Sunday, February 17, 2019

A Casual Affair : EverQuest

When Daybreak announced a few weeks ago that they were planning a "casual" progression server for EverQuest's twentieth birthday I got quite excited. I've been playing EQ, on and off, for the whole of those twenty years but it's been a long time since I last had a character at the level cap.

Building on yesterday's theme of expansions, there are few things that change the playing field so much as an increase in the Level Cap. If you came to MMORPGs via  World of Warcraft, as so many did, you might well believe that an increase in levels is a given when a new expansion drops. With the exception of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, which each added just five, WoW expansions come with ten levels included.

Had EverQuest followed that pattern, the level cap in old Norrath would now be somewhere close to three hundred. Despite being five years older and having released more than three times as many expansions, it's actually lower than WoW's. Battle for Azeroth took the cap to 120. EQ's last level increase, coming with the Ring of Scale expansion in 2017, went to 110.

Looking at the list of cap increases on Wikipedia, Sony Online Entertainment was surprisingly conservative from the start, especially when you consider that in those early days leveling up your character was the beating heart of the game. There were fifty levels at launch.That jumped to sixty with the first expansion, Ruins of Kunark, then held steady for two and a half years, two more expansions, until Planes of Power arrived in late 2002, bringing an increase of just five levels, making 65 in all.

That set the pattern for a while. There were four more expansions before Omens of War moved the bar to 70. Although no-one knew it at the time, that wasn't how it was supposed to go: one of the reasons the preceding expansion, Gates of Discord, was such a disaster was that the content had been tuned in the expectation that everyone would be Level 70 when they got past the opening zones. Someone forgot to put the extra five levels in the box.

My original Firiona Vie ranger, born Oct 9 2001.
EQ's endgame sat at Level 70 for four more expansions, until the semi-reboot of 2006's The Serpent's Spine took it to 75. At that point something changed. The next three expansions arrived with five levels apiece and since then it's been a comparative sprint to 110.

Raising the cap brings a lot of problems for any MMORPG still looking to attract new players or bring prodigals back into the fold. That's how we ended up with Heroic Characters and expansions that come with a Level Boost as part of the deal.

For some reason that I can't quite fathom, while Daybreak has been perfectly happy for EQ2 to put max level boosts in the imaginary box and hand out free gear to bring anyone and everyone up to the required starting spec, they don't offer anything similar for the elder game. The best you can do in EverQuest is to pay $35 for a "Heroic Character", which takes you to the giddy heights of Level 85, twenty-five levels below the cap.

There's a seven page thread about this on the forums, in which even the hardcore veterans, usually so dismissive of anything that smacks of EZMode, generally agree that 85 is ridiculous and should be raised, probably to either 100 or 105. As someone comments on the final page of the thread, though, "7 pages and not one word from a DBG person. I guess we know how seriously they take this request."

This is where I was hoping the upcoming "Casual" server would save us. I imagined a ruleset with accelerated XP, faster than currently available on Live, and very possibly a bunch of other adjustments to make leveling quicker and easier, such as more frequent spawns and faster travel. The current plan is very much not that.

It seems that both Daybreak's and the current playerbase's idea of "casual" is radically different from mine. DBG have interpreted it as involving slower xp than a regular Live server, although faster than the slowed-down Progression servers. About the only other difference from Live is the sequential unlocking of expansions at one a month. Since the plan is to open the server at Shadows of Luclin, the third expansion, that would bring the "Casual" server, Selos, to parity with Live in just two years.

The reaction to this has been vitriolic. Almost no-one likes it. The other new Progression server, the supposedly Hardcore Mangler, which has even slower xp and longer unlocks, is being seen as more casual because apparently "casual" means "very, very slow" to a lot of people. Who knew? Selos, with its fast unlocks, is reckoned by many to be ideal for the Hardcore because it means more raids opening sooner.

Firiona Vie's Plane of Knowledge: pop. "too many to count"

DBG have gone away to think about this for a while, acknowledging that they may have misjudged their audience. They are getting a lot better at doing that these days (aknowledging their mistakes, that is - they were always good at making them).

I took the trouble to post my own thoughts about what I would want from a "casual" server but I think I'm shouting into a bucket. There will be an announcement later this week to say what, if anything, they are going to change but I don't anticipate getting the faster xp and easier conditions I was hoping for. I think Selos is out.

I would still like to get a character closer to the cap without having to go uphill in the snow both ways to do it. And there are options.

The Test server has always had permanent double XP running. I even have characters there, although not on the All Access account. I could make a Heroic Character there and start at 85 with decent gear but there are enough disadvantages to playing on Test to offset that somewhat.

Not quite capped. You can have 500 traders. Pretty darn close though.
Test comes with extra resets and brand new bugs as it does what it's there to do - test content. There's no economy so you can't buy anything in The Bazaar, something I rely on for gearing up. What's more, if I ever did hit the cap and wanted to do some actual grouping, that's not going to happen: Test has a population in the single figures during my normal play hours.

There's one more possibility and it's something I hadn't even considered until I started fact-checking for this post. The "role-playing" server, Firiona Vie, has apparently had a permanent 50% xp boost running since 2010. No wonder it almost always shows "High" on the Server Status page!

I do, in fact, have a character on Firiona Vie, although once again it's not on my current paid account. Mrs Bhagpuss and I started characters there back when the server launched, when it did, briefly, have an actual roleplaying ruleset, including the hilarious mechanic that made everyone speak only in their own racial language until they could get someone to teach them the Common tongue.

Whether it's worth starting over, even from level 85, just to get a 50% leveling boost I'm not sure. It might be. I think I might at least go over to FV and have a wander around to get a feel for the place. I hear it's... different.

Much better would be if DBG would decide to bundle a Level 100 or 110 Boost with the next expansion, assuming there is one. I'd get my wallet out for that.


  1. Immediate correction comment: Mists of Pandaria also added just 5 levels. That is what the level cap is at an even number now.

    1. Oh yes, I misread that on the wiki! Actually, I still misread it even when I checked it after your comment. Changing it now...

    2. That is WHY the level cap is at an even number. I will mis-type everything lately.

  2. I have a post queued up for next week that mentions the whole level 85 boost thing for EverQuest and how it hasn't kept up. I thought for sure that Daybreak had, yet again, left an out-of-date ad up, akin to the EverQuest Platinum ad that was on the web site years after they stopped selling it. But, no, level 85 is actually still where the boost goes. So that character I boosted back in 2014 when they gave out a free boost is still what you geet I guess.

    1. For once, it's very clearly intentional rather than something they just forgot. I am thinking about doing a post on the increasingly well-organized and methodical way DBG are monetizing both EQ and EQ2 through the cash shop. There's now a strong argument that EQ2 has a full-on Pay-to-Win funding model, which has, quite amazingly, largely been accepted and adopted by the core playerbase with very little in the way of dissent. I don't know EQ as well but I would guess it works in a similar fashion there. too.

      Of course, as Syncaine has often said, there's nothing wrong with P2W provided it's properly designed and implemented and increasingly that looks to be the case here. My guess is that the unwillingness to upgrade the Heroic Character to a useful level in EQ has something to do with all that, but as I said, I don't know how high-end EQ works well enough these days to be sure. I need to do some reading on it.


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