I had one of those “meh” weekends in World of Warcraft. Nothing terrible, just a vague sense of dissatisfaction, really. Getting lured back to the auction house was a bad move to start with; while in Stormwind to visit a class trainer, might as well pop in and sell a few bits from the Outlands… and while there, well, it can’t do any harm to have a little look, can it? Of course it can, I’ve gone from smugly admiring my shiny collection of quest rewards to coveting my neighbour’s ox (well, not “ox” so much as “Blade Dancer’s Wristguards“, but it’s the same principle), and my pile of gold was somewhat depleted (“A mere 20 gold for that piece of armour? I make that much in ten minutes now, I’ll take it… and that sword… and the dagger, the throwing axe, a couple of pairs of trousers and that recipe for sauteed marsh wombat spleen (mmm, sounds delicious, just right for that dinner party I’m hosting)”)
Then, there was the questing. Four of us had a little wander around Hellfire Ramparts; I really didn’t think we’d be able to get very far at all, but maybe there was an outside chance of getting the first boss at least. As it was, we cleared through to the final boss with very little trouble, and had a fair crack at the dragon before he got a bit miffed and one-shotted the healer. For the rest of the weekend, though, we were on in dribs and drabs, precluding another instance run. That meant questing in the Outlands, which is a fine activity, but generally rather unsociable; you need to all travel to the same area (though thankfully this isn’t really a problem in the Outlands any more, unlike previously where you might find yourself in the Eastern Plaguelands, and your friend in Silithus, and a half hour journey from one to the other), find common quests you all have available, or run quests that some of you have done before, or run other quests that some of you don’t have yet (so they’ll have to do them again later). As the mobs don’t scale to group size or level, and the vast majority of quests are solo-able, having a group of three or four players tends to be overkill, rendering encounters largely trivial (until you get bored and play “see how many mobs the least armoured members of the party can pull”, and other fun party games), and while you blast through “kill (x)” quests where each kill counts for the whole group, it’s not much quicker than soloing for “collect (x) body parts of creature (y)” quests (indeed possibly slower, depending on spawn rates). All in all, things rather conspire to make playing with your friends (surely the point of an MMOG?) *less* rewarding in many ways than playing solo, other than for the occasional world elite/boss mob.
Forced grouping certainly isn’t the answer; although it solves the problem of solo encounters being trivial for a group, it makes it even more difficult for a group of friends to get together and run new and worthwhile quests for all of them when they happen to be on together, especially when quests are designed for fixed group sizes. It all makes me pine for City of Heroes again; in that, every mission you did was an instance, and the number and level of opponents scaled to take account of the size of your group. You even have a difficulty setting, and the “sidekick” system to allow players of disparate levels to team together. None of your friends around? No problem, off you go and fight crime. Someone else arrives, they can join mid-mission, and the spawn sizes increase to take account of that. You’re blasting through the missions? Turn up the difficulty setting a notch. A third person arrives, but they only started playing recently and are ten levels below the rest of you? Get them into the team, sidekick them to someone else, and off you go again.
Oh, and to cap everything off, London Irish put in a rather lacklustre performance against Saracens on Sunday. Ah well. Roll on next weekend…