Tuesday 7 April 2009

Public (Quest) Convenience

With patch 1.2 in Warhammer Online tempting Melmoth back to try a Slayer, a few other people have also been returning to WAR. I rolled up a new character to hook up with them in the lower tiers; figuring the massed Slayer ranks would just about have DPS covered it was down to a tank or healer, and though I imagine a healer would be very popular on our side, I had a bad feeling it would be equally popular with hordes of healer-targeting Choppas, so I went with the tank and started a Knight of the Blazing Sun. I’m rather enjoying it so far, he definitely feels more robust than the ol’ Bright Wizard (“Armoured Knight in ‘more robust than bloke in a dress’ shocker”), able to round up and hold the aggro of a good 5-10 mobs, so long as they’re a level or two lower and I’ve got some backup to either keep my health topped up or nuke them down, and the damage isn’t too shabby either, especially wielding a two handed weapon.

When levelling up my Bright Wizard I spent much of my time in scenarios. Unfortunately the server has got a bit quieter since then and scenarios don’t pop quite so frequently any more, which is a bit of a shame as they were perfect ad-hoc small-group content. As per that post, the usual MMO collection of “Go. Hunt. Kill boars.” quests are great when solo, but can be a right pain to co-ordinate in groups. Group-wise, at least in WoW, LotRO, WAR and their ilk, you get group quests and instances (or group quests in instances); the trouble with these is they’re typically fixed for a certain size and composition of group. This sort of ties in with a Tweet this morning from one of the WAR players we’ve been grouping with: “MMO Questions: Why a group size limit of 6?”, which I started to reply to, but had only made it as far as “It is incumbent upon us to investigate the historical aspects of social, and utilitarian, grouping in a number of contexts to fully apprecia” before the 140 character limit kicked in.

In pencil and paper games it’s down to the Dungeon Master to tweak encounters to suit, and he can adjust things for the number of players in a party and any particular strengths or weaknesses they may have, so a party of six containing three barbarians who all managed to roll 18 for Str, Dex and Con don’t have to face the same two kobolds (one with a slight limp) that might be more appropriate if the players had decided to roleplay a small party of pacifist academics. MMOGs generally work the other way around, the encounters are fixed and you’re expected to bring a group of 1, 5, 6, 10, 24, 25 or whatever other lottery numbers seemed like a good idea at the time, with (in the aforementioned diku-style games) a suitable balance of yer Holy Trinity of tank, healer and DPS. I suspect they’re done that way as it’s easier for designers; not “easy”, but at least it’s one less variable when you’re trying to pitch content for players of different levels, classes, character builds and gear. It doesn’t have to be that way; City of Heroes, as I’m sure I’ve banged on about at tedious length before, scales encounters to suit parties of 1-8 by mixing the number, type and levels of the enemies you face, but then City of Heroes isn’t especially loot/achievement-centric and doesn’t tend to stand up terribly well to fierce mathematical min-max scrutiny. It’s great fun for jumping into with any number of friends (so long as it’s eight or less) and beating up a bunch of thugs while dressed spandex, though.

Scenarios in WAR were a really great way of easily grouping up with varying numbers of friends, and running bite-sized chunks o’ fun. Public quests were always fun in busy zones and easy to drop in and out of, but as players thinned out across later tiers (and scenarios, and open RvR) they got a lot quieter. A couple of tweaks since launch have made them a handy ad-hoc group alternative to scenarios: firstly they’ve added easy public quests, aimed at a group of two or three, so even if there’s just a couple of you there’s something to aim for. Secondly, you can fly to any zone; that wasn’t always the case, and if you and a friend were stuck in the middle of different flight-master-less zones and wanted to group up, it would take literally quite a long time just to travel. If you’re in a guild that has recall scrolls, you can now get to any zone for 30 copper and a couple of loading screens (although depending on the zone there may still be a sodding great RvR lake and enemy warcamp slap between you and a sensible destination, but still). If there’s a couple of you, you can head for an easy PQ and give it a lash. If it’s a bit too easy or hard, you move up or down a chapter; if another person or two joins in, you can move on to normal PQs. It’s been a really handy way of jumping on and playing for the odd hour here and there.

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