Last generation, it was the evolution of console multiplayer and the HD race. So far, this generation’s big thing seems to seamless multiplayer. Instant, drop in and drop out multiplayer in many games to make the experience as fluid as possible. Sounds good right? Seems like it wouldn’t be an irritant or make single player games threatened by the ever-encroaching wave of forced online integration? If you haven’t guessed alright, I hate the current application of seamless multiplayer and I’m going to tell you why I think it can be a bad thing for this generation, if not used correctly.
My big resistance to the current use of seamless multiplayer came from when I was playing the Destiny Alpha and was sent on the first story mission. While getting used to the controls and so on, I noticed a few other players were already playing in the same area as me and that we had been put in the same fireteam together. At no point during my time in this area did we communicate or interact, besides them killing some enemies for me and occasionally waving at me. Upon getting to my mission objective, they were all suddenly booted from my fireteam, leaving me to complete the mission and deal with Peter Dinklage’s wooden voice acting all by myself. While this whole experience felt seamless, it did not add anything to my time with the game. I just had the feeling that I was either intruding on someone else’s session without any real purpose or that other players were just faffing around in my game and irritating me. Nothing about this seamless experience felt needed, it just seemed to be there for the sake of it.
Now, while Destiny is designed to be a multiplayer game and I can see seamlessly connecting into someone else’s session helpful in a game designed around co-op, the major problem I have is when it is shoe-horned into games that would traditionally be single player and add nothing really interesting for it. Take Watch_Dogs for example, I really didn’t like the fixer invasions during single player. I thought they broke the flow of your progression, they ended up being boring games of hide and seek which overstayed their welcome and that the experience was weighted towards the fixer invading. While they felt seamless with you not having to enter a loading screen or transition to a new area, you still felt like you were being dragged out of your fun to have to deal with your invader.
At least in Journey, I didn’t have to worry about this guy stealing all my loot or screaming at me.
That is my main qualm with seamless multiplayer is that for the majority of cases, it is not designed to mesh with the single player campaign and more often than not, undermines the story and overall design that has been put into it. People may then argue that ‘you can just turn online off’ and ignore it, but that’s not the point. It is the precedent that it is just okay to undermine the design of your single player campaign just to stick online in to satisfy a quota. If I want to play a multiplayer game, I will play a game or a mode which is solely designed around multiplayer interaction, rather than a weird amalgamation of single and multiplayer mechanics which don’t mesh well together.
It’s not like it can’t be done. Journey did seamless multiplayer incredibly well, by having it mesh with the single player experience and not be at odds with its design. You could work together with your fellow traveller or you could simply move on and not be bothered by them. The lack of any onscreen prompts or ability for voice communication not only made the multiplayer feel seamless but also non-intrusive by giving the player the option to either simply ignore the other player or communicate with them by using specifically designed ways to work together. Dark Souls’ seamless multiplayer did well because you could choose in game whether to have it on or off, rather than going into an options menu and if you did choose to have the capability, it fitted with the game’s lore and design, rather than being at odds with it. You still had the problem of people speedrunning a whole area for you if you summoned them in and invaders jerking you out of your progression but at least it fit with the game’s overall design and aesthetic.
Now, compare this to Destiny. In Journey, it’s fine if I don’t want to work with the person in my world because I can complete the whole game by myself no problem. In Destiny, for the Strikes and some later missions, I will no doubt have to rely on the random players who have come to faff about in my game, unless I have a group of friends online, no doubt resulting in me wanting to chuck my controller out the window. The seamless connection system does not lend itself well to matching people together, it just seems like people are randomly wandering through my world, killing monsters for me and stealing my loot. That’s not conducive to good matchmaking, it’s just irritating.
So, those are my (current) thoughts on seamless multiplayer. It is improperly used by the majority of designers, by being at odds with the design of your single player experience or making it seem like people are just randomly wandering through my game, just to pass through and mess up my progress. That is why I am fearful for games like Far Cry 4 and AC: Unity, as the seamless co-op in those games seem at odds with the way you usually play those games. I mean, how is carefully assassinating a target going to work when you are paired with 3 other players, who will most likely not work together and will only focus on getting the kill? It won’t and it will just seem disjointed and badly designed. What are your thoughts on seamless multiplayer? Am I completely wrong and is it the best thing about this new generation so far? Comment below with your thoughts.