Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Supposed Golden Path : WoW Classic, EverQuest

In almost every way I can think of, WoW Classic is "easier" than EverQuest would have been in same era, let alone during the five years that came before. There's one area, though, where Classic has EQ beaten hands down for "difficulty": the way mobs path and spawn.

The difference between the two games here is extreme and I believe it goes a long way to explain the divergence of cultures. WoW players prefer to be always in motion while EQ players, apart from kiting, strongly favor static play. Both have sound reasons for their choices.

In an earlier post I talked about the practice of "camping" a fixed location in EQ, something that, according to comments from those who were there, never really happened in Vanilla WoW. Well, frankly, I'm not surprised.

I picked these two to watch because they were the second-nearest to where I logged in. I started with the nearest bear but after a few seconds some rogue ran past and killed it. When I came to this couple  they were almost on top of each other.

The Defias bandits at the campsite I mentioned in that post behaved exactly as bandits do at similar camps in EverQuest. They had short, predictable paths, if they moved at all. They respawned in the entirely predictable manner they would in Norrath, namely in reverse order as they'd been killed and at the same intervals in the same spawn locations. This, I have discovered after extensive research (aka playing several characters to Level 10/20/30) is a rare phenomenon in Azeroth.

In many locations, mobs respawn in a seemingly random fashion. I have seen multiple examples of a mob respawning within a second or two of being killed, then not respawning for several minutes. Some mobs, which do respawn in the same place, take a minute or so to reappear, some take five or more.

Respawns in the many caves, mines and ruins tend to be more predictable - provided you are the only one there. If things are busy it's all but impossible to keep track of when a respawn is due, making it all too easy to waltz through a seemingly empty tunnel only to find half a dozen troggs popping into existence out of nowhere in five or ten seconds.

In EverQuest, even when low-level dungeons like Blackburrow or Crushbone were heaving with players, groups generally took long enough to kill each mob that respawns were staggered sufficiently to allow some predictability. In higher dungeons it took long enough to kill anything that the problem rarely arose.

Very quickly they separated. The tiger pathed in what seemed like a very small area, frequently turning and stopping. It was just like watching a bored big cat in a too-small cage at an old-fashioned zoo.

Unpredictable spawn rotations are the least of it. The real camp-stopper is weird, asymetric, unpredictable pathing. I'm tempted to say "random" but I'm not convinced there's anything random about it. It probably follows some unseen ruleset or algorithm. It's just very, very hard to work out waht that might be.

I see this almost everywhere I hunt above ground. Some mobs are more erratic in their movements than others but even the steadiest have paths that would and could never occur in Norrath.

Lots of creatures like to stop suddenl, turn at right angles, carry on, stop and turn again for reasons that are utterly opaque. Some come to dead halt, spin around then go back they way they came. Sometimes it's only for a few steps, sometimes they liketo take a lengthy stroll. If you try to set up and hunt near them it makes for an anxious, jittery kind of camp. You really are better advised to keep moving.

Mobs that have the kind of long, meaningful paths that are commonplace in EQ do exist. I watched a Defias Looter walk purposefully from an occupied farm to a campsite out of sight over the hill, stop for a while as though talking to her comrades, then turn and retrace her steps. Sentien tcreatures that make camps often have patrols or scouts with pathing that's compartively easy to map. There are also lightweight equivalents of EQ's notorious "zone sweepers", not just out-of-level-range mobs like the Level 18 dustdevils in Westfall but completely out of place Elites like the Horde group in Loch Modan.

This is about as far as the tiger ever went. The bear, however, wandered far and wide.

The ones I find the most deadly are those that switch suddenly from a slow walk to an outright sprint, sometimes combined with an abrupt change of direction. Vultures, by far the most anoying common mobs I've encountered, love to do this. I am so wary of vultures now that if I see any within about a hundred yards of a spawn I want to kill I get rid of the flying vermin first. Otherwise I can guarantee one of the feathered pests will turn up mid-fight and either kill me or force me to run.

Because of this, camping a fixed location becomes very unattractive. You can't, as you would in EQ, spend ten or fifteen minutes carefully watching the spawn and the mobs that roam nearby and feel confident you have a clear mental picture of what's going to be your reality for the next hour or two. I never feel able to settle at a spawn in Classic because I never know what might come bargeing past

It's hardly surprising, then, especially given the highly accelerated time-to-kill and the hugely reduced downtime between kills, that players in Vanilla chose to keep moving rather than stay still. The near-trivial death penalty must also have been a significant factor. My feeling is that this unpredictability adds significantly to the perceived "difficulty".

At this point the bear was almost out of view range. A few seconds later he disappeared. I watched the two of them for the duration of three Stereolab tunes, well over ten minutes. The two never came back together as they had been at the start although once they came fairly close. At no time did I discern a repeated pattern.
I don't particularly prefer one over the other. Both games have excellent pacing and highly satisfying gameplay. WoW doesn't have the zen equilibrium of EQ and EQ doesn't have the mass-market appeal of Classic. I'm very pleased that we have both.

It is, of course, possible I'm misreading this, although I can;t see how. If anyone can explain to me why I'm not seeing what I think seeing, I'm entirely willing to be proved wrong! It would certainly make leveling a lot safer if it turns out there's some key factor controlling all this that I'm missing.

I'm not sure that would make it any more fun, though. I rather like not knowing what's going to happen next.


  1. We've been talking about spawns and mob behavior in our group as well. There is a fun example out in Westfall with the gnolls. A bunch of them sit in camps of 2 to 6. Some more patrol between and around the camps. And then there are a couple that run full tilt around several of the camps. But they aren't always there and they are easy to mistake for gnolls that are chasing players, so even when you do see them their motion may make you dismiss their presence... until they run right up to you.

    I mentioned us hunting elite ogres in Loch Modan yesterday. That is a classic spawn area, where you need to slay three different ogre types, but five different types live there and they share spawn tables and some wander. The screen shot I have is of us at a cave because somewhere in the back of my brain I knew that ogre brutes, one of the type you need, only spawn in the caves, as do mystics, which you don't need. They have their own spawn cycle and table, so once we got them killed slowly over time, we were able to pop individuals as they spawned rather than having to fight a pair (which meant somebody dead without a healer).

    But the ogres outside the cave, they wander so far afield that we ended up fighting a couple of them by surprise as well.

    1. I was watching those gnolls when I was leveling up my Warlock at the weekend. It looks like one of them challenged the other to a race. Every so often one of them will stop and the other will run on, which allows you to single pull them if you want.

      I was also at an Orc camp in Redridge that had a few static guards and a lot of orcs that were either scouts or just bored and wandering about. I was watching a pair of scouts that did a short patrol past a single static guard and I thought I had them figured out. They would walk close to the guard then tunr and go back.

      I let them get out of range then pulled and killed the guard almost on his spot. By the time he died the two scouts had almost come back into aggro range so I moved back and waited for them to go past, turn and go back the way they'd come. Only they didn't. They stopped right next to the corpse and proceeded to do what looked like a nervous dance for the best part of three or four minutes. They would step around each other, make a sharp turn, mpove a few feet then stop and do it again.

      I waited them out although it was getting to the point that I was going to fear one and pull the other and hope I could get one down before the other got back. Just before I reached that point they finally decided to continue their patrol and moved out of range. It really looked as though they were so disturbed by the death of their comrade they couldn't decide what to do.

      There's a lot of this kind of thing going on and I'm spending more and more time watching it and making up backstories in my head!


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