The trend of games adopting or readopting cooperative gaming for the open world seems to be building pace. Two games have recently moved in this direction, I find this trend very interesting as it fits nicely with my current preferred playstyle. I say in the title to this post that it is ‘coming of age (again)’ because we’ve been through several years of MMOs where grouping was basically an end-game only activity. Very early MMOs had forced mandated grouping of course, but that predates just about my experience of online gaming. Now games developers seem to be coming back around to positively encouraging it from a much earlier stage.
As TAGN notes, EQ2 now has removed the much derided penalties to XP for grouping. These penalties must have contributed to the general culture in the game that “soloing is faster” for most leveling content. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen someone verbally ‘smacked down’ for daring to ask for a group for quests. Such requests on Freeport have always been greeted by “it’s faster* to solo it with a merc” (* faster here meaning xp/minute efficiency). I’d be very interested in tracking whether this has a longer term impact on the perceived lack of grouping outside of guilds.
Also, closer to home, Rift has removed monster tagging in the open world. This is a recent change but I feel that things are changing already. I’m seeing a lot more players helping to kill monsters. Now this of course could be more because they want credit for a carnage (kill X monsters) quest. However the end result is that you can quickly have a small group of characters running through the zone slaying creatures together without necessarily partying up. The downside to this system as noted in comments is that people might throw one damage over time spell on a creature and run off to do other stuff leaving you to do most of the effort. Personally I haven’t noticed this happen yet, but the dev notes that they’re continuing to tweak the system.