Cameron Sorden recently opined that the word “epic” is overused. He doesn’t remember the last time he felt “epic” in an MMORPG, so he feels it’s false advertising. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really give any good suggestions on when to use it, and I don’t have a lot, either.
For me, “epic” means “overcoming impossible odds”, and that is in direct conflict with the usual pace of MMO’s: the plodding advancement of your character; the calculating choice of skills and equipment; the avoidance of any battle you are likely to lose. Not that I dislike those things — I like them a lot. But they aren’t epic.
To me, “epic” means I got an adrenaline rush! It means I didn’t think I was going to win, but I somehow did — I overcame impossible odds and succeeded. I can remember the last time this happened; it happens a lot when I try to tackle boss monsters that are way too dangerous for me, but I somehow make it work through judicious use of potions and buffs and cleverness. It’s more epic if I do it on the first try, but it’s still epic if it takes a few attempts.
Good luck artificially manufacturing that in your MMO, though. It’s found gameplay, not something that can be planned for very well.
That said, I don’t mind when developers use “epic” to describe their game. It’s just another word for “really really fun”, because it’s hard to get really accurate about your goals in a quick interview or magazine article.
I do mind when designers try to make “epic” quests that are little more than really long fetch-and-stab quests. These designers are working under the misguided notion that just making me work a long time will make the quest feel epic. This is a fallacy.
There’s certainly a place for long quests — but they had better be damned interesting all the way through!