By John Walker on May 9th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
I have apparently taken leave of my entire personality, and am engrossed in an MMO. Worse, I’m *playing with others*. This is about how I came to such a place.
Something’s wrong with me. I’m… I’m doing things – things I shouldn’t want to do. I’m – and please be understanding – I’m playing nicely with others. For crying out loud, I’m running a guild.
As I’ve raged at length, repeatedly, on RPS, I don’t like multiplayer. I don’t like it because of the pressure, because of the invasion, because of the judgment, because of the responsibility. I enjoy playing games on my own, where I can mess up as much as I like, claim all the success for myself, and not find myself surrounded by sneering corrections or irritants.
So what the heck am I doing teaming up with RPS readers, even complete strangers, in Neverwinter?
As I’ve said recently, I can’t justify why it is that Neverwinter has hooked me, when I just bounced off Guild Wars 2 and many, many other very good MMOs. Neverwinter is superbly well made, but it’s not as if it’s another The Secret World, especially designed to hook me in with stories and characters. The closest this game has to a character is Sergeant Knox – a quest giver who seems to have a different ridiculous voice every time you speak to him. And could this be the worst Scottish accent of all time?
The Liverpudlian region of Scotland.
I’m just hooked by the process. Get new mission strand, run to new area, do first three questions, get three more, go in a dungeon, come back, get two more quests, and maybe an extra side-quest, and then fight a big boss. And repeat. It does almost nothing to disguise the routine, and yet the routine is what is so compelling. Yes, each time through it’s a completely new set of bads, and a new bunch of hokum guff about why you’re doing it. But there’s something madly comforting about simply completing the process, and being so frequently and abundantly rewarded with trinkets as you do. Or as I do. You may be sneering in horror. As would I if you’d told me I’d occasionally need to team up.
Because I’m writing about the game for the site, I’m somewhat obliged to at least take a look at the partying. So it was that I “queued” for my first dungeon, and played alongside a collection of silent other players who may as well have been well-informed NPCs. The queuing was relatively simple (press K, opt in, and when there are five of your ready it offers a prompt to teleport you there), the process entirely harmless, and on this occasion the results rewarding. Interesting.
What I can’t excuse is the next time. Neverwinter can almost entirely be soloed. You and an AI companion character are enough to take on most of what it has to offer – even the main quest bosses most of the time. But these occasional dungeons really need five players to be possible. Believe me, I tried soloing one. I got about three steps in. But crucially, they’re entirely optional. The game won’t hold you back from moving forward through its “plot” if you don’t participate in them, and in fact I’ve a few times found myself having accidentally levelled beyond their entry criteria before I’ve reached the queue front. (You can still complete them, but you need to find willing chums, rather than the automated queuing system.) You can get from level 1 to 60 without ever entering one, and you’ll only miss out on some random loot and speedier access to XP.
But they’re so tempting. They can last 45 minutes. 45 minutes of big, sprawling dungeons, packed with secret areas and bonus things to complete. Heading off in the opposite direction the sparkly lights encourage often means encountering entirely different bosses, guarding tasty treasure chests, and finding alternate pathways through. And I get to feel useful. As a rogue, I can clear away traps! I mean, no one cares or notices. But I feel useful. And for the first time in an online game, I don’t feel like the interfering hanger-onner, muddling my way through with the people who know what they’re doing. I mean – that absolutely still is the case, but I don’t feel like it here. Sometimes I even run in front.
But where I’ve really crossed a line is this guild business.
I thought it would be a good idea to set up an RPS guild in the game, since people were interested in playing, and since it was free anyway. I wouldn’t actually participate in it! I’d get it running, and hand it over to whoever wanted the thing, and carry on in my misanthropic adventures. But that hasn’t happened. I’m… I’m reading the text in the guild chat channel. I’m taking part. I’m volunteering answers to questions. I’m in charge of the Guild Bank, and spend time going through it and tidying it up, fusing the piles of enchantments into more powerful ones, and throwing away the nothing loot that some silly people keep putting in there. I’ve written guild mail. I’ve – I’ve asked people in the guild to team up with me for quests.
I don’t even recognise myself in the mirror any more.
Just today, at lunchtime (see?), I found I was unable to kill a giant wolf creature at the end of a long mission chain. I had four goes, and each time did a little better, but was still destroyed by the stupid numbers of mobs she kept spawning. I just wasn’t the right build for this fight, and my noble phoera (a bird made of fire whom I have called Stravinsky because I am VERY CLEVER) just didn’t have what it takes to support me through that. Then five minutes later I’m in a party of four, two other RPS guilders, and a stranger who was hanging around outside the quest clearly in the same position I had been, and we WHOOP HER WOLF ASS. High fives, disband, success.
A couple of days ago I was expressing confusion about why I couldn’t queue for a dungeon in my mission list, and found out that this was because I’d accidentally levelled too high. “I’ll join you for it though,” said one guild member. “Yeah, me too,” said another. And then suddenly we’re a party of five, and we’re off on a 45 minute adventure together – the kind where it feels a bit sad that you all go separate ways afterward.
I’m feeling a twinge of sadness about leaving groups.
I’m sure it won’t last. Well, I know it won’t last in Neverwinter because I’ll inevitably have another big game I have to dedicate time to soon enough, and this one will slip away. But heck, I’m level 50 in it already – I’ve never been level 50 in any MMO ever. But I’m sure it won’t last in gaming in general. Surely it couldn’t? Other people are RUBBISH!
Except RPS readers aren’t, I’m pleased to report. A lot of my negative experiences with multiplayer have come from the intolerance of those I’m playing with. Intolerance for being bad at something, making mistakes, being daft. It’s underlined for me that playing alone is always superior. Hell, I’d argue that I’ve even experienced bullying in multiplayer, back in the days of PlanetSide – that was the game that put the nail in my multiplayer coffin. When I think back to it my lip curls. But The Rotten Realms Of RPS guild in Neverwinter has been a peculiarly healing experience (especially ironic when I’m of course such a notoriously bad healer).
I really don’t write this to lamely patronise readers. I’m genuinely delighted to discover what a really excellent bunch of people have congregated in this game – generous, quick to help, and fun. Just watching the pile of “Hello!”s that appear when a new member first appears lets you know there’s a lack of complacency, rank or that foul notion of them-and-us that terms like “newbie” generate. If you’re interested in joining in, details are here.
I don’t know who I am any more. But I like the company I keep.