Thursday, December 26, 2019

Am I Squeezing You Too Tight? : EQII

So far my commentary on EverQuest II's latest expansion, Blood of Luclin, has been overwhelmingly positive. And, as I push further down the twin timelines, Adventure and Tradeskill, my admiration for what's been achieved by EQII's small team continues to grow.

It must be obvious to anyone reading my posts on the game over the past few years that I find little to complain about in EQII. After a few early misteps I've found Daybreak's custodianship to be a significant improvement over much of the Sony Online Entertainment era, especially so, compared to the Smokejumper years that immediately preceded the sell-off.


Oh, yes, there's a "but".

My enjoyment and satisfaction is predicated on my own particular perspective, that of a solo player for whom EverQuest II has mostly not been a main MMORPG. As a secondary title, played relatively casually and mostly alone, it's been a joy. It also works very well these days as an "alone together" game in the style of Guild Wars 2, with a multiplicity of all-pile-on Public Quests and frequent large-scale community drives.

Vandals set the crafting hall on fire! Oh, the symbolism!

It would be very easy to assume that everyone else is having the same serene experience I am. Moreover, given that EQII is a game whose community has always been fractious and malcontent, it would be equally easy to dismiss the frequent complaints that arise on the forums and elsewhere as the typical, entitled carping that's been going on since the game began.

Except when the people making the complaints are the likes of Niami Denmother or Wilhelmina, two of the most dedicated and knowledgeable players in the game, particularly when it comes to crafting. Voices like these, and of course Feldon, ex of EQ2Wire, who knows the adventuring side of the game as well as anyone, carry a lot of weight.

When Wilhelmina feels it necessary to start a thread explaining how crafting in the new expansion is functionally broken and Niami chimes in to support her, it's clear that there's trouble in paradise. I'm only part-way through the crafting questline so I haven't yet arrived at the point where the serious problems begin but I'm more than willing to take their word for it that crafting in Blood of Luclin is fatally compromised.

For one thing, what they're saying seems to explain the otherwise mystifying surge in frequency at which rare materials appear. It did occur to me, even as I was pulling a rare from almost every second root node, that maybe Mastercrafted gear and Expert spells in the new level range would require extra mats. What hadn't occured to me was that the entire crafting system might have been stealth-revamped.

Did they add sitting in chairs and I missed it?

Reading the lengthy thread, it appears that the reward for completing the tradeskill timeline is a staff that allows you to gather from "shadow nodes". It's the rares from these that you need to make Expert spells but, as Niami and Wilhelmina explain, the nodes themselves are hard to find, the rares all but impossible.

Even worse, it seems the staff operates on some form of timer and the Advanced recipe books, which already drop incredibly rarely, contain recipes to make Adept quality spells rather than the usual Experts. The whole system was reportedly changed in mid-beta from the one with which we've been familiar for many years to this new version. No explanation was offered and no answers were given to the many questions raised by testers.

To quote Niami Denmother
"...we asked (repeatedly and to no avail) during beta for details on the ability. When the recipes got changed AFTER we had tested them on beta (suddenly BOOM, the advanced books had adept recipes instead of experts and the books for the experts appeared on Oliver) we asked for confirmation and details (again to no avail). We couldn't test the process, we were not given detail on how it was "supposed" to work, and since the staff did not have stats on beta, we could not test how shadowed harvesting was working, much less how to verify that how it IS working is the intended way."
I no longer participate in beta testing for content I know I'm going to play when it goes Live. I've done my share of that. This, however, is extremely familiar to me from one of the times I did test EQ2 expansion content, years ago.

10,000 harvests in the first week!

That was when a relatively new developer called Behn took over as craft lead after an expansion was already in testing. I forget which expansion it was (probably Rise of Kunark) but during that beta he made many changes to the way crafting worked, then either wouldn't discuss themat all or responded quite agressively.

Crafting under his watch declined to little more than a neglected adjunct of adventuring. It  was only the return of Domino, by far the best tradeskill dev EQII - and very likely the whole genre - has ever had that righted the ship, ushereing in years of top-class content for crafters.

It seems we may be experiencing some deja vu here. Not only has the crafting system been changed with no explanation during beta, where feedback was ignored, but no provision has been made in Blood of Luclin for high level crafters with low levels in adventuring.

It's clear to me from the progress I've made so far that some of the crafting line would be all but impossible for anyone with an adventure level below what's expected in the new zones. There are times when it's necessary to travel through areas where aggressive mobs block all possible routes. A very determined crafter might conceivably muddle through with stealth or invisibility but I certainly wouldn't want to try it.

I didn't cheat and look up the answers on the wiki, either.
The absolute proof that crafters were not properly considered when the questlines were finalised is that even when the timeline is complete, crafters still don't get to fly in the new zones. To do that you have to finish the Adventure timeline. Or so I've heard. I've also heard the opposite, that the crafting timeline does indeed grant the right to fly. I'll know for sure when I get there.  Edit: The rumor was false! I just finished the tradeskill questline and although there is no notification to the effect whatsoever, my Berserker/Weaponsmith can now fly on Luclin.

If all this was down to bad management and a maverick developer, as was the case in the expansion I tested long ago, that would be bad enough. The worry here is that this something far more sinister.

For several years the group and, especially, the raid game in EQII have been the subject of accusations that the game has moved to a "Pay-to-Win" model. The short version of what's happened is that several extra levels of quality were added for spells and combat arts and changes were made to how those could be acquired.

Upgrading is now a multi-step process and content is tuned to expect certain quality levels. If you want to move into the upper echelons of the game, you have no option but to upgrade. Your means of doing so - for free - are strictly limited.

Here's Hulda, who Wilhelm was having trouble finding. Pro tip: after this stage she goes back to hiding under her tree.
I still haven't worked out why.
The old way of upgrading via dropped items has been severely curtailed. Dropped Adepts are now as rare as Masters used to be and dropped Masters are closing in on the drop rates of pre-cursors in GW2 (where I've seen one in seven years).

Even if you get a Master, there are now two more quality levels above that. Until the current expansion it was still practical for crafters to supply upgrades at Expert level but it very much looks as if BoL closes that door, too.

The suspicion, which seems far more than a conspiracy theory at this stage, is that all these changes (which also apply to mounts, mercenaries and familiars) have been made with the express intent of driving players to pay for "research reducers", cash shop items that reduce the length of time it takes to get the UI-driven free upgrades. The cost of these is horrifically high.

Feldon explained in another thread that this concept was originally devised by Smokejumper, back when SOE were in charge. Daybreak merely adopted and refined it.

Monty Python jokes in 2019? Seriously??
The irony is that, as a solo player, none of this matters. Solo content is tuned for the gear you get as quest rewards from soloing and for the Journeyman spells and combat arts any crafter can still provide with ease.

For a solo player, things have quite probably never been better. And until Blood of Luclin there was a relatively straightforward path from Solo to Heroic content, too, with Mastercrafted gear and Expert spells and CAs bootstrapping your character to a minimum viable level for Tier 1 Heroic instances.

I didn't have a problem with that. The game has to make money or it will close down. If simply charging a subscription (you can still play for free but I doubt many do) doesn't bring in enough to keep the lights on then other revenue streams have to be found. Charging people for being impatient always seemed reasonable to me.

A tax on impatience is one thing. An ever-escalating premium on playing anything but solo content is entirely another. It may be true that there are whales still out there, willing to open their whale-sized wallets, but if all the smaller fry, right down to those seeking to explore the lowest level of group content, are going to feel the sting of the harpoon then I fear fior the future of the game.

And that would be a tragedy because in terms of content Blood of Luclin is truly excellent. The zones are large and well-designed, the quests are involving and amusing, the fights are well-tuned and fun. It remains, as I have said, one of the best expansions for a long time in most of the ways that matter to me... as a solo player.

I, however, do not pay the bills. I pay a single, annual fee for All Access membership and that's the only money Daybreak gets from me. 

I won't need to buy Daybreak Cash any time soon, either. Maybe never again. I still have well in excess of 35,000DBC on two accounts, saved from the days when SOE were almost literally giving it away. I don't need to spend any of it on insanely over-priced "time reducers". The automatic upgrades get me to Master level on my key abilities over the two-year cycle of each level range and that's more than enough to do the content that interests me.

If Daybreak continues to raise the temperature the way they have been, I worry that the frogs will begin to notice and start hopping out of the pot. And if that happens it's going to boil dry.

"Kind of a big deal". Heh. Heh. Heh.
On a more positive note, this is the very, very start of this expansion cycle. What's more, because of the late December launch, there's almost certainly been no more than a skeleton staff at Daybreak to monitor and correct issues as they arise.

I'm reasonably confident that some of the most egregious issues affecting crafting will turn out to be either bugs to be fixed or post-launch tweaks to be made. All expansions begin a little like this. What matters isn't so much how they begin as where they end up.

The monetization methodology, however, remains a major concern. In fact, it's the major concern. The EverQuest titles have incredible resilience but if anything could kill them off it might be a combination of desperation and greed.

Let's hope for some clearer thinking in the year ahead. Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy myself while I still can. Blood of Luclin really is an excellent expansion. For solo players.


  1. Oh, she is in both locations at one. I can confirm this.

    I have a post brewing about how strange crafting seems to me in Blood of Luclin and how oddly it seems to have transitioned as I have pushed one character from level 90 to level 120 in trade skill levels. Flashing through all three "eras" like that in a few weeks laid them all side by side.

    1. Even thoughI've been playing regularly throughout the last several expansions I still didn't fully understand how crafting was working even before Blood of Luclin arrived. Now I really have no idea.

      It should be noted, though, that crafting in EQ2 has always been ferociously complicated. What with all the faction recipes from the Kunark era, the research assistants from Velious, the public research quests from a couple of years back, the increasing use of cross-disciplinary recipes under the generic "Artisan" skill, not to mention Tinkering, Adorning, Salvaging, Experimenting and who knows how many other variations, it's arguably a lot more complex than adventuring.

      I hit 120 Weaponsmith this afternoon. It was a bit slower than 120 Berserker but only because adventurers have a load of very easy non-storyline quests while crafters just have the Signature timeline. I think the xp per completed stage was pretty much identical. When I dinged 120 I was just about two-thirds of the way through the questline, on stage 13 of 19 according to the wiki.

      I thought I would be able to buy the basic recipe books from the vendor in the Fabrication Hall by that point but they still just say "Hello" and don't have any stock. I want to get those to confirm we can still make Handcrafted items/Journeyman abilities, which I think we can, and to see what mats those need. I need to see it in game because I'm not sure whether some information online isn't stil referring to things that were changed late in beta.

      I find this sort of thing entertaining and intriguing but I know not everyone does!

  2. Ugh, that doesn't sound good at all.

    Even back when Master was still the maximum rank needing to upgrade all new spells and abilities was the thing I always dreaded the most about each level cap increase, especially when I still raided and having everything on Expert was the absolute bare minimum.

    I really hope they dial it back some, I'd hate to see EQII kill itself off with sucky monetization.

    1. I didn't actually mention the thing that really annoys me about the way they've monetized upgrading, which is something not at all new - it's been going on for several years. It used to be that while Masters were rare, Adepts dropped commonly. Because EQII has a gazilion classes you never got the ones you wanted but that was fine - you just sold the ones you got, and bought the ones you needed, on the Broker.

      For the last several years, Adepts have been dropping as rarely - actually more rarely - than Masters used to. Consequently they sell for insane amounts at the start of an expansion and even after a year they are still pricey, or the best ones are.

      It's obvious they've done that to funnel everyone down the time-limited upgrade path and it's really annoying.

  3. I still have not had time to dive into the new expansion but I have been reading up on the tradeskill and adventure issues. Some of the issues you raised about going from soloing zones to heroic was extremely difficult last expansion and from one thread I read just as bad this expansion. You said this could start affecting the game but it's been bad for the last two years or so and players have left long ago because of it. I used to be in a thriving guild with 50-100 active players. We are down to 2-3 active players. All from these issues. Look at how many posts are on eq2wire forums. That has been seeing less and less activity.

    As you said, this doesnt really hurt solo players which is what I have now become. Heroic groups (my favorite part of the game) is pretty close to out of reach for me.

    1. I find the whole thing very odd. As a solo player I can honestly say EQII has never been more welcoming, more enjoyable, better designed and managed. I'm fairly sure it would be even better as a duo. I find it hard to imagine that solo players are where the money is, though. Why they have chosen to alienate the group/raid players, which they clearly have, beats me.

      But we can't see the revenue figures. Maybe there really are sufficient whales still willing to spend the many thousands of dollars it takes to upgrade each time an expansion changes the goalposts and that adds up to more than they used to get doing it the old way. And there still seem to be plenty of people playing.

      I just hope they know what they're doing because for my not-very-much money the game's never been better.

  4. Niami Denmother is a name I hadn't heard in years, back when I had all the crafting classes at max level in The Shadow Odyssey. And Smokejumper. I think EVE dodged a bullet when Andie Nordgren got the job of Executive Producer instead of him.

    I loved the crafting in EQ2 back when I played, but after my guild blew up, I never went back. I'm sorry to hear it might have received a bad revamp.

    1. She still runs the excellent EQ2 Traders website and she's a key figure in testing everything craft-related and supplying info for the wiki. Wilhelmina is basically her equivalent for the European servers (or server as it is now, I think).

      Having completed the crafting questline I'm not sure things are as dire as I was hearing. The questline was pretty good, there actually were only a couple of bits that would be really challenging for low-level crafters (mostly just travelling through the new zones) and contrary to rumor you do get the right to fly for completing the crafting timeline.

      Also, I got an Advanced Woodworker book from one of the new Overseer missions and as far as I can see the Mastercrafted recipes work the same as always. I'm guessing it's mainly spells and combat arts that are affected. Also I suspect some of the problems with the new Shadow crafting and gathering will turn out to be bugs and get fixed.

      I'm optimistic, anyway.


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