Sunday, July 5, 2015

What Does This Button Do? : EQ2

The other day Syp was pondering why he sometimes finds it hard to move fluidly from one MMO to another. He came up with several good reasons, such as the varying UIs and control systems, the psychological upheaval, the lack of muscle memory and even not being able to remember your log-in details. All of those have weight but I suspect it's mostly inertia that pulls the cursor to the familiar icon every time.

It isn't really very hard to accustom or re-accustom yourself to the mechanics, after all. That shouldn't really be a barrier. Other than the odd exception like FFXI, whose controls seem to have been designed for a different species, just about every MMORPG I have ever played uses a variant of one of two systems. They're all either roughly like WoW/EQ or roughly like DCUO/TESO.

Each game does have its idiosyncrasies, to be sure, but the similarities vastly outweigh the differences. Assuming you stick to the shallow end, of course. Naturally, if you plan on diving into cutting-edge group or raid content you'll need to be on your game, if only for the sake of your groupmates, let alone your own reputation and self-esteem.

The leveling game, though, and even most solo content at the cap, is usually remarkably forgiving these days. If that's what you're doing then there aren't too many MMORPGs left that would challenge even a somewhat rusty player overmuch.

This kind of content almost seems to have been tuned intentionally for partially-developed, badly-geared characters played by ill-prepared, poorly-skilled players. Perhaps that's why experienced gamers, raising their fifth or sixth alt, frequently complain that "their" game has been dumbed down beyond the point of imbecility, whilst all around them genuine newcomers or returnees still somehow manage to make heavy weather of it.

No, given that most game-hoppers are going to be experiencing gameplay that's very far from the current peak, when we demur from dipping back in to a game we haven't looked at in months, I can't really accept that it's inability to use the controls efficiently that's putting us off.

No, you open it!

In my case it's definitely more likely to be inertia or, if you want to be harsh, laziness. It's just a lot easier to do the same thing today that I did yesterday because if I enjoyed it then why wouldn't I enjoy it now? If staying there made you wish you'd gone somewhere else then it wouldn't be called a comfort zone, would it?

What that means in practice is that I have to make a specific effort not to log into my current favorite MMO. In a way I can almost understand those plaintive cries of boredom in general chat. It's all too easy to end up doing what's all too easy sometimes. You have to make an effort to avoid boredom and who wants to make an effort?

It helps that I have a strong sense of curiosity. It makes for a good motivator when I read about a new MMO or an update to an old one. Reading is just a taster. I like to go and see these things for myself. Being a blogger as well as a player helps. I can always use something fresh to write about. And then there's bribery. That works too.

Didn't you lot used to be...well...scarier?

This week was a holiday weekend albeit not where I live. Some MMO companies have long had a tradition of offering incentives to get players playing and customers spending when they find themselves with an extra day or two of leisure time. Daybreak popped double XP for EQ2 and that's all it took.

There was the small question of who to play. Any kind of xp is wasted on my Berserker sitting at the cap but there's a necromancer in the 90s who'd feel the benefit on the paid account. In the end, though, I plumped for the lowly Channeler, EQ2's newest class and my newest character.

He started the morning at level 16. With the help of full vitality (200% XP bonus) Veteran bonus (another 20% for having a capped character on the account) and one of the myriad of free xp potions sitting in /Claim (110% XP bonus for that one) he made six levels in just over an hour.

And believe it or not it felt quite slow. I don't know how that can be with an average of a full level almost every ten minutes. I suspect it's because I can't fathom the class yet so I never felt in control. Channeler, like Beastlord, is another of these "resource management" classes. I believe the Revenant in GW2 is going to be very similar.

Um, boss...I think your mist stuff is going through the floor.

I don't really like them much. They would seem to be designed for that vocal demographic that complains combat is too simple and they don't have enough to do. These classes always have extra bars or wheels or meters that need to be topped up by tapping or siphoning or channeling or some such malarkey. They also often have pets or spirits or souls or constructs that need to be acquired and trained and equipped and managed.

Frankly, it's a lot of busywork. For it to be fun you have to be fully committed to the character. The payback for the extra time and effort is power. It's notable that there have been loud demands for both Beastlords and Channelers to be excluded from EQ2's upcoming progression server, not because they are inauthentic for the period it seeks to recreate but because their power is seen as overbalancing for it.

Well, maybe, if you know what you're doing. I didn't even remember the Channeler is a healer until halfway through the session. If I'd remembered that I probably wouldn't have gone and hired a bard for a Mercenary. I knew I should have taken the Paladin. Although then I suppose it would have seemed slower still.

Don't ask me what it is. Just kill it!

To go back to what I was saying earlier though, and to re-iterate why I really don't think not being able to remember which button does what is a good reason to avoid picking up a new MMO or revisiting an old one, not knowing what I was doing made no difference whatsoever. Random button-mashing got me through the first half-hour just fine even though I was under the misapprehension that I was supposed to be dealing out the damage rather than keeping everyone alive.

"Everyone" is an odd term when you consider I was soloing but no-one really solos any more, do they? Syp (him again) describes the entourage that accompanies him on his solo jaunts and it's much the same for me. I didn't have my vanity pet out today but there were still three of us in my solo party - a walking pile of rocks, a stereotypical hobbit-analog and my own character.

Of the three, who was the least essential? Don't ask. When I come to think about it, button-mashing was a relatively sophisticated tactic and at least it kept me occupied. If I'd stuck to solo content I wouldn't have need to press any buttons at all. It would be entirely feasible to level up just by running through camps of solo mobs and letting the merc and the construct finish them off. I could play that useful little pet you get in ARPG's, the one that doesn't fight, just hoovers up all the loot and sells it.

Anyone got a lightstone?

That's why I went dungeoneering, first to Blackburrow and then to Stormhold (the dungeon, not the soon-to-be server), where we could fight encounters intended for full parties and I'd have something to do. It's also where I learned that a Channeler gets several AEs that both work in a sphere and penetrate solid surfaces. It's been while since I pulled the second floor of a dungeon from the first. That brought back some memories. We still have XP debt in Norrath in case you were wondering.

Norrath hasn't changed as much as you might imagine. It hardly seems worth having a progression server sometimes. Remember the camps that acted as hidden ring events and spawned names and great clunking chests that doled out buffs if you completed them? Still works. The highwaymen that appeared out of thin air to block the roads and slaughter the unwary? Still doing it. Heroic opportunities? Still firing although I don't suppose for a moment anyone cares.

If you go to Antonica or Commonlands the quests are the largely same as they were in 2005. The NPCs spout the same badly-written, badly-acted voiceovers. Nothing much has changed except I don't ever remember it getting quite this dark at night.

Hang on, just let me get an arrow and I'll have you all healed up good as new.
Oh, all the triple-up-arrow group mobs have gone. There is that. It means the quests that used to take five people a day now take one person and her minions five minutes. I guess that might be one thing that the prog server does differently. Can't say it sounds like much of a draw but maybe it'll be more fun than I remember. It would need to be because I remember it being no fun at all.

When the xp potion ran out I called it a session for the Channeler. I like him as a character - he's a ratonga so that was pretty much a given - but the class is hard work. On top of the resource management thing for some inexplicable reason he has to use a bow and arrow for many of his spells, which means spells effectively need ammunition. That's a new one. Also they seem incredibly slow to cast. Really, really slow. Probably can fix that with gear and AAs and so on but at low levels it's quite tedious.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

So I swapped to my Berserker, knocked out one of the weekly quests and went to try the new Fabled Achadechism, a level 100 version of the dungeon that sits on top of Crushbone. There I found unwanted proof of my theory that it's only at the point when you run up against content that's tuned for current capped players that things like knowing what the icons on your four combat hotbars mean and what your spells and skills actually do begin to matter.

Even then, facing level 105 orange-con mobs in the "Advanced Solo" version of the instance, it was only the bosses that gave me any trouble. Well, boss. Only saw the first one and didn't manage to kill him. It took three attempts before I got close, by which time I was beginning to think seriously about what I was doing and to realize I needed to. That's when muscle-memory, timing and having at least half an idea how to play your character start to look important after all.

Next time I'll have a bit of a warm-up first, get the old skills loose and juiced and then we'll see who's lying on the ground at the end. Or I might just do something easier instead.

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