Friday, October 6, 2017

This One Goes To 11 : EQ2, GW2

There are reportedly more than three hundred developers/designers/artists working on GW2. I very much doubt there are thirty working on EQ2. If you asked me which team was more productive I'd have to say the Daybreak squad wins, hands down.

I play both of these MMOs week in, week out. I spend far more time in GW2, partly because of World vs World's endless replayability, partly because it's the most fluid-feeling MMO I've ever played and partly because it's the game Mrs Bhagpuss plays.

Well, it was. She's going through something of an MMO malaise at the moment, not really playing at all. The Path of Fire expansion certainly hasn't fired her enthusiasm. She logged in once, played through the first chapter, logged out and that's the last the game has seen of her since.

I've played GW2 almost non-stop since we got back from holiday but already, only a week and a half or so in from where I started, my attention is wandering. I finished the story on my Druid at the weekend and I have absolutely no desire to do it again on anyone else for a good long while.

I got my Jackal mount two days ago and I'm about halfway through the lengthy "quest" for the Griffon. I've picked up 180 Hero Points without thinking about it and I guess by the time I have the flying lion I'll have filled out the 250 I need for the new Elite Spec.

I don't even know what the spec called, that's how uninterested in the new Elites I am. The only one I've read up on is Weaver for the Elementalist, which sounds horrible and by general consensus is not as good as Tempest from HoT.

I barely used the Hot Elites. Most of my characters are still in whatever build they took when they hit 80, which for many of them was the best part of five years ago. I use Tempest for the overloads and Druid as a heal-based survival build but other than that I don't think I've even tested the rest, let alone learned how to use them. The last thing I need is another lot.

Two nights this week I logged in after work intending to carry on with the Griffon quest and instead ended up defending keeps in WvW for three hours. Then I logged out and went to bed.

It took 300+ people more than two years to come up with this stuff. I'm not saying I'll be done with it in a month or two; there's a wealth of long-term, background material in PoF that I'll be picking away at for years, just as I'm still picking away at Heart of Thorns and the base game.

What I am saying is that the amount of entertainment on offer is not ten times what I'm getting from EQ2, nor is it an order of magnitude better, or deeper, or wider.

Massively OP irritate the heck out of me with their coverage of Daybreak. It's relentlessly, grindingly, dismally negative. I dislike the editorial tone and attitude so much when they ride this particular hobbyhorse that I'm not even going to link to an example. Why encourage them?

Still, it doesn't do to be complacent. Feldon deciding to throw in the towel at EQ2Wire hasn't helped dispel the image of a floundering ship and the astonishing and inexorable rise of PUBG, damming what was presumably a major income stream at H1Z1 is a worrying factor.

As Wilhelm summarized, two and a half years after the sale of SOE's portfolio to unknown quantity Columbus Nova, we're really none the wiser about either the commercial viability of the MMOs or their stability in the medium-term. We don't even know the intended direction of travel.

Gossip persists that DBG is not a happy ship. Some known names have left, including a few of the biggest. Communication between the company and the players, while informative and ongoing, tends either to be formal and undemonstrative or inappropriately truculent.

And yet, for all that, as a very long-term player, fan and customer, I cannot remember the games themselves ever feeling better cared for. Looking specifically at EQ2, the DBG game I play the most these days, updates aren't just regular and reliable, they often weigh in at well in excess of anything that might have been expected.

Each holiday adds new content and Norrath has a lot of holidays. In Spring we got a major addition to the game with Familiars and Summer brought a whole season of Ethereals, something both valued and expected by the hardcore audience.

Familiars have, I think, been well received and the way Ethereals were handled this year seems to have avoided some of the problems of the past. The enormously rewarding, eight week Days of Summer quest has been almost universally praised, as has the decision to remove the time limit and keep it as permanent content.

As Autumn rolls in it brings with it the traditional pre-expansion warm-up. The ever-welcome Gear up, Level Up event is back and along with it the first of the quests that will introduce the theme of the expansion.

I ran through Strange Sensations with my Berserker earlier this week. It took me about ninety minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's very well-written, with characters that immediately feel convincing and a plot that intrigues. I particularly enjoyed the nuanced, metafictional philosophizing.

I love the writing in EQ2. Like GW2, the writers put words in my character's mouth but for once they're the kind of words I believe he would say. Some of the things that came out of my Druid's mouth as he worked through the plot of Path of Fire had me swearing at the screen in irritation. Not so in EQ2.

The Strange Sensations quest also follows what appears to be an enthusiastically embraced practice at Daybreak these days - user-friendliness. There's a lot of traveling involved but the dark elf wizard with whom you mainly deal opens a handy portal every time to send you just where you need to go. I really appreciated that, especially after the lengthy tours the panda had me running (which were, of course, entirely appropriate to, and indeed the essence of, that quest).

I was surprised just how delighted I was to find Lendinaria waiting for me in Skyshrine. Lendinaria is a dragon and I've met a lot of dragons over the years but she's one of my favorites. She's certainly one of the dragons I remember best. It did genuinely feel like unexpectedly running into an old friend.

When someone from my supposed past crops up in GW2's storyline I generally struggle to remember ever meeting them before. When I do remember them, as in the case of the execrable Ellen Kiel, I mostly wish I could let them take a really close look at the business end of a big stick.

Then there are the rewards. In GW2 you're lucky if you get a mini. Okay, let's be reasonable: in Path of Fire you almost always get a mini. Not one you're ever going to use, and because everyone gets one they trade for a few silver on the markets so there's not even much point selling it, but still, it's a mini. Plus a load of crafting mats, some armor you can salvage into more crafting mats, some skins you'll never wear and some bits and pieces that you don't really know what they're for.

In EQ2 you get stuff you want and stuff you need. Stuff with value. Days of Summer was like winning the lottery. Strange Sensations only gives you two items but they are excellent: three 25-day Research Time Reducers, always most welcome, and an Ascension Level boost from what I thought was the max level (10) to 11.

I confess I don't understand Ascension Classes. I have one levelled up to halfway through Level 4 so far and I have yet to use it. I have it pigeon-holed as End Game Stuff, nothing to do with me.

If you read the official EQ2 forums it seems Ascension is Pay to Win and everyone hates it but then if you read the official EQ2 forums everyone has been saying that about everything since about 2004. I'll learn about Ascension if and when I find I can't do stuff I want to do without it. So far, not happened.

It's October so everything's turning orange. According to EQ2Traders Norrath's Halloween Holiday, Nights of the Dead is back, with a ton of new items to craft or buy, new achievements, a new quest and a load of tweaks and improvements to the plethora of existing spooky stuff.

We don't have a release date yet but the expansion will most likely arrive in November. DBG pop one of these things out every year like clockwork. Some are better than others but they're all solid and entertaining.

I have a good feeling about this year's; the EQ2 team have really been on a roll these last few months and for all the relentless Eeyoring of the community I do sense a glimmer of grudging appreciation behind the scowls, here and there.

It may well be that Norrath's days are numbered. All the MMOs are aging. The prospects of attracting new players must be vanishingly small and hanging on to those who are left must get harder every year. Nothing lasts forever but in this case we don't have any certainty that Columbus Nova even wants it to last.

For all that, the games feel in great shape. For my money, EQ2's small team does every bit as well as GW2's large one. If the ship goes down it won't be for lack of expertise or effort from the crew.

I'm just going to enjoy what we have while we have it. And if Mrs Bhagpuss turns out to be done with GW2, I may well find I have a lot more time to spend in Norrath. There's so much more I want to do there, still. 


  1. Level 18 during launch is still the furthest I have been in EQ2's version of Norrath. I read your tales and get curious about starting up again when there is "nothing else to play" (which is odd due to the catalog available, but seems to be happening frequently for me). I can't imagine they have streamlined the "new player" experience in that game and I CAN imagine how hard it would be to get into it, solo, from level one. No doubt it is very much for the people who continue to play.

    1. That's the real problem for every aging MMO and it gets worse the more successful the devs have been at keeping the content mill churning. I'd recommend EQ2 to anyone who wanted an MMO to play as a primary form of entertainment, the way you'd play the heck out of a new game. If you get into it there's enough to keep you occupied day after day for months, if not years.

      As a drop-in "let's see what this one's like" antidote to MMO ennui or boredom, though, I think it would be a disaster.

  2. EQ2 is definitely winning the race on content production among the games I play. I'm liking my return to GW2 but don't see it as being a long-term prospect. The story-telling can be jarring as you say - I really dislike the excessive snark in the voiced dialogue, very "one note". Recently I feel like I should be playing EQ2, DDO and similar more - the games I've long dabbled with are well worth supporting, and enjoying while they're still around. Carpe diem as they say!

    1. I think the main problem with GW2's storytelling and writing is inconsistency. It really is all over the place. The PoF storyline benefits from being extremely tight by GW2's standards but even that lurches about queasily from chapter to chapter. I sometimes think it's only the excellent voice acting that holds the whole thing together.

  3. Poor Mrs Bhagpuss, I hope she gets over her MMO malaise soon!

    1. She seems perfectly happy with it. She's doing a lot of real-world crafting instead at the moment.

  4. Pay to Win term is different to each person. Ascension levels ticks every one of my boxes to perfectly describe it as pay to win. This is a first for me in EQ2. If a max level player, with the same gear as me, same knowledge of the class pays more money than me, he will out DPS me. Now it is not just by a little bit. He is exponentially stronger.

    I am sure I will buy the basic version of the next expansion that might be it. My subscription runs out in the winter and I'm sure I'll have seen most of the expansion content by then. After that I think it's time for a break from EQ2. I have taken breaks before and then have lots of content to catch up on. We will see. I think a lot will come down to the quality of the expansion and I am very worried that the next tier spells is going to play out just like ascension spells.

    1. As I said, I really don't even have a clear idea what the Ascension classes are or do. They seem about as relevant to anything I might do as all the raid stuff in every MMO I've ever played - i.e. not at all.

      If it transpires that we are all compelled to use Ascension abilities in the next expansion then I may have to do a bit of catch-up but I'm betting the only parts that I'll be interested in will be entirely accessible using regular spells.

      I haven't paid any serious attention to any of the supposedly necessary systems that SOE and then DBG have added over the years - Ancient spells, reforging, experimenting and the rest. I currently have almost everything at Master on my Berserker because for the first time ever I've remembered to do the basic, time-limited upgrades but for most of my time in EQ2 I just used Experts. As for the tiers above that I couldn't even tell you what they were called.

      The problem for DBG, though, is that they can no longer count on a steady stream of casual-but-committed players like me to pay the bills; they are getting down to the hardcore and the hardcore DO care about these things. I hope they come up with a better way of managing that income stream or pretty soon none of us will be playing.


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