These days, I play more games with friends than I do alone. Time is a lot more limited, and it’s single player that has suffered most. Most of that time is spent with Rhiss, my best friend. What I’m finding is that the experience changes some games greatly, while others don’t change at all. When it does change, it’s not always for the better.
Playing Together, But Not Really
Most recent example: Civilization: Beyond Earth
I really enjoy Beyond Earth. It took two expansions to make Civ 5 enjoyable (I still prefer 4), and Beyond Earth is starting from that base. Coop play was a natural fit, and it’s well supported either by just working together as two distinct teams, or being on the same team from game creation. Teammates share one pool of techs (at higher research cost to balance it out) and diplomatic state, but most other things are distinct. Due to how many affinity points you get from techs, it works best if you agree on how to progress there.
That said, the game put us far enough apart that we really aren’t interacting. Occasionally I send a trader his way and I sent a carrier to support a war of his, but for most of the game we were so far apart that helping each other wasn’t practical. The net result is that while we’re playing together and talking and such, aside from choosing research most of what I do doesn’t impact him at all. It’s fun, but not ideal.
I think the developers overcompensated from Civ 4, where it was possible to be so close together in coop that you’d step on each others toes while expanding. I had that happen once and it was a pain, but on a more favorable map it meant you could have each other’s back and really help out in war. It makes the game easier in general.
Playing Together and Trivializing The Game
Most recent example: Wildstar
I met Rhiss in World of Warcraft. The game was a good fit for us, as we were both RPers. Eventually I got into the raiding game more than he did and that caused problems, but we spent a ton of time playing together.
Since then, we’ve tried to find another MMO that could give us the same thing. Wildstar worked well for a while, when we were creating the content ourselves. That is, roleplaying. You’d also think that an MMO would be ideal for group play, but…
The main problem is that the open world stuff is designed to be soloed. Most of the quests don’t need another person at all. If you add one, you trivialize it. Especially when one of us is a tank and the other is a healer, we can take on most of the elite stuff without help too. When we do need more help, it’s usually in a dungeon/adventure, which requires a full group. There’s no real middle ground that can challenge two of us but not add extra people.
When it does work, it works really well. The trouble is that a lot of the time, the difficulty is so low for two people playing together that paying attention is not required. I understand why that is, given how hard it’d be to make a group only MMO in this market, but it’s still an issue for group play.
Playing Together and Kinda Interacting
Most Recent Example: Diablo 3
Since Reaper of Souls came out and totally revamped Diablo 3, it’s been a great team game. You can play with however many people you want (up to the maximum of four), and the game scales to handle it. We can change the difficulty for how far along we are, and the game handles it. We can find something to do for 20 minutes, or 2 hours. Interaction between characters in the game isn’t super high (this isn’t a team dance like a WoW raid), but what everybody is doing does matter and builds with control or buffs can really help each other out.
It can get repetitive given all you really do is kill things for loot infinitely, but it’s nice to have a game that feels like we’re actually playing together and that what we both do matters.
Playing Together as a Team
Most recent example: Borderlands The Pre Sequel
There’s a lot of things I didn’t like about Borderlands The Pre Sequel compared to Borderlands 2, but the coop play was not one of them. I was playing as Athena, and once I got levelled high enough I had both a shield to block/reflect attacks, and a taunt. Using that would free Rhiss up (playing as Nisha) to blast things like crazy. In addition to my ranged ability to get him back up, I was playing a tank in a FPS and it really changed the game in terms of how we fought together. I had a lot more fun once I got that.
The really great thing was how much it felt like what either of us was doing mattered. Working together greatly enhanced our results vs just having two of us off doing our own thing, and that’s my idea of what a coop game should be.
It actually surprises me that arguably the MMO is the one that failed the most as a coop game, but that was just due to fixed difficulty. There wasn’t really any way to make things in the levelling part of the game hard enough that we actually had to be a team most of the time, short of being reckless and trying to grab five pulls at once.