EQ2 Status Report, 43 Warden

I thought it would be fun to write a series of posts talking about where my characters are in various games. Lately I have been bouncing back and forth between MMOs, so I’ve touched base with a lot of them recently.

At the time of this writing, my main character in EQ2 is a level 43 Wood Elf Warden (one of the many classes of healer, if you don’t know). After a recent spate of playing, he moved from the clockwork-kobold-infested Steamfont Mountains to the icy island of Everfrost.

I’m not really following the story of what’s going on with these quests. When I arrived in Everfrost, it seemed that people on the dock were rather disgruntled about having made the trip there. (Understandably, because being a solid ice field, it did not look like a great place to live.)

Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.
Yes, this looks like the perfect place to build a settlement.

One woman’s poor husband had been eaten by sharks and had her luggage scattered everywhere in the ocean. Of course I cheerfully volunteered to swim around the freezing water among the gigantic sharks to pick up her missing stuff. After dealing with the sharks, I moved inland a little bit to some sort of camp. There I discovered that the NPCs on Everfrost will actually attack me if I accidentally hit them with an AoE. Not far from there, on the Jagged Plains, is a dragon broodmother and a bunch of ice maidens who will kill you dead if you make a wrong turn. It’s not a nice place overall.

My main goal with these newest playing sessions has to find a matching set of armor. Somehow I have ended up with a bright white helmet and boots, but brown leather chest and legs. I don’t normally care a great deal about the way my character looks but this is just ridiculous.

How could you let me out looking like this?
How could you let me out looking like this?

I generally enjoy EQ2, but it’s a very strange animal. There is a substantial learning curve because many of its features are just not "normal." One of the most basic things in an MMO–interacting with NPCs–is done differently in EQ2. In most of the universe, you right-click on things to initiate actions. But not in EQ2. When you right-click on things in EQ2, you get a context menu. You have to left-click on things to initiate actions like you’re used to. That was a huge turn-off to me when I first played. I’ve scoured the (incredibly numerous) options a hundred times trying to find a way to change that, but I’ve never been able to find one. It’s almost as bad as a game without an "invert mouse" option.

(I realize that the EQ2 model is technically more "correct" when you consider operating system standards, but you can’t just ignore years of industry standards like that.) (I also realize EQ2 came out before there were years of industry standards, but still, they could have added an option by now, right?)

EQ2 is not easy to pick up after a long absence either. When I came back to my Warden after over a year, I was completely overwhelmed and unable to function. At level 38, I had literally four action bars completely filled with abilities and I had no clue what was what. I didn’t even know what my main abilities were. (To make things worse, I was on a different computer from the last time I played, and all my keybinds were gone.) I ended up deleting every single action bar and starting over, pouring over my abilities until I distilled out a basic set of about ten actions and buffs.

That’s another thing about EQ2. You don’t just have a "heal" ability. You have five (or more) heal abilities, each subtley different from the others. One is a small heal that is quick to cast. One is a big heal that is slower to cast. One is a super heal that is instantaneous, but has a 15-minute cooldown. One heal looks just like the first heal but uses a different "school of magic" or something. And so on. I tried to pick out one or two that seemed like the most general-purpose that would work on myself or others.

EQ2 has a lot of options for character customization. As if there weren’t enough variety in the twenty or so classes, there is also this "Alternate Advancement" system which seems to let you change the basic function of your class. For example, the "alternate" Warden abilities are more melee-based instead of spell-based, which is actually quite cool. But in addition to the regular set of a thousand abilities you get with normal advancement, there is a whole other set of a thousand "alternate" abilities you can add into your action bars.

I guess the theme of this post is that EQ2 is complicated, and you have to work for your rewards. I would definitely not recommend this game to a casual player new to the MMO genre. But once you get past the learning curve, the game is pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

I’ve done exactly zero group content, though. To be honest, I hardly ever see anyone else in the mid-40s level range. I guess everyone else is already at the level cap.

LotRO Helm's Deep Skill Trees

After a patching process that seemed to take hours (possibly because I was playing another game while I waited), I spent a couple of minutes in LotRO to see the class changes in Helm’s Deep. (I am only 45 so I am nowhere near seeing the content of Helm’s Deep.)

It looks like all they did was integrate industry-standard "skill trees" into the game, so you have to choose one of three specializations for your character. For my Hunter, I got to pick from a Jack-of-all-Trades tree, a Ranged DPS tree, and a Traps-base tree. I don’t mind the change but I do think it makes LotRO gameplay a bit less unique. Not something I would rage quit over, though. Who knows, maybe it will bring in some new players.

On the Removal of Leveling

With the announcement of Warlords of Draenor, there was a bit of buzz around the MMO-sphere about the role of the leveling process. I was struck by a post on Healing the Masses suggesting that it’s time to remove the leveling game entirely from MMOs so that we no longer segregate the players into groups that can’t play together.

> … an ideology that is slowly dying, an ideology that never really belonged much in the first place in this genre.

"Never really belonged much?" I feel like one of the things that defines the RPG genre is leveling–starting out in rags and building up over time with new abilities and gear.

Now to be clear I’d be fine with a well-done level-less MMORPG (actually TSW doesn’t have traditional levels, and in some ways GW2 forces everyone onto the same playing field), but if you take away progression entirely I’m not sure that what you have left is an "MMORPG" any more.

If you start the player with everything he needs to go anywhere and do anything with his friends, then you’ve basically just got a variation of an old school shooter where everybody spawns with the same health and a shotgun. Even shooters today have progression in them (which I find incredibly annoying, personally – get your RPG peanut butter out of my shooter chocolate).

On the specific, very valid point of not being able to play with friends at different levels, I like the way that some MMOs (Rift, EQ2 I think?, GW2 in a way) have solved this by implementing a "mentoring" type of thing where you can lower your level down to match your friends. Personally I think that should be a standard MMO feature going forward, along with the ability to turn off experience gain. I actually prefer doing low-level dungeons with PUGs more than high-level dungeons. At the higher levels, particularly in the expert or heroic dungeons, people are far more likely to yell at you if you blink wrong. In the lower levels, people are usually just interested in exploring and having fun, and haven’t yet had their spirits crushed under the numbing weight of grinding out gear or marks or whatever.

I agree with Tobold that we will be seeing more pay-to-level options from developers soon. There’s obviously a demand for it since the gold farmers have been selling power-leveling services since the beginning. (I assume they still do, but anti-spam tools are so good now that I don’t see their ads any more.) No matter how fun and engaging you make the leveling process, there’s always going to be a segment of the MMO audience who just wants to raid with basically stock, pre-built characters. I don’t really see a problem with that. You can’t force someone to like leveling.

I think this discussion exposes one of the biggest problems in the genre right now. MMO gamers have evolved into at least three different non-overlapping sub-types. Some people want to level, some people want to raid, some people want to PvP. And some people just want to play dress-up. (It feels like that last one is the direction MMOs are going in with all the sandbox games.) It’s almost impossible to make one game that satisfies all of those niches, so maybe it’s time for developers to make entirely different games for each playstyle. (That will probably never happen, though, since it’s obviously too expensive to make three games when you can cram it all into one.)

Black Desert?

We all know that blockbuster MMOs EQ Next/Landmark (the minecraft one), WildStar (the cartoon one), and The Elder Scrolls Online (the D&D one) are "coming soon." But a while back some posts I saw about a Korean-made MMO called Black Desert caught my eye.

I hadn’t heard of it before, so I did some investigation. ( That means I went to Wikipedia .)

Wikipedia says it’s a "sandbox-oriented" MMO, but I’m not entirely sure what that means. The Black Desert site itself says it will be "focused on Sandbox Features, PvP and PvE." Again, that’s about as vague as it gets. I’m not even sure it’s going to be available in English-speaking countries. I’ve got to think that since they made an English web page, they’re planning an English version of the game.

I hope so, because the main thing that caught my eye was the absolutely gorgeous screenshots. It looks unbelievable. I’m looking forward to seeing more about it.

Trove Triggers 8-Bit PTSD

Trion Worlds is working on something called Trove. Now when Trion does something, I tend to take notice, because Rift is hands down the best themepark MMO out there right now. Any arguments you might have against my statement are invalid, because I said so.

(Defiance, on the other hand, was a bit meh.)

I anxiously looked at the screenshots for Trove and … drooped with disappointment. Really? 8-bit crap graphics? Really? People are still into this? What is wrong with people?

You see, I lived through a time when 8-bit graphics was the cutting edge. I had an Atari 2600. I had a TRS-80 CoCo. I experienced the days when games really looked like Minecraft. Let me say this clearly. I don’t want to go through that again. You know why people invented newer graphics cards? Because 8-bit graphics looked like crap! It’s not retro, it’s not cool, it’s not hip. It’s unequivocally, objectively bad. All these new 8-bit retro games are like a car company coming out with a new model with a horse attached. Some people might think that was retro, cool, and hip. But most people are going to be like, "I want to go to work at more than ten miles an hour, please."

It’s possible I have 8-bit PTSD.

Oh, the game? Sounds kind of meh. I don’t "get" Minecraft, so I don’t see why I would want an improved version of it. But if it’s got some kind of RPG element, I’ll probably check it out.

P.S. Now that I’ve actually watched the video on their page, the 8-bit-ness of the game doesn’t look nearly as obnoxious as it could be. Still, I’m not crazy about getting voxels thrown in my face.

The Delicate Balance of Beta Testing

I think it’s safe to say this: I got an invitation for this weekend’s TESO beta test. I assume it’s okay to say that because they made a big public announcement that they were sending out the invitations. I had to accept a rather harsh-sounding NDA though so I don’t think I’ll be able to say much of anything else.

Beta testing is a delicate balance. On the one hand, it’s super exciting to see a new shiney and possibly shape the course of its future (though to be honest, in my experience, beta reports are largely ignored unless it is a game-breaking bug), but on the other hand, you don’t want to play so much that you burn out before the game even launches. Not to mention all of your progress is going to get wiped anyway. So it’s like, "Yay, I’m in the beta!" Followed shortly by, "Crap, this could ruin the game for me."

Making Sense of EQ Landmark

I’m trying to wrap my head around this EQ Next/Landmark thing. If I’m understanding this correctly, what we’re buying in Landmark is the toolset that a game developer would use to create an MMO game world. SOE must have looked at their tools and said, "You know, these tools are so fun and intuitive to use, maybe we could polish them up a bit and sell them, because people really seem to like building virtual things."

EQ Next will apparently be the content that SOE builds using Landmark. The rest of us will be making our own content, and if SOE happens to like something we do, they’ll just grab it and stick it in EQ Next. Because to use Landmark, I’m sure we’ll have to sign away any intellectual property rights to whatever we build.

So is that a cash grab? Obviously. :) We as consumers should be offended and insulted and outraged at the prospect of getting taken advantage of like this. We’re not just unpaid contributors to their game, we’re actually paying to contribute to their game.

So um, yeah, I pre-ordered the Trailblazer’s pack too. Because in the big picture, $100 is a drop in the bucket if it buys you even a single month of entertainment, and this could be something that evolves over years.

Also, I have long thought that MMOs need to move toward embracing player-created content to survive in a world where gamers consume years of developer work in a matter of days. There are hordes of players out there willing to slave for endless hours creating additions to games. (Neverwinter is trying this with their Foundry, although I personally think that there should be some editorial standards for user submissions. Most of the Neverwinter Foundry modules I’ve seen are rather silly and exist only as loot and xp dispensers.)

You might be wondering why a person who has never gotten into player housing would even consider buying a Landmark Founder’s pack. It’s because everyone’s doing it. :) Nobody likes to be the last one to get the new MMO shiney.

WoW Warlords of Draenor Impressions

Here are some first impressions of the newly announced WoW expansion Warlords of Draenor. I’m not a hardcore WoW player but recently I’ve been playing more than I usually do, so I have more of an opinion than “meh, whatever.”

New Character Models. It’s about time, I say. I can’t believe anyone would oppose this. I found it rather annoying that they made these nice, smooth panda models and animations for MoP but left everybody else with like fourty-seven triangles and six frames of movement.

Instant Level 90. Don’t mind. Personally I wouldn’t use it except in an alt. Hardcore players will know how to use this, and I seriously doubt many people will be buying WoW and starting at level 90 for the first time. If someone does they’ll only be shooting themselves in the foot. (Possibly more on this topic in another post.)

Garrisons/Houses. Meh, whatever. (I say that now, but I have a surprising amount of fun with Battle Pets, so it’s possible I could later try Garrisons and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.)

Draenor. "Draenor is a land of magma and metal, stone and steam. City-forges wrap her twin moons in smog, and wheels deform the earth." Sounds like a Steampunk theme. It doesn’t matter, I don’t have any characters anywhere near level 90. At my current rate of leveling it will be at least next year before I get there.

PvP. Don’t care.

Dungeons and Raids. As I said, I don’t have any characters anywhere near level 90. I guess it’ll be nice if I ever get that far, but from the perspective of someone who usually plays other MMOs, there’s already a metric crapton of dungeons and raids in WoW already.

UI Improvements. Thank god. WoW desperately needs UI improvements. Wading through addons that usually don’t work is no fun. Right now I’m struggling to find a decent nameplate addon so I can actually see what’s going on in dungeon fights.

Tobold said that this expansion solidifies Blizzard’s position that the end game is the "real" game and the leveling process is just an annoying road block for everyone. I’m not sure I agree with that. Does he expect them to change the leveling process so everyone re-rolls new characters with each expansion? Why mess with gameplay that already works? And besides, it’s an "expansion" – as in, expanding the world, or adding on to what’s there, not replacing it. So it seems self-evident that it would begin at the previous level cap. It’s for people who have already played for ten years, done everything, and moved on to other games, not for people picking up WoW for the first time ever. New players have ten years worth of content to see before they even get to Draenor. (I haven’t even made it through the first expansion content yet.)

So that’s my two cents. I’ll play it when I get to it, but I’m more interested in TESO and WildStar and EQ Next and whatever else is out there.