MMO questing and co-op gameplay

There’s a lot of posts this last week or so addressing the nature of questing in MMORPGs and how that affects grouping. Jewel has a post on the evolution of questing addressing some very fundamental issues that are contentious – namely how much should you group during leveling and what can be done to enable easier grouping while leveling. Syl adds to this conversation in the intro to her post on questing in Wildstar. She talks about how Wildstar is incentivising grouping up while you quest.

Azuriel has a post with a different, if related conversation about MMO vs Co-Op gaming. That’s an issue I’ve seen raised in many MMO forums over the years, is there any difference from a wider server community viewpoint, if you solo to cap or level as a duo? In either case you’re less likely to have quite limited interaction with random grouping as there aren’t that many challenges in MMOs that a good small team can’t take on unless it’s a dungeon or similar content that mandates a fixed group size.

For me MMORPGs as a genre are so attractive because they can be played with friends regardless of physical location – a marked improvement on earlier co-op gaming on a local network. My early years of playing WoW (2007-2011ish) were easily 95% ‘coop’ by Azuriel’s definition – we played within our small guild & friends. In Neverwinter I’ve pugged skirmishes a lot for Call to Arms events but other than that it’s only since we created a new guild of WoW-friends that I’m getting seriously into dungeon-running.

There’s an important point here for me. I want to play MMORPGs, not just co-op games over the internet because small group content isn’t the only type of content I want in-game. I want to play games with a wider horizon and bustling capital city hub. I want to have a functioning economy and auction house so I can sell and buy stuff with other players I may well never meet. It’s part of that larger experience. Random encounters out in the field can be a highlight of a session – simple little emotes or buff spells cast are always nice.

I don’t see a return to forced grouping as a good thing – I’m playing the game to play, not to wait for friends to login or for a random group finder to find someone on the same quest. *However* I also want games to support small group gameplay, design your game so a pair or trio can quest together without the quest mechanics breaking or multiplying up the grind! That’s an issue I want to see addressed more obviously and consistently in the genre going forward. The horrible phasing issues in Elder Scrolls beta was the most recent example of how not to do this. The bugs still in-game two years later in SWTOR really should have been fixed by now. Neverwinter’s more recent content, especially in Icewind Dale has issues with inconsistent handling of conversations when grouped.

That for me would be real progress on questing or ‘engagement’ as Jewel puts it. I play games for longer if I can play them with friends without the game punishing me for being in a group. It’s all very well having public events, open grouping or similar evolved systems in these games but how does that support my preferred playstyle? I happen to want to read the quest text, to watch the cutscenes (at least the first time!) and to enjoy the world I’m playing through. GW2’s event system, Rift’s Instant Adventures or WoW’s recent Timeless Isle zone offer opportunities to play massively solo RPGs if you want or to group up with a few friends and do something vaguely challenging but the cost of such systems is that you have zero control over the general pace of play.

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3 Responses to MMO questing and co-op gameplay

  1. tsuhelm says:

    Awesome stuff…In my humble opinion, the endless possibilities, countless permutations and the ability to choose ‘What when and how’ make the MMO the beast it is…why anyone would want to restrict this is beyond me.

    The same content approached with different classes, groupings (inc. solo) add flavors and experiences simply missed otherwise.

    Any game simply played through once and then discarded is wasteful, the nuances and shiny gem moments of the game are only discovered after repeated play and MMO’s generally do such a good job at motivating players to do just that!

  2. Shintar says:

    I think you raise a very good point in that small group gameplay in MMOs seems to be given relatively little thought and attention when it comes to quality control, which is really quite surprising from this player’s point of view.

    Most recently while questing in Neverwinter, I realised that there are at least four different ways in which a quest to click on something on the ground can work, in terms of how quest credit is handled in a group, and there is no rhyme or reason to when the game applies which system. Now, this is a relatively harmless example, but these things run rampant in many games from what I’ve seen. In a worst case scenario you get things like the phasing issues in ESO, where the devs seemed to be completely baffled by the mere idea of people wanting to do quests together

    I actually think that this is one thing that SWTOR does really well (though your criticism of the bugs happening in three or four person groups in particular has been very valid). Features like a solid way to handle story advancement in a group or even simply being able to see your group mates’ quests in your log and on the map are things that I’ve sorely missed whenever I’ve been dabbling in other MMOs.

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