Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Sniper In The Brain : EQ2

Topauz passed on some excellent tips in the comments of my last, bizarrely titled post, regarding a series of quests added with Terrors of Thalumbra. They all begin when you interact with an item in the world; something you might happen upon by chance. You'll notice the object, if you're paying attention, because it will be slightly odd or out of place. If you're curious enough to check it out you'll see that you can Examine it or interact with it in some way and when you do a quest window will pop up.

Of course, in the 21st Century, the wisdom of crowds and the all-seeing eye of Google mean there's no need to lean on chance or serendipity. EQ2Wire has an excellent guide that covers everything from finding these quests to how to complete them to where to get the rewards.

And the rewards are very good. As Topauz explains, "The quest will give a "dirty key." You unpack the key and it will give you a gold, platinum, or umbrite key. You then need to find a matching chest. Gold will give you advanced solo level gear, platinum is heroic and umbrite is raid level". The potential for a solo or casual player to gain substantial upgrades is considerable.

This type of quest isn't new to EQ2. There were some in the previous expansion, Altar of Malice, and quite probably long before that. Neither is it unique to the game. The format is almost identical to Adventures in GW2, for example. Most MMOs probably have something similar. In theory they're an excellent addition to any game except for one thing: they're timed.

I really, really don't like timed quests. I don't like any kind of timed content, come to that. I hate having to work against the clock. It seems to me to remove one of the key reasons for playing MMOs in the first place - relaxation.

I can understand why it's done. The rewards, as I mentioned, are good. You can't just be giving them away. There has to be some control mechanism.

I get that but personally I'd take lesser rewards any day if I was given all the time I needed. Or, better yet, they could keep the good loot but just offer the quests less frequently. There's already a time-gate on these quests but it's very short: you can repeat them every two or three hours indefinitely. I'd be happy to make that once a day, or even once a week, if only I could take as long as I needed to do each of them, not have to try and cram it all into five minutes.

This feeds back into the discussion on difficulty, challenge and inconvenience in MMOs that always rumbles away in the background and which was stirred up again yesterday by Syp's response to a post of mine from a while back. Looking at the difficulty of playing video games, Pete at Dragonchasers was ruefully counting the cost of aging the other day but even leaving aside fading reflexes and failing reactions there's the simple measure of innate skill to contend with once you start testing players against the clock.

Even given an equivalent amount of playtime and practice no two players are going to perform identically. They won't share the same motivations, expectations, patience or willpower. No challenge level is going to please everyone.

In offline games a good deal of this can be fudged or finessed with difficulty settings. Over the years MMOs have tried to emulate that with levels, gear and the addition of NPCs to stand in for players when the social nature of the genre unravels.

It's never been entirely satisfactory but we've muddled along well enough. All of which is fine until that little timer starts ticking. At that point the task narrows to a much tighter window in which player skill, or at least accuracy, becomes unusually important and that's a highly malleable yardstick.

By comparison with other video games the skill bar in MMOs isn't all that high. About the only benchmark that the genre can claim as a high water mark is large-scale organization. MMO solo play, by and large, is so easy it's embarassing.

And that's kind of the point of it. It's a low common denominator activity and it attracts an appropriate audience. Hardcore gamers don't flock to MMOs to test their skills against solo  quests designed to appeal as much to parents stuck at home with small children and fifty-somethings filling the silence of their empty nests as to young adults with razor-wire reflexes and the drive to Beat Content until it begs for mercy.

Coming across quests with timers while soloing in an MMO just feels weird. And wrong. It'd be like Lana Del Rey covering Blitzkrieg Bop. Okay, not quite like that. That'd be weird but good. I want to hear that now...

Last night I tried three of the four quests rated "Easy" by Faelen Rizzik in EQ2Wire's guide. One of them really was easy. The box-carrying one. It takes about 45 seconds on a timer of five minutes. That got me a gold key. Another few minutes of flying around with a tracking scroll found me the gold chest. Inside was a hand-slot item that upgraded, slightly, the one I'd gotten only the day before from the Frostfell vendor.

The other two "easy" quests didn't go so well. I ran out of battery power in the drained minecrawler before I even got to the top of the first ramp and I'd only managed to destroy five of the ten rocks required to complete Rubble Rampage when the timer ran out. They were certainly easy in terms of what the quests wanted you to do but the timer changes all that. With the clock ticking, simple, fun diversions become tense, frustrating chores.

That's just a first impression. I've been at this game long enough to know that in a few runs I'll be an old hand, a dab hand even. That onerous, coercive timer will slip into the shadows, forgotten, as the allotment of minutes passes from parsimony to indulgence. It won't be long before I'm recommending these quests to people as a simple, quick way to get great upgrades - just as Topauz recommended them to me.

Thing is, though, if it wasn't for the excellent rewards attached I would never get anywhere near that point. My first impression would remain just that. There'd never be a second one to correct it. With those timers running the only reason I'm doing the quests in the first place is to get the key to open the box to grab the loot.

Which is fine. I like loot. I like upgrades. I am, to a degree, a vertical progression kind of guy. I still hate timed quests though, even if it is possible to bribe me well enough to get me to do them.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out! I guess timed quests have never really bothered me. With these quests, once you learn them and have decent dps you can finish inside the timer very easily so I end up not paying attention to the time at all. These type of quick quests are just ideal for my playtime these days. There are plenty of days where I only have 15-20 minutes to play so I know I can log in and still run a few of these.


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