Online multi-player gaming has, for me, completely eclipsed the single player experience so much so that it takes a rare gem such as God of War 3 to pull me away from my buddies on the virtual battlefield. That said, nearly every multi-player game I play has some kind of bizarre aspect built into it for no apparent reason other than to make it a pain in the ass to enjoy. Now I’m not talking about game-play mechanics here or unbalanced maps. I’m talking about design choices built into the multi-player setup – let’s look at some examples.
When I first fired up the multiplayer on BFBC2 I was instantly reminded of Killzone 2 by the 4 man squad layout. This in itself is a bit of a chore as I would prefer to have the option to have all my online buddies in the same squad, but BFBC2 takes the limitation of the 4 man squad idea even further. Not only are you limited to a 4 man squad but you are also limited to a 4 man party. Furthermore you are not given the choice of which game you wish to join from a server list. This becomes a problem when you have 5 or more of your buddies online and you wish to play together – the first 4 party up and number 5 gets left on his own, the party of 4 get assigned to a game by matchmaking but that game dosn’t have any spare slots left for number 5, you leave that game to find another with a spare slot for player 5 but the matchmaking just assigns you to another game with only enough slots for your party. What on earth made the developers think that this was an ideal setup for multi-player? At least Killzone 2 had a server list so you could choose a game with a low player count and then let it fill up with your buddies.
On paper MAG should have been a clan’s wet dream but in reality it fails to hit the multi-player sweetspot. MAG‘s entire selling point is its 256 player online games and before the game’s release the PS3 forums were on fire with talk of clans forming alliances or joining into “super-clans”. Upon release such talk was quickly squashed by the reveal of an 8 man party system with no option to link multiple parties into the same game. Once again the game relies entirely on a matchmaking system in order to put your party into a game so if you have a clan with 16 people in it then you have zero chance of ever being assigned into the same game, let alone into the same platoon. Once again the mind boggles at what must occur within a brainstorming session at Zipper – a 256 player game which is heavily reliant on teamwork that you can only play with 7 of your buddies at one time? That’s genius.
For me this game is an utter ‘turd’ but what really bugged me about it was the stupidity of its party system. Now this issue may or may not have been fixed now, I honestly couldn’t tell since I traded it in about 2 months after launch, but during the time that I owned the game the party system/matchmaking was one of the worst I have ever seen. Upon launch the party system didn’t work at all, then (after what was to become the first of a steady stream of patches) you would party up only for the game to split you up between opposing teams, finally after each game MW2 forced you to party up again. This was appalling, even more so when you take into account that the game was built from the pre-existing, fully functioning multi-player setup of COD4. Then there’s those times when you are sent into completely different matches by the matchmaking system, defeating the purpose of ever partying up.
What do I want from a multi-player game? I want a game with a fully functioning, glitch-free party system. If the game allows 24 players in total then I expect to be able to make a party of at least 12 with the option of making private games for the full 24. I want a server list where I can choose for myself where I want to play rather than being told where to go by some authoritarian matchmaking system. Finally, I want a decent clan system where people have to apply and be accepted rather than just having a 3-4 digit clan tag that anyone can change on the fly. We aren’t talking about some ridiculously hard to code features here, these are basic things that every game should have in order to make a for a smoother multiplayer experience – am I asking too much?