Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Letter : EverQuest, EQII

Jennifer Chan, the newly-appointed Head of Studio at Darkpaw Games, posted  "Community Letters" to the EverQuest and EverQuest II forums yesterday. I found them to be both positive and reassuring. Such was not the general reaction.

I have often alluded here to the unceasing miasma of negativity that pervades the official forums of both games. It always has, going all the way back to when I first started playing EverQuest around the turn of the milennium. It's a very good reason to avoid the forums altogether yet I persist. Here and there, now and then, nuggets of value can occasionally be glimpsed, gleaming among the dross.

Mostly, though, reading the forums is like poking yourself with a stick. I try to avoid getting involved but occasionally I get so annoyed I can't help myself. This was one of those times.

Rather than just complain about the complainers - never a good look - and in a forlorn effort to raise the positivity levels, I decided to try to explain a little of why I approve of the current direction the game is taking.  Under the current team I feel we've seen, at the very least, a considerable improvement on what we've had to put up with at other times. (In EQII, that is - I don't really play EQ any more so I have no personal experience or opinion how things are there).

Here's my comment in full:

 I already said "Hi" at the top of the thread but reading all the negative comments on the state of the game I felt I had to pop back and say a couple of things. I've been a subscriber to EQ without a single break since 1999 and an All Access subber since it was invented. I've played EQII since late beta in September 2004, again without a break. For the last few years, and for all of the Daybreak ownership, I've played solo with EQ2 as my second MMORPG (usually behind Guild Wars 2).

In my opinion, the game was at its lowest ebb in the last few years of the SOE period. After a shaky start it began to improve under DBG and it has continued to do so. Blood of Luclin is my favorite expansion since Sentinel's Fate ten years ago. It's so good, in fact, that since it launched EQII has once again become my main MMORPG and I've played it almost exclusively for the last three months.

As someone who has always both crafted and adventured I find the changes to crafting very much in my favor. Whereas in recent expansions I've gone most of the year using Journeyman skills until I could upgrade via the time-gated system, in BoL I can make Adepts for myself and buy them at a reasonable price. I have also been able to make a lot of Experts at very reasonable cost because the rares are far more obtainable than they have been for years. Whereas I have previously always maintained two crafters (Sage and Weaponsmith) at max level, in BoL, largely thanks to the very welcome accelerated levelling speed and the knowledge that, once levelled, my crafters would be able to make things I needed, I have expanded my crafting team to four. I now have a max level Carpenter and Alchemist too.

I enjoy the 30 second timer on the Shadow Staff and the two hour cooldown. It changes what would otherwise have been another background system into a foreground one. I look forward to the staff becoming available and the hunt for a good spot with multiple shadow nodes. It's far more engaging than simply moving endlessly around clearing node spawns in the traditional manner.

I love the Overseer system. It has become the first thing I do each day when I switch my PC on and the first thing i do when I get home from work. I find it interesting, amusing and very rewarding. I very much welcome any expansion or extension of the system. The holiday Overseer quests are a great addition to the game.

On the concept of "Pay to Win", I understand that for people at the cutting edge of the game feel they have to spend money to keep up but at my engagement level there is absolutely no need to spend anything beyond the subscription. I have never paid a penny to accelerate progress of any kind - I don't even remember to use the free accelerators that drop most of the time. Content for solo/molo is tuned in such a way that it's accessible without any of that. That has not always been the case in EQII's history and I prefer it the way it is now.

I just wanted to put a point of view that doesn't often get expressed on these forums and I go into so much detail just to give a perspective on why someone who has played EQII for a long time might not agree with the idea that everything is on a downward spiral. There have been plenty of times in the past when the direction of the game has felt alienating to me and I understand how changes that appeal to one player may almost break the game for another. I just wanted to say that for me the game is going in just the direction I would hope and has been for a while now.

That said, there is always room for further improvement. A dedicated crafting dev is essential. Mob drops could be made more interesting. Overall, though, for me it's very much a case of "keep up the good work" and I very much look forward to what the next year brings.

I know it's too long for a forum comment. Who's going to read it all the way through? I know I skim-read comments this long, if I don't skip them altogether.

Even so, it only touches the surface of why I feel my own play experience in EQII is not reflected in most of what I read on the forums. The game is far from perfect but then so are all the other MMORPGs I play. When I got to the paragraph at the end, where I set myself up to say what I think could be better, I couldn't really think of a lot I'd want to change.

Here I am, prepping for a pick-up raid. That would never have happened pre-DBG. Okay, so I died eight times because my good solo gear is laughably bad for even the lowest-level Heroic content but so what? I had fun and we got the job done - eventually.

Some of us in this part of the blogosphere like to play that game where we guess how well a game might be doing. It's a very inexact science. We'd probably be better off sacrificing a chicken and reading the entrails.

Still, there is some value in comparing known markers over time and on that basis, judging by the observable activity in game at the hours I play and by watching the Daybreak Game Server Status page, my impression is that things have been busier in the three months since Blood of Luclin launched than they were before. Quite a bit busier.

From the current Brewday Overseer questline.
That's the exact opposite of what most forum posters suggest. There's a constant theme of "people are leaving", often accompanied by threats to join the exodus if things don't change. I suspect it may even be true. By most accounts, life as at the Heroic and Raid end of the game is far from rosy. I wouldn't be at all surprised if subscriber numbers among that demographic are dropping. Hardcore crafters, too, are very unhappy right now, so it seems.

What we don't know is how many players there are like me or Wilhelm or Telwyn or Kaozz, pottering along at their own pace, solo or duo or trio, doing the regular content that the core players don't really see as relevant. Or how much those players spend.

You pretty much have to have a subscription to play these days but at the levels I enjoy myself you very definitely don't need to spend in the Cash Shop. Ironically, it seems to be the players who are least happy with the way things are going who also feel the need to spend the most.

How sustainable the current direction might be is impossible to derive from the information available to us. I would tend to assume that if pandering to the hardcore made more money for DBG that's exactly what they'd be doing. That they've chosen to move away from doing so suggests the money wasn't there when they did.

A metaphor for the state of the game?
Or just an indication that DBG needs to spend more on QA?
The hardcore in any long-lasting MMORPG does have the merit of predictability and consistency,
though. Give them what they crave and they will stay with you. Make them feel they're being ignored and they might, eventually, if you keep it up long enough, make good on their endless threats to take their business elsewhere.

I can live with whatever direction the game takes. Probably. I've stuck it out through the hardcore-stroking years of late-period SOE, the "what did we just buy?" confusion of early DBG and the drive to turn the game into something barely recognizeable as EQII in the last three or four expansions.

In my uninformed opinion, whatever changes are being made to the way the games play are part of the process of bringing them to market. I fully expect to see another change of ownership in the next year or two. Only after that will we be able to assess where the games will go next.

In the meantime, I plan on enjoying the happy collision of Darkpaw's intent and my personal taste in gameplay. I'm sure it will be my turn to complain soon enough.


  1. Did anyone bother responding to you, you know, as a Chan Fanboi, not a real player, all that jazz? ;)

    Calm, measured and rational responses are confusing to all the angry people!

  2. Good comment. It explains exactly what you like and why, which is always more difficult to articulate than what you don't like, I find.

    That said, I clicked through to read the whole thread and... didn't think it was that bad? There was a lot of "now that you're in charge, fix my personal pet peeve please", sure, but I didn't think the tone was too "complain-y" - except for that one guy who suggested they should just release the server code so players can build their own servers and start over (lol).

    Maybe it's because I don't personally play EQ(2) and it's therefore easier to be detached but I think I've seen much worse on other MMO forums.

    1. By the standards of some threads I've read it was almost a love-in, that's true. And people were mostly respectful and polite, which is always goos. The gist, though, is that a vocal element clearly wants the game to revert to how it was before the latest expansion, which wouldn't be terrible but but in my opionion would be a retrograde step. I think I also have a heightened sensitivity to complaints in EQII over and above other games I play because it's very rare for anyone to complain about the things that annoy me but someone will often complain about changes I approve.

      I think the trigger for me this time was when the person who was saying they weren't happy with the decision to make flying a reward of completing the Signature quest line mentioned they had 43 characters! I really don't think design decisions should be taking into account the fact that someone might have to do a questline 43 times because they don't know when to stop making characters - and I speak as someone with six max level characters. Seriously, they don't *all* need to fly - jsut pick one or two!

    2. Ahaha, yes, that person stood out to me as well. We get that type in SWTOR too. "This activity is only fun to do ten times a week, not on all fifty of my alts - therefore it's terrible!"

  3. I have given you my opinion before, but the last two expansions have been the biggest drop in quality for me. That is simply because I enjoy Heroic groups. The last two expansions have made it way too difficult and borderline impossible to get a solo player ready for a Heroic easy zone. The two ways are get extremely lucky on drops or open your wallet. Previous expansions, you could finish up the solo story line and then could jump in on the Heroic easy zone and then progress from there. Now you are more that useless if you try that with the resolve and potency requirements.

    That being said, the last two expansions have had very enjoyable solo story lines. I have played through it now and might do it once or twice more with an alt and then i will probably take a few month break.

    With crafting at its worse its ever been for me and my guild long gone, not much left to keep my interest for a full year.

    1. Sorry for the late reply - hope you get to see it!

      The step up from solo to the lowest tier of Heroics is the biggest complaint I see, apart from the state of crafting. It's worth giving the third Kander's Candor podcast a listen because they address that directly and clearly the devs don't believe it to be the case. Kander specifically talks about that step being about where they want it to be and he and Dreamweaver seem quite confused as to why players feel otherwise.

      Someone is missing something but whether it's the devs or the players I can't say because I've never tried to take that step. I do know, though, that I have seen plenty of players claim that some of the solo content is difficult-verging-on-impossible when I have done it with little or no problem, so perceptions and experiences clearly vary.


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