Wednesday, April 5, 2023

EQII - The Solo RPG

I had other plans for today's post but late last night (My time.) Jenn Chann, Head of Studio for Darkpaw Games, dropped yet another Producer's Letter for EverQuest II and it pretty much demands attention. I don't know what I was expecting (Yes I do - I wasn't expecting anything - I wasn't even thinking about it.) but it wasn't this:

"Playing on Kael Drakkel is about to become even more friendly! Characters on Lore and Legend servers will receive a powerful enhancement that will allow them to take on heroic and many raid encounters solo!"

Excuse me? Where did that come from?

But wait... there's more!

"...we will be ... making the Kael Drakkel server available to all players—even those without membership"

Now hold on a darn minute! A Daybreak special ruleset server you don't have to be an All Access member to play on? Has such a thing ever happened before?

Yeah, I don't know either and I really don't have time to go through fifteen years of patch notes to find out. It is, at the very least, extremely unusual. I think I'm on safe ground there.

In cutting to the core for once, I've left out some of the detail. Let's curl back.

"...accounts will be able to earn a new green adornment that scales between character level 50 and 125, and unlock the Kael Drakkel appearance armor sold by Ronald Gleneed, the Lore Token Merchant."

Okay, there's something weird about that. Let me think... Oh, yes! Kael Drakkel is the server where everyone starts at Level 90 and stays there. Why would Kael Drakkel players need or want scaling adornments?

Answer? They wouldn't. But their characters on other servers might.

"The appearance armor and new adornment are unlocked account-wide and may be bought from Ronald Gleneed in both Freeport and Qeynos Province District on all servers. While on the Kael Drakkel server, you will find a whole slew of new housing items to spend Lore and Legend Tokens."

So, let's unpack this a little. As of tomorrow (The changes are somewhat mysteriously scheduled to occur "Between April 6 and April 25", although it's stressed that they are permanent once implemented.) anyone can make a character on Kael Drakkel, which will effectively become a levelless, solo playground. 

There, along with fulfilling all their power fantasies of soloing at-level raid mobs, they'll be "able to earn", through means as yet unspecified but presumably via a progression mechanic of some kind, an item of value for any and all their characters on other servers. They'll also be able to earn or unlock, again in some manner as yet undisclosed, appearance armor and housing items, also to be available to any and all characters on any server. There's even a free mount just for logging in.

Depending, naturally, on just how desirable these various rewards are deemed to be and how reasonable the effort to get them is adjudged, this looks something like a masterstroke, always assuming the intent is to turn Kael Drakkel into a high-population server for a while. It potentially ticks boxes for just about every playstyle except PvP - solo, competetive progression, decorators, fashionistas...

What's more, by effectively creating a solo version of EverQuest II and making it free-to-play for everyone, it could - with effective marketing or word-of-mouth - potentially open up the world of Norrath to a much wider audience than has previously found it of interest. I mean - it's EQII that you can play on your own - and not just the old parts but right up to the current endgame.

I made a character on Kael Drakkel when it launched just over a year ago. I posted about the experience, calling it "an interesting ruleset and a solid implementation" but not one I found sufficiently appealing to pursue. I don't believe I've logged in to Kael Drakkel since.

Well, I'll be logging in now and not just out of curiosity. It does, of course, depend on just how useful/essential/appealing the various new incentives to playing there turn out to be, but as I've been reminded most strongly of late, it's almost always worth making the effort to add account-level benefits that any and all characters, including those you make in the future, might want to use. That's how I come to be flying around Norrath at level 39 right now.

Both Kael Drakkel in its original form and the about-to-be changed version are examples of Darkpaw's willingness to experiment with the format, something that few other developers seem as willing to do. Syp was wondering only yesterday why Standing Stone Games don't seem to be as ready to take similar risks with Lord of the Rings Online, given they're ostensibly owned by the same company, but I think in this particular instance we do have to make a clear distinction between Darkpaw and Daybreak. It's only the EverQuest titles that run these kinds of experiments as standard. I don't see it happening in Planetside II or DCUO.

There's actually quite a lot more in Jenn's letter, including information about the upcoming PvP-TLE server, the fixing of a long-standing bug in character transfers, news about the forthcoming Class Balance Forums and the system they'll use to decide on future class changes. There's some teaser art for the imminent Game Update 122 "Empire of Antiquity", currently in beta and an annotated version of the roadmap issued earlier this year. There's also something about the Swag Store but that's really outside my remit.

It's a lot, frankly. Especially for a game that - and I say this with love - surely saw its best days, at least commercially, many years ago. The amount of work and effort that goes into keeping EQII not just going but growing and changing is astonishing. Plenty of much higher profile, more populated mmorpgs get nothing like this degree of attention.

The changes to Kael Drakkel could, potentially, bring a lot more players to the game. If done well, they could virtually relaunch EQII as a solo rpg, one with an absolutely mind-boggling amount of content. Honestly, that's how I already play the game these days and have done for years but doing so requires a very great deal of research and application. This could legitimize that playstyle, make it hugely more accessible to the casual player and bind it into the rest of the franchise in a way that I don't think we've seen before.

Whether you think that's a good thing or not depends on how you see the genre, I guess. I'm sure there'll be plenty of pushback from the usual suspects but that crowd would complain about literally any change to the game. The real question isn't who this might annoy - it's who it might excite.

I suspect the answer will be almost no-one who doesn't already play the game, for the simple reason that almost no-one who doesn't already play the game will ever hear about it. Getting attention for a twenty-year old mmorpg outside its own niche is all but impossible. Still, you have to try, don't you?

And Darkpaw never stop trying.


  1. I confess I experienced a moment of "Ooo! Time to re-install EQ2!" as I read this, but then I remembered that with a level 90 character I'd probably have to sift through 50 or so skills and figure out what they all did, and there went my enthusiasm!

    1. That's a very valid concern, especially in EQII, which has a ridiculously large number of spells and abilities (I have about 60+ on my hotbars at least at max level...) but...

      This might be seen as an endorsement or an endictment, depending on perspective, but in most solo play below at-cap, current content endgame instances, I find it makes very little difference whether you know what the icons mean or not. Unless I'm fighting bosses or similar very tough mobs, I mostly just cycle through everything as it comes off cooldown and usually most things are dead before I get through more than four or five key-presses.

      I'll have to go onto the revamped Kael Drakkel and test it out, but I suspect that knowing exactly what all your spells and abilities do won't be much of an issue with the new solo-friendly content - at least below those soloable raids, perhaps. Or maybe I'm wrong and Darkpaw will have tuned the whole server to be a perpetual challenge for solo players. But I kinda doubt it!


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