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City of Friends

Given how important the social aspect is to MMORPGs, I’m always confused by design choices that get in the way of making friends and playing together. I wrote about how City of Heroes let teammates target through the tank, which makes teamwork smoother than in later games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. This is just one of several such mechanics present in CoH that I’ve been shocked to find missing from later MMORPGs.

In these games, character level makes a huge difference in combat effectiveness. As a result, it’s difficult for players who aren’t close in level to meaningfully play together - if the content is appropriate for the lower-level character, it’s trivial for the higher-level one; if it’s appropriate for the higher-level character, it’s impossible for the lower-level one.

City of Heroes solved this with the charmingly-named sidekick system, which allowed one player to bring their effective level close to that of a teammate so they could both contribute meaningfully to the same content and receive appropriate rewards.

I don’t think World of Warcraft had any level scaling when I was playing it, and from some quick searching it looks like even now what scaling it has is based on zones and dungeons. Similarly, Final Fantasy XIV features level scaling for public events and dungeons. The scaling is tied to content, not to teams - it’s to allow you to go experience lower-level content you may have missed and receive level-appropriate rewards, not to let you play with your friend.

Also, in these games, the main way to progress is through completing quests. Quests are acquired and completed individually, and any rewards for the quest are only received by a player that has the quest, despite how much their teammates may have contributed. This means that tagging along with a friend and helping them with their quests is often a waste of time under the game’s mechanical incentives if you don’t happen to have the exact same quests - and most quests are not repeatable and many have prerequisites that make it very easy to fall out of sync.

City of Heroes solved this too. Team leaders could pick any quest held by any party member and designate it as the team’s active quest, resulting in every team member being able to see the quest objectives and receive a completion reward regardless of whether they were eligible to pick the quest up themselves.

When I played it, World of Warcraft had a limited quest-sharing mechanic - a player could share any quest in their log to other teammates, but only one at a time and only if the teammate was eligible to pick up the quest (meaning they hadn’t already done it and they met all prerequisites). This was better than nothing, but it was still very easy to get out of sync. Final Fantasy XIV appears to have no quest sharing capabilities at all.

In short: City of Heroes made it trivially easy to play with friends. No matter where you each were in character level and quest progression, you could team up, sync your level, share your goals, and experience whatever content you wanted - together. World of Warcraft felt indifferent to the idea - back when I played, I’d often try to team up with a friend and it was always a gamble as to whether we’d actually find something we could meaningfully do together. I’m still fairly new to Final Fantasy XIV, but so far it feels actively hostile to casual team-ups between friends. Senpai-chan and I have been trying to play together and it feels like we have to fight the game pretty hard to do so.

This feels insane to me. Friendship is the selling point and the retention hook of MMORPGs. Why aren’t these games doing everything they can to make it simple and rewarding to play with your friends?