A topic I often refer to on this blog is my desire for removing the barriers to grouping in the MMORPGs that I play – especially while levelling. I game with my partner often and with friends as well. So a criteria that weighs heavily on how long I play a given game is the ability to “just play” with those friends. My gaming time is precious to me and I’d always prefer to be playing these games with friends over having to queue with random strangers.
Looking across the major MMORPGs that I’ve played long enough to progress past an initial taster or the starter zones shows that there is a lot of variation in how far these games support this play preference.
In this simplistic analysis I’m scoring each game according to a set of features that I have identified as having an impact on my ability to easily play MMORPGs with friends. In most cases I score a game +1 (‘Y’) where a feature is available and zero (‘N’) where a feature is not.
Here’s the scores for all the games and the breakdown of the points allocated for each feature.
Two games stand-out as being particularly “just play” friendly at the moment: Rift and Wildstar are equal 1st, with STO in 3rd and SWTOR 4th. Of these four I have group-levelling and dungeon experience in Rift, Wildstar and SWTOR and can attest that each game offers a pretty easy grouping experience. STO I have only really experienced solo so cannot comment beyond the testimony of wiki and forum sources that these features are in-game.
At the bottom of this ranking are World of Warcraft and Tera. At present WoW is focused still on endgame grouping – levelling together is possible but cross-server groups (via Battle.Net) is the only factor the game meets for this comparison. Tera is Free to Play but lacks any other features to ease grouping, at least while levelling.
This post overlaps with a discussion Syl started on grouping versus solo. My stance as always is that I prefer grouping but I want to have some control over the size of the group and when to group. If a game allows me and a few friends to just group up and play some content, then great. If it puts up barriers like “you need another 2 players” or “you have to be the same level” then that’s simply not good enough in 2016.
Does this ranking agree with your experiences? If not how would you score these games differently?
I’m sure given more time and research I could have expanded the list of factors and added nuance to some of them. Some explanatory notes on the features and the scores follow below.
Here a brief explanation for each factor that I’ve included and some notes on what I include and exclude from it.
Whatever my feelings on specific models of Free to Play access to a game, it certainly is very helpful for allowing friends to play together without the subscription paywall; especially where we’re trying a new game but haven’t yet decided whether it’s likely to ‘stick’ with all of us.
Being able to down-level your character to play with a friend who tries the game at a later date is a great way to encourage grouping. It’s especially nice to be able to quickly group up with them to help them through a more difficult quest without removing all semblance of challenge. To avoid over-complicating the table I’ve scored games +1 for this factor where they have Zone-mentoring, i.e. where your character’s level adjusts automatically for the zone’s level range.
Although this is similar to the above it is functionally different. I see this feature as being useful to allow a newer character to join in on community events, public quests or newly released instances. The long levelling game can be great, but it can also be very, very frustrating to feel rushed into hitting that cap just because you’re missing out on activities that guildmates or friends are busy enjoying.
Factions can drive story and the motivation for PVP but honestly they’re a pain when it comes to settling into a new game. As I’ve gamed more and widened the circle of people I now from various games and guilds it’s inevitable that some will fall the other side of the faction divide because they prefer one of the other faction’s classes, races or starter zones.
Even worse than the above is the barrier to grouping where your friends happened to roll their character on a different server. I’m strongly opposed to paying a studio £15 or more just for an automated process to transfer my character to their server. Being able to group, regardless of server, temporarily for a dungeon is great. Being able to group for open world content is even better! *Here I’m scoring mega-server games as a +1 because they’ve effectively eliminated the issue by not splitting the playerbase across distinct servers.
Being able to run dungeons together regardless of your actual character level is a great feature. If the game has mentoring in some form then the same benefit can be achieved that way but some games have level-agnostic instances without adding mentoring so I’ve split it out as a separate factor.
Notes on specific scores
Final Fantasy 14
I gave 0.5 to FFXIV for Mentor Down because you can sync your level for FATEs and dungeons but not for questing or other open world content.
I gave 0.5 to LOTRO for Mentor Up because the level scaling feature in Epic Battles and PVP allow characters of levels 10 and up to temporarily mentor up to join friends in instanced content.
I gave 0.5 to SWTOR for Mentor Up because there is a “bolster” system in PVP and certain “tactical” instances to allow lower level characters to participate but isn’t available for other content.
I have deliberately left The Secret World out of this post because it’s just so different from the other games that it would be unfair to include it. It scores only 2 based on these features but then it has no levels and a very flat gear-curve so would score much better if other criteria more suitable to a level-less MMORPG were used.