Friday, January 21, 2022

On The Road Again With EverQuest II

What is happening over at Darkpaw? Yesterday we got full 2022 roadmaps for both EverQuest titles. This morning, before I had time to drink my coffee, there was this.

Luckily, Wilhelm dropped me an email with the link. Otherwise there's every chance you'd be reading a post in which I speculated wildly about something that had already been announced. 

When I read the EQII roadmap yesterday, the line that jumped out at me was this:

Lore and Legend Server - Every piece of content in the game is appropriate for your character.

That sounded intriguing. It was also one of the earliest items on the schedule, due to arrive in February. I was planning on making it the focus of my post today as I went through the details of Darkpaw's plans for the EQII year. At first glance, I'd picked it out as one of the few genuinely new things EQII players had to look forward to in 2022, although now I read through the whole list again I realize there's a whole lot more going on than I originally thought.

For reference, here's the whole thing:

What's that? It's a bit small? Well, you weren't going to read it all anyway, were you? I mean, if you were that interested, you'd have clicked through the link. Never mind, it's all good. Don't bother digging through the desk drawer for that magnifying glass you put away "somewhere safe". I'm going to go through all the interesting bits. 

And, as I said, there are more of those than I thought there were. It's true there's a lot of "That thing we always do" and "This thing you'd expect" but there are quite a number of oddities. Not only that; in the context of the history of EQII, there are some lines worth reading between as well.

Take the seemingly bland "Improvements to the Test Server - Recipe books from old expansions added to the bookworm and level boosts setup to scale correctly to max level" coming this very month. That's been a long-standing bone of contention with the dedicated but tiny community that plays mostly or exclusively on the Test Server.

I won't rehash the extremely convoluted and controversial history of the EverQuest and EQII Test Servers yet again - that's a whole post of its own - but suffice to say they do not operate in the same way as similar servers for other mmorpgs. They are de facto permanent servers with separate rule sets, where a small but very committed group of players treat as their "main" server. 

In recent years, EQII's Test server has been sorely neglected. This is a meaningful change and one which I would bet is happening due to the arrival of Niami Denmother on the dev team. Denmom plays on Test and fully understands the importance of the community there. I take this change as a Very Good Sign for the custodianship of the game.

Another aspect of note, easy to miss on a casual read, is the repeated use of the phrase "new dungeon" throughout the year. There's a "new throwback dungeon" with the Chronoportal event in March, "new raid dungeons, new heroic dungeons" in April's GU19 and "A new dungeon" for Tinkerfest, now relocated to mid-Spring from its usual Summer slot.

There's a "red-hot new dungeon" coming with Scorched Sky in June and another, presumably soaking wet, with Oceansfull in August. I know the dungeons in the GU will be proper "dungeons" in the sense EQII players use the term but are we really going to get actual "dungeons" for four of the annual festivals as well? 


If they really are adding full dungeons to four holidays then that would be absolutely unprecedented. I suspect they may mean new "instances", lighter, less combat-focused, more casual-oriented knockabouts, with no "Bosses" as such. That would be a much more usual addition to the holiday festivities but even then it would be a major advance on what we've seen most years. Very welcome, too. 

April sees a new Overseer season. That's probably the thing I'm most excited about although I'm well aware many EQII players still distrust and dislike the Overseer system and won't be at all happy to see more development time being spent on it. 

I love Overseer. I find it entertaining in itself but mostly I find it incredibly rewarding. I've had so many great upgrades from it and made so much money. It's not quite in the game-changing league of Mercenaries but it's getting up there. Of course, it does play directly into the mmorpg-as-single-player-game trope that many EQII players absolutely loathe but you can't please everyone.

The moving of Tinkerfest to May is curious. It's one of the larger, more popular holidays and it's always been in the middle of the year. I wonder if it's felt to be clashing with the other big summer event, Ethereals

Except... wait a moment... where is the Ethereal event on this list? Nowhere, that's where! A close reading suggests it may have been replaced by Tinkerfest, Scorched Sky and Oceansfull, all of which now share "Jubilation Medals, coins that can be earned and exchanged during the three summertime events for desirable items!" That would explain the addition of actual dungeons to each of those three, allowing the whole thing to become a full replacement for the old Ethereal event, which did indeed stretch across the whole summer and feature a currency that could be spent on major upgrades.


If so, I like the sound of it. Ethereals always seemed a bit of a "give the hardcore something to grind" kind of deal. I never bothered with it much. This looks a lot better - on paper...

As well as the Lore and Legend server, which I mentioned at the top of the post and still haven't gotten around to discussing, there's another Time Locked Expansion server coming in May. That does seem curious. EQII players have so far proved less interested in regular restarts than their EverQuest cousins and to have two new servers open within a few months of each other (Especially while Kaladim, the existing TLE server, is still progressing and remains fairly well-populated.) seems over-optimistic.

The more I think about it, the less likely it seems that Darkpaw expect these two servers to appeal to the same players. The L&L server looks very much as though it's aimed at the more family-oriented, casual player, a demographic that was once very well-represented in the game but which in recent years has seen short shrift.

The brief precis of how the L&L server is going to work does seem to support that interpretation: 

"We've heard over the years that sometimes when you or your friends take a break it's difficult to catch up and play with your friends. We've also heard that sometimes you want to experience older content without it being trivial, want to put together a casual raid with friends and not have to worry about leaving behind lower-level friends, or you just want to craft or decorate without worrying that you might be too "squishy" for where your quest for recipes takes you."

That really does target the group I'm describing: people who want to hang out with friends and not be too "challenged" by cutting-edge content. I'm pretty sure the most of the people I was guilded with a decade ago would have absolutely loved the concept.

The thing is, none of those people have logged in for years and I don't imagine any of them ever will again. There absolutely is an audience for this kind of gameplay but over the last seven to ten years both SOE and Daybreak seemed increasingly uninterested in serving it. 


It looks like that's going to change and about bloody time, too. If ever there was a game set up to serve a casual, creative, family and friends audience, who just want to kick back and have fun, EQII is that game. I just fear it might be too late. 

Still, if you don't try, you'll never know. With a ruleset and systems that put every player on an identical footing from the start, this has the potential to be a strong solution to the perennial problem of how to get new players up to speed in an old game. There is no "speed" to get up to:

"Kael Drakkel is an opportunity to get involved in EverQuest II and experience the lore and the stories without worrying too much about whether you have the right gear...On Kael Drakkel you will start at level 90 with a full set of level 90 gear. As you adventure through the lands, you will be auto-mentored down to levels appropriate for the zone that you are in, making content you normally would have been out-leveled relevant once again. Special loot drops along the way will allow you to upgrade your base gear as you progress."
To quote the name of one of the game's best-loved quests, the proof will be in the pudding. Leaving aside the question of whether it's a good idea in the first place, I'm very curious to see how all of this will work on a technical level. Mentoring in EQII is slick and effective but the current iteration, even after much tweaking over the years, leaves any character whose actual level is more than a few levels higher as overpowered as any superhero.

Of course, if the goal is to make everything feel super-comfortable and unchallenging, maybe that won't be a problem. It certainly wouldn't be a problem for me. And conversely, maybe they have worked out some way to make all content feel just challenging enough but not too challenging. That would be the ideal. 

I suspect the limitation of Kael Drakkel to just the first seven expansions has much to do with keeping the whole thing within a limited range of existing systems, which might be more amenable to harmonization than the variety of expansion-era specific mechanics that have become the norm in later years. It's also pretty much the same level range that was used for the largely-abandoned "Agnostic" dungeon mechanic, which is almost certainly not a co-incidence.


We'll just have to wait and see. And we won't have to wait long. Kael Drakkel opens its doors in exactly a month, on February 22nd. I had absolutely no plans to restart on yet another EQII server this year and this one could not possibly come at a more inconvenient time for me, seeing as how Guild Wars 2's End of Dragons expansion is also set to launch next month, quite possibly on the exact same day.

Oh, well. Maybe I'll be done with Chimeraland by then. That should free up some time.

Looking at the roadmap, everything does all seem to be happening in the first half of the year. Game Update 120 is listed for August. It will presumably be significant but there are no details on what might be in it. From September onwards there's nothing other than the usual pre-expansion and holiday events. Well, other than"Swag Store". I have no clue what that is.

I think that's most of the highlights. There are a couple of much-needed structural alterations, like the 64-bit client and the addition of commas to damage numbers. I can't tell you what a pain it is to try and parse those billions and trillions after a fight. 

The LGBTQIA bunnies are back in June, too. I love those. I wonder which orientation or gender communities will get representation this year? I also wonder how many EQII players have any idea what any of them mean when they see them hopping after someone in game? I know I don't pay as much attention to which flag my familiars are flying as I probably should.

And that about covers it, I think. I'm sure I missed something. It's a lot, isn't it? More than I thought, for sure. Someone seems to have faith in the old game yet. It looks like a lot of work and thought went into all of this. 

Let's hope the players appreciate it.


  1. The L&L server was what interested me the most right away too. Sound pretty good.

    The timing couldn't be much worse indeed though, what with Lost Ark launching only a couple of weeks earlier and Lakisa, a bunch of our friends and myself looking forward to playing that a lot, and hopefully for quite some time.

    I wonder whether anyone at Daybreak...err...Darkpaw has thought that launch date through properly. I mean, there's a lot of much anticipated stuff launching over the next few months, as you said. I get why they don't want it to launch at the same time as their new time locked expansion server (or any of the two too close to the next expansion), but still, the crowd of potentially interested people will be even smaller due to all that competition.

    1. I'm not sure the Darkpaw team really look very far outside their own bubble when they set launch dates. I think most of what they're doing is arranging activities for the passengers already on the cruise - they aren't expecting many new passengers to join at each port.

      That said, they do seometimes make an attempt to tempt former players to come back and this looks like an ideal opportunity for that. My guess, based on the comments I hear in chat from returnees, would be that very few of those ex-EQII players would even be playing another mmo so it's not all that likely other games schedules would have much impact.

      I'm very curious to see just how busy the L&L server is at launch and particularly how many of those who do turn up will stick around for any length of time. I can't see too many of the hardcore taking much of an interest and I'm not at all sure how many genuine casuals are still playing. If word of mouth is good, though, we could see the server build a population over time. If so, that would be a real win for Darkpaw.

  2. I am not really sure what to make of the L&L server at this point. But February is right around the corner, so I guess we'll have details soon enough.

    1. It looks very odd to me, too. I can see a number of ways it could be quite successful but they would all involve two things that Daybreak don't have the greatest history of getting right: firstly the thing has to be a technical success, not a buggy mess that only works after two months of patching and secondly they have to get the word out to ex-players that it exists and it's good. If they can manage both of those then I could see quite a lot of ex-players coming back for another run. I know the old guild I was in back around the time I moved to GW2 would have been all over something like this but they've all long vanished from the game.


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