Taking the MM Out of MMORPG – Solo Content and Why I Enjoy It

(Editor’s Note: Originally, I would just have written a hype train that describes this stuff, and then written a post about soloing, but given that this is the biggest thing I wanted to discuss this week, well, I figured it would be better to merge them and so in place of the Hype Train, this is what I’ve got!)

Something I’ve often talked about in this space without really directly saying it is this: I love MMOs the most when they offer me a good chat room to talk to people I already know while giving me fun stuff I can do alone.

That’s perhaps weird for an MMO player, but yet for both WoW and FFXIV, it largely holds true for me – most of my play time in both games is solo gameplay and when I most sink my teeth into content is when it is available for me to tackle by myself.

Knowing this, now, my love of Horrific Visions in WoW patch 8.3 and my excitement for Torghast in Shadowlands probably makes a lot of sense.

Why is this? Well, I think a few things about MMO gameplay and systems really makes solo gameplay appealing to someone like me. Solo play allows me to take on interesting challenges without waiting on other people or around other people’s schedules – useful for when, say, I’m out of work and playing at 4 in the morning when no one is on a North American datacenter. It also allows me to take my own pace – do I want a snack break or a bathroom break? – then I can just take one without rushing so as to not inconvenience someone else.

But something I find holds me more than just convenience and ability to enjoy the content. In most MMOs, difficult content is defined by punishing mechanics. In group content, this often means that your individual skill means little. A well-designed encounter, puzzle, or other piece of content, will work around this by making individual skill checks a part of the gameplay along with these group-level fail checks, but it always leaves a question – am I really good enough for the top tier of content? I don’t raid Mythic in WoW because frankly, I don’t want to make that time commitment – I like my 4 hour a week guild and our steady Ahead of the Curve pacing. I like having a guild that can supply basic consumables without worrying about min-maxing. I enjoy not having an outgrown infrastructure that makes a WoW player an HR person who has to handle a series of sexual assault allegations against someone, does so poorly, and ends up losing sponsors. You know, all those things that Mythic guilds have to deal with.

But I’d like to believe that I’m good enough to play at that level, you know? I think that for many semi-competitive people, there’s at least that urge to know that you could do it if invited.

Solo challenges indulge that on at least some level, because in the end, it comes down to you and your execution.

Both WoW and FFXIV offer some degree of solo content support, although in this regard, WoW is far in the lead. WoW has modes that scale to offer challenge to groups of multiple sizes, features like the Legion Mage Tower, which can only be done solo, and active balancing of classes and legacy raid content so that if a solo player runs into a two-expansion old Mythic raid, they can receive a shower of rewards if they play modestly well. FFXIV, on the other hand, allows you to some group-focused content alone if you so desire, like Eureka and in all likelihood the upcoming Save the Queen content for the Resistance Weapons of Shadowbringers. It has a toggle in the Duty Finder interface that allows you to run prior expansion content unsynced – your level doesn’t go down to match, your gear remains as powerful as it is in the open world, and you can bring in undersized parties, including just your lonesome self. Class balancing in FFXIV is focused on current endgame and that means that most jobs lack a large amount of self-healing, meaning that even tank jobs, the ones you’d most expect capable of soloing old content, can’t for the most part (Paladin gets a targetable, decent potency heal spell, so they are the ultimate soloing winner in FFXIV).

In both games, what soloing offers you is different as well. In WoW, soloing can be a viable path to gold farming through vendoring of drops and the actual gold dropped, it can be a fun challenge on certain bosses and raids, it is one of the best ways to ensure your transmog ensemble stays packed with fun options, and when current content kinda just sucks, it can be a way to still enjoy the game. In FFXIV, soloing is much the same – less viable for gil farming, good for building up your Glamour Dresser although the game’s anemic drop rates for loot in trials can make this more of a challenge, a fun time-waster, a good skills test, and a way to get familiar with jobs and push the limits of your less-commonly played ones.

WoW’s newer emphasis on flexibility and solo challenges has made me happier as a player for their inclusion, at times (like, say, 8.3 BfA!) being the only thing keeping me tethered to the game. What I grew to appreciate about them, starting with the Mage Tower, is that they allow me to answer my doubts about my abilities as a player in many ways. I won’t claim that the Mage Tower scenarios were perfectly 100% ideally balanced, or that they offered flawless execution checks, but they test most things I would look for in a higher-level raiding player – quick response to changing situations, attentiveness to mechanics and the environment around the player, smart utilization of class and spec abilities, and raw throughput on top of all of that. Even with guides, my experience doing all 36 of them is that no matter the spec, I needed at least a handful of calibration attempts to feel out the parameters of the fight. Even when the fight was one I had previously bested on another spec, there were just enough changes to keep things fluid and interesting.

Horrific Visions had less of this, but I remain on the side of the HV design. They were more accessible and more granular in their difficulty controls and that is what I really liked about them. I’d love to see better targeting for class and spec abilities in Torghast, but Horrific Visions, no joke, extended my active play time in WoW during BfA by a couple of months, and made it so that during those few months, I played more of the game than I had on average during BfA. Now, some of that was poorly designed and excessively gate-keeping currency mechanics, so I wouldn’t use that to argue that all of the time spent in-game was enjoyable, but in the end, the destination was worth the ride to me – until I reached the point of mastery.

In FFXIV, I’ve found myself soloing more because it fills that role for me – this week, I took down Nidhogg EX as a paladin solo just to be able to say I did it, and then I did it again since the scales that he sometimes drop sell on the market board for a good chunk of change and I am still trying to save up for a house when the Firmament opens!

The odd thing is that my gameplay in WoW and slowly in FFXIV become more defined in a cycle of playing intense group content and then dropping to do intense solo content. In WoW, my time was pretty evenly split between raiding with around 20 people and then 5 days of the week just doing my own thing, pushing solo achievements in old Mythic raids or whatever sounded like fun, and in FFXIV, outside of Tomestone capping the current high-tier currency, I spend most of my time finding solo stuff to do, farming dungeons for gear to give my retainers as they level, spending 30 minutes a stretch getting the execution just right to solo Nidhogg EX, and trying to push other trials and boundaries to fill my time and give me things to write about and talk about.

Perhaps, this isn’t what an MMORPG should be. I guess it is more of an ORPG, which sounds like a weird acronym. I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that perhaps I’m in a sort of weird subgroup who enjoys MMOs but has an allergy to doing a ton of group content and has to create the parameters around it such that it uniquely appeals to me.

But what I love most about this weird, ill-fitting genre is that there are all kinds of spaces like the one I just described where people can carve out a niche that fits them and be in an environment where things aren’t so lonely even as they find their own way into the fiction of the world, alone.

(Also: I finally got the Mythic Hellfire Citadel mount today, so hooray!)

4 thoughts on “Taking the MM Out of MMORPG – Solo Content and Why I Enjoy It

  1. Like the person said, “Other people are Hell.”

    I play games like WoW mainly for the RPG part. I don’t even like the ORPG aspect (e.g. Starcraft, Diablo3, Elite) but I tolerate them but keep my offline games up to date.

    When I play WoW, I play it like an RPG. My goal in a new expansion is to get from starting level to the end of the story for that expansion. Not interested in raiding, dungeoning, PvP, anything like that. Just want to experience all the story I can, and I politely ignore anything instanced and read about it on WoWHead.

    Which kinda ties in to a lot of the raiding vs filthy casuals contention in past posts.

    Blizz has yet to really put together a compelling story that you would expect from a full on RPG, but they do gloss that over with grind and raiding drama. But imagine if they DID put the energy of storytelling that you see in games like The Last of Us into their MMO. I’d even forgive them sealing that kind of thing behind a raid portal. I’d queue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you like RPGs have you considered giving FFXIV a try? As far as story goes nothing I have every played beats it. And the game is designed so that casuals who only want to show up for new story installments can catch up easily. They do have some required instances you will have to run to get through that story, but they are designed to be easily beaten by randomly matched parties of strangers. The more challenging versions of these fights which require group co-ordination are not part of the leveling experience and you will never have to do them unless you decide you want to.
      As the producer and lead developer Naoki Yoshida once remarked in an interview, they have players who log into their game only to take screenshots of their character and they are ok with that. The self-confidence of this team is just stunning. They know their audiences and they have succeeded in providing quality content to all of them. This creates a game where “casuals” and “hard core” go their separate routes and are not pitted against each other fighting for developers time or attention. For me that is the main win here as it is the duel between these groups in WoW, the constant back and forth and bickering which poisons the well and I am happy to have found a place where that is not encouraged.

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  2. Oh you are definitely not alone :). While a lot of the public hype focuses on group content (world first, MDI etc *cough* and look where that got us) there is (or was) a substantial community of soloists in WoW. I left over a year ago but soloing was why I got into raiding to begin with since I needed raid gear for some of the solos and while I remained a raider throughout the course of my WoW stay, soloing was my first love. I chose my first and most used class, a warlock, because like DKs, and Hunters, Warlocks were once upon a time first class soloists. By using abilities nobody used in raiding anymore, or never used often, (many of which were later removed) you could poke around in the dusty attic of your class and find useful gold. I remember when they announced that they were removing our threat drop because “nobody used it much”. Which I guess is true if you are Ion Hazzikostas and all you do in the game is raid.

    Shout out here to Evrelia and other great soloists of the past. It was when I saw Evrelia’s warlock world first solo of Litch King 25 man Heroic that I became seriously interested. I will post a link here, as I think it is still one of the best solo videos I have ever seen, using as he does every skill available to him and a thorough knowledge of encounter mechanics to beat Arthas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRLeF2FPp5U. The pull is at about 1: 29 if you want to watch it. It took him iirc about 100 pulls to learn the fight. That inspired me to learn it myself and taught me to maintain the focus needed for what back them seemed like ages (5 minutes? lol) to pull it off. And I can never thank him enough for teaching me by example to make my UI my own, as well as to key bind *every* pet ability I had not just the “important” ones :). The Warlock Green Fire quest was also a thing at the time, and I enjoyed it and very much respect the love and skill that went into its design, for me nothing matched beating old epic raid encounters.

    Mage tower was their experiment in seeing whether or not they wanted to officially accommodate soloing within the game and I think the answer was a resounding yes judging from player response. It was playing against God Queen’s Fury on my newly max level Paladin who had every tool he needed for the fight — a stun? I have that. A silence? Sure. A movement CD? Even my “wheelchair Paladin” had one. A little burst window every minute or so? I have that too — that I saw how much they had removed from my Demo Lock. I could beat it on Demo as we all did, but I kept hearing Doctor Johnson’s remark about the dancing dog running through my mind as I used my Felguard’s Cripple to slow the melee dude – it is not done well and one is surprised to see it done at all. I was laughing at myself all through that fight.

    As a player I had to find ways to make my own fun and it was the old raids that I enjoyed most. I never competed in the world first extreme soling scene that once existed, but my weekly entertainment after raid nights was to test myself against raids from former expacs. Even if you were raiding in a progress CE guild or its equivalent as Evrelia and others did, there is nothing like the challenge of soloing. It is just different. It uses different skills, and in many cases requires more from you. It used to be less a matter of gear and more about your skill, although I felt that balance slipping over time. Maybe it was just me, but I began to feel like a mere dps machine held up by gear. And how many transmogs does a female Troll need?

    I think FF14 has some decent soloing opportunities for such a community oriented game, although I’ve barely exploited them aside from going back to instances I had to rush through, or raids I never experienced at all like Coils. About 4 years ago I raced through the MSQ to get to end game and am using this lull in content to replay the story on an alt before they revamp ARR in the next patch, which I agree they have to do.

    FFXIV for all its many shiny buttons doesn’t give most classes a lot of leeway here as you note. The classes are designed mostly for group play, and Paladin and RDM are among the few that work well. One thing wow did have going for it was a lack of awareness about just how many people were using their game as a soloists playground, and far less structured rotations and class design, giving players a lot of little tricks the developers probably never knew were there until they decided to massively prune. Perhaps the new borrowed powers (which they can’t possibly test completely given how many there are) in Shadow Lands will give players some new ways to test the limits. I wish you happy hunting and good soloing wherever you play.

    Sorry for the long post but you rekindled some interesting memories for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A correction to my previous post – my apologies I see no Edit button here – the LK 25H solo takes *15* minutes, not 5 minutes, obviously 🙂

    Like

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