For most, the single player videogame dominates our gaming experience from the classic Atari consoles to the modern personal computer. In recent years we've seen an explosion in growth from the gaming industry which has slowly begun to shift from individual play to more social environments. While the benefits of bringing people of the world together like that classic Coke commercial into a single virtual space sounds exciting, where does it leave those who aren't necessarily interested in that full social experience?
Where are the Vikings?
Solo play is quite a subjective term and can mean anything from someone who spends most of their time playing alone to those who do not wish to interact with others period. Whether you understand their motives or not, these are potential customers and it's very likely companies like EA are listening to them with interest. In a game that is founding itself on cooperation and interaction with other players, how will Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning provide that important solo experience to those who seek it?
First, the environment is conducive to gameplay that allows participation but not obligation. The ultimate goal is to not only to improve themselves but contribute to the war effort against the opposing factions. How can that be accomplished without direct confrontation with other players or complex social structures such as guilds and raid forces? While it can't be avoided entirely, especially in regards to end game content, there are a number of mechanics EA Mythic is offering to appease the solo player and fit them into the system.
One such system is the scenario which allows team play with little setup or coordination from participants. Taking a page almost from World of Warcraft's Battleground (which is just an extension of what we've seen in FPS games for almost 10 years) these instanced encounters will put teams in games such as capture the flag and a unique spin on King of the Hill called "Murderball." These scenarios can be played by individuals successfully with little to no communication, although coordinated teams will likely have an advantage. This means as a solo player you can just drop in, play a few scenarios and leave with the same satisfaction someone less anti-social would get.
In a recent phone Q&A with EA Mythic the question actually came up about how viable solo play was in Warhammer Online. Jeff Hickman's answer was:
"It's the only thing Paul does because he's a malcontent. There will plenty of opportunities to group up with others, but solo is very viable. The deal is the game tricks you into making friends. It tricks you into having a social life. Public Quests do that, as do scenarios. You don't have to wander around the capital city LFG, you can run out get involved, socialize and get involved right away. You've painted your face blue, they've done the same. Soccer fans who love your team are everywhere!"
Now an interesting phrase stands out in that quote and no it isn't the Soccer reference because we know no one plays Soccer in America. Tricking you into making friends seems like an odd way to present a mechanic but it's subtle and brilliant in nature. What they essentially had in mind here was that you'd show up to help assault a city, a Keep, or play a scenario and the classical Esprit De Corps would kick in prompting new friends and allies in the war. In addition to this, it's a well known fact that Creative Director Paul Barnett has a preference for solo play and has no problems letting people know that. With that in mind it seems very likely he has been providing his input about this playstyle.
It's very apparent that all types of play are being heavily considered in the development of the game. While solo players might not quite fit the standard idea of a Massive Multiplayer Online game they are certainly a large enough voice to be heard. What remains to be seen is how much of the end game a player without guild ties or a lengthy friends list might see. How much content will require raids, and will there be the mini raids of 10 - 15 man teams like World of Warcraft. There is honestly not enough information available to make a completely informed decision but it's certain we'll be watching intently to learn more and cross our fingers for beta.
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