I had an epiphany this weekend while playing long hours of Dungeons and Dragons Online with my wife, interspersed with some Guild Wars (gotta get my Hall of Monuments ready for Guild Wars 2), TERA which I’m working on reviewing, Mass Effect 3 for some more Banshee wailing, and some Star Wars The Old Republic; Developers are doing their damnedest, whether they realize it or not, to take the MMO out of the MMORPG and leave a single player experience until end game, and I hate it.
Back in 2009, when I hopped on the Free to Play bandwagon when Dungeons and Dragons Online had just gone that route, I loved it. Here was an MMORPG that took all these elements from the tabletop game that I love, and not only made them work as an MMO, but made it so that a group of four to six people, up to twelve on raids, could go out and quest together just like a tabletop group. In fact, the whole game is designed around the concept of having a group to get through all their quests, with only a few solo quests and explorer areas that you can effectively solo with almost any class and a pocket healer. Sure there are some dedicated and hardcore players that like to solo things in the game just to prove that they can, or that it can be done (usually at an abnormally high cost for consumables), but even then there are quests that certain builds just cannot do alone. It’s a brilliant design that not only promotes teamwork, but also getting people to work together in an MMO environment.
While you do end up with a few bad apples, people who think they know everything about everyone else’s build, people who let others do all the work and coast by, some who have no idea how to build X class so that it’ll work with DDO‘s min-maxing at the higher levels, for the most part this has created a community that will work together to get through quests and help each other out. Even when you get grouped up with someone you don’t necessarily like, you can at least work with them for that half-hour to forty-five minutes to get the quest done. It feels like a big thriving community even when there isn’t a ton of people on partly because you need other people to actually complete quests and can get them. Need a group to fill up a quest? Load up the grouping tab, create a party, and let it fill up. Most quests you can get a group for in under ten minutes depending on the time of day. When you’re feeling anti-social there’s always slayers where you can take that hireling healer out and go to town. Sure, my wife and I tend to duo dungeons with two healer hirelings each at lower levels, with some exceptions. We’re approaching the levels now though with our TR’d characters that most quests we’re doing we’ll need something more than hirelings for, and that means from here on out, pugging up a lot of quests or finding a new guild to run with, which is looking more and more like a possibility. But, we’re still not running these all solo.
Star Trek Online had an interesting grouping system, where if you’re in a star system on a quest and someone else pops in, you ended up in a group with that person to complete the quest so no one was fighting over resources. If it was a chain quest, most people just stayed grouped and finish the chain before dropping to do their own thing. While I have issues with a few things that pop up, like scanning for resources and who gets them, for the most part it worked OK and helped promote a bit of grouping for otherwise relatively easy quests that could be solo’d. Comparing these experiences to my recent experiences with TERA and Star Wars The Old Republic, both are relatively new on the scene, TERA just being localized to the US from Korea, Star Wars The Old Republic being BioWare’s foray into the genre that launched at the end of December. TERA has pretty much the same set-up as far as questing goes that Star Wars The Old Republic did. The bulk of the areas are at level and designed around a single player getting through them with relative ease to then turn in and head to the next area. They both use a system of hubs to do this. Even the harder areas are set aside from the main area, or at the very least the bigger critters that will take a group to take down are easily avoidable. Going into a quest that will take more people? Sure, but you’re getting enough experience that you can skip those. The whole game is designed around getting you to max level quickly and efficiently and ultimately, alone. Hell, Star Wars gives you companions that you can use that play off your character’s weaknesses to make a strong enough team that it makes it even faster. Who needs a group when you and your fictional best bud can take on almost everything by yourself?
And right now, both in TERA and Star Wars The Old Republic, it is pretty much impossible to get a group together to do things as you’re leveling up. Why is that? Well the rest of the game is a cakewalk, so why bother doing anything that’s harder that’ll take away from leveling when you can rocket up to 50 and worry about teaming up with people then? Add on to that a grouping system that relies on you spamming general chat for quests and coming up with nothing and the end result is the community is pretty much non-existent at lower levels. General chat is usually bickering about classes or which game is better than World of Warcraft or that nothing measures up to that behemoth. Not all of us want to rocket to end game and some of us, gasp, actually like running with other people. An MMO player who actually wants to play with others? Unheard of! TERA‘s end game looks to be interesting, but to be honest, I’m not sure I care all that much about the political system, especially since I’m not a guild leader and probably never will be there. Star Wars The Old Republic has a few interesting things, but I’m too busy working on all of my alts to really rocket up to end game. My only capped toon (character) there is my Smuggler and even then I haven’t gotten her through her third and final chapter to have nothing left to do with her but end game. Some of that has to do with not being able to get groups for the hard and group quests and partly me plucking along at my own pace. Hell, I can’t even get my guild to drop out of PVP and end game content to help me out anymore simply because they’re not interested and got to end game without help or running with others, so I’m guessing I won’t be sticking around there much longer. I do have a few friends from Twitter and former DDO players who are on different servers who I will love to team up with when I actually manage to get my characters made on their servers. Which really brings me to the thrust of this, MMOs are developing like this because we’ve asked for it.
Guild Wars took a bit out of its community when it introduced their Hero System in Nightfall, but it was something we’d asked for. Now you could team up with a hireling that you specced out with skills of your choosing and could even go so far as to time those skills yourself. I popped on over the weekend to finish up Eye of the North, and after trying to get a group to do the last quest in it for about an hour, gave up and paid some guy to solo me through it, which was amazing to watch by the way. I don’t have the keyboard skills to do that and sure as hell don’t have the builds for it. Most of Guild Wars missions you can just fill up your group with Heroes now. Some quests I find way too difficult to do with them, others it’s a breeze. I can’t micro-manage to save my life to be honest, and that’s my biggest issue there. I’m really hoping that their new system of just joining in with other players and scaling will fix some of those issues, and make Guild Wars 2 feel a lot more cooperative that the first game has evolved into.
I honestly can’t blame the developers entirely for this change. This is as much on player’s heads as it is the developers. Players have bitched and moaned for years that they should be able to solo play, and World of Warcraft really started that enabling, and because it has worked so well, this has trickled down to other games as they developed and even ones that had not started out that way. What it amounts to, though, is that for the bulk of your shiny new MMO game you may as well be playing a single player RPG like Kingdoms of Amaulur or Mass Effect for about eighty hours and then popping on to run a multiplayer game with your friends. If you look at Mass Effect 3 like an MMO, you’ve got it about right there. I spent about 35 hours beating the single player campaign my first run through, and about an hour or two with two other characters I’ve yet to finish and another 80 or so hours in the multiplayer section of Mass Effect 3. So really, by my logic, BioWare has two MMOs out right now, Star Wars The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3. I think that’s why I’ve picked up Dungeons and Dragons Online again after an eight month hiatus along with my wife. After cycling through several MMOs together, DDO just seems to deliver the right MMO experience we’re looking for, an actual MMO. Sure we’d run together in Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars The Old Republic, but she hates Star Wars outside of a few of the films and LOTRO feels too much like World of Warcraft for either of us really.
SWTOR has all of the RPG elements to it, but the MMO part of the mix isn’t anywhere near what it needs to be. I love the game, but ultimately, after almost five months, this is where it sits. I’m getting the same vibe from TERA, at least at the lower levels. I’m seeing this as a serious downside to the genre right now and it only looks to be getting worse, not better. If you don’t have a lot of friends to play with and have to pug a lot, you’re in for some serious disappointment in a lot of the titles out there, which is a shame. You’re paying that $10-15 a month for some of these games (I do pay for DDO as a VIP even though it’s free to play and I have a bunch of the packs already and of course Star Wars The Old Republic) just to play a single player title until you get to end cap and can run around with a bunch of somewhat elitist (I know this is a gross generalization, but for a lot of them it’s accurate) PVP players. If that’s what you’re looking for in an MMO, great, there are obviously plenty out there. Personally, I want a challenging quest that takes a group working together to overcome enemies to level up or get great loot, not just to get together and waste a bunch of other players in the endgame. My FPS days of wasting random people online are largely behind me with a few exceptions. I like working with other people to lay waste to fictional epic bad guys these days. My patience for PVP stupidity is at an all time low. If this is where the MMO market is headed though, count me out. I’ve got plenty of single player RPGs to keep me busy and I don’t have to pay a monthly fee to enjoy those.