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.

SWTOR: An Odd Marriage of Singleplayer and MMO

I’ve spent three nights in SWTOR so far.

The launcher did eventually finish, and to give credit where it’s due, it did veer up to around 3 MB/sec download speeds at odd hours for a short while. According to my friend, who is a preferred status player, his takes several minutes at most and certainly wasn’t the pathetic 100-200kb/sec that I was seeing. Which now makes me suspect that it’s simply free-to-play players getting the short shaft of the bandwidth stick priority-wise. Who knows.

Following the advice of those who commented, I made an Imperial Agent (twice, to compare Light/Dark storyline choices) and took them past the Prologue to around level 11. I’ve also started a Sith Warrior and played it in a duo with my friend’s Sith Inquisitor, whom he kindly rolled up to roll along with me.


Overall, I’ve been…pleasantly surprised, though to be fair, my expectations weren’t at all high to begin with.

Stuff I Liked:

  • Voice acting and Cinematic presentation of Quests

I get the distinct feeling they spent a ton of the budget on voice actors (and not enough on the nuts and bolts of gameplay.) It’s immersive to be given quests via conversation and dialogue options, though once I figured out the spacebar key fast forwards, it’s been tricky to resist the urge when I’m alone and have finished skim reading the subtitles already.

  • Aliens talk in alien speech with English subtitle translations

Immersion again, and it gave me flashbacks to one of my favorite oldschool games – Nomad, whom we’ve mentioned very briefly before.

  • Mob layout vaguely reminiscent of City of Heroes, in packs of 3-4 across the world

One of my guilty pleasures was always street-sweeping in CoH, where I’d just prowl my superhero around the streets and jump villains off doing their own thing. While SWTOR doesn’t have the elaborately posed and scripted mobs of CoH (eg. some mafia thugs giving another one concrete shoes and the victim hopping around with their feet stuck in a bucket,) it did let me jump from spawn to spawn causing mass easy carnage and recreate some of that feeling.

Downside, it’s a little hard to avoid aggroing and not killing anything. The fastest way to a destination seems to be going -through- mob spawns with fancy laser blasts, and that may get tiresome and repetitive after some time.

  • Well done tutorial tips

I liked the clarity and pacing of the early tutorial messages. While strictly speaking, I could have probably survived without them, I appreciate the sparkle and polish that offers help to truly new-to-MMO players. And knowing stuff unique to SWTOR (aka the precise icons used for quests, transportation, etc.) is always handy even to people who have played MMOs before. At around level 8-10, there’s an onslaught of tips that are a little less well paced though.

  • Zone transitions are very ‘open’ and lack loading screens per planet

A feature from the WoW side of the MMO toolbox, I believe. While I’m not as rabid as some about how this helps immersion, I just appreciate the lack of having to sit around waiting for the zone to load.

Stuff I Didn’t:

  • Default camera issues and quirky settings

Nearly threw up when innocently right clicking and mouse looking caused the camera to spin wildly with high sensitivity and lots of jerkiness. Eventually, by lowering the camera rotation speed all the way to zero percent or so, it got tolerable enough – though I was ready to follow a forums post that suggested editing the text file for even lower speeds if that failed to work.

I also spent a while fighting with the settings and having them reset to default before I figured out to hit “apply” and make sure the settings stuck. Autoloot and area loot was off by default – why, why, why? Every new character has to be keybound individually too, apparently, though the general settings do save. I would also kill for a keyboard shortcut to loot corpses – it’s so automatic now to press F to loot stuff (*coughs*) though I’d grant that the radius of area loot in SWTOR is fantastic and that GW2 really needs an area loot option.

  • Combat responsiveness is sluggish

WoW and GW2 are the kings of this. Press a key and you get an instant response. Now I’ve dealt with more quirky MMOs before, you get into a sort of pre-queue up the abilities situation with LOTRO and City of Heroes, Rift had their own global cooldown to get used to, Warhammer and TSW were slightly clunkier with their response times, but something feels quite wrong with SWTOR. I keep tweaking the ability queue times, hoping to get it set to a level I can adjust to, and I still end up pressing keys and having absolutely nothing happen at times. Including the rolling into cover key – which doesn’t help survivability, I can assure you.

It’s not awful unplayable, else I would have stopped. But it’s not anywhere near “good” or “average” either.

  • Hell, even Printscreen goes on vacation

What this thread said. Only about half of my attempted screenshots are coming out, which puts a severe dampener in any plans to take pretty pictures in this game, I can assure you. I got to Kass City, loved its look, and got a total of zero successful screenshots. I have and could FRAPS it, but really, why should I bother if your game can’t function well enough to take its own picture?

The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post...
The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post…

Stuff That Wasn’t Good Or Bad, Just… Odd or Interesting to Think About:

  • No neutral gear sends my min-max optimzer warring with the immersive roleplaying part of me

Yes, I hear that it is coming. So they say. The fact that it is not -here- makes the optimizer in me scream, “come on, you know Bioware, Paragon or Renegade all the way!” and want to stack the deck one way or another. Yes, I have also heard the real top of the line gear has no alignment requirements. Then what the hell is the point of giving points for this stuff then?

I used to play this MUD, see. It had good, evil AND neutral gear. And neutral was the best because it was so hard in that MUD to maintain a neutral alignment, accidentally killing one too many things of the wrong alignment would skew you one way or the other and all your nice gear would fall off you. Freedom of choice and consequences.

  • Nice single or duo player experience, but MMO bits felt tacked on

I had a decent time playing through the Agent prologue. It was immersive enough, there were some roleplay or at least conversation opportunities, and the story was fairly entertaining.

With a friend, I got the impression that this was -the- way to experience SWTOR, in a duo, where you got to see each others’ class stories (but still be able to keep track of the plot because it’s only two of you) and enjoy some of the random surprise of a group conversation where one might speak before the other. We were also cracking each other up with jokes about dead body disposal in the Sith Academy since between the two of our storylines, we were racking up quite a body count.

Friends don't let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots
Friends don’t let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots

And was it really necessary to have all that jogging through empty corridors and long stretches of road though? Standard quest flaw, once you’re done, you gotta run back to the quest-giver. Friend has 35% sprint at level 1, I don’t. He was nice enough to not use it after a while, but this metagame stuff just gets in the way. You’re reminded that you’re a second class F2P citizen, run along and subscribe or buy some Cartel Coins now, eh?

I appreciate it took lots of work to make 8 different class stories winding their branching way all the way up to level 50. I wonder how many people will actually bother to experience all of them, or even some of the twists and turns of Light and Dark side choices… and whether they’d get sick of the standard MMO kill 10 bog-rats grind before they manage that feat.

Flashpoints, Operations, Warzones (or ahem, Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds) … I haven’t tried them, so I might be talking out of my ass here, but they strike me as, WoW has them, so we better have them. They’re probably functional, but not, say, spectacular or a unique selling point.

It’s like the MMO stuff gets in the way of what could have been a very nice buy-to-play singleplayer or small group game.


For what it’s worth, I’d probably still keep playing for the story a little while longer. Until such a point where I either get bored of the combat or simply can’t progress further on my own.

I did enjoy the Mass Effect style conversation aspect of the game. I’m just not sure how long that alone will hold me.

I’d actually rate it closer as a decent substitute to City of Heroes over something like Champions Online, in the sense that there’s a more substantial game here and more of a story. You can still be a hero or villain, even if not literally dressing up in costumes and masks.

I’m vaguely tempted to drop a couple dollars on the microtransaction market, if only for the convenience options, but I’m also rubbed the wrong way by them selling things like hotbars and the ability to color coordinate your clothes and remove your helmet. It strikes me as trying to forcibly push people into buying something from you, kind of similar to restaurants who do not serve tap water, so that there’s significant pressure on you to purchase a drink.

Would I pay for the game itself, up front? Unfortunately, at this point, I think not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game. The stories and voice acting seem worth going through. I haven’t had an extreme Star Wars allergy reaction yet. I don’t know if that’s good or bad news for true Star Wars fans, because it may either imply that the story writers did a good job in not unleashing typical Lucas movie absurdity, or that the fluff’s diluted down and generic enough for me to take.

It’s got significant polish for the price of free. Just, not enough if I actually had to pay for it.