometimes break out of quest grinding and go explore a zone by uncovering every single nook and cranny. It was like OCD at times, I admit it – I just had to uncover as much as I possible could in a zone, for all the reasons stated above but also because I really enjoyed it. Sometimes it was also a mini-game in itself, trying to uncover almost unreachable corners or peaks, or to avoid epic monsters that would surely one-shot me.

One bad thing about the detailed system in EQ2 was that SOE didn’t seem to store it indefinitely. I remember leaving the game at one point, and as I returned again many months later, the “Fog of War” I had so meticulously uncovered in certain zones was reset. All black void again. Sigh.

Still, as mentioned I thought EQ2 lost some of its charm when they switched to the crude “Fog of War” system. But maybe both SOE and Turbine are doing it for rational technical reasons. Especially the precision of the detailed version must have taken up a lot of data, particularly if it was stored on the server (which it probably wasn’t).

Whatever the reason may be, “Fog of War” will always be a feature in MMORPG that I will sadly miss when it’s gone. It will make the game world seem smaller, easier, and less mysterious.

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