Design at Start vs Design in Play

Here’s a thought experiment. You have just bought a shiny new computer RPG (it can be either a MMO or single player, your choice). You load it up for the first time and are presented with character creation.

Which of these types of character creation would you prefer to see?

Pre-Made Characters

You get to pick one of a set of pre-made characters. The character may come with an extensive background and backstory, carefully designed to fit perfectly into the game. You may have some customisation options – maybe you can change the looks, name, and tweak the stats a bit, but your choices are limited.

Pre-mades have the huge advantage that it is very very easy to write an immersive story about a pre-made character. The writer can give the characters some good solid starting goals and story arcs. They can easily have pre-existing links to other NPCs, places, items, and background stories. They belong to the world, they have links with it, and they are connected to it.

Best of all, the player can take the pre-made character and trust that the storyline will fit. Good examples of this are Planescape: Torment or KOTOR – you get very few customisation choices at the beginning but the story is absolutely front and centre all about the viewpoint character. Using a pre-made character also doesn’t remove choices from the player later on, but at least it gives you a very well defined starting point.

Pre-mades in an MMO are more problematic, because players will interact. If characters ALL have the same background story then it’s difficult to really take things seriously (“What? You used to be a raider too? Uh … what a coincidence, so did my 37 friends over there …”)

Design At Start

Your character is a blank slate. Before you can start playing, you need to spend some time deciding what your character will be like, what powers it may have, and everything else about it. You may wish to write a long personalised background story too. Picking powers might be a complex process with many opportunities to optimise skills, but with some time and effort you should be able to create the exact character that you want. It will be perfect, it will be your ideal character.

This can be great for players who have a very strong concept of the sort of character they want to play. If you always play the same role, like to fiddle around doing research and number crunching, and enjoy min-maxing, this might be for you.

The downside is: You may not yet know the gameworld very well. You may not know which power combinations are the most potent. You may not yet have a strong concept of your ideal character. Your ideal character might not even make any sense in terms of the story. You can certainly write a novella of background information but there’s no guarantee that anyone except you will ever read it.

In a tabletop game, you can work with the GM and other players to tell great stories about your ideal character. In a computer game, there’s no guarantee that the game will actually support the way you wanted to play. So you get a taste of your ideal character, but you may not actually be able to play out the stories you wanted to tell about them. Even in a non-railroaded game, the options you want may not even exist (eg. if your character is a dispossessed aristocrat but the game doesn’t have any kind of NPCs or stories that will give you a chance to get your land back or have your relatives try to bump you off … or in other words, the game may just not interact well with the story you want to tell.)

Design in Play

Your character is a blank slate. But after picking a few minor options and customising the look, you’re straight into the game. You will pick up powers and abilities as you play, or at least gain the ability to customise whatever powers with which you start.

The idea is that as you learn more about the game, both storywise and about how it plays, you’ll learn more about what type of character you want, and will have opportunities to mould your character into that shape.

Although this can play like a pre-made character at the beginning, you will quickly have lots of options to tweak both the background and the skills as you play. A design at start character is a bit ‘fuzzy’ when the game begins, very little about it is set in stone.

It’s all down to personal preferences

There isn’t a right or wrong way to do character creation but some players  have strong preferences for different methods.

I’m a big proponent of design in play – in tabletop games, I’m discussing character concepts and how the world works with the GM all the way through the first session, so I can tweak my initial character sheet later if what I wrote isn’t reflecting the character I create through playing it. In MMOs, I love how the WoW dual specs means that I don’t have to commit to a role when I create my character. My warrior can tank or it can dps, depending on how I feel later. I love systems where you get better at skills by using them, so the game itself can try to figure out how you want your character to develop in play. (In practice that’s not really how it works but I like the idea.)

I really dislike games that ask me to make large numbers of character decisions or carry out number crunching up front, especially when I don’t feel that the game itself has given me enough information yet on which to choose.

I was thinking of this when reading Regis’ dismissal of the Dragon Age Character Creator. I’m not claiming that it is the greatest piece of software since sliced_bread.exe but it isn’t fair to fault the game for offering a limited number of races and classes in the creator. They’re running with a mix of pre-made and design in play design. It’s going to make for much tighter storylines later on, and more choices to make later on in play also.

I don’t get on with design at start type games (it takes me some exposure to the game to get some good character ideas together) and I struggled with design at start players when GMing tabletop – it’s hard to tell a compelling story when someone has such a strict idea of what their character is like and won’t allow  it to change and adapt at all.

Options are great and all, but at the end of the day, my favourite CRPGs of all time (Planescape and FF10) left their choices until later in the game and they were all the better for it.

Improving Roleplay: Starting Zones

This is the first in a series of articles about making the roleplaying experience more accessible in MMORPGs. So you may be thinking, ‘I’m not a roleplayer, why should I care?’

You don’t have to care, precisely, but there are some bonuses even for the less hardcore roleplayers from encouraging more light RP on our servers.

  1. The type of content that improves roleplaying is  good for immersion. So if you enjoy immersing yourself into the gameworld, anything that makes the background easier to relate to or the game world itself feel more vibrant and alive will be just as fun for you too. Better starting zones, for example, are entertaining for everyone.
  2. Having pockets of active roleplayers around is good for immersion also, even if you just wander past them while they’re talking in the pub. Not only that but they tend to be social players and are often inclined to organise public RP events. You don’t need to be a hardcore fulltime roleplayer to enjoy the atmosphere or occasionally dip into events that sound interesting. More content and more options are good for everyone.
  3. RPers often like fluff such as interesting costumes, pets, housing, etc. If you’re a fan of fluff then you’ll enjoy those too, even if you never use them as roleplaying props.
  4. Roleplaying servers tend to be friendlier and have a good atmosphere, probably due to the more social bent of the players. I always got the impression that they’re appealing to the older crowd also. RPers can be good for the community. If that’s something you value, then encouraging them is a good thing.

I find it useful to imagine roleplaying as a form of improvisational theatre. To roleplay, a player takes on the role of a character and interacts with the (virtual) world around them in that role. People do RP in lots of different ways, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be all method actor about the whole thing. Even if you wanted to, it might make for a very tedious game.

So no, that’s not a requirement. In fact, you don’t need to really speak in character at all if you don’t want. But roleplaying at a basic level is about connecting with your character and seeing the gameworld and the other characters from its point of view. Maybe you’ll have goals based on what your character might want out of life, or maybe you’ll only occasionally think about your character’s viewpoint and spend most of the rest of the time just thinking like a player. It doesn’t matter — what matters is that if you are in a mood to get immersive, it’s easy for you to do it.

A a well designed MMO will help players to create characters who will have goals that can be fulfilled in the game. The lore and background and introduction will make it easy to create a character who wants to go fight the opposite faction/s, or to kill raid bosses, or to sit in the Shire and tend a vegetable plot. So that it’s easy for the player to roleplay whilst doing what they wanted to do anyway. Sure, you can be an oddity and play a pacifist in a game that’s all about PvP but it’s a bad idea. You’ll either have nothing to do, or will spend all your time trying to explain to people why your pacifist character has been storming keeps in Tier 4. It’s about a zillion times easier and more fun to go with the flow and focus instead on putting an interesting twist on an existing archetype.

Character Creation and Orientation

“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?”

-The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Starting zones have a critical role in any MMO. They need to lure new players in, teach them the basics of the game, give them some orientation about the setting and character, and maybe even act as a prelude to the storyline in the main game. And most importantly, a player should come out of the starting zone with some goals to keep driving them forwards. Ideally these would include both short term (eg. get to my capital city) and mid term goals (eg. get to level 20 in EQ2 for a cool title).

For roleplayers, the starting zone also needs to give the player enough background to help them piece together a vague history and maybe even a personality for their own character. If you’re dubious about the personality, then think about how the different races come across in a game like WoW. Even if the starting zone just teaches the players that dwaves like beer and gnomes are nutty, it’s a base to start roleplaying with others with a shared understanding of what it means to be a dwarf in that game setting.

All players ask themselves, “What should I do next?” at regular intervals in MMOs. If a game is smoothly streamlined, it should provide a constant stream of options with which to answer this question so that the player doesn’t need to stop to scratch her head and wonder where to go next. If you pause, it should be to weigh up what you want to do next, not to feel lost and confused.

In answering that question, players will also be asking, “Why should I do this next?” So as well as an immediate goal, there’s a mid term goal involved. If you do the next quest, perhaps you’ll gain another level. Or access to the next zone. Or a prettier dress. Or just get to explore more of the game. Ideally, “Because it’s fun” should also be part of the equation on some level.

In addition to this, roleplayers might ask, “What would my character do next?” and “Why would my character do that?” The answer to the second question may well lie in the character’s background and not in the player’s goals. So for example, if Mrs Spinks wants to go to Northrend and be involved in fighting Arthas, she might have a personal grudge against the lich king. As the player, I am the only person who can answer why that might be. But knowing the background of her race gives me a few jumping off points. And more importantly, I really like that it feels consistent for both my character and for the game that I can easily think of coherent motivations. You can see how important this is to people with how many bloggers have complained that the Argent Tournament doesn’t make sense. I guarantee they aren’t all roleplayers. But even non-RPers enjoy immersive and consistent settings and NPCs.

I am assuming here that although RPers may start with a vague character concept in mind, they’ll tend to flesh it out in play as they learn more about the background and how to better fit in.

So how can a starting zone introduce this type of information?

  1. Lots of NPCs to show by example what particular races or classes tend to be like. It’s even better if they are arguing with each other — this gives the players more variation of examples and makes them all look less like cardboard copies of each other.
  2. Lore related quests.
  3. Quests that are strongly themed to both the game setting and the race/class of the starting area. For example, Warhammer is a very PvP oriented game and the starting zones throw you up against NPCs of the opposite faction right from the very beginning. You really don’t  have an option to create a character that doesn’t want to fight, you won’t even get past your first quest. WoW also introduces new characters very early on to foes that they will continue to meet throughout the game.
  4. Good use of graphics and music to back up the themes. These are great through the whole game also, but in the starting zone, you really have to set the tone for whatever is to come.
  5. Offering the player gameplay choices based on what their character might want to do. So if you’re playing a dwarf, you might get some quest choices about whether your character values gold above beer. Ideally you’ll run into NPCs from both the gold and the beer faction so that you know that both are valid for dwarves. There is no right answer (maybe both?) but trying to answer the question will get the player to attribute some preference to the new character.

In pen and paper games, players sometimes start with a set of questions that they answer to help them work out a personality for a new character. Writers and actors can use similar techniques. Here’s an example writing exercise based around character creation. (Note: I remember fondly the time I asked my tabletop players to describe where their characters lived while we were waiting for someone who was late, to fill in the time and encourage them to think about their characters. I’d never have known otherwise that one character ironed everything in his house, including the daily paper and his underpants. I threw in a lot more chances for everyone to laugh with him about it after that.)

I don’t think MMOs should ever force players to answer all those questions. It’s a crazy amount of extra work for someone who just wants to go kill orcs. But a good starting zone should at least give the player the opportunity to answer some of them. The rest can be filled in later.

Race and Class Specific Starting Zones

I am an absolute sucker for starting zones that feel as if they’re aimed at my character in particular. This may involve race specific starting zones, such as the regular starting zones in WoW, LOTRO, and WAR. It may include class specific starting zones, such as the death knight starting area. It may involve odd combinations of these, such as the race/class starting zones in DaoC.

Either way, focussing the starting zone like this makes it feel more of a character-specific prelude. Outsiders may never understand what makes your race tick because they didn’t get the same orientation tour. But that’s OK, other members of the same race will ‘get it.’ I love the idea of characters having a prelude. Again, it’s a technique that was used to good effect in some tabletop games — I remember Vampire in particular encouraged the GM to spend some one-on-one time with each player separately, RPing through a couple of scenes from the character’s past.

I found it a fantastically good tool for helping players to work out what made their characters tick.

In MMOs, the LOTRO starting zones do a great job of telling an initial story via solo instances before throwing you out into the great wide world… or is it? Nope, it’s a clever shell game. After the initial solo instance, your starting zone is also transient  — just this time it’s shared with the other low level characters of your race. LOTRO ruins this effect slightly by having too many subraces. You can choose whether your human character comes from Bree, Gondor, Rohan, or Dale.  But the only human starting zone is based around Bree. So if you roll a Breelander, roleplaying is very easy — you just play through the history the game has given you. Everyone else has to think up their own reason for being so far from home, and the game gives no help with that. This is a shame because, ‘How did I get here?’ is a pretty basic question for a starting character.

I think this is why I can’t muster the same level of excitement about the EQ2 starting zones. They’re not awful but Faydwer doesn’t give much information for non-fae, and Darklight Woods is mostly about dark elves even though other races can start there too. I had noticed that Qeynos has separate racial themed areas which give you a chance to interact with a variety of NPCs of those races — but unfortunately it’s not a very interesting starting zone in general. So you have to choose whether you want your race lore and background (ie. Qeynos) or if you want the more fun starting areas. That’s not a good choice to have to make.

I don’t think it’s always necessary for starting zones to be race specific. It just needs to be some subculture that can be a defining experience for your character. Class specific starting zones sound like good fun. Even profession specific starting zones might work in a gameworld in which that was culturally important. Geographic zones such as the EQ2 Faydwer example do work, but in that particular case it’s just not a strong enough identity on its own. (It feels race specific even though it actually isn’t, so sidelines the non-fae.)

You can see from this where the SW:TOR notion of every race/class combo having it’s own storyline feels so appealing. Maybe a dwarf priest just isn’t the same as a dwarf rogue or a human priest. What if there was an even wider variety of starting zones and race/class specific content? As it is, players are left to work through a lot of these differences in game and that means they may have to reach their own consensus based on game lore and NPCs seen in game.

Now, asking for more starting zones is impractical. It’s a huge amount of work to handcraft these sorts of in game experiences. But its fair to ask for lots of example NPCs in the starting zones representing the different races and classes that might start there. All players need are some pointers to show them how things fit together, they can do the rest themselves.

Strong Starting Storylines

A strong starting storyline is not always a good thing from a roleplayer’s point of view. Especially if it forces all characters down one specific background story.

Aion is a good example of this. The starting zones are beautiful and feature smart storytelling, but every single Asmodian is an ex-raider who ascended. And what’s worse, the storyline tells you that this is unusual. It sure as heck is not unusual, every single player in the game in that faction has the exact same starting story! You can handwave having done the same quests, but roleplayers need some freedom — some wiggle room if you like — to put a background together.

The Death Knight starting zone on the other hand, presents a strong story but says very little about where characters came from prior to becoming Death Knights. And that’s pretty much perfect. It gives players a fun story and some direction, but lets those who want more background fill in the blanks themselves.

Travels in EQ2

I have been playing EQ2 for the last month; much of it has been spent duoing with Arbitrary (we had weekly sessions) but she’s been on holiday for the last fortnight so we agreed I’d strike out on my own. It will be quick enough for her to catch up using the mentoring facility later, if she decides to keep playing.

There’s been a lot of chat about EQ2 on blogs last week, particularly centering on Wolfshead’s critical analysis of the first 15 minutes of the game.

Tipa wrote a rebuttal, Stropp also has some comments on the piece. Wolfshead responded with a re-rebuttal (but he’s going to keep playing EQ2 and make it his pet project anyway), Pete@Dragonchasers has some comments also, and so does Ysharros – who has been our generous and long suffering EQ2 guru goddess.

One thing that is very clear to me is that you only get a chance to have a first impression of a game once. I am quite sure that if I started another character now I’d find the experience much smoother than I did the first time round – this is particularly true in EQ2 but probably applies to every other MMO also.

So I find Wolfshead’s posts intriguing because I share his frustration at how pointlessly impenetrable this game sometimes seems. Too many moments which leave me thinking ‘Well how was I supposed to know THAT?’. And like him, I’ve also just resubscribed. It is reasonable to ask why I’d pay to torture myself like that –- I’m hoping to answer that by the end of this post! Short version: There’s something very unique about the EQ2 game experience, I don’t yet know if I’m in for the longterm but I know I’m not yet done with it.

The first 15 minutes

I’m basically in agreement with Wolfshead on this one. I’m not going to complain (much) about the loading screen because at least it isn’t as bad as Warhammer’s endless splashscreens and EULAs. On the other hand, it does prominently display the ESRB logo (like, takes up a third of the screen) – I’d have more sympathy if ESRB wasn’t a purely US organisation. If you want to start out by blatting out some text about an organisation I’ve never heard of that is irrelevant to me then feel free, I guess.

Character creation is a slow, multistep process. First you pick a race and customise how your character looks with lots of sliders for features, hair (all the hairstyles have their own bizarre names), skin colour, etc. Then you pick a class. Then you select your starting zone. Then you decide on a name. And finally you pick a server. So if you get to the end of this process and realise that your race/class choice means you can’t start in the same zone as your friend, you have to go back and start all over again.

Compare this with WoW which lets you pick the server first, do all those other things on the same screen and doesn’t give you a choice of starting area anyway (that is not necessarily a bonus).

Also in EQ2 the evil guys have a bonus starting zone. Good can choose from Qeynos, the original starting zone from 4 years ago, and Kelethin, the fae zone. Evil gets to choose from the original zone, a dark elf based zone, and the new dragon-person zone. This only becomes a problem when you realise that neutral races may be of good faction but are not allowed to start in Kelethin. This could have been made clearer on the racial choice screen, would have saved us some time at least.

Neither WoW nor EQ2 make it easy to get from one starting zone to another if you don’t know the game. This is something we don’t see so much in newer games. LOTRO provides quick cheap travel between starting zones, for example. In any case, it is quite important to coordinate races/ classes/ faction if you want to start playing with a friend.

Faydwer or bust

I’ve very much liked the fae and their starting zone. The character models and wings are pretty, and they look good in their newbie gear. The starter area features many annoying NPCs, and the usual sorts of quests, with at least one cave full of mobs that we found quite challenging.

After that, you escape into the wider world of Greater Faydark, a pretty forest zone with a river running through it. The fae city of Kelethin, built on treetop platforms, is the main point of interest. Although the city was initially confusing to navigate, with time and practice we got the hang of it quite well. It’s like a mini-metaphor for the game itself. It’s a pretty place and the introductory questline soon has you exploring, killing things, collecting items, and getting very lost in the process. We wound up with a little instanced boss fight.

After that, the sense is that you’re back to questing as usual. The zone is laid out with quest hubs. They follow the pattern of sending you out multiple times to the same area to kill similar but slightly different mobs. In other words – once you are past the cool starting quests, they don’t put in so much effort into entertaining the player. Some people might say that it means they aren’t holding you by the hand so much. And this is true, the experience is less guided.

I don’t find it as fun as WoW questing. Quests that tell a coherent story with a variety of things to do and see are just more fun than going back 17 times to the orc area to kill slightly harder orcs on each outing. (I may be exaggerating but I swear it isn’t by much.) But it’s not as bad as it sounds either. The orcs actually do get tougher and have different abilities, some come in groups, other patrol, and so on. So you do have to think a bit about how to kill them, whether you want to suicide to kill one out of a group of three so that there will only be two of them when you run back.

So oddly enough, in its old fashioned questy way, EQ2 does deliver the gameplay. And it does it much better than LOTRO’s take on the same design. I got way more bored of killing wolves in the Lone Lands than I have of killing orcs in Faydark – and part of this is because there are so many other things to do nearby if I get bored of orcs and want a break.

Zone Design

One of the really intriguing things about EQ2 is how varied it can be. I’ve only seen a few zones – starting zones, zones I accidentally zoned into while exploring, the festival zone that’s available this week, but I feel already that figuring out how to navigate the terrain is part of the design here.

If you look at Northrend, there are neatly labelled roads leading everywhere and if you want to take a shortcut you can probably see fairly easily where to go. The zones I’ve seen in EQ2 haven’t been laid out in quite that way. Although there are paths in the Faydark, often I’ve wanted to cut across country and had to figure out how to use the terrain to make this easier. There are bridges, ladders, trees to climb, and cliffs to jump off.

Although zones probably still consist of neatly laid out patches of quest mobs, they don’t seem so obvious. And I know that although exploring has been frustrating at times, it’s also quite fun for me to figure my way around.

Baby’s first addon

I wasn’t planning on using addons for EQ2, I wanted the raw experience. But when I couldn’t remember where my questgiver was, I figured I needed a good mapping addon. I don’t mind if games want to make the location of the quest OBJECT obscure – exploring is fun – but I don’t really want to have to run twice round the zone because I didn’t make a note of where I got a quest from and have a bad memory.

Again, this is something where WoW has the same issues but more recent games really shine. LOTRO and Aion, for example, give good records of where quests came from in their quest logs.

Anyhow, enter EQ2Map. It was very easy to install and does the job fine, it has records of where all the various mobs and NPCs in a zone are and lets you search for them. And from having too little information on my map, I now have too much. I’m trying to use the map responsibly and only check locations when I really can’t remember them.

Using the channels

This is going to be a great example of where EQ2 doesn’t give out its secrets without a fight. There is a general advice channel called level_1-9 that all new players are on. I had assumed this was mostly for players of levels 1-9 but when I hit level 10 I wasn’t able to find a level_10-19 channel, so who knows?

I also see people using the 1-9 channel to look for high level groups. This leads me to suspect three possibilities:

  1. Players assume that anyone of levels 1-9 is probably an alt of a high level player
  2. This has become the general channel, whether that was originally intended or not
  3. No one else can figure out how the other channels work either

Seriously I was unable to find any reference to channels in the in-game help. I also wonder if the LFG functionality is really really bad in EQ2. I have no idea whether or not it is, because I haven’t found that either.

Class Design and Combat

I’m not a huge fan of EQ2 class design. Certainly as a new player, there seem to be lots of classes doing roughly similar things. I can see how the casters are vaguely different from each other but I see many many support classes with a variety of buffs. And no way to know at the start how they actually differ.

I think this is because of the original design that let people start with a base class and then specialise. If they made it a bit clearer on the class choice screen what the base role was, and how the subclasses fitted in, it might make more sense. I’m still not clear on how a fury is different from a shaman though (how many healers with buffs does a game really need?)

If you are a buffing class, expect to have an unfeasible amount of buffs. I think the general idea is to let players choose which buffs they want to spend their concentration on. In practice, it’s just annoying. Especially when you die and have to cast all of them again. I swear I can’t remember what all mine do without mousing over them and waiting a couple of seconds for the game to throw up a tooltip.

My Dirge is basically a scout/ rogue type with some support abilities. So it can stealth, dual wield, and use positional attacks, and it has a lot of buffs. (Did I mention that there are loads of buffs in this game yet?) For crowd control, I have a snare, and that’s it so far. The trouble is, buffs aren’t very interesting. You cast them once and then play as if they weren’t there. I’m assuming I get more abilities as I level though.

Certainly I’ve had to use 3 quickbars so far and it feels a bit overwhelming. Despite that, combat is pretty straight forwards. Use your combat abilities in whatever order best suits (some do chain, like a positional attack after a stun, but most don’t). Then autoattack while you wait for the cooldowns to come up again. My attacks do use mana so there’s an element of mana-management also.

What I’m not so sure of is whether other classes have vastly different mechanics or not. You can compare with WoW or WAR to see that each class plays quite differently, they each have their signature mechanic. I don’t get that feel so much yet with EQ2. It’s always ‘use abilities, wait for cooldowns’.

So I’m not finding combat very exciting. I don’t really have abilities which work better on different mobs, and only one positional attack. One thing you do get though is that every class has a ranged attack, even if it’s just being able to use a bow to pull.

As well as xp, you can also get achievement points from completing quests, exploring, and so on. After around level 9ish (I think) you can start to spend these on achievement abilities. It’s not TOO hard to figure out which of these is most useful and I think you can respec them later anyway. But it is an added complexity that is unavoidable – by that what I mean is that if you wanted a casual game where you didn’t want to have to worry about talent specs, this probably isn’t it.

I hadn’t wanted to spend much time poking around on bboards for talent builds in this game, I do enough of that in WoW. But the official boards are reasonably well organised and will probably throw up some useful stickies about AAs on the class boards.

I make my first million

Collections are another big part of the game. It’s very simple. You see a glowy thing. You pick it up. You examine it. Hurrah, you can add it to your collection, which also gets it out of your bag (another huge hurrah to that). If you complete a collection you can hand it in to a collections NPC for xp and probably achievement points too.

But the really great thing about collection items is that you can sell them to rich, lazy, high level characters for lots of cash. OK, amount of cash varies but they do sell well. Other things that sell are rare crafting items (when you gather from a node, you have a chance to get a rare item), rare lore items that drop from mobs, and just about anything else. The economy seems fairly active.

Best of all, the current festival features a lot of collecting, and those items made me my first plat. That’s the advantage of a euro-timezone, you can go collect stuff while the yanks are asleep.

The festival is a gnome related tinkering festival (gnomes being engineers/ tinkers seems a really common fantasy meme, not sure where that came from). I saw it was live on the login screen, and when I asked on channel 1-9 I was told that there was a festival area in Kelethin from which I could join in. (Players are generally really friendly in this game, from what I have seen.) So off I went to check this out. I found some gnomy celebrators letting off fireworks – what were they thinking in a city built in trees? – and they also had a portal to their tinkering hometown. I went, I explored, I collected, I bought some crazy tinker gadgets for my one-acorn house, it was fun!

My house actually now reminds me of the garage of a guy I used to work with who collected analogue amplifiers and … err… just about anything else. He never had a walking plant called Uncle though, I bet.

So what’s the appeal?

Now here’s the dilemma of EQ2.

It’s not very player friendly and particularly not very newbie friendly. It is very easy to log in and not really have any specific goals. You do notice this in comparison to newer games that make it much easier to decide what you want to accomplish in a session. Fighting solo is not especially exciting. The class design is confusing. You will have too many abilities.

The quest design feels old fashioned. There will be a lot of commuting between your quest hub and their mobs of choice. I don’t honestly know if I can stand 80 levels of it. You will not be pointed towards more interesting content, even if it exists.

Someone was reflecting mournfully on channel 1-9 this morning, ‘Does anyone group for the level 10-30 instances any more?’ I felt a pang of sadness, because I hadn’t even realised that there were any. I’m sure newbies in WoW have exactly the same experience (this is why WoW is the only game you really can compare EQ2 with, they’re so similar in some respects …).

I feel as though I’ve spent a long time in Greater Faydark, even though I know that the WoW starter zones cover similar level ranges. But the difference is that I feel more in control of the pace in EQ2. It is slower (there aren’t cool quests and storylines that take you by the hand and guide you through) but it’s been much easier to break off and do something else for a while or just go and explore.

I feel that EQ2 is more of an adventure. This may just be because I’m a newbie there. But it seems such a mixture of different design ideas and zones, I don’t really know what might be coming next. I do feel more in control of the pace at which I play, again that might be because of being so new to it and also playing solo/duo which always gives you more control.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to high level. But I do know I’m not done here yet.