How do you describe “epic”?

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!

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7 Responses to How do you describe “epic”?

  1. Jason says:

    I think about the only time I liked the way “epic” was used was back in EverQuest on the original line of Epic Quests. While each class’ quest did include parts that were nothing more than fetch or collect, they also included zone raids and boss mobs that were fairly exciting (except Ragefire, the original design was horrible). The use of “epic” by players in WoW, however, leaves much to be desired. I prefer it when they just call them “purple”.

  2. Yeah, the adrenaline rush from the thrill of victory over a powerful foe is fairly epic. But like you said, hard to manufacture. I don’t know. I’m just tired of reading or watching interviews and seeing whoever they got to promote the game call everything from the newbie experience to the crafting “epic.” It’s like a corporate buzzword specialized for the MMO industry.

  3. Babs says:

    There is that definition of epic that simply means “large,” though, which is apropos to some quests that aren’t epic in the huzzah sense. We need new adjectives for this industry =P

  4. Nikos Beck says:

    I think there’s another definition of “epic”: an event that brings the lives of many together for a single purpose. For example, the finale to the first season of “Heroes”. I won’t give away the plot. The lives of twenty characters who had never met are drawn together for a single event. It feels “epic”. I suppose it’d be possible to give members of a guild unique, single-player quests that come together in a boss battle that can only be won when each player brings their custom loot. One member has golden thread, another has a “needle of instant-weaving”, another has a mannequin automaton. When the players come together the thread is woven into a golden sweater for the mannequin who comes to life and saves the characters before they die, revitilizing them with a rage bonus which lets them defeat the boss. It’d be a battle that can only be won when all of the peices come together. Just an example.

  5. Yeah, for me “epic” has connotations of a large scale. An event that involves a lot of people or, better, changes the world in a significant way is “epic” in my definition. Almost every current game that relies on a static world and instances is not really that epic, despite the presence of items with names colored purple. The only game that I think would really count as “epic” would be AC due to their constant monthly updates and worldwide events.

    WoW is pretty much the opposite of epic to me. I went back to the Night Elf newbie area with a new character and commented that the Night Elves really suck since they still haven’t retaken Starbreeze Village since I went through there about 3 years ago. Just one level 70 could wipe out the monsters in that village in a few seconds. Stupid respawn, I guess, hmm?

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  7. Bullseyed says:

    I’m back so far in post history that people probably will never read this comment, but there have been some pretty epic WoW situations I’ve been in, even though to an extent they were calculated.

    Killing M’uru and KJ in Sunwell were epic the first time. If you never experienced pre-nerf M’uru, maybe it is hard to relate to. That first time Entropius went down and I saw myself on the top of the damage meter… the feeling was like no other. It was very epic. KJ was the same way, largely because of the lore involved in the fight. Seeing the Sunwell open up and blast light into the room… running around in the light… you really felt on top of the world. Like you had done something special.

    Raiding in WoW in WotLK doesn’t feel like that. It feels too easy. You are much more cognizant of other people mistakes. In Sunwell I didn’t have time to see what anyone else was doing. We just had to count on each other and play as hard and fast as we could.