In the first days, a Druid hunted strange monsters alone, trusting to what small magics she knew to keep her alive in a dangerous world. As spring turned to summer in fair Hibernia, the Druid joined with others: the stalwart Champion, the strangely protective Nightshade, the awkward Enchanter. Together they traveled the fields and forests seeking treasure: gold, adventure, companionship.
First impressions are powerful. My first impression of what MMOs could be came at a time when I was realizing what I loved most in the fantasy stories I'd been diving into since I was little. Somewhere along the way I learned that I'm not particularly drawn to stories of the Lone Hero... and that I don't believe the Lone Hero even exists in the real world. What draws me in and feeds my soul are stories of Found Family coming together and defeating evil together as a team
A lot of 70s and 80s fantasy—not to mention Dungeons and Dragons—follows in the spirit of Tolkien by focusing not on an individual, but on a party, a fellowship. Grouping up in an online game seemed natural, a page from a similar book.
But over time, it seemed a different kind of story loomed over the genre. Sure, you can join PUGs, and sometimes you are even forced to as you level. But the narrative of the game focuses on you, the Chosen One, and all the fame and fortune you can acquire on your own while you Save The World as well or better than other Chosen Ones have Saved The World. The most achievements; the shiniest, glowiest armor; your Great Name on the leaderboard where the lesser players can crawl toward the light of your awesomeness.
And somewhere along the way, the fellowship disbanded, your comrades wrapped within their own Hero's Journeys in which the very mechanics of the game world discouraged the sort of cooperative achievements you sought before. In fact, the type of gameplay that made your heart sing became disparaged as "casual" and "carebear"... though in your memory, PvE around the turn of the millennium seemed anything but casual.
You stand on a hill between universes and look around at a hundred worlds, all of them selfish, lonely journeys of thousands upon thousands of chosen ones and lone heroes fighting to the death over personal trophies. And in few of these worlds can you see bands of brothers and sisters facing great danger together for common cause as you did of old.
So when a game is being developed that some feel might offer a portal of return to the world your heart remembers, you might find yourself joining cause with others to fight together for that world so that you can fight together in that world. One place in the MMO multiverse in which you can once again fight together instead of endlessly against.
I admit it feels a little disconcerting to see a number of responses to a recent Hot Topic in which words like "casual" are thrown around once again as synonymous with PvE, and "competitive" gameplay—i.e. PvP and solo achievements—must be catered to at all costs because gods forbid one freaking game out of a thousand return to the days of fellowship.
I felt a strong reaction, yes. Sometimes I see a "last hope" sentiment among those hoping that this one, this one game in the cacophanous multitude of Lone Hero MMOs will be what we've so long sought. And though yes, the game needs to have something for a range of players and playstyles, I feel... defensive... about what it is I'm hoping Pantheon will be.
I tweeted in response to the question, but I don't feel like wading into an argument that has come and gone so often. But I had strong feelings about this that I wanted to try to put into words, for whatever it's worth.