A lot of us are struggling to find things to do in WoW at the moment. I’m not at the point where I feel I have to cancel my sub, because we’ve started an alt raid, treating SoO as new with a different bunch of characters, some of us in completely new roles. And while this has injected a bit more excitement into raid nights, it’s only for a couple of evenings a week. Those of us who habitually log on most nights, if only for an hour or so, have found there’s no reason to do so. All our alts are 90 – and the few that aren’t we don’t have the enthusiasm to finish off – reputations are done, gear attended to. Transmog sets are completed, and rare mounts and pets have dropped obligingly. I have no desire to run LFR, starved now as it tends to be of competent players, in order to gear up alts I’ll never raid with properly. The ones I’ve already geared a bit will suffice for our guild alt runs, and the rest just have the odd piece here and there, plus Timeless Isle stuff, to take them into WoD leveling without too many tears. Yes, I’m ready to move on.

We’ve recently merged with another guild on our server – a bunch of great people who are much like us, being older players with busy real lives who just want a comfortable home in Azeroth and laid-back raiding. We were really lucky to join with these people, since if you hunted on your server to augment your roster by other means, I imagine it’d be nigh on impossible to find nearly a dozen or so individual players you get on with so well. But even with this influx we’re fed up with the dearth of new content in WoW. A lot of us dribbled over to Diablo to play Reaper of Souls together, but most of us have now got bored with the constant grinding to improve gear, which comes desperately slowly at top level in that game.

So, what to do? After Blizzcon last year I was convinced we’d see a Beta for WoD by January 2014 at the latest. All that buzz, that build up… the excitement. Yay! But now it’s May and not even a whiff of the Beta, and many of us are beginning to think it’s going to be the end of the year before we’ll see any new content. As a guild leader, that worries me. We’ve run out of things to do… almost. Is it feasible to run a third SoO alt team once we get to the end of it on our second? I think realistically we’ll be looking at a gradually diminishing roster until pre-patch 6.0 at the earliest. I think something went wrong with WoD, or changed drastically, and this unknown thing has caused the delay. Given the atmosphere at Blizzcon, (which I attended ‘virtually’), I’m quite sure Blizzard themselves intended for WoD to be nearer to release now than it’s turned out to be. But I doubt we’ll ever get to hear what caused this hold up. Once 6.0 hits, I expect people will be back in droves, but if that’s not till after the summer – well I’m sure many guilds and their officers are a bit concerned about the health of their guilds.

Like me, a lot of my WoW friends are reluctant to try other sub-based MMOs. Because we *are* still raiding a bit, and therefore don’t want to unsub from WoW, for many it’s not feasible to pay monthly for more than one game, and in any case, from experience I know it’s not easy to fully immerse yourself in more than one MMO – the games aren’t really designed for ultra ultra casual: you have to invest a fair bit of time to get the best out of them. But maybe… for a few months… it’s worth dabbling in another one, while we wait for WoW to be lifted out of the doldrums. Diablo was great while it lasted, but as that’s now petering out, I’m looking at other things to keep our group of friends entertained and playing together.

I’ve played a fair few of the ‘free to play’ MMOs, and most of them haven’t held my attention for very long. Some were just far too reliant on the misnomered ‘micro transactions’, which usually means you end up paying more than you would than if you paid a sub. Measly inventory and bank space, slow leveling… etc etc. In many F2P games, you have to pay real money to free yourself from such inconveniences. The best of the crop were Aion and Rift, and I know some people loved SW:ToR (although just about everyone I know who started playing it no longer do so. I never tried it myself, not being a fan of the franchise.) Aion – for me – lost its appeal when my characters reached around level 30 and I realised that PvP is forced upon you, with players of the rival faction literally dropping out of the sky to slaughter your lower level chars. No fun. End of Aion for me. Which was a pity, because I liked the way the game played and the way it looked.

I’ve dipped in and out of Rift since it was launched a few years ago. I lost interest when I reached top level in the original game because I couldn’t raid in there – not having the time to get my characters raid-worthy, or being in there enough to warrant joining an active guild. Sadly, the best of the MMOs seem to model themselves on WoW – end game is forced teaming if you want anything to do. When Rift went free to play, and their new expansion came out, I started playing again, and after a juddery start got back into it. Then there was a new content patch for WoW, and there was plenty to do again in there, so I stopped playing Rift. I’d always subbed to it, since I had a founder member’s really cheap deal, but I even cancelled that. Now, because on some nights I really feel like I want to potter around in a virtual world, I’ve gone back to Rift and taken up where I left off. It’s quiet in there. I’ve only seen a handful of other players, but then I am in the starter areas of the expansion and the majority of players will have long moved on. The original cities are full of tumbleweed, but the new one, the Dalaran of Rift, is buzzing. As all the crafting dailies are now based there too, it’s obvious why the old cities are empty. Tempest Bay is the new central hub, for players of both factions.

As it *is* now free to play, and after I’ve given it a few days to see whether my interest keeps up, I intend to tell the guild about it on our forum, and see if any of the bored people want to come and dip their toes into Telarian waters too. Yes, there is a game shop, with many enticing things in it, but it’s still possible to play the game without touching it. If you ever subbed to Rift in the past and come back, you’re given a generous amount of free tokens to spend in the shop, which could net you a mount or two, or a couple of armour sets (the transmog of Rift). The clothes department is massive, and the armour sets fairly priced. I worked out that a single piece of armour in the Rift shop works out at about 38 pence, as opposed to the £15 Blizzard tried to charge for those hats some time ago (do you *ever* see people’s characters wearing those?) There is also a very big mount store, including a great deal of the ones available in the game (not extremely rare ones, of course). However, in game they cost a fairly big chunk of platinum, yet some are sold for mere pence in the shop. As player housing is quite a big feature in Rift now, there are also lots of items to buy for your ‘dimension’, as the housing is called.

But anyway, cosmetic temptations aside, Rift is genuinely free to play. The two new continents are each around the size of Pandaria, so there is a ton of content to take you through to whenever Blizzard get their act together. While there are ‘story’ quests to reveal the ongoing plot line, just about every creature on the map has a kill quest associated with it. This means there are oodles of quests all over the place. You only need to kill one creature for a quest to pop up to kill some more of that type. So while you’re doing the regular quests, and killing mobs to get at your objectives, you’re also doing these secondary kill quests. Lots of experience, and loot to sell, or to salvage or equip. The one downside I’ve come across is that is that some of the dynamic quests, such as defending outposts from invasions, aren’t easy to do on your own, if not impossible. As few players are around in the areas I’m questing in, this means I have to ignore those quests and leave the outposts to their fates. Again, this might be down to the gear I have. I don’t do dungeons and I don’t raid in Rift, so my gear is only adequate at best, picked up from quest rewards and from crafting. Admittedly, crafting is really good and actually useful in Rift, but still not as good as gear you would get from multi-player activities.

This brings me on to something I’ve thought about concerning *all* MMOs. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s more relevant now than ever. MMOs, by their very nature, are games designed for group content. But the problem is, group content is only viable while a particular zone or patch is current. Once the players have moved on, the content needs to be soloable, otherwise it’s redundant. To a large extent, this has been addressed in WoW, concerning earlier areas of the game, but more solo content would prevent much of what we’re seeing in the game now. Just because players are offered this kind of play doesn’t mean the social side of the game will be detrimentally affected. You’re still playing in a virtual world full of people, but are free to do things on your own if you want or need to. In Diablo, for example, players still talk a lot to each other in the general chat channel, even though the majority are playing alone. In an MMO, solo content would prolong the life of a patch or an expansion, and people would still interact, either in their guilds or, as now, in General chat. If you’re restricted by needing more players to do anything interesting, and those players aren’t available, or simply don’t want to do what you want to do, then that means you’ve got nothing to do at all, so just log off. Not everyone wants to risk teaming with strangers, offered by the various tools for herding random people together. You could end up with incompetents who can’t play properly, social inadequates whose only relief in life is to insult others, or elitists who call you on your actions every moment of the way, unless you conform to their unrealistically high standards. Or – most likely of all – you could just a get a silent group who blast through the activity without any communication, so you might as well be on your own. Faced with that, I’d rather go play another game, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I don’t know why MMO developers are so hung up on forcing people together, even when it’s unreasonable or impossible. Solo dungeons, (as seen in a couple of other MMOs I’ve tried, though not in plentiful enough supply), or dungeons for two or three would be great. Yes, scenarios are for three, but there’s no loot from mobs, and once your character is geared up and you no longer need valor points, there’s no incentive to visit them again. They are, in fact, rather boring. The ultimate MMO would have group content that’s accessible to *any* size of group, whether that’s a person alone or a group of 25. Of course, the mechanics of working out that scaling in terms of loot might not be easy – I’m no game designer so can’t say – but the minute some game cracks this perennial problem of content running out, simply *because* you need other people who aren’t there, will be the game that everyone will want to try. I wonder what the result would be if, on WoW’s log in screen, every player had to answer the question of whether they would like more optional solo content or not? I’m betting the vast majority would opt for ‘yes please’.