Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Drives A Little Slower: EQII

Isey, from I Has PC, chose to celebrate EverQuest's twentieth anniversary with the closest thing he could find to the original experience, Project 1999. It was, as he said in the title of his post, "Slow Progress...":

"I spent three hours this morning on my 7 Enchanter at Orc hill.... By the end I had barely dinged 9 (I was only one bubble away from 8 when I started)... three hours of gameplay for a full level and a bit."

He also lost his level on a bad pull when he was Level Eight and when it was all over, all he had to look forward to was

" incredibly non efficient trip ... to High Keep (from Gfay) – my level 8 pet spell is only sold there. I can’t remember how long of trip it is but if memory serves it’s something like 4 or 5 zones plus a boat trip." 

I can't quite match that but my progress, leveling a Dirge on Kaladim, EverQuest II's new Time Limited Expansion server, has been mightily slow, too. I logged out a few minutes ago, immediately after she dinged Eleven. My /played shows I've played her for just over a dozen hours so far.

Allowing for the extremely short time it took to do ten levels of tradeskills (the crafting tutorial gives insane xp compared to anything an adventurer could hope for) that's about an hour per level. My progress wasn't anything like as smoothly distributed as that. I did four levels in a couple of hours on the first day but the next time I played it took me the best part of three hours to do a single level.

A lot of that could well be down to the way I play. For some reason I seem to be incapable, in any MMO, of sticking with the content meant for my level. Dressed in the most basic imaginable gear (actually, nothing at all in about half the slots) my Dirge has been running face-first into the brick wall of quests and mobs meant for characters three or even five levels above her.

She must have died, at a conservative estimate, thirty times at least so far. I've certainly had to do full repairs from 20% three times, plus a few more before things got that dire. It's been extremely difficult to break the bad habits of Live and I have to admit the absence of any meaningful death penalty has contributed heavily to my lackadaisical, not to say suicidal, attitude.

Despite those frequent deaths I've been having plenty of fun. Progress has been slow by modern standards but very fast in MMORPG historical terms. And therein lies the rub. It seems there's something of a battle raging on the forums between those who feel XP is about right and those who feel cheated that it isn't as slow as it was at launch, something that was (kind of) promised in the FAQ.

Will experience values be tuned for Kaladim?
Experience values will be slower, similar to how it was at original launch. Tradeskill experience will be the same.

Leaving aside the bald claim about tradeskill XP, which seems to me to be quite simply crazy wrong, this opens up a whole barrel of issues, not least what was XP like at launch? Presumably Daybreak has some numerical data to rely on but all the rest of us have are decade-and-a-half old memories. Which is enough for many people to make statements of absolute certainty about how things were and how they ought to be.

General chat this morning was ringing with reminiscences of how wonderfully, magically, immersively awful slow it all was in 2004. All those people claimed to have been there. So was I but I have no genuine certainty over how long it took me to level back then. Mostly what I remember was how attritional it felt, which is not the same thing at all as as being "slow".

In my memory, everywhere and everything required groups, not just dungeons but almost all overland content as well. I remember how excruciatingly rare it was to find spell upgrades as drops, while crafted versions were prohibitively expensive because of the appallingly badly designed tradeskill sytem (the same system a few masochists even now hold up as the paradigm of how crafting should work).

None of that difficulty - literally none of it - has been brought back for this or any other TLE server, thank heaven. I'm sure it's someone's dream - forming a full group to go grind heroic difficulty crabs on a strip of Antonican sand for hour after hour in the hope of getting a single spell book to drop, a book which, inevitably, will be usable by no-one in the group. It's not mine.

Neither, I would hazard a guess, is it commercially viable, even in today's sophisticated nostalgia market. All these things some people remember so fondly were changed because a lot more people stopped playing rather than put up with them. It's possible there could be enough potential customers who a) genuinely preferred the way EQII played in its first six months and b) still have sufficient interest in reprising that pleasure to pay a monthly subscription for the privilege, but I doubt it.

Were the genuine status quo ante ever to be recreated in all its true horror, I suspect the unfortunate experimental server in question would bleed population even faster than the original game did all those years ago. As I said, there's slow and there's awful. If there were ever to be a P2004 server for EQII, I very much doubt it would attract and sustain the kind of population P1999 enjoys. EQII at launch was no Classic EverQuest, that's for sure.

Even so, by and large, I'm in favor of slow, if "slow" means "time to enjoy the scenery". The restrictions that apply on Kaladim are having that effect on me so far. There's no Fast Travel, no Broker Anywhere, no flying mounts, no access to housing other than by going to your front door. Getting anywhere from anywhere takes time and it really does make the world feel much bigger.

I'm enjoying it now but I'm not sure how long that will,last. It's very interesting to be able to compare the situation on Kaladim with what I'm enjoying on Live at the same time. I did over twenty levels on my Shadowknight yesterday, from around Level 60 to the mid-80s. I had 100% vitality (for a while), 140% veteran bonus, 100% server bonus and 100% XP Potion, all at once. It was exhilarating and satisfying and I had a great time.

That "great time" consisted of me burning through as much content in an afternoon as took me about six months the first time round. Of course I didn't really see all that content this time, any more than you "see" Europe as you pass over it in a plane. I just saw a few selected highlights as I flew across zones and Fast Travelled from era to era, cherry-picking a few favorite quests and completing in minutes what would once have taken me hours or possibly weeks.

Even though I'm using the same launcher to get to them both, EQII on Kaladim and EQII on Live might just as well be different MMORPGs altogether. They may both nominally share the same content but that's like saying five sets of tennis and a game of fetch with your dog both use the same ball.

As the release date for WoW Classic draws ever nearer I'm increasingly curious to see how Blizzard's reluctant entry into the nostalgia market plays out. From everything I've seen so far in MMORPGs from EverQuest to Rift, one person's faithful recreation is another's slap in the face. The difference this time is that World of Warcraft is big enough for a slap you can hear around the world.


  1. I remember picking up the quests that you could do to help level up your guild, or some of the horrible book quests that were just a chain of "kill ten things" for you to track down, because there were at least some you could do solo. I went through Qeynos then, and Antonica wasn't horrible for solo, though most gnoll groups were heroic, but once you got to the Thundering Steppes it was pretty much all group focused. This is probably why I spent so much time crafting back then.

    1. Yes, the "must have group" thing really kicked in at what I think we called Tier 3, the newbie zones in the cities being T1, Antonica and Commonlands T2 and Thundering Steps and Nek Forest being T3. That said, I would guess well over half of Ant/CL was heroic and even the newbie zones had plenty of heroic mobs - remember those bears? And even where there were solo mobs the heroics wandered through all the time. Anf the solo mobs gave terrible xp.

      I wonder if it was really as bad as I remember it? Maybe I'm doing the reverse of what the rose-tinted spectacle crew do... No, I'm pretty sure it was that bad.

  2. I am lvl 14 or so right now with some casual play. I was having a tough time too. I swapped over to Frostfang. It's a little more streamlined and got some better gear for over lvl 10.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I've just done the same because I wanted to do the Frostfang crafting quest. Crafting is so ludicrously easy at low levels compared to adventuring. I started the Halas evils line when I was craft level 10 and the quests were flagged 15. Took me about half an hour and I did five levels before I ran out of electrum and had to go gather.

  3. LVL 12 really sucked for me. I died a dozen times in Crushbone. Sometimes my fault, often others.

    I can't keep up the 5+ hours a day gameplay for sure. 16 is my big goal as an Enchanter
    (I get Breeze) and 13-16 will take me a week at best. Will see the sticking power after thst.

    Much to my delight, people like grouping and due to downtime people like talking. That's the part of the Golden Age MMO part I do miss.

    The slow XP, corpse runs, loss of XP on death Not so much - but I am still grinding out the hours and having fun

    1. Because I no longer have my chat logs from the first four years I played EQ, I can't go back and check some of the things I often quote as "facts" from when I played back then. I know memory is a fictional construct so I don't ever trust it but it's all I have for this. I remember the first ten levels as a cleric, first real character I made, taking two weeks, during which I probably played at least twenty hours a week, maybe more (Mrs Bhagpuss and I were sharing both an account and a computer at that early stage so the traditional EQ player's 40 hour week was split in two). I also remember my Druid taking the best part of a year to get to the high 30s, although I did play a lot of other characters at the same time. Leveling speed as it was back then is hard to believe now. It seems like we must be exaggerrating or misremembering it. It's very intereting to hear that on P1999, where everyone has the huge advantage of two decades of experience and knows exactly what to do and where to go, it still takes a week of heavy play to get to Level 12!

  4. I remember EQII's launch exactly as you remember it, maybe even a bit harsher.

    On the Isle of Refuge I could play solo all right, but as soon as I set foot into Sunken City or The Spawl (or whatever it was called), let alone The Commonlands, a group was a must. Maybe I just sucked though.

    Don't need that back, ever.

    1. My recollection of EQ2 is a lot clearer and more evidence-based and yes, it was pretty much a full-on group game from low levels. As Wilhelm said, you could just about pick your way to the tier 3 zones by finding the thin thread of solo content but it was very slow and very tedious.

      The entire thrust of the game design assumed you'd group up from about level 7 or so. They have added some of the overland group content back in for the new TLE server but it's an option you can do if you want, not anything you can't happily skip.


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