How welcome are other player characters when you’re out and questing? Do you ever chip in to help fight or heal a stranger when out in the field? These are the questions I’m writing about in this blog post. I play MMORPGs almost exclusively because the game has that wider community dimension. Even if I’m mostly solo’ing in Everquest 2, or playing in a static dungeon group in World of Warcraft; it doesn’t stop me stopping and observing other players riding past on a fancy mount, or casting the odd ‘drive by buff’.
Beyond such superficial distractions or interactions, MMORPGs vary a lot in terms of whether they encourage you to be friendly to other players or to prefer playing in isolation. Older games positively discouraged joining a fight already under way, even penalising those who dared. In Lord of the Rings Online, before the devs introduced open tapping to the open world content – a marked contrast to older system of assist experience which effectively stole a share of experience from the character or group tapping a mob, while not rewarding any XP the out of group giver of assistance.
Getting no XP from a tapped mob, usually denoted by their name or portrait turning grey, is a common enough thing. In earlier World of Warcraft this was the standard model for many expansions. It meant that you could heal a character that was about to die (if they were your faction of course), or even help kill the monster though you’d still gain no XP or items if outside the group.
In Everquest 2, outside of public quest content, the game retains an even stricter old-school tapping model. By default encounters are locked once you tap a monster or its group, meaning you cannot help in a fight or heal a character in a locked encounter (with a little padlock symbol). The upside is there’s little in the way of over-pulls as patrolling monsters will ignore your combat by the same rules that players are locked out. The downside is, at least based on my casual observations that this lock mechanism seems to be the more popular choice among players I encounter, there’s no scope for helping others. That’s not to say players aren’t ever friendly, I’ve seen enough acts of random kindness (gifting money or suitable items for your class out in the field) to know otherwise. But with a mercenary out in the field it does tend to give the game a more lonely tone overall.
This contrasts starkly with the public quest content in the game, where players are actively engaged with one another in boss fights or escort quests, like the macabre Erollisi Day (a k a Valentine’s Day) themed Love Will Lead You Back. I love this type of content in the game as it really brings players together and leaves you able to casually contribute on common goals.
World of Warcraft has done a rather better job of moving away from isolating mechanics in the last few expansions – open tapping on more monsters and gathering nodes, the return of some buffs, and plenty of open world content to encourage positive player interactions (e.g. world quests and world bosses).
The game feels a bit more friendly to play as a result, not because players are forced to work together to survive, but because there aren’t penalties or barriers to joining forces and there’s content to drive such interactions.