We just got back from a great Gen Con where we met thousands of people interested in Pathfinder Online, and we gave out around 1,700 postcards inviting people to check out the game. We were running the Elemental Rift escalation all weekend with a giant screen showing the action to everyone while veteran players took turns fighting pesky elementals for the crowds. Overall, it was a really fun weekend—I especially loved putting real-life faces to many in-game avatars.
One question came up over and over at the con: Can you play Pathfinder Online solo? In a game billed as massively multiplayer, with territory control and settlement building as main features, is solo play even viable?
The answer is that while you really need to join a settlement for training purposes, there are many activities that you can pursue on your own that don't force you to interact with others.
Gathering raw materials is usually a solitary endeavour. Heading out into the wilderness to find some rare ingredient can be very zen-like as you move from resource node to resource node discovering what bounties the wild has to offer. Sure, harvesting in a group can provide safety from NPCs and other players, but there is something very satisfying about exploring the world and its resources without having to communicate with other gatherers.
Crafting is also a solitary pursuit. You can train your character in all the skills you might need to make certain items such as weapons or armor, from gathering to refining to crafting. You will want almost certainly want to buy or sell raw materials, refined goods, or finished products, but you can do that via the auction house, interacting only indirectly with buyers and sellers.
On the PVE side, it is rather easy to go out hunting solo as long as you're careful about which groups you initiate combat with. You'll eventually learn which groups you can take down with ease, which are a bit of a challenge, which you can defeat with some help and a little luck, and which will almost surely result in your demise. Part of the fun of solo combat is that you can constantly challenge yourself, testing the limits of your abilities. When you are in a group, it is never certain what part you played in the success or defeat of your group, but when you are solo, the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat is solely in your hands. But no one will be there to heal you back to health if you bite off more than you can chew, or to help you take down a particularly difficult foe.
Obviously, the territorial aspect of PFO isn't for the solo player. Running a settlement and generating the influence needed to make it viable is something that dozens of players need to do together. Even holdings and outposts need a handful of players to put up and run. But there are many other ways a solo player can contribute to a game which focuses on the interactions of many players.