Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lessons of EQ2: Part 2

In part 1, I looked at David Sirlin's 2006 article "World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things".

In particular, I wrote about the idea, as embodied in game design, that time spent means more than skill.

In this post, I'll look at Sirlin's second "wrong lesson"--the idea that group play is more important than solo play. First, let's let David have his say:

You can forget self-reliance, because you won't get far in World of Warcraft without a big guild. By design, playing alone (even if you are the best player in the world) will get you worse loot than if you always play in 5-man dungeons. If you always play in 5-man dungeons, you'll always get worse loot than if you play in 40-man raids. The player base has been hit over the head for so long with this notion of 40-man raids, that players are taking that as given. I see so many people who have been fooled into thinking this is justified, that it actually scares me. They think that you shouldn't be allowed to get good loot unless you do something with 39 other people, because that's harder. Coordinating 40 people is hard, but so is winning a Street Fighter tournament, which you have to do by yourself.

And then

As an introvert, I'm pretty outraged that this game is marginalizing my entire personality type. The developers repeatedly confirm that 40-man raids deserve the most powerful items. Many of the players are brainwashed by this poor assumption, often saying "It's an MMO, of course you have to group with 40 other people do accomplish anything." Ironically, World of Warcraft was originally founded on exactly the opposite idea. The game started off by saying that EverQuest had that philosophy, and that Warcraft will not. So much for that.

I'm sympathetic with David, at least a little bit. It seems WoW has pulled something of a bait and switch. It is possible to level a character all the way to the cap without ever grouping even once. It's not necessary, and you can do all kinds of interesting things. But as more players have reached the cap, and the game has matured, Blizzard, like every MMO company out there, has put in stuff to keep people interested, stuff like raiding, instances, etc. Which diminishes the impact of solo play.

It's tough to have something taken away from you. I sympathize.

I see two main questions as regards Everquest 2. First, is this true in EQ2? Second, is that, in fact, the wrong lesson?

Everquest 2 by and large offers greater rewards to raiders than to groupers, and greater rewards to groups than to solo players. There are a few exceptions, though.

The Band, Bangle, Bracelet, Earring, Signet, or Talisman of Thuuga is the reward for a quest line that is mostly solo. If you wanted the highest level challenge, you could maybe solo the whole thing, if you had the right class and the right set of god abilities. And it's going to take a lot of raiding before that item stops being part of your setup.

The Tynnonium Shackle is another solo-featured quest line. It's even hard to cheat it by doing it with a group instead of solo, though there are some parts, in the City of Mist, that seem to require a group. Someone I know may be able to solo in CoM (I'm looking at you Karaya!) but I certainly can't. But the challenge matches must be solo, you can't start them when you are grouped.

There are lots of other important stuff that can be done solo. All of the Lore and Legend stuff can be, though in a few cases, you might have to wait until certain heroic mobs go gray. Having a good Master Strike is important to many classes, though not necessarily to all.

But overall, it's clear that soloing in EQ2 is something you do when you can't get or can't afford to start a group right now. You don't have time, or you don't have the mood. There's still plenty to do that will advance your character, and is fun to do. You are having fun, right?

Unlike WoW, EQ2 has become more solo-friendly over time, rather than less. Sort of. The first version of the game did not distinguish between heroic and non-heroic mobs. So you could maybe solo whites in tier 1, blues in tier 2 and greens thereafter. The game went through a massive reorganization, and the heroic/non-heroic split was made. This was tough on lots of players: "Hey, yesterday I could take the lizardmen here in Feerott easy, and today they kick my ass! That's so unfair, I QUIT!" That's part of the game's evolution.

Eventually, we figured out that "Heroic" meant something important, and switched our UI so as to highlight it. SOE changed overland zones to have more solo-friendly mobs eventually, and kept the heroic stuff for dungeons, mostly. This concept has been broadened somewhat, and most players now understand the distinction, it's vital to survival.

But in any case, the game has been group-focused from the get-go. So there's less of a sense of "my pet toy has been broken".

But group play has been the focus of RPG's since long before there was an Ultima Online. Gygax designed D&D with character classes, the effect of which was to encourage cooperation and promote different roles within a party--a group. If you were rolling up a party to go dungeoning, you made sure you had a fighter, a cleric, a wizard and a thief or some variant if at all possible. Many a player tried to do everything, and ended up doing none of them well (D&D bard, I'm looking at you). This is a fundamental game design premise.

Other premises are possible: Diablo is an RPG that has classes more for replay value than to promote cooperation. Cooperative online play is possible with Diablo, but not the game design focus. But in the D&D/EQ lineage, cooperative team play is at the design center. If you want a game that rewards solo play equally, play a different game.

Teamwork is what attracts me to MMO's and to RPG's in general. I will have a critically important job to do at certain times, and at other times, I will be in the background. That's ok, that's what team play is about. Teams of competent people can do more than one, and two people cooperating can do more than two people doing their own thing. I don't find that an inappropriate life lesson at all.

And David knows this:

And yet, I also learned that no man is an island. ... The only way to become good is to play against others who are good. It takes a village to make a champion. You can't turn your back on the whole world because you NEED the community to improve. You must learn and train with them. It's pretty hard to do that without making some friends along the way, too.

You know, I like doing things that are unorthodox. Solo a heroic mob. Fight without a healer, or without a tank. Kill heroic content with just two people. Kill an Epicx2 with just 3 people. Sneak through a dungeon, just for the sheer joy of it. I like two-person groups. Lots of this stuff doesn't provide any external sign that you've done it--you don't get a title that says "Ace Two-person Grouper" or "I snuck to the bottom of Sebilis and all I got was this lousy Title" but that's ok with me. When you're 3000 years old, you don't have much to prove. Especially when the sexiness of your fabulous red hair is self-evident.

You want your teammates to be competent at their job, of course. And there are those who are not. That's just life.

If you're feeling jealous of what other people can do or what kind of gear they can get, I'm not one to say suck it up and ignore those feelings, though I used to be. I have learned to pay close attention to such feelings, as they are a sign that I should probably be doing something different. About a year ago, I bit the bullet, and respecced for DPS, got a parser, and started learning how to DPS with Toldain. Thus all the posts on it last year. This was after holding out for quite a long time that that wasn't my role, it's not what I do.

In fact, DPS still isn't the unique contribution of the Enchanter archetype, but a ssolid contribution can be made. I've got it up to a pretty respectable level, and I can also shine at my hallmark abilities: mezzing and power generation.

With a game-design hat on, I say there are some fairly simple things that could be done to please people like David. For one, add tournaments. The winner of this weeks tournament is the winner is the winner. There's a marketing problem here with existing games, the non-pvp players will be unhappy with renewed focus on pvp, but the implementation doesn't seem all that difficult to me. EQ2 has had a few games where a group plays with every toon for themselves, and a winner is declared and broadcast. LOTRO has something like this too.

However, I firmly believe that, as a player, the most important question to ask is, "am I having fun?" If the answer is "no", then something needs to change, and it needs to be something I have control over, which is usually NOT the game design.



Anonymous Karaya said...

In a way, philosophically, I agree with the idea that grouping provides greater rewards, and that grouping is just plain required to accomplish certain tasks.

However, I greatly appreciate EQ2's inclusion of solo content which, while not offering great material rewards, does produce significant Exp and AA gain. The abundance of solo content means that, exp-wise, soloing is very worthwhile.

In EQ1, I wanted so badly to solo. But the fact of the matter is, beyond level 20 or so, soloing was like digging a well with a plastic spoon. Grouping was an absolute imperative, just to accomplish the overland grind and gain exp.

That required grouping, many times, drove me away from EQ. Sometimes I just get burned out trying to work with other people, and I just need to work alone for a bit. So I'd have to go play another game to really satisfy my solo fix.

The problem with having to go to another game, though, is that by leaving EQ, I'm also leaving behind the comraderie of chatting with my guildmates. What I really want is the option to adventure solo, but stay connected to my guildmates while I play. And I have to say, I think EQ2 does a really good job of allowing me to do this.

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Karaya said...

One more note. I don't know if this applies to other classes, but I'm speaking as a coercer. I have noticed that the void shard armor (Enthralling Silk & Spellbinder's Spidersilk) offers a decent amount of Subjugation - just enough to max my Subj in combination with my Subj AAs & adornments.

Subj is extremely important as a solo coercer. At least, if you charm and hunt in the 83-84 range. Which I do.

BUT, I took a look at the raid-pattern coercer set (Twisted Thoughts), and noticed that none of the pieces have Subj. The set is super focused on huge DPS. The bonuses for DPS are phenomenal, but as a soloer, it doesn't really excite me. The Spellbinder's Spidersilk set seems much more suited to charm solo work. And that's the set I can acquire through casual play with my crew of non-raid friends.

That observation, coupled with the new +X Critical Mitigation mechanic (which is only really important in raids), has me wondering if SOE is starting to make a little effort to reward casual & solo players with items *specifically* geared toward casual & solo play, and hardcore raid players with items *specifically* geared toward raiding.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Milia said...

Oh! I like your last interpretation Karaya. I would really really like it if that were the direction that they are trying to go.

10:11 AM  
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