EverQuest II’s prog server isn’t as fun as the real thing

    
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I’ve been playing the crap out of EverQuest II for the past week. Funnily enough, the vast majority of said playtime hasn’t been on the new progression servers. I hit Stormhold hard when it launched last week, and I got multiple characters up to level 10ish and firmly ensconced in a post-Isle of Refuge quest line or two.

And then I realized how much better I like the current version of the game.

2015-07-21_00013Before I get into that, though, Daybreak deserves a round of applause for how warmly Stormhold and its PvP counterpart have been received. I grouped more that first day than I have in forever, and the server’s general chat was literally overflowing with people being nice to one another and partying like it was 2004.

2015-07-21_00017I was fairly shocked to see so many souls running around the zones, and while Daybreak hasn’t released population numbers, my gut feeling is that Stormhold instantly became one of EQII’s most popular shards. After all of the change and the negativity that’s been swirling around the company formerly known as SOE over the past six months, it certainly needed a win.

For me, though, Stormhold serves as more of a reminder about how much EverQuest II has improved since its launch. Now, don’t go berating nostalgia or throwing around the rose-colored glasses logic fail while saying “I told you so!” because based on what I saw, I’m in the minority. Many (most?) EQII players are only too happy to return to a more challenging and a more group-centric experience.

And I might even feel that way too if I was immortal. Since I’m not, Stormhold seemed like a big waste of time. I’ve done all of this before, a little voice kept insisting, and what is the bloody point in doing it again? For most players, the point is that they love the progression, but for me MMO progression has always been an irritating obstacle that I put up with in order to get to the part of the game where I can do what I want.

2015-07-26_00002Also, while I’m surely not the richest guy on Antonia Bayle, I do have a bunch of badass houses, more plat than I can spend, and the ability to basically go anywhere and do anything in Norrath at the drop of a hat. Oh, and I’ve got 11 years’ worth of veteran rewards, guild history, and roleplaying history, too. That’s a lot of stuff to throw away for nothing more than the opportunity to regrind it.

Stormhold felt like a high school reunion in all the worst ways. I was a pimply-faced virgin all over again, and while it might be cool to actually go back through high school and make better choices, in EQII there are no better choices to make because it’s ultimately an on-rails experience that is dictated to you by the designers.

2015-07-23_00014That said, EQII does the themepark paradigm as well as it can be done, which is why I returned to the game in the first place prior to the big Stormhold reveal. This is a virtual world rich with non-combat gameplay features and a ludicrous amount of traditional themepark content, so it ultimately doesn’t matter that I lasted less than two days on the old school shard.

I wish I could enjoy Stormhold more than I did, since it requires a subscription (yay!) and since it has basically turned off the cash shop abomination aside from cosmetic gear (yay!). Unfortunately life is too short, and everything I could possibly earn on Stormhold has already been earned on Antonia Bayle.

And aside from that bit of baggage, Stormhold is this weird hybrid of modern EQII and 2004 EQII. The game is so vast and its content so sprawling that there’s simply no way that a dev team twice the size of Daybreak’s could have gone in and squared everything away between the two versions in a reasonable amount of time. So we’re left with a sort of unholy mashup that works more often than not but is really annoying during the latter.

For example, my evil-aligned character started on the Outpost of the Overlord, and once I had completed all of its content and achieved level 6, the game gave me the choice of heading to Neriak or Freeport. Naturally I made a second evil character so that I could do both, but the Neriak path ended up being much smoother. After zoning in to the Dark Elf capital, I met an NPC on the dock who suggested that I port to Darklight Wood (which wasn’t in the game at launch, for what it’s worth, nor was Neriak itself). Darklight contains a ton of level-appropriate quests and a buttery smooth curve toward 20.

My Freeport character, on the other hand, zoned in to a Freeport that looks nothing like it did in 2004 courtesy of the massive 2013 redesign that did away with a ton of low-level quests, closed most of the racial villages, and basically left my poor widdle Ratonga scratching his head before I remembered the sewers. After a couple of hours sludging about in my least favorite EQII zone, I finally got to level 10, whereupon I left the sewers in favor of the Commonlands timeline, which is much longer, much more efficient, and much more fun, at least in my opinion.

2015-07-23_00006Hardships like that are probably part of the charm for the hordes of people grooving on Stormhold right now, but the ill-fitting nature of the experience bugged me, and it was the nudge I needed to return to my home shard.

The happy ending to all of this is that I’ve been having an absolute blast on Antonia Bayle again, with all of my characters, all of my stuff, and all of the feels that go along with a decade of play time. EverQuest II in 2015 is a phenomenal MMORPG, maybe the best MMORPG currently available. Visually, it’s showing its age in the older zones, but when it comes to the features and the functionality that make MMOs into virtual worlds, good luck finding a better one.

And with Stormhold and its PvP counterpart, Daybreak has added yet another gameplay wrinkle to EQII’s ever-expanding list. This particular wrinkle isn’t for me, aside from the squees to be had on the Far Journey and the Isle of Refuge, but more options are always better than fewer.

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Barachiel
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Barachiel

I really try to get into EQ2, but dear GOD the graphics are terrible.  I try not to let that get to me, as I still enjoy the original Deus Ex and System Shock 2, but there’s just something about the combination of terrible animations, low-res charcters, and flat-feeling landscapes that just make me give up after a few days.  

Which is a shame because I REALLY want to like this game.

CazCore
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CazCore

Midgetsnowman CazCore CharcoalCrow jefreahard it was a vacuous question.  but it seems like even you modern “gamers” should be able to realize that adding numbers onto your character sheet and seeing new virtual items in your inventory is not gameplay.  i play for gameplay.  not for virtual work, in order to get a virtual paycheck.

noizmchn
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noizmchn

jefreahard noizmchn I’m going to agree to disagree :)  I’m sure that is simply preference.

I do agree with your previous comment “All I really want out of this genre is a 3-D tabletop experience.”

jefreahard
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jefreahard

noizmchn Sorry, but no. MMOs are virtual worlds. Their breadth and depth in terms of facilitating different playstyles and gameplay experiences is what separates them from all other genres. 

Regardless of whether or not you personally expect MMORPGs to have something other than a progression grind, multiple titles have done so and therefore it’s not an unreasonable expectation. 

Perhaps you missed those games and so your expectation of MMORPG gameplay begins and ends with a progression grind. But I can simply turn your argument around and say that it’s you who are playing the wrong genre if the progression grind is all you understand or desire.

Limiting MMORPGs to one class of player is, well, limiting. And silly.

noizmchn
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noizmchn

jefreahard Midgetsnowman What you describe is the difference between an MMO RPG and an MMO AG – which are two entirely different games.  However one should not be playing one and expecting the other.  I do not go to the Call of Duty/Uncharted/Assassin’s Creed forums and complain that there “is no character progression” or that “an encumbrance system is what is needed” because I never expected there to be one.
Complaining that RPG progression is a “soul-sucking grind that you have to endure before you get to the actual fun part of the game” – well perhaps you’re playing the wrong game.  I mean that in the friendliest way possible and not trying to sound snarky.

jefreahard
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jefreahard

Midgetsnowman Replace them with toolsets. It’s been done before, most notably in UO and SWG as I mentioned above.

Personally I play to do the things that I can’t do otherwise, like fly a spaceship or fling a fireball. I don’t need to grind levels/skills/money in an MMORPG because I do that 14 hours a day in meatspace.

Look at single player action games like Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed (prior to Unity, which implemented levels and grinding). There’s no progression in those games, you simply play the game because it’s fun to scale medieval buildings and stab bad guys and/or because you enjoy the story. There’s no soul-sucking progression grind that you have to endure before you get to the actual fun part of the game because it’s fun from start to finish.

I’m not putting down people who like to grind in MMOs, different strokes or whatever. But to me it’s both a waste of my valuable free time and a waste of the virtual world potential inherent in MMOs. Most developers are married to progression grinding because they’re afraid that no one would play MMOs without the skinner box psychology tricks and the fake reward stimuli. And that’s probably true, because in terms of actual moment to moment gameplay, most MMOs are the opposite of fun.

Radfist
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Radfist

Rozyn I left the main servers years ago after they ruined itemisation and had multiple difficulty options for every single instance. I have no intention of returning, and I will leave again if the vote passes to progress the TLE servers past TSO.
I don’t even think the main servers are repairable at this stage, short of a massive balance and itemisation overhaul / regression (which I don’t think they have the staff remaining to undertake).

Radfist
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Radfist

Midgetsnowman Denice J Cook Jef likes PvP.

Radfist
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Radfist

The point of the TLE servers for me is because the game took a massive nosedive after TSO and I don’t think it can ever recover. I stuck around for 3 expansions afterwards, but mostly just as a chat lobby for my EQ2 friends.  If they lock the game at TSO at the latest I would stay in that server forever.
Some people hung onto the game because something was better than nothing, but what remains of the normal servers are now ghost towns because most players felt that the older expansions are just better.  All my old guildies who quit the game due to the quality nosedive have returned to the TLE servers, but I know we would all leave again if Sentinels Fate gets unlocked.
Sometimes it isn’t rose tinted glasses, its just how it is.

Midgetsnowman
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Midgetsnowman

CazCore Midgetsnowman CharcoalCrow jefreahard Thats a rather vacuous description. Fun depends on what you find fun.