It’s perhaps a bit surprising, but MMOs are dense. It can be hard to find information in context: sure, you can easily find recipes for all the crafted items in a game, but how useful or common or popular are those items? That’s not something you can find out as easily.
Because of this, many designers are unaware of what’s happened in past games. The typical MMO developer I’ve met has only played two or three MMOs for any lengthy period of time. So when they sit down to create, say, the potion system for their next MMO, they can’t draw on the designs of what came before them. I don’t have a general solution for this (except to play as many MMOs as you can), but as an experiment, let’s try to add a bit of context about this one very narrow gameplay element: potions.
Potions aren’t always bottles of juice that you drink — they can also be magic scrolls or gems, or even theoretical concepts in the case of City of Heroes. The distinguishing feature of potions is that they are one-use items designed to aid or assist you in combat. Their effects are typically restorative or buffing in nature.
In order to keep it focused, I’ll ignore other consumables such as food, which have subtly different game semantics. It’s admittedly a pretty vague distinction, but I’ll do my best.
The following data is what I’ve been able to scrounge up through contacts or personal memory — there are probably plenty of mistakes and omissions. If so, please point them out and I’ll get it as accurate as possible. And feel free to provide a potion overview for other games!
UO: Potions for every occasion
In UO, alchemists could craft potions from collected raw ingredients. Certain potions, such as Night Sight, were fairly essential if you wanted to be able to see anything at night (without hacking your client). Poison-curing potions were critical for survival, as otherwise poison would quickly prove fatal. Most other types of potions were of modest value, although healing potions could be used in PvP to great effect.
Although there isn’t a notion of stacking potions in UO, players could craft Potion Kegs to store up to 100 uses of a single type of potion.
Everquest: Wussy Potions
I can’t find anybody who played EQ1 at very high levels to tell me how potions worked there. At mid-level, potions were impossibly expensive, and did very little. They could be handy for PvP battles, but even there they weren’t really worth the trouble. The lack of information on the web about EQ potions suggests to me that they weren’t particularly valuable even at high levels.
Asheron’s Call: Tools of the Killing Trade
In Asheron’s Call, there were three main types of potions, corresponding to healing, stamina restoration, and mana restoration — the three “bars” of energy that are used up in combat. Stamina potions were absolutely critical for melee classes; and it was not atypical to carry a few hundred with you into combat. (They stacked to a high number.) Each swing of a weapon drained stamina, and fights often ran fairly long, so that it was not atypical to drink several stamina potions during a single encounter. Thus, potions acted as a money-sink for most character types.
Mages typically carried stamina potions also. Though spellcasting doesn’t drain mana, mages could convert stamina into mana, and then replenish their stamina with potions. This was much more cost-effective than directly restoring their mana with expensive mana potions.
Health potions could be consumed in combat, and their repeated use often turned PvP encounters into extremely lengthy affairs.
Potions only provided restoration, but “magic gems” provided potent one-use buffs. These gems were mostly found in loot, though later they could also be purchased from NPC vendors. Thanks to their lengthy durations and noticeable effects, these were very valuable for certain types of twinking and power-leveling.
Dark Age of Camelot: ???
DAoC added potion creation after the game shipped, and I couldn’t find somebody with first-hand knowledge. If anybody can fill in the details, I’d appreciate it.
Clearly there are a vast number of potions and tinctures that can be crafted, but their importance, usefulness, and commonness are unknown.
Asheron’s Call 2: Mystery Juice
Potions in Asheron’s Call 2 could not be crafted, only found as loot. Like most other loot, potions were randomly generated, so the exact effect and potency of a potion varied very widely. Some potions had exceedingly potent effects, while others were almost useless. Because each potion was unique, potions could not be stacked in inventory. Players tended to keep only the most potent potions on hand in order to free up pack space.
Players could drink potions in combat, but a character that drank a potion performed a rather lengthy animation during which they could do nothing else. Drinking potions in combat was still sometimes worthwhile, but was very risky. A more typical use was as a buff before a dangerous boss, or as a boost before engaging in PvP.
EverQuest 2: Modest Tools
EQ2 had several types of consumable items, including potions and totems. The most typically-used potions provided modest buffs for a long duration.
There were also restorative potions that worked instantly (or near instantly) to heal damage or cure status ailments. These potions had lengthy timeouts — after consuming one, players could not use another potion for several minutes. This limited restorative potions’ usefulness to dire emergencies only. Useable in PvP, but not typically something that would turn the tide of a battle.
Totems behaved similarly to potions, but had a more unusual effect: invisibility, runspeed-buffs, or transformation into some other creature type are typical examples. Totems could be used five times before disappearing, rather than one time. Totems couldn’t be stacked in inventory, however, so in effect, totems were stacks of five one-use potions in a single inventory slot.
The one hardcore ex-DDO player I know doesn’t remember how potions worked in DDO, so they can’t have played too important a role in the game. DDO has various stat-boosting and restorative potions, but my vague recollection is that they are only practical at low levels of play — at high levels, they are too expensive to be practical. Can they be used in PvP?
Lord of the Rings Online: ???
Again, my Lotro-playing friends have failed me. “Does Lotro even have potions? I don’t remember…” A quick glance around the web suggests that they have protective potions, but they appear to be rather expensive for the effects they provide.
City of Heroes/Villains: The Core of Loot
Although not called ‘potions’, CoH had ‘Inspirations’ which fill the same role. In a game with very little loot, Inspirations were the notable exception: players got lots of these, and they had a GUI bar just for storing them. Their effects were quite potent, and by using several at once, they could easily turn the tide of a battle.
They could be used in battle, and were intended for such use. They could typically be used in PvP, too. Their effects ranged from potent restorations and buffs to self-resurrections.
Although they could be purchased, the most potent Inspirations could only be found randomly in combat. High-level guilds could have Inspiration-generators in their hideouts, but I don’t know of anyone who did this, and I couldn’t say how useful that was.
World of Warcraft: Emergency Heals
WoW potions are of medium potency: they had noticeable effects but not enough to turn the tide of a battle. Although usable in combat, a player couldn’t drink multiple potions at once: after the first potion of a given category (such as restoration or buffing), they can’t drink another for several minutes or until the effect has worn off.
Their typical use is for “oh crap I’m about to die” restoration, or as a quick buff before a tough boss. Though potions can be used in PvP, their effectiveness is rather limited by the time-outs. In the past, there were numerous categories of buffing potions, so that players could have many simultaneous buffs. This was an effective raiding tactic, but this was changed relatively recently. The number of categories was dramatically reduced, so now only the most powerful player-crafted buff potions have value in raiding.
In addition to potions, players can find “magic scrolls” in loot. These behave the same as buffing potions, but their effects can stack with potions. Players can also select their target for a magic scroll: that is, they could use it on an ally or a pet, rather than using it on themselves, if they wanted to.
More Input Needed
Obviously I need lots more info for this topic! If you have experience with any of these games, especially ones marked with ???, please feel free to chime in. I’m also interested in hearing about other MMOs that aren’t listed here. Thanks in advance!