Back in ye-olde Everquest days it was never that difficult to find a group of players to tackle a challenge. It didn't matter if it was a dungeon or open world (non-instanced) content – especially since the concept of instances didn't yet exist. Staying in a group meant staying alive. And staying alive used to be a valuable thing in and of itself. Death meant loosing XP (perhaps a level) and traveling long distances completely naked to retrieve your corpse. And it wasn't as if you had a choice about whether or not you'd run back to your corpse. You had to retrieve your corpse because your corpse had all your gear. If you didn't go back and get it, it was gone – forever. That meant you spent hours carefully inching through nasty places filled with nasty monsters while you were completely defenseless. Needless to say, you didn't want to end up in that situation. In a game with such a harsh death penalty the herd mentality reaped greater reward.
While a fear of death is certainly incentive for grouping, it's a negative one. MMOGs have come too far to revert to old, frustrating game mechanics. I know there are a few of you masochists out there who disagree with me, but hour-long, corpse runs are not fun. What I'd like to see in MMOGs are more positive benefits to working together as a team. So what are some ways that grouping can be improved? What barriers to grouping should be removed, and what improvements can be added? While many of these suggestions are specific to World of Warcraft, I think they can be applied to most MMOGs.
Give us equal XP while questing.
While I don't think groups should be rewarded with bonus experience just for playing together I also don't think they should be penalized for it. The argument typically used in defense of XP sharing is that you'll be killing more mobs faster with less downtime, thereby netting a similar amount of total XP as you would soloing. While I would agree that this is typically the case within an instanced dungeon where mobs are stacked like cord wood, it is not usually the case when questing in open world content. In open world content there are typically fewer mobs to kill and the concept of downtime hardly exists anymore. When was the last time you sat down after a fight to eat or drink while soloing? It was probably after you fought an elite mob or six even con mobs at a time. So perhaps sharing XP in mob-rich dungeons is fine, but I think it would encourage more players to hang together if their XP wasn't nerfed when grouped doing open world quests.
Let us summon our friends to our current location.
When WoW was first released there were no such things as summoning stones at the entrances to dungeons. Each member of the party had to hoof it out to the dungeon. Travel time was a cumbersome factor when assembling a group for an instance run. This presented a huge barrier when attempting to run dungeons with friends who were exploring several zones, or even a continent away from each other. Why not extend that concept to individuals? I know warlocks already have this ability, but it requires the presence of at least two other players. That defeats the whole purpose. I don't think summoning should be limited to any class. Give every person the ability to summon his buddy to himself wherever he is. Aside from triple XP, the ability to summon your friend was my favorite feature of WoW's "Recruit-a-Friend" program. Negating physical distance alone would greatly reduce a barrier to co-op play.
Give us group combo abilities.
One of my favorite aspects of Lord of the Rings' group combat is the ability to trigger Fellowship combo moves. The idea is very simple. During a fight your party uses specific abilities that trigger an additional bonus move. Once triggered, a combo wheel displays on screen. The wheel allows each player to select a certain combo move. Depending on the combination of what each player selects, this bonus can be an additional bleed effect, direct damage, group healing, or a combination of effects. In addition there is usually a cool animation that accompanies a successful combo attack. This adds a truly unique dynamic to group combat and it's one of my favorite aspects of grouping in LoTRO. I'd love to see a similar feature in WoW.
Let us "sidekick" our friends.
A common problem we face when playing MMOGs relates to the leveling system. Often our friends with more playtime quickly outpace those of us with less playtime. This leaves those of us with less time in a bit of a lurch if we want to play with our friends. City of Heroes has a brilliant solution to this common problem. In CoH you can "sidekick" a friend. This brings your friend either up to the higher player's level or down to the lower player's level. The cool thing is that you retain your level appropriate abilities – thus keeping the incentive to actually level up. Although CoH doesn't have to deal with scaling gear to accommodate this feature like many MMOGs would, I don't think it would be impossible to implement.
Players have attempted their own solutions to leveling together for years. Many of my friends try creating dedicated "duo" or "trio" characters that they set aside for leveling with each other. The more people you try to level with, the harder this becomes. Bob might not be on one night when Jan and Ted are on and so the characters you plan to level up together never get leveled. Either that or the players that are on more frequently decided to soldier on without their buddy, leaving him behind. However it happens, the band, inevitably, breaks up. This just isn't right.
MMOGs should go out of their way to create easily accessible and extremely fun group-based gameplay. In my opinion, the whole point of playing a massively multiplayer game is to play together with friends and meet new people by way of playing the game. And yet, in this basic aspect, it seems like many MMOGs fail to truly capitalize on group play and group dynamics until you reach the end of the game. The MMOG that can accomplish a fun, group oriented experience while leveling without crushing the single player experience is the MMOG I want to play.
MMOGology [mŏg-ol-uh-jee] – noun – The study of massively multiplayer online games via the slightly warped perspective of Marc Nottke.