A Single-Player MOBA?

Tobold has come up with an intriguing, if heretical, idea: Why not a soloable or single-player MOBA (or game mode?)

It’ll catch a hitherto untapped audience, those that prefer PvE or those that can’t commit to the length of a match with other players (without a pause button to periodically go AFK) or those simply too nervous to learn the depth of a MOBA while facing the habitual toxicity of its regular audience (and provide a stepping stone training mode for those who might not mind PvP but want some extended practice by themselves first.)

The imagined protests that immediately cross my mind are those that shriek, “OMG, the very POINT of a MOBA is to group up to defeat challenges! Teamwork and communication are critical! The very feeling we’re craving is in that practiced coordination and super-smooth execution! Go solo somewhere else, like a singleplayer RPG, and not in MY game!”

Amusingly, it seems to be a similar protest to those who oppose soloability in MMOs, or soloable dungeons, or what-have-you.

There appears to be an underlying fear that they won’t have anyone to play with, if a solo option existed.

But frankly, that seems to be a completely off-base assumption, given the example of both solo and group options co-existing in MMOs. The social players still party up and complain bitterly about instances that force them to solo, the solo players still wander off by themselves and complain bitterly about instances that force them to group, and if the devs manage to hit that magic “no-forcing, solo or group as you prefer” option, then everyone seems more or less happy, or at least, content to deal with it.

Creating alternative game modes is great for variety, offering choices for people with different preferences.

The danger seems to be mostly overwhelming a player with options (which basically means they need a linear progression path or some kind of signposting or a “do this activity for more bonuses today!” promotion), plus the issue of having to devote sufficient developer resources to tend to that game mode.

Some people might wonder, “Well, in many MOBAs today, you can already play solo, in a sense. What’s he going on about?”

It’s true. Many many people solo queue into a match that contains other players on both sides.

Still others will solo queue into a co-op game, in which players are all on one side and bots on another, which is the equivalent of GW2-like social engineering – everyone on the same side, incentivized to cooperate against a computer-controlled enemy team, essentially PvE in a MOBA.

Anyone can easily set up a bot game in which all other nine players are bots, where they are completely alone and left in peace to do whatever the hell they want, or a custom game where they can tweak some variant of this player-bot formula to however they like.

But I think Tobold is implying something a little more. That developers can explore this as yet unexperimented-with space or niche further.

An easy analogy is that of dungeons in an MMO.

People expect to group up, to have roles and experience teamwork while defeating a sequence of enemies (with complex mechanics to learn) for rewards at the end.

However, we have the example of Guild Wars 1, which turned the concept of dungeoning on its head a little by letting players solo their way through pretty much all instances with henchmen or heroes (and mind you, some players still grouped to do the harder dungeons faster and more efficiently.) Ditto The Secret World, if I remember correctly, some instances were soloable.

We have Guild Wars 2, which has experimented with the idea of the Queen’s Gauntlet, a solo-only series of challenges (with complex mechanic to learn), as well as inadvertently produced a challenging side activity of soloing dungeons meant for groups (which appeals to another subset of players.)

Why not create MOBA game modes with a little twist to them?

One interesting possibility that comes to mind goes back to a MOBA’s RTS roots. Just like you could have one player control a number of heroes in GW1, why not let a single player control multiple MOBA heroes?  That would probably be a great multi-tasking, micro-taxing, control-group practice singleplayer challenge right there. It’s not as if MOBAs don’t embrace that concept already, with heroes that can summon other mobs or illusions.

Something else players of singleplayer modes do expect is some kind of narrative or progression path to follow. Why not throw in a story mode in chapters bookending MOBA fights, perhaps with preset groups of opposing or allied heroes?

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Duels of the Planeswalkers is a Magic: The Gathering game that some players buy for its PvP, and some of whom merely buy to play its singleplayer chapters or puzzle challenges, unlocking cards along the way.

One might protest that without other players to show off vanity cosmetics to, that the whole revenue stream of a MOBA might break down.

However, one could also offer hero unlocks a la League of Legends or Marvel Heroes, or even content unlocks where each hero has a ‘story mode’ that you could pay for in microtransactions. PvP players who don’t give a damn wouldn’t be nickle and dimed at all, while PvE players who like that sort of thing might be convinced to pay $2-5 for several more hours of unique gameplay/maps/puzzle/story DLC.

Unlocking special achievements or increasing levels are another easy way to keep a singleplayer gamer solo farming or engaging in speed runs or mastering Dark Souls-difficulty challenges to their heart’s content. Get X number of last hits or creep or hero kills, win Y as hero or other, defeat Z mob with some kind of mechanic or finish the match in a set amount of time or whatever.

You could have leaderboards for this version of asynchronous competition too, again akin to certain competitive mode challenges in Guild Wars 1, or even in games like Batman: Arkham _Whatever_, where you have combat and predator challenges for a single player to test themselves against, improve their score versus other players’ scores and so on.

In my opinion, the singleplayer MOBA (or variant game modes thereof) is certainly worth a company’s time to experiment and tinker with. It’ll be interesting to see which MOBA decides to eventually branch or innovate in this direction, or if they think grabbing their handfuls of the competitive PvP / eSports pie is more than sufficient to focus on.

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GW2: The Nightmares Within the Tower

The calm before the toxic storm...

A sucking chest wound is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

Murphy’s Laws of Combat

No, really. Stop running. Start fighting!

Ok, so I did contribute about four blue skulls’ worth of zerker guardian trying to do the “I don’t need to run faster than those two Elites, I just need to run faster than YOU” thing, following the zergling impulse of go fast, rush past “trash” and trying to group up with those further ahead.

All of it on the death trap known as the third floor, where everybody but me seemed to -not- see the air canister “safe zones” and continued dashing ahead while I slowed down and was torn between trying to catch a breath and fight off a zerg-spawned worth of mobs by myself (not happening) or catching up with the panicked mob of players milling around lost and hallucinating while twisted clockwork spawned in, eager to take vengeance for all those prior failed invasions and trying to survive with blown cooldowns and not many more heals or blocks or invulnerable left (s’ not happening either.)

It took about that length of time to realize that every event was locking the doors and preventing forward progress via running, and that all those screaming over mapchat that this was too awfully hard were doing so because we players as a group were applying the absolutely wrong strategy to navigating the Tower of Nightmares.

Selfishness leads to a healthy chance at dying off by yourself. Teamwork gets you up. (Both up from downed and literally up to the top.)

I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though...
I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though…

At one point, I tried a group recruitment message and got a total of two people joining a party, which worked right up to the midway point where they decided to fall behind and jump into a nightmare chamber (cancel popup) while the immediate collective of individuals I was following was still pushing on.

I gave up with formal grouping after that, since it wasn’t any guarantee that the group would stick together. The public informal groups of whoever was in the vicinity did just fine. (For the record, that collective made it right to the top.)

Besides, killing everything gives you more chances to pop neat stuff. Like key parts, a recipe for an infinite krait tonic, and so on.

One day later, when I decided to have a change of pace and bring my zerker necro in, it felt like more people had figured this out and had started to spontaneously group up and kill stuff. (Or maybe they mistook all my minions for a zerg. Whatever works.)

I'd watch the dodge key there, if I were you.
I’d watch the dodge key there, if I were you.

I like the Tower.

I really do.

Ravious says GW1 players are comparing the Tower of Nightmares to the Underworld and Fissure of Woe instances of yore.

Really? I felt those instances were a lot harder and more time-consuming, possibly because I was trying to solo them with a not-at-all min-maxed loadout of heroes and had to take my slow and steady time with them. (One death means you’re out, when you’re the only player on the team.)

To me, this update feels like another do-over.

Lost Shores – Assault on the Karka Queen, as having listened to their players and not made it a one-time one-off affair, open-world and encouraging groups of 10-30 to work together instead of having 100-200 players corralled into the same dynamic event fighting lag as the enemy.

Sure, this means that occasionally groups of players who are a little less well-informed or well-versed with the ways of the tower will encounter a chaotic experience of mass deaths, but as Wyldkat, a Tarnished Coast resident, often likes to say, “Live and learn. Die, and learn faster.”

Have I mentioned how utterly awesome the instance scaling is?

Let me correct that, then.

Solo to five players!

I get to feel like a hero in my own story if I want to!

I get to group up and join other people if I want to!

I am deliriously happy that they took the trouble to make this work. Mostly the number of mobs in each chamber you encounter will spawn to a size that matches your party.

I like the small bits of storytelling that go on in each Nightmare instance too. And the randomized aspect of them keeps them -somewhat- novel.

I’ve caught character exchanges between Rox and Braham, Marjory and Kasmeer, Marjory and Braham, Rox and Kasmeer, Rox and Majory so far.

If you pay attention, you learn a little more about some of the characters (and have a good laugh at some others. Braham keeps hallucinating up his mom.)

Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Getting some 'origin' vibes for why she's a necro here.
Getting some ‘origin’ vibes for why she’s a necro here.

I like the little nods that they managed to slip in regarding the personal story and hope they manage more of it in future updates. (Depending on your race, you seem to get an encounter with your respective racial representative, and depending on your order… well, let’s say we’ve had a reunion of sorts with somebody. I need to bring in a character who is Order of Whispers soon.)

It’s made for a few interesting encounters.

Oi. We're both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.
Oi. We’re both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.

And later in this encounter, we fought a hallucination of Rytlock Brimstone and some Blood Legion summons to Scarlet’s accompanying leer: “Rytlock has a special file where he records all your mistakes. They’re adding up.”

Which was immensely immersive since both Rox and my charr are Blood Legion, and we know Rox has an inferiority complex where Rytlock is concerned. (Directed at my charr? Nah, can’t be. His self-esteem and relationship with Rytlock’s far too healthy for that.)

rarrrkillingrage

This little dig got through though. Rarrrrrgh. Must kill insolent leafy things.

Final cinematic cutscene sequence? Verrah nice. Aesthetically-speaking.

I like that they at least attempted to sum up all the threads and factions that Scarlet has been accumulating per update, even if thematically, it feels like she’s cobbling them together out of a junkheap of spare parts.

I did, in fact, kind of miss the Molten Alliance, and was glad to see them back in a small form, including ol’ molten berserker.

maybemorepeoplewillrecognizemytonicnow
Maybe more people will recognize my infinite tonic now when I bounce around in it. (Hey, it cost me quite a bit of gold, I gotta get my money’s worth.)

The difficulty level of the instances felt fine. I’ve soloed them (and the final instance) on a zerker guardian and a zerker necro. Got downed once or twice but managed to rally up from a weakened mob or an NPC came by to help rez.

I did a group version of the final instance to see how the dynamic scaling worked, and it also seemed to match perfectly.

We did make it extra hard on ourselves during the Molten Alliance portal phase because three people were like OMG, killz0rs all teh portals, we vill skip past zis trash, wat, u mean we don’t?! and one person had no clue how to kite the molten protector out of his fiery shield (it’s always the one with the aggro, right?) so we delivered unto ourselves the world’s biggest spawn of Molten Alliance, conveniently made invulnerable 75% of the time. That took ages to whittle down. We had lots of time on our hands trying to convince the one guy to move out of the fiery ring.

Despite that minor fiasco, we only had one person being downed near the start to rushing headlong into some toxic alliance, and while I was thinking that might have screwed up our final no-dying achievement chance, we managed to take down the champion hybrid with no downs, no deaths that I can recall and the achievement popped. So that was good.

Thus passes a god. Poor bugger.
Thus passes a god. Poor bugger. Never listen to Scarlet.

Speaking of achievements, let’s have another round of applause for the continuing saga of more sane numerical levels.

1 time, 3 times, 5 times, up to 10 and 15 only. No 25, 50, 100, 225! (DAMN that 225!)

All in all, good stuff.

I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in here, I think, just for the fun of it.

Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec... *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash levels*)
Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec… *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash-I-can-actually-move-without-slideshow levels*)

My only moderate worry is that if the crowds move off in time, like the Mad King’s Labyrinth, it might be impossible to get to the top at some point.

Still, I have noticed that the dynamic events probably do scale. We had a Veteran Spider Queen at one point, instead of a champion.

And during the free 5 captives from cocoons event, when it was just a ranger and me, we were only facing a veteran and two normal mobs per spawn. When the zerg came over, we started popping champions. (Hey, look, new champion farm, people!)

So I suspect that as long as two or three people work together and take it slow and steady, it is possible to eventually get all the way up even if the rest of the place is deserted. (Unlike certain halloween bosses I can think of.)

I suppose if we ever to get to such a stage of abandonment, that would be the time for coordinated groups to move in and treat the place like an extended dungeon.

On a crowded server, I suspect one can always find another one or two interested people.

(Though convincing them to stick together and not run off to follow their own agenda might be a mite more tricky. Oh well, that’s the open world aspect for you. Win some, lose some.)

GW2: On Salvaging Exotics and Dungeons

Two unrelated shorts that I felt like commenting about:

“Salvaging exotics make me feel ill. I only ever did it once and it was so depressing I never even considered doing it again. Having it as an actual mechanic is incredibly off-putting. Those things should be loved and cherished and desired, not melted down for spare parts.”

 

Bhagpuss, from a very interesting comments thread in his Sitting It Out Post

I have to agree, though I do have 12 Globs of Dark Matter sitting in the bank from biting the bullet and salvaging the exotics my artificer produced on his way to 450+ crafting. It was either that or sell them on the TP for prices I was sure were lowered in value since everyone and their mother was also doing the same thing.

This is perhaps irrational sentimentality, but I have this hoarded collection in my bank, and am so far unwilling to get rid of them via TP or salvage or what have you:

exotics

From top left to bottom right, they are Ebonblade, Pillar of Ulgoth, Mecha Anchor, Siren’s Call, Master Blaster, Arc and Settler’s Amulet of the Apothecary.

Perhaps you can tell my weakness is generally for named exotics. Some of them have stories attached to them.

Iirc, I got Ebonblade out of the end chest of the Lost Shores Karka Chest, along with Magmaton (presently sitting happy with my warrior.)

Pillar of Ulgoth of course dropped during one of the rare times I chased the whole centaur chain in Harathi Hinterlands to completion.

Mecha Anchor and Siren’s Call were random drops, but one looks cool and I think the other was one of the first ever exotics that dropped in WvW for me.

Master Blaster, how can you not love a name like that?

Arc came from chasing champions, the only exotic that dropped from those chests for me (which shows you my rotten RNG luck.)

The Settler’s Amulet from one of my peaceful farming interludes cleaning out karka, which came as a total surprise, since I had no idea these things could drop.

It’s sad that a good part of this named stuff isn’t of much value besides the chance they might have a good skin or sigil to make use of. Certainly nothing along the lines of being excited to see a precursor name or legendary name.

I understand rationally the need to start salvaging, since these things random drop and will accumulate over time, causing supply to keep building up with insufficient demand, If we don’t want a price crash on these things over time, then it’s good to make their salvage product special and valued.

But it still feels kinda sad that that’s all they’re being relegated to.

(Maybe if more new legendaries came out, these would eventually have their day in the sun when they turn into precursors.)

Massively just recently put up a Daily Grind post on the dungeons you hate in a game you love.

I confess I’m stunned to see the amount of massive GW2 dungeon hate.

I know rationally that this is self-selecting. People avidly playing games of their choice do not really frequent a conglomerate news site talking about the latest, greatest MMO to check out. (Personally I stopped haunting the place daily once I committed to GW2.)

But given the amount of incomprehension on how players can contribute to their group while in a team, I suddenly understand why it is that in most of my PUGs, bleeding or poison conditions only fly off people when -I- press a skill.

It sounds elitist, maybe, which is odd, because I consider myself a rank amateur at dungeons.

I suppose this is again self-selecting. People who have terrible trouble and bad experiences in dungeons generally do not repeat the same activity over and over. They stay far away, having been burned, and rarely get any further learning done.

Maybe what is needed is a general principles guide on how to contribute to a team in GW2. The value of buffing might and stacking vulnerability debuffs, the value of condition removals, how to recognize and make use of combo fields and blast finishers, and so on.

I don’t know how much it will help if people simply don’t read or choose to learn how to improve though.

I just did a guild mission the other day in one of my big guilds, which contain a vast spectrum of players. It was the Southsun Crab Scuttle, which as everyone knows, is one of the most challenging guild rushes currently available. Skilled players had finished first, way sooner than me even, since I oh so cleverly bolted headlong into traps twice trying to follow another player and avoid the karka chasing me, though I should have known better. As we finished, we turned back to clearing the path and escorting others, making it easier for the rest to get through…

… yet despite all my chasing after a few people, trying to communicate to them that they should DODGE to remove the baby karka debuff that is on them so that they can heal up, they never did.

You can imagine how much luck they had blundering straight into traps, their hp withering away, unable to stop and heal up because of an explosive karka debuff hanging around on them, despite all our efforts to fling heals, protection, aegis and regeneration onto them.

They gave up. It was “too hard.”

Folks, no one can help you if you don’t first help yourselves.

GW2: Candid Talk about the Candidate Trials

Ask and ye shall receive. Want an instance where you can both solo or group as you choose? Want variable difficulty levels that can be player adjusted?

The Candidate Trials are that miracle of game design. For that, the ArenaNet team responsible for building them gets major props and kudos and a big THANK YOU from me for bringing a brilliant theoretical ideal to fruition.

But wait, some of you may be screaming, it has -major- issues with scaling while in a full group! It is terrible! Awful! Tier 4 is so goddamn hard in a group, while others are managing it solo… *cries*

Errr, no.

I respectfully disagree.

The mobs do not have 500% more hp in a group over soloing, as some people might think. They are, however, level 81 as compared to level 80.

The larger a group size you go to, the more mobs turn up that are level 81. Add to that the fact that veterans spawn at a higher difficulty tier, and most importantly, the fact that some of the Aetherblade mobs throw WEAKNESS around (which immediately cuts group damage by a lot via glancing blows) and it creates the illusion that the mobs are a giant punching bag of hitpoints that you are flailing ineffectually on.

ArenaNet has created something very interesting and laudable in the Candidate Trials.

Difficulty level 1 is what the inclusive folk have asked for, for a very long time now. It is easy mode. Infantile mode. I heard that if you stand around and do nothing, the NPCs may actually successfully fight off the horde on their own. Presumably with some plunderers getting away and you only scoring a bronze and not getting any loot whatsoever. But what it enables is for everyone to participate in the story, small snippet that it is. You get to see a little bit of both Evon and Ellen Kiel’s character and it contributes to the election storyline somewhat.

Difficulty level 2 is like City of Heroes’ flood of minion mobs. You get a few more ordinary mobs than level 1. Tougher types of Aetherblade faction show up. (Strikers, oh how I hate thee still.) The grenadiers with the mortars spawn, introducing the mechanic of having to dodge the giant red circle of death and/or take out the operators. It’s a pretty fun but doable challenge solo, and given the fact that one achievement ends with this level, I suspect that’s where most soloists are expected to stop.

At difficulty level 3, veterans turn up. This, presumably, is meant for groups and for the really hardcore soloist to attempt. With each rising tier of difficulty, your buffer for mistakes go down (ie. the lower amount of treasure you begin with, and the amount of time you need to hold out is longer.)

It is also at level 3 where people begin to run into issues. Some cannot manage it solo. And even some groups find it difficult to get past. With some persistence and luck, it is possible for many to just -somehow- and unknowingly scrape by via the skin of their teeth, whereupon they run headlong into the brick wall of Tier 4 and begin howling their head off.

At difficulty level 4, it feels like everything goes to eleven. Stuff is HARD. They hurt. You get the distinct feeling that this level was meant for the super-hardcore – a well coordinated group that may pick and choose classes and builds, and be possibly on voice, with people fulfilling specific roles. At least, that’s probably the only kind of group that’s going to manage a gold success of 50 kills at this tier.

Which, in a sense, is great. Dungeons were made for this kind of coordinated group in mind, so I suppose ArenaNet knows that they have a subset of players that really dig this sort of hard challenge and always run in a coordinated guild group made out of specialized builds which they can discuss and tune for the occasion. It’s fantastic that the same content can also be tuned up to match that level of challenge desired.

Except, of course, one does wonder where these mythical groups are. Don’t ask me, I don’t have friends like that.

And all the groups I’ve run into that play with the same people on a regular schedule tend to be friends and family type of guilds, which are not exactly hardcore by any stretch of terminology – I mean, it’s really hard to tell your RL buddy or your relative that he or she sucks at getting out of the fire, doesn’t understand how to dodge or manage aggro and that their gear or build blows. You just… don’t. Tact and all that. So by and large, those groups tend to be a little weaker.

Maybe they do exist. I’m waiting for the first video to gleefully announce their total gold mastery of T4 in a group. I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

A possibly unintended consequence of catering to both the ability to solo and play the same content in a group, combined with the ramp up in difficulty level, an achievement for merely completing it and obfuscation of potential rewards from each tier, is the effect it’s had on PUGs.

There’s less of them running at any given moment. And they are, on the whole, weaker because a number of stronger players have opted out to do the same content on their own.

There are a number of reasons for this. There’s the inherent inconvenience of group finding and group assembling and most of all, group coordination. Other players are not within your personal locus of control. The Aetherblade faction meanwhile is built to challenge groups of players to provide sufficient damage and support (or have we forgotten the lessons of the Aetherblade Retreat?) AND this particular instance also stresses the importance of the last member of GW2’s new trinity – Control.

I really have to applaud Anet for being very brilliant here. By putting a time limit on, and creating a spawn pattern of like, 3-4 plunderers from the same spawn before the complexity ramps up and produces two plunderers going simultaneously, control is rewarded over damage in most cases except pure berserker (and even then you have to be very quick on your feet if you’re doing it zerk style.)

This, by the way, is how I managed to solo Tier 4 after a number of attempts at the “kill all plunderers super fast” method and getting screwed up once a second plunderer started going.

It so happened I was on the warrior – so I turned off autoattack on the rifle and used skill 2 (cripple) and skill 5 (knockback) and utilized axe 3 (cripple), even swapping into the leg specialist trait once or twice, though I think the run which successfully completed with bronze didn’t use it. I swapped in bolas for immobilize, and Fear Me! for a fear. I was in berserker gear, but probably could and should have swapped to being tanky and doing less damage.

The goal: Waste the plunderers’ time. Ignore other mobs. Stay alive.

Crippled plunderer = more seconds ticking away. Once cripple wore off, Fear Me! with correct placement of self sent it fleeing back the way it came for a good distance. Immobilize. Cripple again once immob wore off. Knock back. Rinse and repeat. Curse when one accidentally killed it because berserk warrior is too nuts. Though being high damage does come in handy for the must-kill moments when the plunderer comes back loaded with gold and is almost going to make it to its spawn point. I’m sure there’s a balance to be found.

It takes some practice and things do get dicey when the second plunderer spawns (which occasionally makes one wonder if a friend would come in handy to post at the other spawn point) and there will be missed attempts at stopping both of them while trying not to die from veterans and mortars (lose aggro by running behind the rock, but you give up the opportunity to control the plunderers further) but you may eventually be able to scrape by with 500 treasure remaining as the time ticks down.

No “letting the first plunderer steal shit to ensure other stuff doesn’t spawn” glitch was used. (Which may or may not have been patched, according to rumors and reports.) Just lots of dodging and surviving while zeroing in on plunderers.

I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.
I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.

In my most ideal dreams, I would want a group with the following: two control/damage roles (eg. a warrior specced like I was, a thief with pulls and good damage, possibly a necro or a ranger with fears and knockbacks or a mesmer with pulls – I’m foggy about what they can or can’t do, I’m open to the possibility that all classes can do this) posted at the two spawn points of the plunderers. Their job – waste the plunderers’ time and only kill at the last second when the plunderers are nearly almost back with gold at their starting location. Take out the grenadiers with mortars when they spawn. Help each other if necessary and if a third plunderer shows up.

The remaining three would be damage/support group synergy, just like when one takes on the Aetherblade Retreat. Tons of condition clears and boons. Beat the crap out of the veteran mobs and other adds as they show up.

It’s only a theory at this stage, but I bet it would work.

Of course, the problem is convincing any group to go along with it, with good builds and good players. Is it going to happen in a PUG? Not bloody likely.

I joined a group for fun, after managing the achievements solo, and to re-confirm just how high the mob hp scaling went, because I’d kind of blacked out on my first few attempts in a group with the cookie cutter AH guardian. (The grenadiers by the mortars are way squishy btw, one berserk warrior takes them out, at the same speed as on a solo run. The normal mobs seem to have like 20-30% more hp, possibly from being level 81. The veterans, of course, require a group pounding on them to dent them.)

As you’d expect, we had one party member who had no concept of “control” and consistently decimated the plunderers despite the rest of the group suggesting we leave it alone with damage and only slow/pull/knockback until near the end of its route. Double dagger heartseeker spam thief, of course. One trick pony. (I’m sure there are much better thieves out there who know how to use scorpion wire, cripples and dazes when needed.) Then he or she attacked other mobs at random, drawing aggro onto the whole party and causing everyone’s attention to fritter into five different directions at once.

So we tried the “kill them all super quickly” route several times too, since y’know, THAT GUY. Which almost successfully worked, except two other party members tended to miss the gigantic red mortar circle and failed to dodge out of them for the fifteen seconds or so it took my warrior to rush over to the mortars and whack the grenadiers – resulting in downed players and others scrambling to rez them while getting beat on by multiple Aetherblade veterans – cue the massive condition pileup on everyone’s bars.

Condition clears? As a party, definitely not enough.

We never did get past Tier 3. Yep, 3. Not 4.

We end up with another weakest link kind of situation, where one bad player drags down the group. Is it any wonder why there are very few PUGs forming for this?

Finally, the rewards themselves are unclear and thus not tempting. There is rumored to be a chance at Aetherblade weapon skins for doing this candidate trial. Exactly what counts as success?

Is it better to score 50 kills and earn a gold on tier 2 by oneself? Certainly, you get four loot bags by doing so. The only thing that comes out of them tends to be broken lockpicks worth not much silver at all (compared to say, one of the PvP minigame rewards for mere participation.) You may get 2-6 heavy bags of booty. From very small sample sizes, there does seem to be a little less loot attempting tier 1 than say, tier 2, nor does magic find seem to have much of an effect. Very rarely, you may get a white, or a blue or a green. A pathetic one. And you get a decent amount of support tokens.

Is it better to scrape by with 10 kills or less on say, tier 3 or tier 4 and only get one or two bags at the end? So far, my solo trials have yielded much less lockpicks and heavy bags of booty (0-2), but Salvageable Aetherized Metal has dropped once or twice (possibly from a veteran kill.)

Do you get better rewards in a group? One would think it might logically be so, but so far, my failed attempts at tier 3 have yielded the same miserable amount of consolation lockpicks and bags of booty as doing it alone.

And frankly, even if you told me that there was a 100% chance of getting an Aetherized weapon skin drop from successfully getting 50+ kills in a group of 5 at Tier 4, I would seriously think twice about attempting it because the chance for failure and lots of wasted time (or less wasted time practising group coordination to get it down right) would be very high.

I’m sure we all know what the odds of that happening are, what with Anet’s love of 2% or less RNG.

Anyhow, since I don’t have any interest in this round of skins either, (hooray for me, though I did just spend 10 gold putting up buy orders for blue and green miniatures… everyone needs a vice, y’know?)  I’m not stressing about it.

I prefer to just enjoy the sheer fact that a variable difficulty challenge has been made, that can be done both solo or in a group, according to one’s preferences and bash the heck out of it for fun.

I like level 2. Its difficulty is just right for me.

So far, I’ve managed 60 on the mostly berserk axe/horn + rifle banner support warrior, though the average is more in the 51-55 range. My non-cookie cutter charrdian managed level 1 in magic find at about 44 kills, and went up to 51-54 in his berserker gear for both level 1 and 2. (Obviously, there is a bias towards berserker when you are soloing and want to score as many kills as possible. Surviving and delaying in a group may require different gear and builds – which may just account for why so many people find grouping so hard and solo to be much easier with the current dungeon meta being what it is.)

Who knows, I may eventually get brave enough to attempt level 3 and think/tweak my builds for the challenge. There’s a week or so to play with it anyway.

Not Merely Solo Quests in an MMO World

So, I got carried away with a wall-of-text comment reply and I’m -still- not done mulling on the issues brought up. Best to post this on my own blog, no doubt.

Spinks over at Spinksville expresses frustration over facing solo quests in an MMO world. It’s a bit of a rant that covers a number of game design topics and I just keep feeling that they’re not being properly broken down into their component bits to be examined properly. “Solo quests” is too general and may end up going down to the old and stale solo vs group debate road all over again.

Spinks conflates a number of issues into one, I think.

There’s having problems with:

Badly Designed, Unfair Challenges

That do not clue you in on the correct solution or offer good feedback towards this.

Or that are unfairly skewed towards a particular aspect of combat – eg. if you can’t dps this down within a certain time, you’re screwed. Fuck healers. Fuck tanks.

Or if you can’t heal this squishy escort NPC, you’re done for. Sorry, all classes without a heal. DPS moar and pray. Taunt it a second time, maybe.

This is especially bad in MMOs that aren’t designed for character classes to be flexible or re-specs to happen easily. If one is say, in RIFT or some such, one at least has the option of completely changing up one’s character to tune it to solve the challenge (though some would still complain that this is “forcing” them to play in a way that contravenes their preference. One could argue though, that proper mastery of a class means knowing how to play all its aspects.)

On the other hand, if the correct solution can be arrived at by reading the quest text, or by taking some time out to readjust one’s skill build (eg, in TSW or GW), or if there are multiple solutions to overcome the challenge that all classes have some access to, then that’s a lot more reasonable design in that any one player on any one character might possibly be expected to manage this.

Then there’s the challenge that doesn’t really offer any learning opportunities for the player. It’s really a time-gate. Grind this much repeatedly so that you can earn this set of gear with incrementally higher numbers that will now allow you to pass the challenge that you couldn’t manage before because the punching bag’s hitpoints are really that high.

I’m prejudiced, yes, I find this boring. But I suppose if you’re playing a game where nearly all the challenges are set out this way, then that’s how that particular game works. If you play it, you’ve accepted its premises. The challenge has to be consistent for that particular game.

Which leads us to…

The Bait And Switch

Seriously, stop this one. It’s dumb as fuck.

Here’s a trail of breadcrumbs on how to steadily progress with my game…

Now whoops, here comes something completely different, involving a diferent playstyle which may not be to your preference, WHAP, do it and enjoy!

The player is left blinking, going, hey, where’s the game I was enjoying before this blindsided me? Am I going to find more of the stuff I liked after finishing this weird shit, or do I face a future of this? Maybe I should be re-evaluating my future with -your- suddenly new and different game.

Don’t plunk a solo quest in the middle of a whole bunch of group quests. Don’t plunk a group quest (haha, fooled you, go spam LFG now!) in the middle of a solo quest sequence.

The ‘real’ game is raids. Now let’s spend the next five years trying to fast-forward raiders through the leveling game that they don’t appreciate going through to begin with.

Oh, the leveling through quest experience that you enjoy? You can still do it, but you’ll never be as strong or powerful as those playing ‘the real game’ and be forever looked down upon.

I have no idea what they’re trying to pull here. Give me a game where the PvPers get to PvP in peace with their separate progression and arenas, and the PvErs do PvE stuff, and everyone progresses in their own way, any day. For those who enjoy both, well, hooray, lateral progression paths! Do both!

Solo or Group Preferences

Are just that. A preference. Stop blaming soloists or groupies (or content designed for them) for all the ills of the earth.

It’s a false dichotomy anyway. Lots of people both solo and group. They do both solo quests and group up for dungeons and raids.

They may like doing one or the other more. That’s preference.

What we more often hate are that we have no alternatives. No options. Backed into a corner because -somebody- decided it would be a good idea to have this solo quest or group raid be completion-required-for-overall-progress or the only content drop in an update with a game-changing, playing field-unleveling shiny attached.

Forcing Players Into a Playstyle They Dislike (or Face Progress Blocked For Good)

No contest here. This is highly unpopular.

Make an “I-only-PvP” player PvE for gear just to be on an even playing field with their opponents, and the howling will be just as loud as forcing an” I-only-PvE” player into a PvP zone in order to get a shiny.

Making it a requirement for people who prefer to solo to group up for the best rewards and to see new content yields a whole bunch of very surly, possibly bad-at-working-in-a-group loners joining PUGs and everyone having a miserable time.

Just as making it a requirement for people who prefer to group all the time to separate and wait for each other to pass a certain solo threshold, “be-this-good-by-yourself-or-your-path-together-is-blocked” yields a very frustrated person who will wield the “M” is for multiplayer stance like a bludgeon.

Devs may still do it, as they may be aiming to lay a trail of breadcrumbs to lead players into trying out a certain activity, or they simply have no time to create alternatives or options but I’m sure they brace themselves for the complaint storm ahead.

Y’see, part of why this is so complicated is the large group of in-betweens who might be willing to do both. If tempted a certain way. And getting them to do both gives them variety. But I do think this should be “soft” encouragement and temptation, rather than “hard” roadblocks and forcing.

A cosmetic item with the same stats, but looking very much special and prestigious and unavailable elsewhere, is one idea. No one is forcing you to get it – in the sense that your playing field will still be level with or without it. Or a reward that can be gotten in a few places, so that players have at least a choice of the least onerous they would prefer. Or extra helpings of a shiny obtainable elsewhere or through other means, so that it’s most optimal to go for one path over another. (As long as it’s not ridiculously hard or lengthy to go the other route.)

Not being able to advance to next level, or get the next quest in the questline, or having no other means to get a reward with incrementally higher stats? Forcing. Bad. Prepare for tons of player protest.

Adjustable Difficulty Levels and/or In-Game Tutorials

Finally, we have the problem that I touched on in the comments but failed to resolve there.

What can we do with players who are not up to the challenge? That, for whatever reasons (some may be good ones – have a handicap, legally blind, ill, etc.), are not performing as hoped?

It’s harsh to have just one benchmark and say, “You must be this tall to pass. The end.”

That leads to elitism. (Though one might argue that in some games, both devs and players don’t give a shit whether they create an elitist community or not. It may even seem like their goal is to glorify the hardcore at the expense of everyone else.)

That leads to people failing to make the grade being miserable, pissed, frustrated, angry, feeling hopeless and all in all, ready to dump your game and move on to a more reasonable one. (Did you want their money or did you not care?)

I think the solution is obvious, but no doubt, hard to implement. Adjustable or scaling difficulty. With commensurate rewards, if you like.

The easiest difficulty is baby mode. Handhold them. Make it easy. Tutorial mode your special gimmicks. Just let players see the nice graphic models your artists spent so much time and hard work on, and maybe the story if there is one. Let any blocking progress be unlocked. That’s reward enough.

(I know I personally appreciated Super Adventure Box’s Infantile Mode before I graduated to jumping the normal course that most just started out with. Whee! Rainbows catch clumsy charr from falling and splattering to horrible doom! Except when charr chooses to keep leaping for sneaky hidden secret room of his own accord! Charr took 7 hours but finally got comfortable with it!)

The idea is to just get shaky players familiar with their surroundings and either content to be “done with it” or comfortable enough to move on to practising a slightly harder challenge now that they’ve managed to grasp a few necessary concepts (rather than learn how to juggle, pull, kite, fight, use strange skills,  heal stuff and not stand in fire all at the same time while getting beat on in completely unfamiliar surroundings that are a maze of twisty passages and getting yelled at by their supposed “teammates” or feeling pressured to succeed alone because someone else has finished and is waiting for them.)

Optional desirable shinies are to be attained at harder difficulty levels. Introduce the more advanced concepts. Bring in the more complex dance routines and gimmicks and so on. If they want them, then they must improve to the standards being demanded of them by the challenge.

But make the first progress-unblocker doable by all.

Because if you don’t, the player won’t have a reason to even play your game any longer.