There are so many adages when it comes to group play – more than the sum of its parts, there’s no I in team, and do it for the team. Thematically, they focus on everyone working together for a greater goal.
Frankly, this is the goal of group play. That some mass of people can complement each other enough to shore up any weakness and strengthen the group. There’s a fundamental piece here that makes this work – communication. In sports, that’s basic. You’re usually right next to the person. In hockey, I’m always talking. Incoming pressure, open lanes, double teams, and so on. You need to quickly adapt.
In games, this is harder. Older games, you were at a LAN and it was “easy” to shout out some commands. Then MMOs come around (which were effectively glorified chat boxes) and the games were so slow you could type stuff out. I mean, who didn’t have debates during Plane of Fear? I won’t dismiss that getting to these group events was a challenge in itself. Getting to Scholomance in vanilla WoW was a trek and a half. You were conscious of the effort.
I won’t say that LFG tools broke this. I’d argue the opposite actually, in that LFG removed so much spam from the game that I could start to enjoy it again. What broke the model was a pile of things, though notably three strong ones:
- Auto-summons to group location. This is a mindset issue. DPS queues have always been notoriously long. Auto-summon lets you stay in the world and play that mode while the other is chugging away. When you do group, no time lost, you just plop, show up where you need to be. Odds are in the wrong gear, and wrong skills. There’s a general lack of focus. (There’s a strong analogy to warm-ups before a sporting event – those are mental warm-ups much more than physical.)
- Speed mechanics & strobe lights. I am not advocating a return to tank & spank. What I am saying is that dungeon builds used to be focused on the trash as much as the bosses, meaning that the path through was a thoughtful one. Enemy placement & group triggers were with purpose. Learning which spawns were mandatory was key (Stratholme anyone?). The game’s focus away from thoughtful play, to reactive play has dropped the skill floor to faceroll levels. Coincidentally, it’s created a larger gap between dungeons and raids. The go-go-go mentality (and design) means less overall thinking.
- Lack of social reward/accountability. The LFG tool and LFG chat are fundamentally the same, the difference is in the pool of available players. Many LFG tools nowdays pull from the entire game, not the server, meaning you could go years without seeing the same person again. Trolls and ninjas used to be blacklisted, and they knew about it. Healers made friends lists and didn’t even need an LFG tool – they fought through /invite spam. FF14 has an interesting reward system, where the group votes for best performer. Not perfect, but it does allow for positive messaging.
Dauntless is at its core an action-RPG. There are things you have to do in combat to succeed, and you get things that increase numbers, making the next attempt slightly easier. As a general rule, you should be able to solo a behemoth before taking it on in a group – that way you know you can carry your weight. The game doesn’t force it, in fact, it allows hunters to progress without a hard measure. If you can manage to leech (enter a fight and do nothing) your way through the main questline, you’ll be a fly in a hurricane later on.
Behemoths scale in health the more hunters are present. Every leech is an increase in difficulty for the others. Every under-powered hunter is an increase in difficulty. Every under-trained hunter is an increase in difficulty. Anecdotally, every 5 or so fights, I’ll get a hunter who really should not be there – they die in 1-2 hits, and need a revive within the first 30 seconds. Every 5 or so fights, I get the complete opposite, and everyone knows what to do and the behemoth is down in 90 seconds or less.
From the points I mentioned earlier – auto-summon, fast mechanics, and accountability – Dauntless has only 2 of them. Since all you do is hunt, the summon part actually works well enough. The game even gives you a pre-hunt lobby to swap out gear for the specific behemoth, and suggests what you should use.
It does however require both reflexes to avoid attacks, and memory to remember patterns per behemoth. There is a world of difference between a Shrike and a Shroud – even if they had similar damage and HP, the Shroud would still be a dozen mechanics more than the Shrike. I don’t particularly see this part of the game changing much – though some mechanics are much more frustrating than others (Valomyr especially). This requirement on speed makes it that communication is all but impossible without voice chat. And if you do manage to type something out, there’s so much going on the screen that no one can actually pause to read it.
The only social construct present is guilds and friend lists, which mechanically are pretty much the same thing. The toolset doesn’t allow you to easily blacklist someone else – not that it would matter much given the large pool of players. It also doesn’t allow you to recognise good behaviour. It’s just a bunch of random faces, that are never going to see each other again.
I will stress that Monster Hunter has these same issues. The slight difference is that battles are slower and longer. That gives hunters more time to think, rather than react. It’s also incredibly hard to leech in that game.
I’m happy to say that this is not a frustrating part of the game. The occurrence is infrequent, and even when things go really poorly you still get some bits out of it. Reading a few of the dev posts, they are looking at better tools for social interactions… how that comes about is going to be interesting to see.