"What about something drastically different from combat?"
I actually have a longer blob of text in progress that talked about that - take a 'thought experiment' about how Bioshock could be turned into an MMORPG (I agree wont happen), but with the motivation to capture rather than kill Splicers to cure them and rebuild the City. As a MMORP it would be more a campaign with long term results and more time to 'figure things out'. I was trying to compose ways such a game would have alot more varied situations and outcomes for the player in the world. There would be alot less fatality and many more ways of dealing with inhabitants in the still 'uncivilized' parts of Rapture..
Lots more traps and tricks and coersions and reasoning even.
But as observed, it would take a major programming project to create the behavior logic for that (something companies general think gets in the way of the profits... and IMO most couldnt do if they tried).
Thinking about it - how well can these games present you a situation to discern and you can largely do it intuitively and not have to read 6 pargraphs to get across an opponents intent/motivations/etc so you can chose the right tactic/actions to get done what you need. I suppose you can make the indicators overt (telegraph it so a syphilitic rhesus mokey 'gets it') and alot of the time it could be, but other times the player should have to piece things together and even make small moves that bring out the information (without it being unsubtle and precipitating an unwanted bloodbath) -- in other words players actions would need subtleties as would the opponent NPCs..
How many players could sit still for a game that was even a little like that ??
Maybe there would be a whole nuther group of players to be attacted to that kind of game who are turned off from the violence whoremongering so many computer games are today.