Behind the Mask: The incentives are backwards

This week in Behind the Mask, we will not be discussing Aftershock, the new Comic Series adventure that started several weeks ago. I intend to talk about Aftershock after it's finished -- if I talked about each new issue of Aftershock, I wouldn't be able to talk about other things, since there's a new issue every week.

Instead, I'm going to talk about the broad aspect of teaming in Champions Online, and more importantly, the rewards for teaming. Teaming in CO is as fun as in other MMORPGs because playing with other people is generally a fun activity. Unfortunately, there isn't much material incentive to team. It's faster to get experience and gear solo, making lairs the only real reason to team.

I team all the time, though -- entirely because it's more fun to play with friends.

The inherent value of challenge

I joke a lot about how 5-man Serpent Lantern is a benchmark for good players. This comes a lot from experience; aside from Therakiel's Temple (on Elite difficulty), the SL mob spawns are pretty much the hardest PvE mobs a hero can take on. They require almost the same level of caution as Therakiel's mobs, and they can be done by any hero over level 11.

I do 5-man SL a lot, for one reason only: It's hard.

Elite SL rewards are about six times as fast to obtain if you run the first bunker solo, and SL is probably the worst content for leveling at any point in a character's leveling career. There is literally no reason to ever run 5-man SL, but I do it anyway..

Not only is it more fun to do things with other people (which is how I get people to run with me), but it's also fun to do stuff that ramps up the challenge. I've literally done it all before in CO; there is content I haven't done, but aside from a few Vibora side missions, there's not a whole lot of stuff in the game that can surprise me. Five-person SL is hard, and it forces our team to work together and play its best. It's satisfying when we clear things because making a mistake is a big deal and causes deaths or wipes. When I do solo bunker runs, it's just grinding. Even on Elite, with a level 11 character, bunker runs are a joke. Honestly, all of Elite SL -- even Freon and Nama -- are super easy with a level 11-14 freeform character, as long as that character is alone.

The reason 5-man SL is so hard is that it scales to team size. You can play it on normal difficulty to keep the spawn size from increasing, but if you want Elite rewards (the only things worth getting), you have to play it on Elite. If you play with more than three people, the spawn sizes are huge and include Draysha Enforcers. For me, this is paradise. I hate grinding through boring content, but taking on checkpoints full of rough spawns that can kill me if I screw up is a good gateway for me to actually level those high-level alts.

As I've said before, there's intrinsic value in doing hard stuff together with others. When you work together as a team and accomplish something tough, it feels a lot better than if you all show up to a farm raid. You know that people are doing their part and working hard, and everyone is playing off of different situations and circumstances.

The last few times I've done TT Elite, my team has commented on how it ran super smoothly and how "TT runs aren't normally this quick." It makes me feel pretty good to be a part of that, even if I'm not the main cause. The last time I ran TT, I did poorly, wiped our team several times on trash, died on Valerian, and generally played poorly. Our healer and two of our DPS were pretty solid, though, and they carried us through until I woke up and decided to stop failing. At the end, people were excited about the ease of victory, and I was kind of surprised.

Either way, completing challenging content with others is fun. I find 5-man SL fun, but that level of challenge might not be appropriate for everyone, even though most people should find solo content too easy. I think the sweet spot is 3-man adventure packs, although you may have to fine-tune the difficulty slider. Demonflame is easy even on Elite, while Resistance gets much harder at higher difficulties. To be honest, DF and Resistance are pretty easy even with 5-man spawns, especially compared to SL or real 5-man lairs, so if you're looking for fun group content, you might want to look there first.

Immaterial and missing rewards

Unfortunately, there are literally no material benefits for teaming. Teaming is harder to organize, and the content is way harder to play. It also takes longer. Unfortunately, there is no benefit at all, other than the psychological benefits. Teaming doesn't net more experience (the bonus is split between party members, so you still get far less EXP), and the loot is far easier to get solo. Honestly, what's the point of nerfing team buffs like IDF when there's no point to teaming anyway?

There are unique rewards in lairs like TT or Nemcon, so teaming is still worthwhile there. However, these rewards either are costume unlocks or do not compare to the rewards you can get from bunker farming.

I could probably write a whole column rant on this topic, to be honest. How hard is it to buff purples when they're all balanced via spreadsheet anyway? I'm pretty sure that I can point Cryptic to a good SQL developer who can write a query to buff purples and have it pushed to the internal test shards in a week.

Also, why do Elite SL blues still drop from solo adventure packs despite the fact they can be done while you're nearly AFK?

I do 5-man content because it's fun, but it'd be nice if my choice in playstyle were rewarded appropriately for how hard it is.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.
This article was originally published on Massively.