Challenge in early gameplay for groups

A good chunk of my gaming time is devoted to playing MMOs with my husband and a close friend, it’s the reason why I often post on this blog about cooperative gameplay. In trying to find another game to play to fill the content-gaps between TSW issues, it’s rather noticeable how little challenge there is in early MMORPG gameplay.

We’ve recently sampled Neverwinter, a game that offers ample grouping-friendly content, but quite honestly, that gives little challenge to three players who are used to playing together. Our characters are in their late teens, level-wise, and none of the opponents have required any real thought or tactics.

Boss-fights are challenging, but normal mobs not so much.

Boss-fights are challenging, but normal mobs not so much.

We’re also going to be trying Star Trek Online, if certain client problems can be resolved (the game client seems less stable at the moment, possibly due to the expansion release?). The tutorial for STO is rather lengthy, and solo-only, so we’ve not yet grouped properly for me to judge whether missions will be three-times easier than solo, or whether there’s any attempt at scaling difficulty up for a group.

STO- solo tutorial

STO – solo tutorial

To date the only MMORPG that I can think of that frequently adjusts missions or quests for small groups is SWTOR – the game spawns extra opponents if you play such content with others. It’s an nice system, albeit one that relies on the game’s heavy use of instanced areas.

Class and group story instances allow SWTOR to scale challenges

Class and group story instances allow SWTOR to scale challenges

I could put the ‘rose-tinted’ glasses on and think back to early- WoW for the onetime presence of elite mobs in open world zones. Also if you’ve ever tried a Vanilla server for the game you may have experienced just how much weaker low-level characters feel compared to the heightened power levels you play in the modern game. It’s not necessary to travel back in time for open world challenges though: some more modern games, like Wildstar, have plenty of elite monsters out in the open world (those for small groups, and the zone raid-bosses too).

Tougher monsters can offer a challenge to a group

Tougher monsters can offer a bit more of a challenge to a group

The occasional tougher monster, or end of zone boss fight, can be a nice challenge to have but it’s not enough to keep interest levels up if I’ve waded through hundreds of boring, “tough as wet-paper” opponents to get there. I wonder whether we need a game that offers a more consistent level of challenge throughout the leveling/early content. I suspect that the only games able to offer this, would be those making heavy use of instances, like SWTOR.

It may well be that it’s unrealistic to expect a MMORPG to be able to offer challenge to a coordinated group, while simultaneously allowing solo players to complete the same zones or content. Action RPGs like Path of Exile do allow you to select a difficulty level, however you have to play through the story to first unlock the higher difficulty levels. For me personally, one playthrough is usually enough for me to want to move on to another game. Is it better for us to try a heavy-instanced MMO, an ‘old-school’ MMO that relies more on mandatory grouping or some other genre altogether?

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10 Responses to Challenge in early gameplay for groups

  1. Kaozz says:

    If you want a lot of group content there is always Everquest, the first one. Tons of zones and dungeons that work great with groups. Just a thought, as it’s always one I enjoy more when I’m not soloing. It’s not as streamlined being the age it is, but tons of options for groups.

    • Telwyn says:

      Everquest is certainly worth a look, I’ve never considered playing it solo but as a group game it could be worth a shot.

  2. I’m mainly a solo player, but I’d like to see a lot more challenge in low level content for MMOs. It doesn’t need to be punishing, but you should at least have to pay attention.

    I’m not sure how an MMO could provide a decent challenge for groups without making life miserable for solo players, though. At least not without, as you say, heavy instancing. In theory you could design a system to make enemies dynamically scale based on the number of characters fighting them, but that’s got to be a major technical challenge. WoW does this a little, but as far as I know it’s still only for certain mobs, and it doesn’t seem to work very well.

    If you’re in the market for an ARPG, I would like to note that Diablo III lets you choose your difficulty without finishing the game, and it automatically scales mob power based on group size.

    • Telwyn says:

      Yes, it seems a pretty difficult balance to strike. Regarding ARPGs; we did play Path of Exile to give a non MMO a try, but I found the click-fest gameplay pretty boring in the end. I’ve played Diablo 3’s original story through with my husband already so I doubt we’d bother with that again.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    Well, you already play EQ2, don’t you? The TLE and new RTT server have put a lot of the Heroic mobs back into the open world zones, right down to Antonica and The Commonlands. Its not like it was back in the day, thank heavens, when you literally couldn’t do anything without a group, but it’s a lot more group-friendly at low levels than the “Live” servers and of course the dungeons are all aimed at groups. And as Kaozz says, EverQuest remains suitable for groups at all levels.

    Rift is still good for groups at low levels in that there are still all those eponymous Rifts spawning everywhere, mostly ignored as far as I can see, which provide a challenge for duos or trios. Rift also has tough low level dungeons that would really challenge a trio – unless they’ve been nerfed…

    If you want a real challenge, though, try Ryzom. It’s a fascinating, beautiful game that has aged very well and its damn near impossible solo after the very early stages. You can’t even travel from one town to another without a group!

    • Telwyn says:

      There’s little chance the other two players will sub to EQ2 just to play on an old-school server I fear, especially with WoW’s expansion about to launch. Giving Everquest 1 a try however, now that’s something I’d like us to do when we have the time to give it a real go. We did play Rift earlier in the year but the questing is as annoying to do in groups as it is in any other game – sure the public quest content (the Rifts) are great but we’re not that keen on levelling all the way to cap completely ignoring the story along the way. Ryzom’s an interesting suggestion – we did try it as a trio many years ago (circa 2008 or 2009 I think?), might be worth another look!

  4. Sylow says:

    Just one thought on challenging low level content: what was the loudest feedback on TSW once players reached the savage coast or blue mountains?

    It required a lot of nerfing and rebalancing to make people just somewhat reduce the cries that the game would be too hard. This is a lesson several other games also had to learn and which many othery by now act upon right from the start.

    Sorry, but challenging content is something a too big part of us players does not want and will cry foul when encountered.

    • Telwyn says:

      I agree with the assumption that the majority of solo-players balk at too much challenge (or difficulty/grind) in PVE content. Some balance would be nice though – something that encourages grouping not as a blockage to progression through a zone but as optional side-attractions (c.f. SWTOR heroic mission zones).

      • Sylow says:

        Here i can again point to TSW: The first dungeon is accessible from the Kingsmouth map, the first mission zone of the game. The required gear is QL1, perhaps with a little QL2 sprinked in, so barely more than the starter gear. In turn, you get QL3 blue equipment, which is a nice upgrade but will be obsolete at the end of the Savage Coast, the second zone in the storyline, which again has its own dungeon.

        When I started that game together with two friends, we just picked up two people from general chat and did this dungeon in gear of that quality and were successful. (Although it made me give up blood as secondary weapon of choice and switch to fist instead, as that one served me much better in dungeon healing. ) But while we did it in adequate gear, most of the community only went for dungeons once they “completed the game” and had QL10 equipment. This behavior of “group content is only to be done after finishing the game” is deep into the players. Games are being built like that, and people expect that. If you provide lower tier group content, it generally is being ignored.

        One of the problems of course is “efficiency”. People know that low tier content also has low tier equipment drops, which will be obsolete in very limited time. (That’s also true for normal dungeons in TSW. ) They thus consider it a waste of time to do that hard content. The other part is kind of a catch 22. As players think they always are expected to first “complete the normal game” before going for group content, they disregard lower tier group content. So from an economical point of view, it seems to make no sense to create lower tier group content. But this in turn just educates more players that they should first “complete the normal game”.

        Unfortunately I now arrived at a philosophical corner where I just can stop writing, as there’s no solution for that which I’d be aware of.

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