About pride and accomplishment in optional multiplayer games

(This is effectively a rant about how I am incompatible with MMORPGs)

As Destiny 2 has been feeling very stale for a long time, I’ve shifted my gaze to other games. There was a rather long burst of Borderlands 3, and then a bit of Roboquest, and a longer phase on Gunfire Reborn. And all the time I’ve had a tiny longing towards Guild Wars 2. A longing that has been growing in such a way that now I can’t wait to play it. I’m also very happy that they just announced a lot of details about an upcoming expansion, including the release date. What a coincidence. Although the release is about six months away still; plenty of time to get bored, and I kinda already am. Allow me to explain:

Destiny 2, Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands 3 all have a mountain on content in them. And they are great games, with great gameplay. Sounds great, right? That a lot of content I’ve been really enjoying, taken time to get good at, and/or maxed out on. I’m on the very peak of (almost) everything. But it is not as simple as this. Things are (almost) too easy, and there is little challenge left or rewards to earn which I can do on my own. Which brings us to the following:

My time is limited.

Outside of expansions(!), a lot of content in D2 and in GW2 is just replaying old content. In D2 it is the age-old formula of bounties and the season pass, and in GW2 the latest one is the quest for a legendary amulet. These offer nothing new to the game, and just direct playing the old content again and again for some reward. I’m all for replayability, but these literally offer nothing new, or change the experience in any way.

And actually, D2 makes things even worse. It’s a loot-shooter. But the bounties require to use your less good loot. And that’s basically the content. Or well, some bounties just tell you to do X three times. And then repeat that YYY times. And if you don’t complete those other bounties while at it, you are basically throwing away almost all “progress” and ability to better “enjoy” further content.

And in GW2’s case, the new questline requires to replay both the story-content and some open-world aspects of the past several years. While this is a good opportunity for the player to spot if there’s any foreshadowing in the story, that’s about all the value there is. No skips for lengthy dialogues, and nothing to change the experience. Just a mountain of playing it all again. And the fact that I’ve already played it once doesn’t net me anything.

Then why play? Like I already mentioned with D2, if that work would be completed, it would (even greatly) enhance the ability to enjoy the new expansions, and the other repeating content. But in D2’s case the bounties are so ingrained in the game nowadays that even the expansions are filled with bounties that punish using the weapons and subclasses you enjoy.

And with GW2 (especially after the very recent legendary armory feature), a legendary piece of equipment is the literal best-in-slot that replaces everything that would ever go in that slot. It has the same stats as the otherwise best stats containing Ascended-rarity items, but it allows for free and unlimited stat swapping. After that you don't need anything else on that slot ever again. In a game like Build Wars 2, that’s the hot shit, and highly desireable. You'd be mad not to pursue that.

It’s all about the economy and playtime — and psychology

In a boring game, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to switch playstyle at will, and for free? Or in case of looter-shooters, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to sometimes enjoy our hard-earned loot, and get new loot?

I’d enjoy those things, but things just aren’t meant to be. In D2 that means being broke and longing for new fun and interesting ways to play, just brand-new content out of reach. And as it just happens, in GW2 that also means being broke and longing for new fun and interesting ways to play, with brand-new content just out of reach. Even when the games and the reward structures are completely different. The essence of all this seems to revolve around accessibility, skill, balance, long-term investment and perceived value, and efficiency. It’s quite complicated, but I’ll try to render out my own experience in relation to this:

In “short”, a lot of the content in these two games is balanced for good equipment and depending on content, almost no skill. Some content on the other hand might require near-literal godlike skill and/or a lot of time — or just a larger amount of less able players.

In D2 the open-world sandbox enemies are frail, and they die from about anything. But it’s also fun to mow down large amounts of red bars, even though there could be even more of them. But to get new ways of destruction, or any kind of real challenge, the content to play changes. There’s the adjustable-difficulty 3-player nightfall strikes or 6-player raids, and also the 3-player dungeons to explore. Strikes are the only piece of content that has matchmaking, and even that stops right as the actually challenging difficulties start. All non-matchmaking content is balanced in such a way that a lone solo player has little chance to really even begin playing them, let alone finish them (dungeons and lost sectors being the exception).

And the game makes this exceptionally hard for so-called hardcore-casuals (which I like to call myself). Every few months a new season begins, and rises an arbitrary “power cap” on equipment. It also raises the power level required on all content to match. Effectively undoing any investment towards difficult content. Soloing content like dungeons or master-tier lost sectors is something the game’s creators reserve for the sweatiest players – those with time to grind the game and increase that arbitrary power level to a sufficient value in order to match the level of the enemies. But I don’t have that kind of time. So even if I was as skilled as them, I just can’t play the same content as them, as I haven’t done the ever-elusive the numbers game beforehand.

With GW2 this changes slightly. Lot of the solo content open-world content does have challenge, but sooner or later it starts to essentially feel like the infinite variety of oatmeal. Different, but the same. The game tries perhaps combat this by being a theme-park MMO. Every playable area is vastly different than others, and as such the world feels disconnected. But then there’s some things that can’t be soloed. And everything gets very easy with more players.

In all these cases, the rewards stay the same. More players, more easy, a lot more rewards in the same time span. But at least with these rewards it would be possible to change the way the game is played in order to keep the experience fresh. Is there really no good way in the middle?

In D2 I could play with the equipment I already own and like, but would eventually grow tired. Or I could try the challenging content, and not really get anywhere. With the most fun weapons gated in that content. In GW2 I can either keep soloing challenging content and miss out on a lot of rewards. I could still purchase a limited number of new ascended-tier gear with new stats, but would eventually go broke. Or I could purchase less-able and a lot cheaper exotic-tier equipment, but I’d only be making the game intentionally a lot harder, while also missing out on even more rewards, further limiting my ability to change things up and stay in a nice position in the game.

In GW2 the most long-term cost-conscious choice would be to craft a full set of legendary weapons, armor and trinkets. Then I could just enjoy playing with what I want. But the amount of work is legendary. Just to get the gated materials for one armor weight class (out of 3), it would take an estimated 500-1000 hours of constant gameplay via WvW over 24 weeks. More if there are gaps on some weeks. Alternatively, via PvP the gated materials for the in about 280-330 hours over 6-24 months (but still a good number of hours every two months, or else things take a lot longer). Then there’s also the weapons and trinkets, and the normal materials for all these. And that is not cheap. But then again, legendaries are the be-all end-all of equipment. Equipment-wise there's nothing left after acquiring them.

WvW is just grind when solo, but PvP can be really engaging. But then it, too, eventually turns to rewards and tryharding, and starts to feel like a chore. Just like everything else. And if only I had better, more predictable teammates.

Then there’s the (5 out of 6, already have one) legendary trinket and their quests. I have no estimate on how long they take; PvE ring and accessory have similarly lengthy quests as the amulet I spoke of earlier. Second ring and accessory are PvP and WvW only, and take time comparable to multiple armor pieces. And then the weapons, which are thankfully mostly just about money, but still have a lot of gated stuff. But the weapons are perhaps the most irrelevant of these, and I already have few of them.

Let’s finally talk about multiplayer

Nearly all these problems are solvable. There’s so much more content gated in and behind raids (in either game), or fractals, or dungeons, or even WvW. Simply play them with a group for the intended experience. A lot of perfectly balanced challenge, and great rewards. Just like all things should be.

But that is the problem. It all requires a group. Not only is my time limited, but my social energy is exceptionally limited. Luckily things are easier with people I know; and I really used to enjoy doing guild content in Guild Wars 2. Unluckily the schedules and expectations eventually just took a toll on me. I just couldn’t find the social, mental or even physical energy (due to sleep problems) to always be there for the group, and fell out. People missed me, for a while. Then life went on, and getting back became hard. Then even later many people stopped playing, or found new groups, and there was nothing left.

Now I’d have to find a whole new group, and find the constant energy for it. Or alternatively I could look and fight really hard outside of the game, and eventually land in less-organized pick-up groups for a single instance of some content. But to make that happen, I’d already be expected to be master of that very content. And be expected to talk, fluently. If I can’t do that, I can’t ever even begin enjoy any of that gated story content, challenge or rewards. I really like the games, but would like them even more if I could play them they way I want, and all the content. This is not just the fear of missing out. This is missing out.

In the end I’m like Sisyphus. Forever doomed to meagre repeating work with pride and accomplishment in sight, but always just out of reach.

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