Friday, 12 June 2015

Back To The Old House : EQ2, Everquest

Here we are again, home from our holiday. Had a great time, thanks for asking, and now I'm sitting here catching up on all the news. Although I took two tablets and an iPod Touch with me, plus a Bluetooth Keyboard and mouse that effectively turn my Linx 10 into a netbook capable of running most older MMOs albeit sluggishly, in the end I didn't even check my email or Feedly let alone play anything. It was good to have a complete break.

It does leave me with a mountain of blog posts and press releases to wade through, though. There were almost 200 items in the past week from Massively OP alone!  Blizzard's backtracking may have gotten the most attention but the most striking and unexpected piece of MMO news for me had to be Daybreak Games' announcement that EQ2 (or EQII as they seem to insist on calling it now) will be getting not one but two "Time-Locked" servers.

As I worked through the Massively news squib, Holly Longdale's Producer's Letter, Wilhelm's discussion piece and finally Feldon's summation it rapidly became apparent that not only is this supposedly impossible thing going to happen but that it's going to happen right now. Or if not quite that then at least next month. If there's one thing the recent change of ownership has made clear it has to be that being owned by a multinational was acting as a drag anchor for those livewire SOE devs.

The question, then, is no longer whether? or even when? but why? Why would I want to start another character on a new ruleset version of an MMO I'm already playing, especially since I'm very happy with the existing ruleset? That's the nub. All this our-past-is-our-future, retro-nostalgia that's sweeping across the MMO landscape right now is predicated on attracting a dissatisfied audience that needs to be lured back and by and large I'm not dissatisfied.

In my experience most MMOs improve with age. Once the initial gosh-wow of a new world wears off the large number of rough edges, unfinished systems and things that generally could have been better start to make themselves known and the games improve as those issues get addressed. Of all the MMOs I've played for longer than a few weeks I'd struggle to come up with more than a couple that I felt weren't becoming more enjoyable and more entertaining month by month, year by year, rather than the other way about.

Consequently I don't harbor much of a desire to get the old versions back. Ironically perhaps, the main exception to that rule that comes to mind immediately is GW2, which has barely been around long enough to have an "old" version. I'd love to have the launch version of that back (bugs fixed of course), original Lion's Arch and all. Unfortunately the opposite is what we're going to get.

Still, there's always the thrill of a new server. That's a big draw even without a new ruleset to go with it. Staring over is fun and starting over with a full server doing the same even more so. Only... where's the time going to come from? In my case chances are it's going to come from Ragefire. It seems somewhat unlikely that I'm going to find enough spare hours to level up characters on both EQ and EQ2 progression time-locked servers at once and by the time the latter arrives I will almost certainly be done with the former anyway.

If Daybreak have any sense they'll try to stagger the "progression" of these servers so that the various expansions unlock on some approximation of a quarterly schedule. I'm not sure how much of a crossover there is between the audiences for the two versions of Norrath but there has to be some synergy there. Played right, that could keep some people subbed and swapping between the two for a couple of years or more.

Since I'm already All Accessed up I have nothing but my time (and possibly my patience and my sanity) to lose by jumping every one of these trains Daybreak set rolling. In the case of Everquest itself I'm so far adrift of the cap any new content they come up with is notional so starting over looks disproportionally attractive.

When it comes to EQ2, though, I'm virtually bang up to scratch as a solo player and I'm a lot more excited about the Autumn Campansion (that's totally a word now, apparently) than I am about taking a nostalgia trip back to somewhere that, to be quite brutal about it, wasn't up to all that much in the first place.

Holly "Windstalker" Longdale has been going out of her way to stress that the upcoming servers are not any kind of "Project 2004" for which we should all give thanks.  My memories of original EQ2 are far from fond. It was a harsh, tedious and very badly thought-out mess of a game that took a year or more to shake down into some kind of shape.

There seems to be an alternate-reality version of history going around in which EQ2 c. 2005 was a challenging, grown-up sort of MMO. It wasn't. Solo it was attritional and tedious; grouped it was trivial and tedious. My overriding memories of grouping back then are of how we couldn't believe how mindless and unchallenging the group content was compared to what we'd been used to in Everquest.

Yes, the overland Heroic mobs that people keep harping on about were tough to solo. Of course they were - they were meant for groups. If you actually did them in a group the biggest challenge was keeping up with the tank as he ran from encounter to encounter. Dungeons were only harder in the sense that they were buggier and had scripts that broke all the time. Otherwise the group content was face-roll easy at level both above and below ground. Maybe the raiding was balanced - I wouldn't know. None of the rest of it was.

So, I'm very pleased we won't be getting that back, just a version of the current gameplay on a fresh server, much the way Ragefire works already. I'm sure I'll be able to find a few hours for it here and there and I hope it's a big success for Daybreak and makes them some money. Then I hope they spend the extra profits on making new content for the current game.


2 comments:

  1. EQII was an interesting mess when it first released, but I still miss it (in a sense). You can never truly go back, but I think it is very important for games like EverQuest to offer these opportunities. As MMOs grow over time, they become so impenetrable, even for those who were there early on, to return. The only MMO I have seen really solve this problem has been World of Warcraft, but that's largely due to the fact that they reset and rewrite the game with each expansion in some fairly significant ways, so it is fresher to everyone all at once.

    That isn't necessarily a good thing. I like digging through the layers, at least when I work up the mind to do so. That isn't always the case because I rarely have friends interested in returning or friends waiting for me when I go back. I usually lack a character I want to play (having likely quit before due to getting bored of my previous character). Leveling anew can be fun, but I've started and stopped so many EQII characters over the years, that I don't like the idea of doing it again unless I can be a part of the crowd again.

    I am excited to see what comes of there new EQII servers for that very reason. I want to see lower level areas populated and not feel like I am years behind the curve. It is important for MMOs to do this from time to time, because it is a fun time for everyone involved. How often do you get to relive your youth, at least to some extent?

    All too rarely, it seems.

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    1. I definitely think they should be doing these servers - I just don't think I'm in the target audience. My main motivation is simply to be playing on a brand new server, which is always fun.

      I don't think MMO developers have really worked out yet what business they are in. SOE's original estimate for the lifespan of EQ was three to five years. There currently seems no reason why that shouldn't stretch to twenty and even if the game folds commercially there could be private servers running, well, forever. It would be nice to think current design teams working on new MMOs might be taking the long-term view into account and building games they expect to last for decades but I'm not sure I see much sign of it happening yet.

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