Naithin has a post that’s caused some interesting conversation around MMORPGs and how some of us experience them. His post talks about FFXIV and how solo levelling can lack some of the MMO experience. This made me think back to my own older MMO experiences, which in some ways also lacked much in the way of MMORPG gameplay. To frame this, I’d characterise my take on the MMO aspects of these games as chiefly multiplayer content (e.g. dungeons, public quests) and reasons outside of said content to interact with other players (e.g crafting and the auction house).
I have played some MMOs very much in multiplayer mode: in World of Warcraft I’ve almost exclusively played it with others, also in Guild Wars 2 only in a duo and very often in a larger public group. Other games have sat in a middle ground somewhere between the two extremes of “always-grouping” and “always-solo”: Star Wars the Old Republic I have played a lot solo for class leveling, but also several static levelling groups and even some early guild experiences. Rift, as well, where I mainly quested solo to level but jumped into invasions and rifts (and later intrepid adventures) very happily to get some extra experience and rewards. It’s another game where I’ve also played in a levelling static group focused on dungeon runs.
I did play Final Fantasy 14 solo to start with and had a very similar experience I expect to Naithin – “more akin to a typical single-player RPG”. But even in this game, much like WoW and others, I got my husband interested in playing and from then on it was added to the roster of games where I only play if we are duo’ing content together.
Some MMOs I have played almost exclusively solo in contrast, most notably Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2. In these games I started out with a more MMO style experience in mind and joined a guild, or two, to look for grouping opportunities. In LOTRO’s case this was pre free-to-play conversion and the server’s lowbie zones were mostly devoid of other player characters – if memory serves the majority would have been in the depths of Moria at the time I dived into Middle Earth. I did get to run a good number of the earlier dungeons in those early months as the guild had a leveling static organised. Sadly that guild died, and the one I joined more recently was mostly end-game and solo focused; the only group experience I’ve had with them so far was of the “I’ll bring a max level character to run you guys through” kind.
Similarly in Everquest 2, I joined a guild soon after starting the game, but proper grouping opportunities were rare, and ‘boosted runs’ always feel like cheating to me. The only MMO aspects to me in this game are the public events, on the increasingly rare occasions that my character is leveled or geared enough to meaningfully take part, that and the active interest I take in selling spare items on the broker. Auctioning items has always been a part of my LOTRO gameplay also, one tenuous link to a wider community that is easier to engage with than bleeding edge content with steep gear-grind requirements.
For both games, I play mainly for the story, however controversial story in MMORPGs may be – it is story that keeps me engaged in the longer term, more probably than any guarantee of traditional MMO content (i.e. grouping). That I have stuck to EQ2 and LOTRO so long despite the lack of meaningful grouping says a couple of things. Firstly, neither game has functional systems to bring players together easily at least compared to say FFXIV or Rift. In 2021 I’m not interested in watching a LFR channel for grouping opportunities. I tried getting low level dungeon groups in LOTRO together via chat enough times and, even with some guild assistance, they just didn’t happen. In EQ2 I fear asking for a leveling dungeon group is more likely to receive a curt response of “solo it with your mercenary”, which misses the point entirely for me.
Secondly the leveling gameplay and story content is good enough, in both cases, to make it worth returning to the game when new content arrives. I have MMOs that I play mostly in a group, and others that I play mostly solo and I consider both types to be an important part of my gaming history and current gaming interests.