Wednesday, January 8, 2020

You Keep Me Hanging On: EQ2

It seems that EverQuest II is now my main MMORPG. I always knew I'd end up playing a lot of EQII with the release of the new expansion but the extent to which the game has shouldered everything else aside came as something of a surprise. I certainly didn't plan it!

Digging down, there are reasons, not least of which is the dire state of Guild Wars 2.

I've played GW2 for longer, consecutively and without a break, than any other MMORPG. I think. I don't keep notes or run software that tallies my playtime, unlike some people. This blog has been running longer than that game, though, which means I don't have to reconstruct what I thought about GW2 over the years from dim, partial memories, I can just read my own recorded thoughts on it.

I think it's fair to say that I've found GW2 both compulsive and infuriating in equal measure for most of the close to eight years (including open beta) that I've been playing. Until last year, though, I plainly never found it boring. Now I do.

The unpalatable truth is that for an MMORPG of its longevity, content in GW2 is very thin. There's more content in EQII's housing offer alone. Arguably. And I'd take that argument.

ArenaNet, always infamous for the glacial pace of their development team, seem to have slowed almost to the point of stasis. More damagingly, almost all the replayable content they have been able to add over seven years is highly repetitive and extremely samey.

It's worse than just the slow dripfeed, though. What they haven't done, which many (most) other successful MMORPGs manage, is to continually increase the type and variety of systems within the game. Adding new features can be disruptive but it's also motivating. And exciting. Yet another map with yet another currency to buy yet another ascended item just isn't, no matter how hard the art department work to cover it up.

The Alpine Borderlands, where every day is Wintersday.
Even the holiday events, usually an easy win for developers, have been left to wither. In the last year or so there's been something of an attempt to spruce them up and flesh them out but it's pitiful compared to what we see in other games. I couldn't bring myself to bother with Wintersday this year. I just hope the upcoming Lunar Year celebrations are better but I'm not holding my breath.

Most de-motivating of all, the absence not only of a third expansion but of any hint one will ever happen has pretty much capped off my long-term interest in GW2. If the developers can't be bothered, why should I?

By comparison, EQII is insanely rich in content. With a fraction of the resources they manage, somehow, to pump out not just an annual expansion but a whole raft of pre-expansion events, mid-year content drops and additions to the extensive holiday calendar. Not only is there always something to do, thanks to the game's enormous depth of legacy content, there's almost always something new to do, too.

No matter what their resources, any developer can only produce so much content. Players are always going to consume it faster than it can be created. That's why most would-be forever games rely on continual improvement and progression mechanics, something GW2 made the unhappy decision to eschew.

Someone has been slacking.
EQII has this down to a fine art now, to the point that they may have found the tipping point where too much progression becomes counter-productive. My own list of daily checks and tasks in the game is daunting.

Every morning or evening, depending whether or not it's a work day, this is what I do:
  • Check progress on Mercenary Training on ten characters
  • Check progress on Mount Training on ten characters
  • Check progress on Spell/Combat Art Upgrades on ten characters
  • Check Pot Plant on two characters
  • Empty Pack Pony and Reset on two characters
  • Check Overseer Missions on an as-yet undetermined number of characters
  • Complete Loyalty Dailies on the account
There are a lot more things I could - and should - be doing, like the daily Transmute, Tinkering and Adorning quests, which I seldom get around to and the daily Familiar quest, which I never remember -  but those are the key ones. I'm running through them as I write this post. It's actually a fairly swift process to do the checks themselves. It's all the logging in and out that takes the time.

I could also avoid 90% of it by keeping a spreadsheet of all my characters and their various timers. I'm sure there are plenty of players who do it that way. Not really my thing, spreadsheets. Or being organized.

The embarassing thing is, I enjoy it. Especially after work. It's a nice, relaxing way to settle into the evening. Because I don't mind if I miss a few characters or a few timers here and there, I feel I'm in charge. And when the timers are up I get something I want - an upgraded spell, a new gear slot for my merc or mount, some rare mats. It's like getting a present and I love getting presents.

I particularly like the new Overseer system. I get ten missions a day and the longest I have so far is two hours. You sometimes get new quests (missions) or new agents as rewards. These seem to be per character not per account. It's all quite confusing and getting to grips with how it works is fun. Plus sometimes the rewards are worth having.

Dresses like a horse, looks like a disc. I love Appearance.

The new expansion also comes with ten more levels for both adventurers and crafters, which means new gear and recipes for everyone who levels up. Not only do I have six characters (at least) to take through the (very fast) leveling process, I then have to get them all kitted out and upgraded.

That's going to take me all year. Seriously, it will. Even with EQ2 as my main game. There's a good chance I'll get fed up of it before then and drift off to something or somewhere else but if I do, that will be my choice.

What matters is that the character progression systems are all there, in place, ready to act as a scaffold for my gameplay. The game offers me pre-determined goals, which I'm free to approach in a number of ways, at a pace of my choosing. They are both compulsive and time-consuming without being onerous or claustrophobic, which has the effect of making me play more EQII because I enjoy it.

I know it's not working for everyone. I can see that on the forums. I can think of ways it could be done better and probably please more people and it puzzles me sometimes why those ways aren't the ones being taken.

For all its flaws, in the end it's an approach that's very successful in holding my attention. It's far from unique and it's probably been done better but it suits me almost perfectly. WoW Classic, using much the same mechanics, had greater bite and traction in the first forty or so levels but there it all grinds to a halt in the fifties, unless you embrace the group-centric ethos of the game like SynCaine and Wilhelm.

EQII supposedly still has a solid group game, too. I wouldn't know. It's an alone-together affair for me these days. Ironically, that was the role GW2 performed to perfection for a long while. Not any more. And whether it ever will again I very much doubt.

But something will. EverQuest II is a great MMORPG and I'll be playing it as long as it or I last, but surely not as my main game. This is an unexpected, unplanned reversion to old behavior. It has to be. It can't last.

Can it?


  1. I'm going to say that technically you are probably in a group all the time, since you auto-group with your mercenary. Add in your mount, your familiar, and a pet, and you practically have an entourage.

    But actually going out and grouping up with another person... I'm not sure I've done that in EQII since maybe 2013... if that late. I do recall that the game has/had very good target forwarding/target of my target mechanics going on. I was a healer... my oldest character is a templar... and it was nice to be able to just target the tank to lay down heals while also being able to watch, and occasionally shoot, the hostile.

    Also the templar at least has quite an interesting array of healing options. I was always a fan of what I called "pre-paid heals," the spell you put on somebody that would heal them when they took damage.

    Yeah, I am getting into a lot of the odd and interesting depths of the game again this time around. I might even figure out gear at some point.

    1. Templar was my original class in beta and at launch. I was coming off a year and a half of main-healing in EQ as a cleric and I thought I'd just carry on as I had been. Didn't really work out that way but I agree that the reactive heals are great. Also the healing through target's target.

      These days, I'd far rather play the Templar's evil twin, the Inquisitor. They have some serious nukes. I took mine through the Deep Chelsith pre-BoL instance a couple of nights ago and she blitzed it at twice the speed of the Berserker, which was a real surprise. Made me wonder if the zerker is using the right Merc, too. Another level of complexity there - it's not just which class your Merc is - it's what quality, too.

  2. EQII is the only game where - for me - it's always been upside down: they actually produce new content faster than I could ever consume it. Which has its downsides, too, but overall it's obviously a very nice problem to have.

    I wish every MMORPG had that targeting-system you two mentioned. It's SO great to be able to switch between heals and damaging abilities without constantly having to switch targets.

    The system has many benefits to non-healers, too. In raids we always had a designated "main-assist", a damage dealer whom all other damage dealers would target, ensuring that all DPS was always focused on the right (or at the very least the same) target.

    I really don't understand why we haven't seen that system ever since.

    1. I ought to do a post about grouping in MMORPGs, which I liked best and why. Of course, it would pretty much be limited to games over ten years old, since that's about the last time I grouped. I think EQII had (has) some of the best mechanics for small groups. The raid interface, on the other hand, which I often end up using for Public Quests, seems clunky as heck to me.

  3. I agree. This is a great solo (molo) game. It has become way too difficult to go from solo to group play but that was discussed in another topic and probably does not need to be rehashed again. I am enjoying the new expansion, just wish I had some more free time to explore it.

    I do need to do a better time managing all of the timed upgrades between my characters. I have just focused on a few characters not all. A spreadsheet might help me out. And I have enjoyed the overseer system so far. Still figuring it out. I wish we could get some clarification on the mercenary battalion buff.

    1. Above comment was me. Forgot I am on a different computer and had to put my name in.

    2. I'm trying to pretend I haven't heard about the Mercenary Battalion. My head hurts just thinking about it...


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