Thursday, January 6, 2022

Play To Yearn Or How I Found Myself Wondering If Token Systems Might Not Be Quite So Bad After All

As far as I can tell from my lowly position as a casual (if commited) soloist, the latest EverQuest II expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, has been reasonably well-received. I've certainly been enjoying myself, even if I am currently stalled in the Signature solo questline, banging my head against an instance boss I can't beat.

That's a mere problem of player skill. I don't have any. Victory will come with time and patience. 

Of more general concern in VoV is crafting. It's one of the several areas of the game that had been the cause of a good deal of pushback over the last few expansions. Happily, tradeskills seem to have turned a corner with the appointment of Niami Denmother as the developer responsible. The value of mastercrafted gear has been restored and the convoluted and largely unpopular shadowcrafting process has been shelved. I liked the shadow stuff, as it happens, but mine wasn't a widely-shared view.

Still, everything in the new expansion hasn't been unicorns and rainbows for crafters. The current controversy, such as it is, revolves around the acquisition path for Advanced skill books. They're the source for Mastercrafted recipes, which in turn act as the gateway to even higher levels of spells and combat arts, making them more of an essential than a luxury.

Over the years Advanced recipes have come into the game via various means. If I'm remembering correctly, the original source was primarily through mob drops. As I recall, each level of crafting boook (And Adept spells and CAs.) could only drop from a mob of the same, exact level. I have a clear memory of spending hours in Nektulos Forest hunting mobs for the books I was missing and having to keep clearing spawns of creatures just one level shy in the hope of forcing the correct numbers to appear.

Later, quite possibly when uber crafting dev Domino joined the team, a lengthy series of crafting questlines were introduced, the rewards for which were either Advanced crafting books or unlocks for vendors who would sell them to you. I seem to remember a time when you could either quest for or buy most of the books, although there were always a couple of deciles when you either had to go hunting or buy your books from those who would.

My recollection of exactly how this worked is somewhat muddled because I played on the Test server for nearly five years. There, due to the exceptionally small population, certain compromises had to be made, one of which was the addition of a vendor in the Tower of the Moon in Maj`Dul, who would sell you every crafting book ever made.  

Whatever the exact process at any given time, getting your Advanced books wasn't all that difficult. All of them were tradeable and they dropped fairly commonly, so at worst you could buy them from other players at a reasonable price. That's no longer an option.

Without spending an awful lot more time on research than I'm willing to commit, I can only vaguely allude to the extent to which the whole thing has spiralled into a confusing and convoluted combination of wish and hope. Chances are even a thorough explanation would serve only to confuse matters more.

Like most aging mmorpgs, EQII is a palimpsest of half-abandoned ideas. Where there was once a very straightforward progression of crafting recipes, consisting of not much more than the basic books your crafting trainer sold for a pittance and the Advanced books you got via the aforementioned means, these days there are probably dozens of types of texts containing recipes a crafter might or might not consider essential, often relying on different qualifying criteria than your character's crafting level or skill.

To go over the entire EQII crafting process, even limiting the analysis to nothing more than the recipes available and the ways they can be obtained, would take a series of lengthy, detailed posts. A series I have no intention of writing, I should make quite clear.

For the purposes of this post, I'm merely going to talk about the way crafters are currently expected to get their desired Advanced recipes. On the positive side, it's a very simple procedure, something you might expect to go down well with an audience heartily fed-up with the abstruse and awkward choices made by previous crafting devs. I believe people do generally approve of that aspect, at least.

What they don't like is the way the system leans so heavily on pure RNG. Thinking about that aspect is how I came to coin the expression "Play to Yearn", something I believe applies to any number of similar mechanics in any number of mmorpgs.

It's what happens when you find yourself spending much of your playtime doing things in the vain, vague hope that something you want or need might finally drop. It could be camping a Named in EverQuest or repeatedly soloing an old Raid for a mount drop in World of Warcraft. Whatever your mmorpg of choice, chances are you've done something of the kind. For me, right now, it's doing dailies and weeklies in Visions of Vetrovia, hoping but never trusting one of the Advanced Sage or Alchemist books will pop out of the reward chest at the end.

Some people tolerate this kind of gameplay better than others. I've always ratehr enjoyed a random element to my gaming. It adds a frisson of excitement every time I get to open a chest or a box. 

Others feel differently, especially those who self-identify as "Crafters", it seems. It's the view of the most vocal opponents of the system that all crafters want to do is make their damn items, already! It seems they have little or no interest in the kind of "progression" the EQII dev team is convinced ought to be a core part of the crafting experience. They don't want to eke out the lifetime of the expansion working on getting their crafting books as a form of character arc. They just want the damn things today so they can spend twelve months making stuff.

No, I don't understand it either. I can't imagine how anyone can play an mmorpg pretty much daily for extended periods of time with the specific intent of doing nothing but craft items. What for? Even the busiest guild crafter in the biggest guild is pretty quickly going to make everyone all the stuff they need, aren't they?

Let that rest. It seems to be what some people see as ideal gameplay so we'll have to accept it. Clearly those people aren't going to be happy with any system that doesn't allow fast access to the tools of their trade and from their perspective former systems, no longer in play, supposedly did just that. Andf I suppose they did, to an extent. There may be some rose-tinting going on but it's not such an exaggerated a view of how things used to work.

Here's how they work now. There's an NPC in an instance in the final open zone of the expansion who gives dailies and weeklies for crafters. You get a portal stone to his location as a reward during the crafting Signature questline so you can pop in to see him whenever you want with no problems.

He offers you one quest every day. Just one. It requires you to run around the werewolf and vampire town in Forlorn Gist, picking up thirty each of two items and fifteen of a third from special quest nodes you can only see if you have the quest and you're using the werewolf illusion that comes with it. 

Looking like a werewolf means everything in the area becomes non-hostile, so its completely safe. There's no time limit. Every pull nets you three of whatever it is, so you really have to collect twenty-five items, not seventy-five. 

It's very easy or it would be if there weren't so many people doing it all the fricken' time. Seriously, there are always (And I do mean always.) a bunch of players running around snatching stuff from the spawns. It doesn't matter if I'm there in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. It's the middle of the night, US time, and I still have to race people for cobwebs or werewolf fur or whatever today's recipe calls for. The reason there are so many is, of course, because we all want our Advanced books and this is the only way we're going to get them.

The weekly quest is exactly the same, except it asks for about three times as many items and if you do it on the day it drops, which is Thursday, there are always at least three times as many people trying to do it, so it takes a lot more more than three times as long. The weekly offers a much higher chance of a good drop so people jump on it the moment it comes up.

The items that both quests send you to find are used only for the quests themselves. They have no other function. When you have them, you use them to craft a few items for Renfry, the questgiver. You can't make anything else with the leftovers and you can't save them to use in subsequent quests. The act of gathering them updates the quest. Just having the items in your inventory does nothing.

When you finish the daily you get a reward that pulls one random item from a loot table, the exact
contents of which has not been revealed, so far as I know, but which can definitely include some of the VoV adornment books, tinkering blueprints and recipes for mount gear. I've had a few of each, including a couple of very useful Adornment recipes I will certainly be using.

Mostly what they give you, however, are house items and most of the house items are chess pieces. I already have enough to line the path all through my Mara estate. They used to give you what are disparagingly referred to by crafters as "soda cans", the cylinders that were introduced several years back to deal with the severe lack of items suitable for transmuting into materials used in crafting adornments. 

At the time they were welcomed but now, thanks to other changes in the game, few people need them so they're treated as an insult when they drop. Those were swapped out for the house items after player's kicked up a fuss on the forums but the replacement items aren't going down much better.

It may or may not be possible to get Advance crafting books from the daily. I'm assuming there's a very small chance but so far I haven't been lucky. You definitely can get them from the weekly. I've had two so far. Not ones I wanted, naturally, but I did sell one for 8.5 million plat and the other I can at least use (Or sell. It goes for about 4m.)

You can also get the moulds needed to make very good crafted items as part of another complicated process I don't propose to go into right now. Unfortunately, the loot table for the Weekly also includes some of the same things as the daily, meaning you can end up with nothing useful at all.

Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down well. Leaving aside the "I want all my books on day of release" extremists, a more reasonable view is that the system would be okay if there was a higher chance of an Advanced book in the daily loot table and a guarantee of one for the weekly. Or if you could just buy the books using the special currency both sets of quests also give you. (A currency which, I should point out, I have so far been unable to spend on anything at all. I can't find any vendor willing to take it, even after spending some considerable time searching, both in and out of game.)

Things people don't like about the system include the extreme reliance on randomisation, the irrelevance of most of the rewards and the useleness of the quest materials outside of the quest itself. All of these are valid complaints but for once they're all receiving equally valid replies. 

In marked contrast to previous expansions since Domino departed, the game now has a crafting dev both willing and able to explain why things are being done the way they are and why they can't just be changed overnight because players don't like them. Niami Denmother patiently (For the most part!) points out that we have the furniture items because people asked for the soda cans to be removed and that the useless special mats are a compromise required to guarantee something else players have long demanded, namely a safe place for non-adventuring crafters to do the high-level daily and weekly quests. 

She also goes into some detail about the limitations of her brief, how certain developers need to co-operate and compromise with others to get anything done, how senior developers have structural plans for the game that take preference to specific developmental concerns and how, following the launch of an expansion, changes to systems it introduced cannot be made before sufficient time has elapsed and sufficient data gathered to assess their impact and effectiveness.

In other words, there's a hierarchy that has to be respected and action requires an evidence base. It's eminently reasonable but it's not what people want to hear. 

As a player, I'd have to say it's not what I want to hear, either. I've been doing my dailies and weeklies religiously on three characters, barely missing a daily and never missing a weekly since I was able to get them. I don't have a single Advanced book for my Sage or Alchemist. I do have one advanced book for my Carpenter, though. Yay! More furniture!

My experience would seem to be typical. The recipes books are so rare that insignificant ones sell for 5-10m plat while key spell or CA books change hands for ten times that - if you can find anyone willing to sell. Usually you can't.

There was some of this last year but then there were at least some other options, even if those weren't always very popular either. I did very nicely on Advanced books, filling out most of my own characters recipe sheets and selling the rest on at a good profit. I got them as rewards from the Overseer system. This year the Overseer is still giving out those same books. Last year's. I suspect we'll get a new Overseer Season in the early spring, at which point the new ones will start to drop, but even if that happens, it seems like a long time to wait.

With Niami fighting the crafters' corner, I do have hope that some kind of compromise might be reached before then. It is, after all, only a few weeks since the expansion launched and for some of that time the devs have been taking a well-earned holiday. When everyone's back in the office and data is available on just how many players have actually received their Advanced books via rng, maybe we'll see some positive changes to the process.

Until then it's back to the dailies and keeping my fingers crossed.

1 comment:

  1. I also like some degree of random rewards, but ideally paired with some smaller, guaranteed ones. I think the problems really come in when the things you have to do for a shot at the random reward are too trivial, meaning players take it for granted that they'll all get it eventually and creating a feeling that any sort of lockout/limitation is just the developer trying to drag things out. Plus it also depends on what the reward is... it's easier to live with the idea of never getting a certain cosmetic item, but when it comes to power progression, nobody is happy to be kept weaker than the competition purely due to a few weeks of bad luck...


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