Saylah over at Mystic Worlds had a great post about Why We Solo in MMOs. The post is a great read and the comments are also interesting. There are quite a few people that for one reason or other have to solo in MMOs and game designers ignore them at their peril. A large part of WoW’s popularity is its soloability. Many of LotRO’s struggles have to do with the difficulty of solo quests (both in finding them and in some cases doing them). LotRO has improved throughout the book updates (time will tell as I am now leveling a human lore master).
As I mentioned in my comments on her blog, preparing a game for solo content is necessary due to the leveling mechanics of most games. The whole server, when it first opens, starts at level one. Then, over the course of weeks and months, the level of the general population rises. What you end up with is a large number of people at the level cap and everybody else left behind. For those people behind the curve the game will need to provide some accommodations for solo play as groups will be few even if one were inclined to group; based on the feedback in Saylah’s article, the accommodations should be generous and many.
A post by VanHemlock on his blog about the old AC terminal mission sliders (note: the link is not working at this time – go to the main page and look for the article “The Terminal of Empowerment” if the problems persist) provides some interesting counter-points. Terminals in AC apparently (I have not played the game) allowed for users to essentially create their own soloable instance depending on what they wanted / liked to do. In City of Heroes, a game I have played, NC Soft had some similar ideas where you could talk to a contact to attune your mission settings and then race around getting missions from other NPCs at the settings you chose. The result was some of the most monotonous game play I’ve seen. The maps were all based off of other, similar maps and it’s really no fun stepping into officer building model number four for the hundreth time and knowing that the big bad guy you need to take out is up three floors in the third office on the left beside the potted plant.
While I’m all for solo content in MMOs (I do spend a lot of time soloing) that content needs to be viable and feel like part of the world at large. It needs to be new and exciting in its presentation and carry the same possibilities of randomness that walking through an in-game city provide. Immersion in a video game, especially an MMO, requires the same kind of randomness real life provides (the same kind though not necessarily the same degree – watching a group of players suddenly racing down the street on horseback is random; having them run you over and kill you is also random but I don’t think players want to risk death penalties just for walking around in a city). The CoH instances, which were the death of the game to me, were too static. When you present people a puzzle they’ve heard a thousand times, it’s not really a puzzle anymore but just a question to which we already know the answer.
Dynamic content still has a ways to go in MMOs but the article is an interesting look at the way one game tried to pull it off.
I created my first viable alt since my burglar. I have tried to get into the Hunter class (too much like every other ranger / hunter) the Guardian class (great defenses but hits like a tween-age hobbit girl) and the Champion (dps, more dps, wtf dps, rez plz). So in tinkering around I tried a class I had dismissed at first: the Lore Master. It took a fair amount of patience to get to level ten. I used my pet raven and hit my two or three spells per fight and thought it all rather dull. As I got to ten though, I picked up my mez (works on all but the undead and it’s cool down is less than the duration so I can chain-stun mobs). I also got some goodies to improve my pet damage or defense and some nasty debuffing spells. The Lore Master is very fragile, but the bear pet is a great damage mitigator.
Bildo has some info on his blog about the upcoming Age of Conan. Looks like there will be an open beta coming May first.