Accommodating Different Group Sizes In An MMO
My boyfriend and I finally got around to doing Rise Of The Hutt Cartel followed by the Shadow Of Revan expansion on Star Wars The Old Republic. We were really enjoying the time together and loved the assaults on Tython and Korriban flashpoints. Then we started to get into the newest expansion and suddenly we were being forced to play in personal phases, which feels a bit jarring considering that our characters have stuck together this entire time (we’re role players and imagine our Sith lords as a couple.) Despite the fact that I’m mostly a solo player, the fact that they’ve made it impossible to play with friends has niggled me slightly. My boyfriend and I are massive fans of Revan, so we wanted to be able to progress through it at the same rate and share in the excitement together.
To be fair, I never found Star Wars The Old Republic to be the easiest of games to play through with others. Each class has its own set of quests and as the choices are really important Bioware has ensured that nobody can interfere with your story. We usually meet up just to play the flashpoints together. It’s a shame however, because for me one of the selling points of the game was this idea that you’d be able to enjoy a story together with everyone having an influence on the outcome – otherwise, it could have been a single player game. We also had the initial problem of wanting to play on different sides (Republic or Empire?); It’s hard enough to get all of your friends into the same game at the same time, nevermind agreeing on which side to play on and choosing classes that complement each other (although I eventually encouraged them to convert to The Empire :P.)
It’s not the only MMO that I’ve had some trouble with in relation to the groupings for quests. I remember that Guild Wars 2 also creates separate instances that only one person can enter. There’s also the opposite problem where you want to do a solo run and can’t seem to progress until you’ve completed a group only quest. I wasn’t so keen on this part of Final Fantasy XIV as you can find yourself waiting around for a party to become available. Tibia also has the odd quest that requires you to come together with other classes (isn’t always easy to arrange,) although the openness of the game (no linear quest structure) means that skipping bits only results in missing out on the rewards. I can also imagine that if you’re a fan of PVP it’d be a nuisance to be held up with solo story quests just to be able to get the gear you need to compete with.
MMOs attract a wide range of players that have very different reasons for being there, so it can feel a bit restrictive when we feel like the mechanics are preventing us from being able to play the way we want to. I prefer to play solo, as a couple or with a small group of friends, but that often prevents us from being able to enjoy certain content that requires more players. It can also be difficult to make arrangements when everyone is busy or the game has quietened down enough to make finding a group time consuming. On the other hand, when you do finally arrange to play together it’s frustrating to be told you can’t. I personally feel that problems such as these can break my immersion with the world.
It depends on what you think an MMO should be, but I would like to be able to meet up in all sorts of consistencies at any time, akin to real life. It’d be challenging to balance, but I’d love to see more adjustable quests that can alter difficulty, number of enemies or add in helpful A.I. depending on your group size. Another option would be to design the world in such a way that keeps players circulated throughout so that each area is always bustling with activity. In Rift, the focus on mounts might seem a bit inconvenient at times but it also means that players can get caught up in events en route to quests. Tibia, despite all of its flaws, feels open and most of the quests are optional as well as allowing player created goals; Others can get involved whenever they fancy. I do feel, after all, that this is one of the key reasons for playing in a large online world, being able to have your friends pop in and out without too much difficulty. Another option for when I can’t locate a group is to come back to a quest later on when I’ve gotten strong enough to solo it. I’d also like to see alternatives to guilds for those of us that prefer to play in smaller, but close-knit friendship groups (like a fellowship perhaps.) It might be a bit on the geeky side, but I love the fact that in Tibia characters can get married as this acknowledges the fact that you’re linked together in some way.
Has anybody else ever felt like an MMO has been too restrictive on the people you can play with? Are there some good examples of games that don’t have this issue and how did they get around it?