Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Lone Wolf or Party Animal?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 7, 2010

Okay, RPG fans, here’s my question for you:

In CRPGs, are you a lone wolf, or a party animal? Do you prefer to play RPGs where you control only one character (though maybe you have a henchman or something to help you out), or do you prefer the kinds of games where you control a full party of 3+ characters?

And why? Do you prefer the tactical possibilities of a party of characters? Or do you prefer being able to focus in on playing a single role in a single-character RPG?

Let me know what you think!

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 24 Comments to Read

  • Noumenon said,

    Good question. I’m gonna say “party,” mostly because I can only remember party RPGs — Phantasy Star II, Final Fantasy. About my only single-player RPG was Morrowind, and I wonder if I ended up quitting that because having all my inventory on one person gave me too many options that weren’t categorized — I was a healer and a wizard and a thief, and I kept forgetting all the different amulets I had.

  • David W said,

    I tend to prefer single characters, or at least the Bioware system, because I can’t really keep track of optimizing everyone and still have fun. Plus, whenever I play a party it tends to become more about the tactical challenges than the story for me. If I’m looking for tactical challenge without story, then really the strategy games are better than RPG’s – Civ, Total War, etc – these games are designed primarily for the growth, tactics in battle, and so on, without bothering to try to also wedge in characterization and a story.

    When I play an RPG, it’s primarily because I want the characters, and I want the story – and therefore I want just one protagonist who I can invent, and his sidekicks. With party RPG’s, I might as well name the characters Fighter, Healer, Rogue, etc, because that’s what I’ll end up thinking of them as anyway.

    I think, but am not sure, that the Frayed Knights approach will also work for me, but mainly because you’re already defining the characters, so I’ll still be able to have story and think of the characters as characters, rather than as stat blocks.

  • Yoel said,

    If it’s turn-based, I love the tactical options, extra customization, and increased characterization afforded by having a party of characters.

    If it’s real-time, I prefer one character that I can control well, rather than jumping around trying to pick from all the special abilities of everybody during combat, failing, and eventually having everybody but my main just hit the thing with a stick. Pausing =/= turn-based gameplay.

  • Yoel said,

    I should note that, since I love character interaction in stories, lots of customization, and tactical options, real-time gameplay is an obstacle. To overcome the obstacle, you have to reduce the number of characters (preferably to one) to allow tight control, and then make the remaining character(s) extra complex to make up for the lost options.

    Shooters work in real-time because you’re not trying to control five guys at once. Maybe you have squad AI or something, but you have full control over one guy. There’s a reason for this.

    RTS works in real-time because the units are all very simple. You don’t usually need to tell every unit which spell or feat or whatever to use. That’s restricted to a small number of hero units, making it much more manageable.

    The more characters you control in real-time, the simpler they have to be. Even scripts for automating your party don’t fix the problem once the characters get complex enough that you really want to be able to select abilities and such yourself.

  • Aelfric said,

    Party! With choices as to race/class, and so on. Nothing excites me more than creating and playing a bizarre party of, say, all halfling clerics. Then again, I am an odd duck in many ways.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I prefer party based rpgs. Probably because I started playing rpgs way back with Wizardry 1, Bard’s Tale etc.

    Party based rpgs allow for much more choice, I usually have four to six party members to customize, versus only one jack of all trades member. Also, I find when there is only one party member, an rpg often tends to be more action/rpg, which I don’t enjoy as much.

  • ngthagg said,

    Parties all the way. The options that are revealed by controlling multiple characters in a fight is what makes fighting interesting for me.

  • BrianH said,

    Dunno, Right now I think I’m more of a lone wolf type… I have great memories of party based RPG’s.. The Ultimas and such.. but lately I’ve been sick of babysitting party members.

    I’m currently playing through Fable 2 and I’ve got Fallout 3 and Badlands on the shelf of shame to play when I have time.

    I did manage to hold off on these long enough for their prices to drop though πŸ™‚

  • Kelly said,

    I guess it depends on the type of game… I like real time parties (Tales of series) and if it’s turn based it has to be parties. I suppose one character is good for real time games dependant on action (and puzzle solving) and that want to avoid costant button smashing. I’m thinking of Zelda for this one, even though it’s not considered an rpg.

  • Xenovore said,

    I definitely prefer the real-time “lone-wolf” style of play, especially for RPGs where the player is the protagonist in a story. But, that said, the party mechanic in Baldur’s Gate (and other Bioware games) — where each party member continues to do their own thing unless the game is paused to adjust their actions — that works rather well.

    Real-time party management is not so great without some sort of pause mechanism. For example, in Dungeon Master, even if you can click on all the right things fast enough, one or two characters end up wasting their time, especially with multiple casters in the party. (And certainly with more than 4 characters, it would become completely unmanageable, to the point where you’d end up ignoring certain characters.)

    I’m definitely not a big fan of the fully turn-based, micro-managed party mechanic (seen in many jRPGs). Most of the time I want each character to just continue doing what they’re doing; I shouldn’t have to tell them what to do every single time. (“Babysitting” as BrianH put it.)

  • Wavinator said,

    For me single character for real-time, party for turn-based. This is mostly because I haven’t yet found a party-based real-time game that doesn’t leave me in contempt of my compatriots. Even the pausing I can do in Mass Effect isn’t good enough and I’m stuck with a bit more babysitting than I care for. For turn-based games, though, I love to have the tactical variety that comes with a party.

  • Greg Tedder said,

    Both, and for different reasons.

    Single player and party based usually and should introduce unique tactical decision making. The party allows for more flexibility, and makes it fun to experiment with stats and match ups. Party based is the only type of RPG I actually enjoy having single classed characters, because I still have multiple others to tweak and fill the gaps.

    Single player is a challenge to balance out a character who wear heavy armor, carry a big sword, fling a lightning bolt or two, and leave no treasure behind. Single player also makes it possible to have action based game play, but I really have no hard preference since both are currently being made, and both are a lot of fun.

  • Silemess said,

    If I had to choose strictly either/or, I’d go Lone-wolf. But I do like the games where you can choose to have a party escort you through.

    It’s nice to have a meat shiel.. err friend there to help you out when you’re in a tough pinch. The contrary side is that it goes beyond all levels of annoyance when you watch the bot chug your health potions for each scratch, making you become the walking med closet to try to preserve your precious stash.

    Full control of party members, optional for their joining your crew? All for! No choice about their companionship and/or their actions in combat? Pity about those dead friends, we’ll make the dark overlord/demon person/baddy of the week pay!

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    As others have said, both options have their place. Personally, I prefer party-based games. I like the flexibility of choosing party composition in addition to race and class. I’m with Aelfric above in that sometimes picking an odd party can be a lot of fun. (My favorite was my all-goblin group for Might & Magic 7.)

    In single-character games, I tend to play a “jack of all trades” type character so I can see all the content possible in a single playthrough. It’s also fun to have more options on how to tackle the game. But, it could also be me wishing I had a party. πŸ™‚

  • Kimari said,

    I prefer parties in general because they allow for partial failure: You can have one character die/faint without it meaning that the player has lost the battle.

  • Shingo Tamai said,

    It depends on the genre, but I am all for the lone wolf experience for the following reasons:

    With a JRPG turn based fighting system the bigger the party the longer you spend jumping from a character to the other, adding boredom (in my opinion) to the fight and little strategy. This is also aggravated by the useless compulsory random fights you have to endure while you travel from point A to point B.

    With westerner RPG I prefer to go alone because usually the AI adds little to the fighting strategy. Also I cannot balance properly a party because I tend to equip the coolest stuff myself leaving what’s left to the other characters.

    Checking every 5 minutes if equipping a character with the latest acquired objects would actually improve their attack/defense skills is also boring for me.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    Party if they’re real characters. I dislike creating parties as a pure strategic exercise. I like the give and take of a party with different personalities and opinions. If it’s all just me, spread out over six bodies, I’d rather have all the skills on ‘me’ to begin with and not have to deal with the extra math of trying to balance everything over the whole group.

  • Stu said,

    I like the single player, it forces you to keep a set character with its imbalanaces, party is super fun too (wasteland, pool of radiance) but it lets you balance everyone out and makes it boring-ish.

    What I like best is Party of One where you can only roll your own the rest of your party you pick up as you go.

  • Hajo said,

    I’ve been thinking a long while about this, and still have no clear opinion. Actually it doesn’t seem to matter much for me. I’ve enjoyed single character RPGs as well as party based games and the “god mode” games like Populous or Dungeon Keeper, where one “controls” a whole lot of “characters”.

    Interesting is how the identification changes – single character games often make he player talk about them as “I have fought 50 orcs yesterday”, which tells of a high level of identification with the character, while parties may or may not be seen as an entity by the player, and finally the “my people have conquered the place” view of the god games. And all of those can be good fun.

    To me it seems the question single character or party does only indirectly influence the fun factor of a game (skill management, item management, partial wipes … as the former poster already mentioned) and the rest of the game has a much greater influence on the fun factor.

    Still, for some settings it might be important to have a high identification with the character – horror games work best when the player really feels scared. But again, this just means, the rest of he game is the determining factor, and the answer “single character or party” is chosen under the constraints of the rest of the game.

  • Frank said,

    For me it just depends, which admittedly isn’t the best of answers, but in my opinion each has its strengths and weaknesses. Controlling a single character does have the advantage of being relatively simple, there’s only a limited number of variables to hold in one’s mind. However, The added complexity of a party of people can be quite fun, and most of my favorite RPGs are party centered. Examples like the Baldur’s Gate series, Fallout Tactics, Exile and Avernum, and all the other Bioware games pop to mind.

    Party RPGs depend almost entirely on the strength of their supporting cast though, or reciprocally on the strength of their tactical combat system. Nothing kills immersion like a bunch of poorly written npcs, or a combat system in which having more people is just a hassle and doesn’t provide any strategic depth.

  • WCG said,

    A party, absolutely, provided it’s a turn-based game. I love the strategy of designing a party and the tactics of fighting one (especially when you can move the characters around during a battle, using cover, attacks of opportunity, etc.

    But I want to control everything. If I can’t do that, I’d rather play single-character. And if it’s a real-time game, then probably single character, anyway.

    Well, I liked the Baldur’s Gate games, where you could pause at any time to give orders. But I’d still much prefer turn-based, like the old SSI “Gold Box” games.

    I also liked Daggerfall and Morrowind. In those, which I played almost entirely as just exploratory games, a party would have been a pain. So, yeah, it does depend on the game.

  • Yoel said,

    I’m sensing a common theme here.

    Players who enjoy the tactical aspect of RPGs like party-based games. They also tend to want a system designed to facilitate the tactical gameplay, which means it should be turn-based. Real-time just makes it hard to be tactical with characters of such delicious complexity, and the lack of control inherent in combat-scripted party members is frustrating and just no fun.

    Players who play the games primarily for other reasons (exploration, for example) and don’t care for the tactics would rather have a single character they can identify with. Turn-based systems just waste time, so the combat should be real-time. Party members can even be a nuisance, as you have to keep them well-equipped, and their AI tells them to waste your resources.

  • sascha said,

    Party-based! But it depends on how well all the party-able characters are done. Too much cliches and too much enforcing the play to care about the ‘personal problems’ of your companions and it gets annoying for me really soon. In particular today where characters are made to look and act very realistic it’s also very difficult to make them likable.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    Players who play the games primarily for other reasons (exploration, for example) and don’t care for the tactics would rather have a single character they can identify with. Turn-based systems just waste time, so the combat should be real-time. Party members can even be a nuisance, as you have to keep them well-equipped, and their AI tells them to waste your resources.

    You’re forgetting the not-so-tactical players who like having a party if they’re well written/characterised and fun to interact with. πŸ™‚