Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Stops Along The Road: Everquest

With the opening of a second Progression Server, Lockjaw, things have quietened down on Ragefire to the extent that I can log in without facing a queue at any time during normal EU play hours. That's not to say it isn't still very busy. The Qeynos newbie yard is still fizzing with new starters and the lifespan of a gnoll in Qeynos Hills is measured in seconds.

Blackburrow is heavily camped but the trains are still running. I pulled a small one myself yesterday but it was derailed long before reaching the surface. For my money, leveling up in Blackburrow remains one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time in any MMO. The eerie yipping and howling of the gnolls add to a strangely-pleasant sense of claustrophobia and impending doom unmatched by any of the other low-level dungeons.

The loot, of course, is not of great interest. It never was, especially to a caster. Yesterday someone linked a Black Alloy Medallion in chat, a low level item that has genuine utility. That drops in Runneyeye, which is a dungeon I've always found to be very dangerous. Still, I might have to make the trip.

 Time to pick over the corpses, Genartik.

Seeing it started me wondering what's happening with all of the zones that were added independently of expansions, like The Warrens, Stonebrunt Mountains or Jaggedpine. Typically those are attached to and seen as part of the "Classic" lands but which, since they were added later, have significantly better drops. I expect that was all hashed out in the discussions that took place before launch but I wasn't paying attention.

For now I'm quite happy with the full set of cloth armor I got from kobolds and orcs on my journey to Qeynos. Despite the extreme efforts players make to get their hands on it, and the extortionate prices currently being asked by the campers, gear really isn't all that important during the original leveling game, particularly for casters. If you discount the focus effects, which were added quite a lot later, the addition of a few points of Int or Wis is scarcely game-changing.

As Keen observed it's all about the levels and the spells that come with them. As a caster levels up in Everquest he or she gains access not just to upgrades that are very noticeable improvements but to completely new abilities. It goes a long way to explain why people who developed their understanding of what MMORPG gameplay consists of are so strongly attached to the leveling process.

I always meant to ask you, Tillin. What do you do with all these gnoll teeth I give you?

These days, even on Ragefire, you get access to something new every time you ding. If this was really 1999 you'd have to wait four full levels between each new set of spells. Four levels could take a week to do - or a month. By the time you were approaching that threshold the last lot of spells would be almost too weak to allow you to kill the creatures you needed to kill to progress.

Conversely, each time you'd struggled over that four level line and found an NPC who'd sell you your spells (often entailing some long and dangerous excursions to towers on obscure islands or unfriendly guilds of other classes) and completed the lengthy process of scribing the spells into your spellbook, for a level or so there, you felt like a boss. Well, a mini-boss.

And then the cycle would start over. I loved it. I loved having to explore and travel to find spells. I loved the way some spells could ostensibly only be made by players through the Research tradeskill but that that barrier could be circumvented by knowledge if, for example, you knew that another class got the same spell as of right. Shadowknights, for example, use some of the Necromancer pets that Necros are expected to research but, being too dim (as we always claimed) to make them for themselves, are allowed to buy them from their guild vendors. In Everquest knowledge is always power.

What's that strange, wailing sound?

Everquest doesn't really do convenience and never less so than in Classic. It's not just that player-friendliness wasn't much of a thing in 1999, although as EQ's longtime strapline "You're in our world now" always suggested, it certainly wasn't. It's more that convenience was intentionally designed out in the belief that having everything your own way isn't much fun, whereas struggling against the odds is.

As WoW profited by demonstrating, a lot of people don't share that attitude. I would have said I didn't either and aspects of it certainly chafed back in those supposedly golden days, when there were, without question, far more players complaining about the difficulty and inconvenience than were willing to stand up and defend it. I have to say, though, revisiting it once again, if in an ameliorated dosage,  it really is the irritation and frustration that makes the pearl when it comes to leveling.

I think the great reason leveling is now looked down on by many as an annoying speed-bump on the way to the real game is that the leveling process has become so bland and meaningless. And, yes, easy.

If I was old Van there I'd spring for a Name Change potion.

When people talk about MMORPG gameplay being all about journey it's often assumed they mean it literally - that it's the exploring and the sightseeing and the going out and about in the world that matters. That's true enough as far as it goes but what really made leveling in Everquest and its ilk so sticky was the way the journey always felt like you were getting somewhere.

It wasn't a journey in the sense of getting on a plane in London and stepping off in New York with no sense of having yet been anywhere at all. It was a journey like Laurie Lee's, as he walked out his front door one morning to walk from The Cotswolds to London and eventually found he'd walked all the way into the Spanish Civil War.

I'm a firm believer in the leveling game but to mean something it has to have far more structure, purpose and weight than it's been allowed these last few years. GW2, much though I love it, began with a very weak leveling game and then watered it down because focus groups and metrics showed it was too hard.

Convenience is all very well and I'm not advocating awkwardness for awkwardness's sake, but in the end each task you undertake needs to matter, somehow, and what's more it needs to matter at the time you do it, not as a mere marker on the road to something further down the road. This is a balance that, from all accounts, Vanilla WoW got exactly right. I wish now I'd been there to see it.



5 comments:

  1. I don't know how you feel about things like private servers, but there are some running right now that offer a pretty good recreation of Vanilla WoW, if you do care enough to jump through the hoops of downloading the client from some dodgy file-sharing site...

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  2. I agree completely with you.

    For many WoW players, Cataclysm was the main turning point and when Blizzard also offcially said that yes, it was all about the End Game (and hence, due to the gaming preferences of the Devs, Raiding) Paradoxically, while by nixxing levelling they made it easier for established Raiders to have a stable of alts, it made it more difficult to gain new blood, resulting in many of their precious Raid Guilds dying out over time.
    A.o. Grumpy pointed at some of this at the time

    http://thegrumpyelf.blogspot.nl/2011/09/leveling-needs-fixing.html

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  3. I will throw my vote in with Shintar's... Check out Kronos wow. Very accurate vanilla wow server. Free, easy to get to work, and vanilla wow really IS a good game, even now.

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  4. I also second the notion of giving a Vanilla WoW private server a try. However, the only advantage Kronos has over Nostalrius is Shintar – and fewer players, of course. ;)

    A clean version of WoW 1.12.1 can be found here (courtesy of Valkyrie). No need to visit any dodgy Czechoslovakian file-sharing sites.

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  5. Thanks for the suggestions and links. Late replying because I've been on holiday.

    I have thought about playing on a private Vanilla server a few times. I'm not mad keen on the grey market nature of these things and even less so on where you sometimes have to go to get the software but I'm not basically opposed to trying it out. The issue, as always, is having the time. What with all these legal old-school servers popping up right now it's hard to schedule a slot for the illegal ones!

    It's definitely on my ideas list though.

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