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In February a really, really fun game came out. Evolve
, by Turtle Rock Studios, is an asymmetric multiplayer game in which 4 hunters are pitted against one monster in a battle to the death. The monster starts weak, but fast, and hunters have to track it down to kill it. If it is clever, the monster can eat and grow to become more powerful against the hunters. The hunters, on the other hand, can use teamwork and skill to overcome even a full-grown monster.
I played Evolve when it came out in February 2015, and for a few months following. It's such a neat concept, and it has some top-notch art to round it out. So why is the peak number of players in July 808?
As of the time of this writing there are exactly 286 people playing on Steam. With 5 people in each match, that means there are fewer than 60 fully populated games on PC worldwide. At the same time there are 48,917 people playing Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress 2 is nearly 8 years old. Why the disparity? Evolve has a few basic problem with how it was designed. In hindsight we can see these missteps and insure that we as game designers do not repeat them.
Evolve, as I started above, is terrific fun. Unfortunately it suffers from too much choice coupled with too little control. On it's face, it is 4 vs 1. Four hunters against one monster. Once the player enters a match, however, they will find that there are four distinct hunter classes. There is an assault class, which is a classic tank/damage dealer. There is a trapper class, which is tasked with finding and containing the monster. There is a medic class, which heals teammates. There is a support class, which aids the other classes in various ways. In addition to the four classes, each class contains specific characters with specific weapon combinations. At the time of release there were three characters in each class, and after the next round of DLC this count will increase to five characters per class. Five characters per hunter class plus the five monsters totals twenty-five playable characters with 25 unique playstyles. That is a lot of people to choose from! Surely a player can pick one character from that rabble to enjoy!
There is a lot of choice when it comes to characters the player can play, but here the pendulum swings back: a player has to be a little lucky to be allowed to play a specific character. Only one player can occupy each of the five roles (monster, assault, trapper, medic, and support). Before playing, players specify which roles they prefer from most desired to least desired. Before starting a match the game sorts players into roles using these preferences. This can lead to some problems. Let's say that one player want to play as a specific character, and so does one other person. That means that each player uses their desired character in 50% of the matches they play in that play session. Now let's say three players want to play as the same class...then four...and if everyone is super unlucky - all five? 33% playtime as the class they want...then 25% - then 20%. Is this case unlucky? You betcha...unless there is an in-game weekend event happening where players are rewarded for playing well as a particular class! On the flip side, what if all players have a least favorite class? In a game in which 80% of the playable classes are on one team, that is not so far-fetched. If everyone chooses the monster as their least favorite, and the first choice combination is particularly unlucky, two players may end up playing as their least favorite role 50% of the time.
The pain of choosing a class is compounded by the leveling system in Evolve. When a player first begins to play the game they have one hunter in each class to choose from. In order to unlock further hunters in a class the player must achieve milestones with the unlocked character. Characters also become stronger as they are used. This achievement system rewards the player for sticking with the same character. Unfortunately, the game makes it difficult to achieve a play session where sticking with one character is feasable in multiplayer. Players can gain the aforementioned achievements through a local game with just computer AI - but doesn't that defeat the point of a multiplayer game? "Grinding" for achievements in this way results in players with high-level characters that do not know how to use them when they switch back to playing online.
Does Evolve show us that asymmetric multiplayer is doomed to fail? Not quite. When character choices work out the game is magic. With Evolve in mind, I look forward to an asymmetrical multiplayer game that maintains this magic over the long term.
This article was originally published here on my website.