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Size Matters

19 Nov

With the NDA coming down on the hotly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic, those of us who have been as yet snubbed by EA/Bioware and not allowed into the beta are starting to get a better view into the game.

By all accounts that I’ve read so far, I think the expectation is evolution not revolution and that’s not terribly surprising considering the amount Bioware has invested in the game.  They simply can’t afford the game to be niche, so don’t expect radically new mechanics or game play.

True to form, Bioware appears to have thoughtfully injected story-driven instanced group content– Flashpoints– throughout player progression.  From my point of view, that is a good thing assuming Bioware has lived up to its reputation of providing compelling storylines that lead into and out of the instanced content.

IMHO, the tight integration of open world content and instanced dungeons makes for an entirely satisfying experience.  The poster child for this effort was vanilla WoW’s human starter experience in Elwynn Forest and Westfall that inevitably leads you to Edwin Van Cleef and the Deadmines, and ultimately beyond.

Of course, the DF wounded and then Cataclysm finally killed all this, though open world content became increasingly trivial solo content and thus the progressive story line experience was diluted to the point of nuisance.  Bioware hopes to have recaptured some of this magic, but we’ll see.

Part of what made these earlier experiences wildly fun of course was that we experienced them as a fixed group of five friends commited to staying together and progressing together.
So ideally, SWTOR would be ideally suited from a design perspective for our little group.  Except of course that SWTOR group size is four.

Ouch.

Group size has been a bit of a moving target over the years in MMOs and of course the degree to which group size matters is a fundamental design decision.  In the open world of Everquest, group size didn’t really matter than much depending on the challenge level of the content.

Wilhelm and I seemed to be able to find loads of challenging content as a dual-boxed foursome on Fippy Darkpaw and still had the flexibility to invite others as well when camped in a good area.  Group size seemed “suggested” rather than required.  In effect, you could scale your desired challenge level based on location and group size/composition and vice versa.

As instanced group content became the norm, group size started to matter quite a bit more.  Instanced content in most games tended to be tuned for an optimized group.  WoW chose five, Rift five, LotRO six, Guildwars six, DDO six, City of Heroes/Villains max of eight and now SWTOR with four.

Instanced content like WoW’s and LotRO’s (and I presume Rift though I’m not quite there yet) requires an optimal number and class composition.  EQ, EQ2, GW, DDO and CoX, not so much because of actual or effective scaling mechanisms.

So the question for us is how the heck do we experience SWTOR as our little group of five in a world that seems meant for four?

I’ve read that Companions work like henchmen in other games and can occupy group slots, so that conceivably would permit a group of five live players to occupy up to 10 total slots which would be two full “normal” groups, e.g., one group of three members and 1 companion and the other of two people and two companions.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that and as far as I know, SWTOR’s “Operations” or raid content isn’t available at lower levels.  Does anyone know whether “Flashpoint” instanced content can be experienced as a “raid” or 8 person group like the vanilla WoW end-game instances could (e.g., Scholo, Strat, etc.)?

It really bugs me that after so many years, MMO devs are still coming up with new (or continuing to use old) mechanics that manage to prevent people from playing together and/or experiencing all the wonderful content they’ve built into their game.

I’m not convinced that scalable content=meh if done in a thoughtful way.  I think instancing solves more problems than it creates, but instancing’s bastard child “phasing”– which is just hyperprogressive questing on acid– increasingly puts players in isolated boxes.

So how are others planning on experiencing SWTOR?  Solo and the LFD or random guildies?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Star Wars: The Old Republic

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Size Matters

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    November 20, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Yeah, the group size as 4 seems like an odd choice. You know from my blog I’m not a fan of things that artificially restrict players from playing together, so this has me scratching my head. Especially with the companions that can fill in slots, it seems to make sense to allow larger parties rather than restrict them to smaller group.

    One reason I’m likely to give SW:tOR a pass at launch is because I won’t be able to play with the friends I want to. I have 3 friends from WoW and my GF. Who gets bumped out? Given that I’m currently happily playing DDO with my GF and one of my friends, I might as well just stay with that. Cheaper, too. :)

     
  2. bhagpuss

    November 20, 2011 at 3:39 am

    I find any maximum group size that isn’t an even number kind of weird. Before MMOs pretty much every cRPG I played had a group size of four. Everquest had six. DAOC had eight. I’m not about to look up the maximum group size in every game I’ve played but I don’t believe I saw an odd number before WoW settled on five.

    Are there any other major MMOs that have a group size as low as four? It seems extremely small and given that SW:toR has to have its sights set on both current and ex-WoW players you’d have thought they’d have gone with what those people were used to.

    Can’t imagine that you’ll be able to “raid” group content in instances. I can’t claim to have been following SW:toR closely but I’m guessing the “Flashpoints” are basically group instances, so they would have to be set to allow a single group, surely?

     

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