The scope of games in the MMO genre draws players of every ilk by offering a plethora of play experiences. Be it PVE or PVP, Solo or Group, Casual or Hardcore, people commonly gravitate to a particular style and are known to defend their affinity vigorously; the Star Wars: The Old Republic community is a perfect example of this diversity. This week, we take a closer look at those who prefer a very solitary style, and what they hope to find once they reach endgame content.
Several weeks ago, Dreavus started a topic on the official forums that quickly grew to epic size. Titled The True Extent of the Solo Ride, it took about a day and a half for the topic to reach the maximum size limit of 1,000 posts. The second iteration of the topic took longer, it was nearly a week until the third version was needed. Dreavus's initial post is essentially a request that BioWare include endgame content for soloers in Star Wars: The Old Republic. In it, he says:
BioWare. I'm tired of beating around the bush with you. The question is this: I want to be the lone hero of the Galaxy. I want to be able to take on player-enemies and actually stand a chance if I solo'd the game and they did it with a group. I want to win them with skill, and I don't want to lose simply because his gear is higher than mine even though it's the same item level, but one is solo and one is a raid item.
Are you going to give me this opportunity? Are you going to allow me to obtain player versus player gear on par with raid/instanced pvp gear that I don't have to earn by grinding with these people? Or is the true extent of the solo ride only meant for leveling, and not end-game content such as world pvp?
It's a fair question to ask. Dreavus is only one of many people to express a dislike of grouped content at endgame, particularly when that group content is the only way to progress. MeeeeZ was the first to chime in, saying "I much prefer soloing over grouping as well, and the only thing that can still really ruin this game for me, is if raiding > everything, solo = nothing, as it's in most MMOs." Many, many others threw in their two cents (as you might imagine, given over 2500 posts at the time of writing), and a large number of the posters were self-proclaimed soloers.
However, there were plenty of negative responses to the idea of endgame content for soloers as well. Many see raids and group PvP to be more deserving of rewards and developer time than solo content. Therumancer spoke to the former view with "Someone who has put in more time than you, or played at a higher level (dealing with the whole "Raid" thing) is of course going to wind up with a more powerful character," while Golashion summed up the latter by saying "I would think it [tiered solo PvE challenges and 1v1 arenas] would be VERY difficult to implement and many game makers would question doing so at all because after all it's the minority view."
Still others felt Therumancer's point was founded on shaky ground. Inarai, in particular, objected pretty strongly to the idea that group content is more difficult than solo content:
The point that you're missing is that raid/large-group content isn't inherently more difficult than solo or small group content. The challenges are different, certainly, and I don't think many (if any) MMO's have really tried to challenge solo players, but the point remains.
People act like it should be taken as fact that raiding is and always shall be higher level content than anything else because of group size. They should really stop doing that; it's without sufficient basis.
There is no reason, at all, for there not to be challenging small-group/solo content that exists as viable end-game content with competitive rewards.
There were questions about what form this challenging small group and solo content should take, particularly given that different classes have strengths where others have weaknesses, making balancing content potentially quite difficult. Spymaster developed a fairly comprehensive answer to the question of "how do you make solo content hard for all classes?":
By designing solo content around the things that make solo play hard. Make the solo player work his way slowly through an unforgiving maze of enemy NPCs, where one false move means certain death.
Each fight should bring you down to very close to zero health, with fast respawns, so you can't rest for more then the minimum time it takes to get your HP back. This would make every fight hard enough so that you can't make a single mistake in any fight. Fast respawns also make it impossible to run, so one mistake = death.
Add in roaming adds that circulate the area in random paths, so you'd have to constantly watch your back at all times. Throw in some bosses and other mobs you CAN'T beat, so knowing which mobs to avoid, and where and when it's safe to fight becomes very important.
Make the encounter random, so that mobs and objectives are never in the same exact spot. Items you have to search for, in very hard to see locations, making the quest totally unlearnable.
Second, when you're populating the area, you fill it with mobs that have many different strengths and weaknesses. Some are killable by DPS spec Jedi, others are killable by tanks, etc. Since each mob is balanced to be beatable by only a certain spec, you can balance those fights to be challenging even for the class they are meant for. The ones made for other classes, you can't kill. They need to be completely avoided, which forces every class / spec to watch his back, know what they can and can't beat, and do it fast before the adds come around the corner.
Regardless of the particular mechanics of the content, many forum-goers clearly felt that there should be some sort of endgame content specifically for people who like to solo in Star Wars: The Old Republic; a poll by ninjashikamaru entitled "Do you want solo endgame content, in addition to standard forms of endgame?" showed (at the time of writing) more than twice as many respondents favoring "A new form of challenging solo endgame content (solo equivalent of a raid)" over "I'm fine with the current announced endgame model of raids, PvP, flashpoints, and crafting."
One of the most contentious parts of the solo endgame discussion was loot. Many echoed Therumancer's feelings that soloers do not deserve loot of the same quality as raiders and group PvPers, while others pointed out that crafting seems like a path to endgame-quality loot. Many soloers, however, were interested in solo-specific loot, with different stats and appearance. Nagadeath explained this, saying
I dont[sic] want 'raid' gear I want solo gear used to progeress[sic] a difficult solo endgame. Raid gear is too focused in on one aspect of the game. As in dps raid gear is only good for dps. What I want for the solo gear is a even mix of stats equal to raid gear in item level but distributed differently.
For instance say a raid item has 200 str and critical strike+ on it. A solo piece should have 100 str 100 vit and a bonus to healing effect to cut down on down time between fights. That's what I have been asking for in most of these solo vs raid threads.
The difference in gear itemization that Nagadeath brings also applies to class build. While a DPS character in a raid can afford to maximize dps skills and ignore those that don't apply directly to killing things as quickly as possible, a solo-focused character will often choose to adopt a more balanced approach, eschewing (for example) a bit more damage for an increase in survivability. At PAX East, Daniel Erickson told us that these hybrid sorts of builds are quite viable in Star Wars: The Old Republic when he said "when I go Inquisitor healing path, I don't put it all in there. I don't actually go dedicated. I actually find it works really well for how I play to maybe bring my healer CC, for me, and then do a little bit of healing on there, and then actually go a little more like, let's do some damage and get to stay in the fight."
Personally, I really enjoy raiding. I like the feeling of being part of a team that's working together to accomplish something bigger than all of us. At the same time, I love the solo component of the leveling process. I've played around with some extreme soloing in various games, notably in WoW with a hunter and in LotRO with a warden. Both playstyles appeal to me, and I know that there is a good bit of skill that goes into each of them. I see no harm in a solo path in the endgame, as long as there is also ample encouragement for people to group.
An emphasis on grouping is very important to an MMO because, in many cases, it is the social aspect that keeps people subscribed and logging in far longer than they would if they were purely solo. I know that I've logged into games weekly on game night long after they ceased to be any fun, purely because I had plans with friends. In many ways, social interaction is the bait that keeps us coming back to our MMOs, which is why social activities like raiding and group PvP have traditionally gotten more attention than solo endgame content. There are other ways to ensure a feeling of community among players than forcing them to group, though; crafting, the auction house, minigames, and in-game events can all help bring players together.