by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
The Electronic Entertainment Expo has traditionally been the time for announcements, and despite the tone of the "new" E3 Mythic Entertainment's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning didn't disappoint. Not satisfied with just showing off the game (which earned them a Best of Show for PC Games from X-Play), they announced a feature called "open grouping." Attempting to tackle the common problem found in many other MMO games, it will attempt to place people together based on distance.
We all know from their own admission Mythic wants to trick us into socializing and working with each other on a regular basis. Interactions with players in a non-intrusive manner is pivotal to good MMO game design, but finding a system they will utilize appears to be a challenge based on what we've seen in other games. What will Warhammer Online need for it's system to work? The following seem to be the biggest hurdles we've found in other products.
Can't We All Get Along?
First and foremost any system that is added must be extremely easy to use for players on all skill levels. This starts with a functional UI which not only provides relevant data, but limits extraneous information which has plagued earlier systems. Taking out drop down boxes and flags will not only ensure simplicity from a programming aspect but will greatly increase the chance of the systems use. If there is one thing we've learned from MMO games, the more clicking you have to do, the less likely you'll do it.
The system in Warhammer Online promises to group people up by distance. This almost seems to work like a mobile "Meeting Stone" we saw in World of Warcraft which were just a continuation of old school LFG tools like EverQuest 2 and other games provided. While those did see quite a bit of use early on, it's safe to say (especially in the lower levels) it's not a very utilized mechanic. Will being mobile help? It's quite possible but if nothing else there appears to be another evolution of the LFG system which is never bad.
What is the entire purpose of grouping besides making life long friends you can grief in raids by putting hate transfers on them? To accomplish similar goals many of which are designed for parties of players. The single player mentality has become prevalent in many games and with good reason. We've seen some that not only designate "group" content but at least a few have gone back and revamped their mechanics in order to provide the solo player more options.
This particular problem will probably be the least of Mythic's worries with Warhammer Online. Having it's roots in the Realm vs Realm content, it's intentionally created to support grouping more than anything else. This will guarantee there is always a reason to be grouped up whether it's seizing a keep or fighting in a large scenario. However, even group heavy games in the past haven't had much success with their LFG systems so this is only a piece of the puzzle.
The ultimate problem, which developers have been battling since Meridian 59, Ultima Online, or whatever you consider the first MMO game is the motivation to talk to strangers. Part of this could be from changes in society where we fear internet predators or just generally mistrust people. It also could be a series of bad events where you have met enough annoying people that it's time to write off the human race. Whatever the reasons, socializing with the unknown is always a challenge and not one that is easily overcome by grouping mechanics.
Will Open Grouping be successful for Warhammer Online? It's hard to say at this point because it has just been announced. Rumors of the NDA dropping soon will provide an opportunity for open discussion about this mechanic and it's benefits. One thing is for certain however, Mythic Entertainment continues to prove they are more than willing to think outside the box.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Warhammer 40,000: Storm of Vengeance Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Game Page.