Keeping a gameworld alive

I’ve been back playing EQ2 a bit recently. I put it aside a few months ago, after getting a character to level 90 and feeling a bit like the game had turned into an endless treadmill with no real opportunity for character development without devoting far more of my time than was worthwhile.

Then of course Sony got hacked, and I discovered Rift which was great fun for a couple of months, and then I kind of had to put all MMOs aside in favor of actually getting settled in at a new job, and I was pretty MMO free for a while there.

Then the EQ2 team released a major content update that reduced the amount of treadmill time required for a bunch of things and this happened to coincide with me realizing that I could still claim the 45 days of free game time from the “We’re really sorry” package, and I wound up giving it another go.

They did a pretty good job with the patch, and I was having fun playing, and then they had a long double XP weekend over labor day that let me log in and finally max out my AA points.

AA points, by the way, are basically EQ’s way of differentiating between two characters of the same level; they allow you to take, say, a priest character and make him either a strong offensive character with lots of damage skills or a strong healer with limited damage ability but who can keep a group alive better.

It’s nowhere near as flexible as Rift’s soul system but I wound up a little disillusioned with that after a while.

Also, and more importantly: it’s different from the AA system in EQ1 because there’s actually a limit as to how many you can have and you cannot take all the abilities. In EQ1, the only limit to the number of AAs and number of AA abilities you can have is the amount of time you grind away gaining them, so the developers have to design content for people with thousands and thousands of AA points and somehow balance the same content for people with only a few.

Anyway, digression aside, I took advantage of the bonus XP weekend to finally get my character to the AA cap and felt pretty good about it.

Then Sony did something even more brilliant: they made a vast swath of the game easier.

See, there’s a truism in most MMOs, that the game doesn’t actually start until you’re max level. As a result, some games can be split into content you do to get you to the level cap and content you do at level cap.

With some games – and I will pick on Rift again here – the level 1 to level cap game is extremely linear. If you are level 30, the only place you can safely adventure is X, but when you get to level 35 it’s time to move on to Y but you had best not venture into Z anytime soon.

EQ2, on the other hand, is huge and sprawly, with dozens of expansions and content updates and little bits bolted on to the side. They’ve put IN a linear progression path you CAN follow, but you can usually sidestep the path and go find your own way.

Also, since EQ2 got to inherit an awful lot of lore from EQ1 and didn’t have to start from scratch, there’s a lot of story woven into the leveling, and going off the path means that you get to check out new quests and new stories.

It’s pretty neat, except that much of the story used to be gated behind needing 3 or 4 friends to finish a lot of the quests in the game. This is where the “the game begins at level cap” thing comes in – there’s plenty to do before level cap but good luck finding a group to do it with.

So they’ve addressed this in a pair of ways.

The first, which they did ages ago, was to alter a bunch of quests to be more easily soloable.

The second, which they did in the most recent content update, was to improve most of the low level gear. It means that an awful lot of the game is now trivial, but it also turns some of the remaining impossible-without-a-group lower level quests into simply very difficult.

I’ve actually started a new character as a result, something I don’t usually allow myself in MMOs, and am happily climbing the level ladder once again.

Well played, Sony, well played.

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