In the recent interview with SW:TOR Devs it was revealed that TOR would have companion characters that would allow people to play the game in a solo manner. This immediately started a posting deluge in the MMO blogosphere where many bloggers are criticizing the move as a way to take the Multiplayer out of MMO and more or less ruin the genre.
Keen from K&G’s Gaming Blog
SynCaine at Hardcore Casual
Ravious at KTR
Syp at Bio Break
Now I’m not trying to hide that I’m a big supporter of solo play in MMORPG’s as stated here, but I do believe that there is a reason to have group recommended content in these games as well as having group only content i.e raids. I do think it silly to get up screaming on a soapbox about how this is going to kill the genre that we so love. (I should note that not all of the posts cited above are against companions.)
Now I’m not going to cry here and say because I have a job, wife, kids, house, etc. (translated responsibilities that keep me from gaming at normal times and for great lengths of time) that the developers of MMORPG’s need to cater to me and make them easy. Not that these aren’t valid concerns for companies, but this is not the crux of the point I am trying to make. What I am going to say is that why does the opportunity to solo at points in the game mean that a game has sold out to the masses or gone easy. Can only the Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, and LeBron James of the world play sports? Or can I go out back and pick up a basketball and play on my 9-foot net, or is that ruining the game?
I used to play EQ and for various reasons stopped for a great deal of time. I resubbed over a year later and the game had implemented a mercenary system where you could purchase a mercenary (companion if you will) with in-game currency (not MT’s) that would act like a PC and group with you to fight by your side. It was a great boon for that game as finding groups in low level content was nigh impossible and, unless you were in a guild, it was near impossible to find a group of six people (the designed group size for EQ) to play. The devs designed these mercenaries to slowly become less viable over time to solo with. You could solo (or molo as it was coined) very easily through level 60 or so, but after that it became increasingly difficult to progress in the game by yourself.
There were haters on mercenaries in that game as well (mostly hardcore raiders) but by and large everybody had one and used them when they needed to. In EQ, if you were in a zone and there was a party with 4 PC’s and 2 mercs, they would almost always drop a merc to let you in. Leveling was much easier in groups at higher levels and less grindy, at least from my perspective. The great thing about mercs was that you could play the game from the moment you logged in to the time you logged out. No waiting to find a healer or tank or for a full group. I played with a group of three and when we each had our mercs out, we had a full EQ group. If one of our guildies popped on and said, “hey, can I jump in?” we immediately dropped a merc and let them in. If a random PC came to where we were playing, we’d drop the merc and invite them in. Simple as that. Could the three (six with mercs) of us go raid somewhere together…no because mercs weren’t good enough to bring on a raid even if they were allowed.
The inclusion of mercenaries in EQ did indeed change the game. Did it make an “easy mode?” No…grouping was still required for much of the content, especially the newest content. Were mercenaries forced on you? No…you could easily play without one. (I concede that the early levels without one were tough, but the game is so old that there were no groups to be had at those levels.) Did I prefer to play solo as opposed to grouping? Not really…I liked hanging out with my friends playing the game and would always opt to group with them over soloing. Could I have merc’ed my way to level cap? Sure…I could have by fighting the same small group of mobs for weeks on end and without seeing the majority of the content.
Anyway, I felt angry when reading some of the posts as well as some of the comments on those posts by the MMORPG “purists” that keep saying “stop ruining my genre” because companies are making games that don’t fit their ideals. So what if WoW has 6 billion subscribers and is an “easy” game. Don’t play it! There are still games that thrive that are hardcore games and/or are more akin to what they like. Please, feel free to go play them. The great thing about the increasing number of games in the MMO market is that if you don’t like one…go play another.
I think there is a mass market for the type of game that BioWare is touting and I for one couldn’t be more pleased. If that makes me a casual, fail, easy, (insert term here) gamer, then feel free to print up my name tag. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me. If I’m having fun in a game, then it is a good game, at least to me.