It's a Small World after All?
A major part of any MMO is exploration. The bug bites us all to go out and see what lies over the horizon, or in the case of EverQuest, past the zone line. There's a thrill that comes from filling in the black bits of the map. Finding new mobs to kill (or realistically, to get killed by).
In order to accomodate this driving need within us all, developers are constantly making new and exciting zones to explore. In the upcoming Echoes of Faydwer expansion, they've added an entire new continent to the game. They've brought back Faydwer from EQ1 and it promises to be massive.
The question is, though: What does this do to socialization in the game?
The bigger the world gets, the more spread apart the population gets. There are so many options for where to go and explore, adventure, and raid. In every level range, the players get spread thin over the world's surface. How then, does the social aspect, which makes up the very nature of an online game, suffer from this?
My answer to that? I don't believe it does.
There are so many options for communication and travel, that the distance to travel anywhere in the world of Norrath is actually very small. There are a lot of complaints about that ruining the feel of immensity. I don't think this is the case.
Back in the day (read: EverQuest 1), travel was cumbersome and vastly time consuming. The boat ride from Freeport or Qeynos to Faydwer took a good forty-five minutes to an hour. It was fun the first few times, and then it got old. It took forever to get a group going and oh the horrors of trying to get anything like a quest done or a raid...
Then we discovered the incredible usefullness of a Wizard or a Druid. They could do some amazing stuff. Suddenly, if you could find one to help you out, your travel time was cut dramatically and you could do things in a timely manner.
In no way at all did this dimish the size of the world. In no way did this take away from the joys of discovery. It simply took away the boredom and frustration of not being able to move about freely. No longer were you tied to just one area of the world until you could get somewhere else.
I find that the system in EverQuest 2 really enhances my enjoyment of the game. Some may say, and rightly so, that it's silly to have bells and insta ports and such. I understand this point of view, and I can agree with the silly factor. But I cannot agree that it lessens or takes away from anything in the game.
On the contrary, it makes it that much easier for me to get out and see the world. I no longer have to wait for a boat to take me for a forty-five minute jaunt to a new continent, only to have to log out fifteen minutes later to attend to real life matters. My hour online will be spent exploring Tenebrous Tangle, or when the expansion comes out, Greater Faydark.
The addition of world channels in which to converse helps to keep everyone together. If I want to find a pick up group or raid, I have only to turn on the chat channel for my level range, or any of a number of other things to find out what's going on that day. It doesn't take an act of Congress to get me to my new pick up group either. I can get there relatively quickly and get something done. It's a blessing for those of us with limited amounts of time for gameplay. The sense of accomplishment far outweighs any annoyance with the mechanics.
Yes, having a massive world can be intimidating. And yes, it's a little odd to be at the lower levels and see places empty of life because most of the population is higher level and playing elsewhere. But I see that as incentive to get out and adventure so that I can explore those new places. And when I'm ready to get out there and blaze new trails, it won't be hard for me to find other intrepid adventurers, because they're all right there looking for me (or really anyone) to round out their crew. And together we go forth and explore strange new worlds. Seek out new life and new civilizations... Boldly go where no Dark Elf has ... Oh, sorry. Wrong movie. My bad.