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Solo vs. Co-op vs. 4-Player Co-op


Steel_Rook
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Ever since the latest Devstream announced that AI Crews for Railjack would be delayed until somewhere in 2020, there has been a pretty hot debate about Warframe's nature, the plight of solo players and, "this is a team game," etc. What's getting lost in the shuffle, however, is that the "solo vs. co-op" situation is not the binary choice it's being presented as. There's a world of difference between pure solo play and playing with a full team on voice comms. Because I like boring subjects, I wanted to talk a little bit about semantics and explore Railjack's potential from somewhere in the middle.

 

Define your terms

Let's define three terms. "Solo" will refer to pretty much what you think it does - a lone player playing by themselves with no other team-mates. Because I want to avoid the ambiguity of "co-op," I'm going to also define two other terms. One will be "full team" and it will refer to playing with - as you might imagine - a full team of four players. This could be premade with friends or matchmade with pubbies, it could be organised or it could be standard "everyone run around and do stuff." Doesn't matter, it's a full team either way. Crucially, the other term will be "small team" and will refer to a team of usually two but sometimes possibly three people. Basically, you and a friend in a private game with public matchmaking disabled.

 

Small team Railjack

The reason I feel the above distinction is important is for purely selfish reasons. My current situation on Warframe is this: I have only a single friend who plays consistently enough for me to depend on them, and I HIGHLY dislike playing with random pubbies. I can't stand strangers on simple missions like "kill everyone and don't die," much less on something so coordination-heavy as Railjack, to say nothing of prone to wasting resources. As such, my Railjack crew will most likely only ever consist of two people - me and my friend. Now, a full team will likely be able to juggle the host of tasks that standard Railjack operations require, from piloting to manning the guns to fighting fires and boarders to manufacture to EVA but we clearly don't have the people for that. One person will need to fly and the other will need to do everything else, lest the Railjack be left dead in the water.

Any time concerns like these come up, however, the conversation flip all the way around into talk about "solo play." DE kept talking about it, a recent RPS video talked about it, the entire "Command" Skillset is apparently built around it, yet here I am sitting and thinking... OK, but what if I'm playing co-op in an understaffed team. CAN I make use of AI crew to help fill in for the player or two we DON'T have? I mean, surely it would help to have AI crew helping out even if you ALSO had some amount of human crew on hand as well. But... Does that mean we'll be able to use AI crew on a full team, as well? Or will the game try to "scale" like it does for something like Interception, where every additional player on the team slows down individual Tower capture speed?

As I've mentioned around the forums, I've played quite a bit of Barotrauma, usually manning subs designed for a crew of 5 with just 2 people and 3 bots. It's not as easy but it's definitely doable. The problem, however, is that Barotrauma's solo mode is solo ONLY and a lot of its selling points - the crew persistence - aren't available in multiplyer. In "Campaign," there is no "player character" as the player can freely swap between all characters. In Multiplayer, every player has their own unswappable character and bots are assigned randomly at the end of each round. Doesn't matter if they die or survive, the bot roster resets. As such, if I want to play a campaign with any kind of persistence, I HAVE to play it solo. This is my concern for Railjack.

While Command would be most helpful for solo players and probably unneeded on a full team, I feel where it will make the MOST difference is in small teams with one or two other people. Those teams are still small enough where you don't have enough hands on deck to handle everyone... But if Command is disabled as long as other players are on board, then that eliminates half of the possible team sizes. I obviously don't know that this will be the case and am more or less speculating, but Railjack is just an example. The point here is broader:

 

Scaling to team size

As of right now, Warframe actually does a pretty good job in scaling at least some of its mission types to team size. The larger the team, the tougher the fights (via more numerous enemies), this goes without saying. However, a few game modes take additional steps. Interception, as I mentioned, scales tower capture inversely to team size. The larger the team, the slower each player captures. It's a nice way to give small teams a bone while also fostering cooperation on large teams where multiple people still capture a tower just as fast. Similarly, Defection adds an extra Fugitive to each group per player on the team (if I recall) and starts spawning multiple groups with more than one player. Hell, Orb Vallis itself does a great job of this, scaling Excavators to team size and capture containers to team size + 1. All of these systems account for solo, full teams AND small teams.

However, the reverse is also true. Missions like Survival and Excavation are made substantially more painful for small teams. Because the mission-critical resources spawn at random on enemies, the reduced enemy count for smaller teams makes those objectives harder to achieve while the actual requirements in no way scale. I can't stick around Survival missions for very long by myself because I run out of enemies, but I have little issue on a full team even if my team-mates are picking their noses most of the time.

Railjack is just an example of this. Like Interception and Defection, Railjack content needs to scale not just between "solo" and "co-op" but with the size of the team, whether that team is 4 players or 2 or 3. Other than removing any "mandatory two player" objectives like those two-player doors in instances, I don't believe there should be any considerations unique to solo play which don't apply in some degree to two- and three-player teams.

 

In conclusion

Four players might be the maximum team size and what you usually (but not always) get from public matchmaking. However, that doesn't mean it's the ONLY team size beyond "I refuse to team with anyone ever." Plenty of us exist somewhere in the middle, playing legit co-op multiplayer with friends, but just not having access to enough of them to reliably fill out a full team. What considerations solo players get should apply to everyone not playing on a full team, even if that player is - technically - still playing co-op.

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4 minutes ago, AlphaPHENIX said:

Indesx fills up empty player spots with AI...but it's not like the AI we have at the moment is capable of much (looking at you kubrows and kavats that die on the other end of the map when you are supposed to have a teleport back to player ability)

That's true, I should have brought that up as well. The Index does make a token attempt to balance for small teams and solo players. I don't expect the Railjack's "AI Crew" will be literally a crew of AI-controlled Warframe-equivalent bots, however. The TennoCon trailer (for as much as we can trust that any more) seemed to show AI crew members perpetually manning their own individual stations and not really moving around the ship. What I personally expect is that said AI crew will manifest as swappable upgrades for a console, offering either enhanced usability or autonomous operation. Like, for instance I could hire a "gunner" and assign that person to the port cannon. That cannon will then fire on its own with reduced accuracy or reduced speed or some such, but can still be manned by a player (basically kicking the gunner off their seat) at will.

I am - again - very obviously speculating with very little substance to go on. However, this simple-seeming implementation raises the question of how AI crew will be handled on full teams, because the benefits I just listed - enhanced performance and automation - would be equally useful to a full team who may choose to go EVA and let the AI shoot the guns or build more ammo. I understand that Command is designed to help solo players, but how it interacts with small teams and whether it interacts with full teams is what I'm most interested to learn. Given that DE likely haven't gotten very far with the system (which is why it's not shipping until next year), I doubt there are very many concrete facts decided about it yet.

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