Transparency: 3 Solo gameplay experiences every MMO needs

MMOs are becoming more like single-player games. Learn 3 reasons why that's definitely a good thing.

When Star Wars: The Old Republic released, many people -- especially long-time MMORPGers -- complained that the game was far too much like a single-player game. Many of these same people were those who had played World of Warcraft for nearly ten years. At the same time, many other MMOs had embraced the single-player nature of the leveling process. But even though it was overshadowed by the amazing single-player-like leveling process in vanilla SWTOR, the multiplayer aspects of the game were plentiful if difficult to find sometimes.

Since the launch of SWTOR, other MMORPGs have also embraced the single-player content of the genre. The Secret World probably embraced it the most successfully. The stories in TSW have been touted as some of the best in the MMO industry. The intricate puzzles and amazing voice acting allowed that game to overcome a combat system that many people have complained about.

I am an MMO player almost exclusively. I love me a good story-driven single-player game like Batman: Arkham Knight, but I live in an online world. I’m also a huge proponent of the multiplayer aspects of MMORPGs, but many of the things players do solo in an MMO actually help a game feel more dynamic and alive. That is why today I’m making a case for single-player aspects of MMORPGs. Here are three important aspects of recent MMOs that are also soloable.

1. Heroic story

Since the launch of SWTOR, MMOs have begun to advertise that they have an epic story. To be honest, most who advertize that really do not have an epic story, and SWTOR is hardly the first MMO to make your character the hero of the story and really make your actions feel important. I recall friends who jumped into the original Guild Wars explaining that this is the way that MMOs should feel. And although it was a little bit more ambiguous than SWTOR, it was clear that your character played a major part in the story of GW and its subsequent expansions.

GW wasn’t the only one. Old-school MMO players remember Age of Conan and its beginning zone, Tortage. You were the one hero of Hyboria and so were the thousands of other people who played the game.

It seems counterintuitive to make the player the single hero in a game that was designed to house thousands of players at once. AoC was criticized by the MMO community at the time, but ultimately the single-player, a heroic story gives the player a sense of ownership. Of course, there are other ways to grant ownership to players other than a heroic story, but it is a viable way to present the game’s lore at the same time.

2. Crafting

I know not everyone crafts in the combat simulators that we call MMORPGs, but I believe that a good crafting system and economy are the cornerstones of any MMORPG. The whole crafting "game" can be done by yourself, and although other people are involved, many crafters really only treat them like glorified NPCs.

Of course, people will argue that crafting in MMOs are usually a multiplayer construct, requiring many people to work together in order to make the system even function, let alone be effective. And I agree. However, crafting can be and usually is a solo endeavor. I had a reader, who is now a part of my guild, introduce himself as someone who just plays the auction house. His game consists of amassing large sums of credits and items just so that he can say that he has them. In fact, he doesn’t really even play any other aspect of the game. For him crafting and economy is the game, and for the longest time he never really spoke to another player. To me, that’s solo gameplay.

3. Solo dungeons

Two MMOs recently launched an aspect that seems to be gaining new steam. It’s not exclusive two these two games -- the original Guild Wars had a version of solo dungeons -- but it appears to be making a positive impact on these respective games. Elder Scrolls Online includes an instance in the Orsinium DLC called the Maelstrom Arena, and SWTOR now has solo Flashpoints in its expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire.

The solo flashpoints for SWTOR are simply flashpoints that the player can run through for the purpose of story. There are good rewards for doing them. They are repeatable, but the main purpose is to simply see the content. It seems like it shouldn’t work. But the community is eating it up, and more people are seeing content they’ve never experienced before.

The Maelstrom Arena is a challenge arena for the solo player. It pits the player against wave after wave of enemies, each level a greater challenge. However, it’s more than just a dungeon for players to experience the content. There are leaderboards for those who like to pit themselves against other players. Not many MMOs do something that caters to the Bartle’s Killer type that isn’t some sort of direct PvP system. Kudos to Elder Scrolls Online.

I am not usually a solo player in MMOs, but the more I see these additions being added, the more I think they are important to the overall MMO experience. If you disagree, I’d like to read your thought-filled comments below. If you agree, I’d like to read your thoughts on the subject, too. If there are other big solo aspects of MMOs that I missed, tell me what they are and maybe they will make a future article.

Published Nov. 6th 2015
View Comments
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I agree wholeheartedly about the solo dungeons and crafting. *However*, I'm not entirely sold on the "heroic story". That has to be handled very carefully in order to be successful. I think about the "Vestige" in Elder Scrolls and I automatically cringe at the idea of every player being the Chosen One. You can't have 50 chosen ones on the same server doing the same quests and saving the same world. It bulldozes immersion like Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. I also think that it's not completely necessary as games such as RuneScape and MapleStory are still very popular MMOs that have yet to apply a real "story" to their games until recently (with RuneScape still not having one in the slightest).

    That said, when handled correctly a "heroic story" can work. Just make the player character a little less otherworldly than a "Chosen One" as - in the words of Mel Gibson - "There can only be one!"

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