Everquest 2: Crafting, and Taking Things Easy

We’re still playing Everquest 2, but we’ve slowed down a bit on progress for a couple of reasons:

  1. I got to the end of my trial period, so I forked over some cash for a month. The EQ2 launcher responded by wanting me to redownload the game. That kind of ate one of our sessions.
  2. While I was doing this, Arb decided to experiment with a couple of other classes she was interested in. A couple of hours later she announced that Warden was The One :) (You can take the girl away from the healer, but you can’t take the healer out of the girl!) She then decided to reroll it so that we could both stay as fae.
  3. Found that we could both get some housing! Major excitement! Distracted us from questing for a while.
  4. New patch in LOTRO has been distracting for Arb. That basically gave me more time to get into the crafting in EQ2 (I think we both accept that if our main game puts in some new stuff, it’s likely that we’ll want to play that with other friends.) I do love that I can mess about with crafting without getting out of synch with xp.
  5. It’s been hot, so we haven’t been much in the mood for long sessions.

In any case, we’re all caught up now and the fae are at around level 12. So the fae starter area has been much slower for us than the Sarnak one, but we are both enjoying it more. The wings definitely help.

I definitely spend more time in EQ2 feeling puzzled or frustrated than I remember being the case in other games I’ve played over the last couple of years. That’s not particularly a bad thing, but the game doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand, even when that seems to have been the intention. Once we got used to it, we enjoyed getting lost occasionally, having to stop to discuss what to do next, or figure out what was going on.

We’ve certainly had some quests where we had to spend a few minutes exploring or searching round and area to locate the specific place they wanted us to be. And quests themselves do a fairly good job of mixing up exploring (go to location X), with killing (and kill mob Y), and gathering (and pick up stuff Z while you’re there). We also finished the long quest line that ends up making you a citizen of the city, which was good fun. They get you to explore, to learn your way around the treetops, and you wind up by killing a mini-boss in an instance.

I’m also enjoying the 3D nature of Kelethin (the fae starting area), although I imagine it could be a pain without wings. For a start, we can easily jump off the fae treetop city without having to go via a lift. Now that we’ve spend some time running around it, the city is also growing on me. It’s a set of platforms linked by rope bridges and branches.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t seen many other low level characters around. There are chat channels for levels 1-9 and so on. People who talk on them aren’t restricted to those levels, but we do sometimes hear people asking for help (and generally being answered). So the chat channel gives the lower levels a sort of community … kind of. I like the basic idea.

A room without a view

Most exciting part of exploring the fae city was when I found that we could each get some housing. It starts as a cheap one-room acorn and you zone into your room via the housing area. So the rooms are instanced and you pay a weekly rent, which you can pay in advance. It’s like being in a hotel.

You also get given a few items of furniture to start you off, and you can place them wherever you like in the room. I put my mirrors at fae height so I guess anyone taller will get a good view of their own crotch. There’s a vault too.

I know that houses can get very big and expansive but even right from the start it’s obvious why EQ2 housing has been so popular. It’s accessible, it’s fun, it’s easy to customise, and it’s useful. Thumbs up. Now I just need more stuff to put in mine.

I dip my toes into crafting

I knew a few things about EQ2 crafting before venturing into it. It is more involved and complex than the typical ‘hit the button and watch the green bar’, you get separate crafting xp from adventuring xp so you can actually level up as a crafter in this game, and … that I regularly got killed in crafting accidents when I tried the game in beta.

So I started off by locating the crafting trainer in the Fae City, who gets you started with a quest – to go and gather lots of stuff. Gathering is similar to other MMOs in that you wander around the world looking for herbs, ore, fish, or rats nests which are nodes that you use to harvest the materials. Maybe it’s my WoW (and LOTRO, and every other game ever) bias showing but I’m still not clear why you’d gather leather from rats nests when there are perfectly good deer and pigs around the place to kill.

Eventually, when you are done with this, you go back and are allowed to actually use the equipment located in an instanced crafting area. Each type of craft has its own table/ forge/ oven etc which has cool animations when you use it.  The crafting itself stymied me at first, I made the mistake of looking at my skill list which instantly resulted in confusion at the very very extensive list of craft related skills with no clues on how to use them.

But I decided to press on and just try making something, and that worked out much better. When you create an item, a crafting window comes up showing various green progress bars. Along the bottom of this window (and bound to keys 1-6) are various icons. As the crafting progresses, icons will occasionally flash up on the window. When they do, you hit one of the matching icons at the bottom.

Crafting progresses as a series of ticks. On each tick, your progress has a chance to increase, but the durability of the item also has a chance to decrease. Your goal is to get to the end of the progress bar while there is still some durability left on the last bar. So it’s a kind of pattern matching game. There is a bit more to it. Each icon you pick at the bottom has a bonus and a penalty (so one might give a bonus to success but a penalty to durability or vice versa) so as well as pattern matching, you have to balance up your success/ durability.

It’s definitely a lot less complex than I remember from the beta (at that stage you had to make lots and lots of subcomponents too).

I found it quite frustrating initially. It feels very random. Sometimes you’re just going to fail but you have to keep going anyway because you need the skill ups. But after a few practice tries, I was more able to understand the long email of useful crafting advice that Ysharros kindly sent us. I made some stuff!! I’m feeling that this process is a little deeper than it seems at the start and quite enjoying EQ2 crafting now.

At the exalted tiers of crafting level 9 I now get to select a crafting skill in which to specialise. I can pick between being a crafter (can make furnishings, food), outfitter (can make armour and weapons), and scholar (can make potions, jewellry, scrolls). I have no idea which of these might be useful to us or work well for making some cash in game. But I’m not really attracted by the idea of Scholar –- I’d rather make stuff we can wear, eat, or put in our rooms.

In a typical example of non-handholding, the materials you gather from the first part of the crafting quest are not actually quite sufficient to let you craft all the items that they ask for in the second part. I decided I was too lazy to gather more so instead I checked out the broker who is also located in the crafting area. It’s not really an auction house so much as a combined player vendor. So players from all over the game can give items to a broker to sell, which he’ll do in return for a small cut of the profit.

So I browsed the vendor for my missing rawhide leather hides, and bought a handful of the cheapest ones. They were transferred immediately to my bag without needing to go via the mailbox. I think I much prefer this scheme to an auction house for commodity type goods. Auctions are great for rare or high value items where the actual value isn’t well known. But so often I just use it like a shop – I think I prefer having an actual shop in those cases.

And … the exit questionnaire

After I subscribed, I immediately unsubbed so as to avoid any kind of automatic resubscription. I always do this on MMOs, even if I know I’m in for the long term because I like to at least have the choice to get out at regular intervals even if I decide not to use it.

EQ2, like many games, sent me off to answer an extensive exit questionnaire when I unsubscribed. Most of the questions were very irrelevant, especially since I have every intention of resubbing as long as we’re still playing and enjoying it.

But I do give them props for including “I don’t like automatic resubscriptions” as a selectable answer in the first ‘Why do you hate us??111!!!!’ question. I like it when drop down lists actually include an answer that does reflect my thought process, it makes me feel less weird. I’m pretty sure that WoW, by contrast, doesn’t give that option and makes you fill out the ‘you must be some kind of weirdo’ “Other answer, please specify below” box.

How dumb is too dumb?

The latest round of Ulduar nerfs has sparked off a slew of posts about games being dumbed down and why you need to be a moron to play Warcraft these days. Gevlon blames social players, riding hard on his regular strawman fallacy that ‘the pure social sucks in everything he does’. Tobold sneers that the game is skill-less.

From my perspective, I still think that current raiding is harder than back in 40 man days. It isn’t really the instances fault that players have several years more experience in playing the game and have seen it all before. It does have some depth but not unlimited amounts.  The hard modes do seem to be providing reasonable entertainment for hardcore guilds while more casual setups pick away at the normal modes.

And when you boil skill down to reaction times, how good people are at watching several graphical effects going off around them, and reading strategies/watching videos – well, some people aren’t as good at that type of video game. Twitch is not for everyone. But WoW-types with their one-size-fits-all endgame are shoehorning them in somehow.

I don’t recall the levelling game ever being difficult (I certainly managed to get to level 60 when the game was new without ever really figuring out my class) so there’s no real point beating it up for that now as if something dramatic has changed. The old days when we walked both ways uphill through the snow to our bindstones were only ‘difficult’ because they were a pain in the neck. Not because they were actually … difficult. Now there are real advantages to having some frustrating content in games (immersion for example, and downtime for socialising) but frustrating is not the same as hard.

Can we just stop calling players morons?

I get that it’s frustrating to play with people who are dragging your performance down, but how about we just quit calling the people you never ever play with names.

Sente has a great post up at A Ding World where he compares MMOs to a virtual pub (ie. a relaxed hangout) and a virtual casino(ie. much more focussed and reward oriented set of activities, owners very motivated to keep you there), and concludes that he prefers the pub.

A lot of people prefer the pub. A lot of people don’t want to have to prove themselves to a bunch of hardcore elitists who will call them morons if they commit some serious crime like … ooo … having the wrong gem in one socket. They’re not morons, and they’re not necessarily ‘pure socials’. They’re just trying to tell you that they’re in for the beer and pretzels gaming and you should stick to your own kind.

Retirement vs Challenge

This week I have committed a terrible crime which I usually try to avoid. I read something cool in a blog post and forgot to bookmark it. So if this came from you, let me know and I’ll add in the link.

In any case, I was reading this article and the writer compared the ideas of Retirement Gaming with Challenge Gaming. This is simple but brilliant. The Retirement Gamer thinks ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want to enjoy it by having the game become easier.’ The Challenge Gamer thinks, ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want more of a challenge!’

The best MMOs cater to both of these viewpoints. And I suspect that most players, however hardcore, enjoy both of them. After all, the whole point of repeating raids is that you get them onto farm mode eventually. If you get good at the auction house, you have a larger pot of money to play with so you have an easier time making still more.

When a gamer gets a new shiny level, ability, or item, they want the chance to go show it off and feel uber. It’s fun to go back to a zone when you’re totally overgeared and take vicious revenge on some mob that bullied you as a wee noob. It’s fun to try soloing old instances after you outlevel them. It’s a very RPG thing to want to do. I did the same thing when I was GMing pen and paper games. In order for progression to be meaningful, the player needs evidence that they have progressed. And what better way to do this than to let them ease through a fight that gave them trouble in the past?

Who is really harmed if older zones become virtual pubs?

The question is, how many people really do want more of a challenge? A lot of people will say that they want more difficulty. But is it true? Gear based games have an easy answer to introducing more challenge – just up the health/damage of the mobs, or throw in some extra adds or a vicious ability on a cooldown. But there still comes a point where you’ve gotten most of the depth from the game that you’re going to get. After that, it’ll be down to twitch skills, knowledge of game mechanics and how good you are at finding X other people of the appropriate class/spec/gear/twitch skill/dedication.

And at that point, you may find that you get more challenge from playing a different game with new mechanics to learn and master. Challenge gamers in an MMO will find that their game has an end, a natural point at which the best way to find more challenge is to switch games.

Annoying things healers do #12: Whining about line of sight

Your feet are not nailed to the ground. If I run round a corner out of line of sight, YOU CAN MOVE TWO FEET FORWARDS TO STAY IN LINE OF SIGHT.

It is sometimes useful to whine about line of sight. In some fights, there are reasons why the healers can’t move –  maybe they need to stay in range of someone else as well.

Or maybe the tank didn’t realise they could take a small step back and be back in line of sight. This happens a lot at the top of ramps.

For some reason characters in WoW are not able to target something that is just over the crest of a ramp when they are below it, even though they can see it perfectly well (this, in technical terms, means that they do have line of sight even if the game swears that they don’t. So annoying.)

But it drives me nuts when I’m doing a line of sight pull and the healer is standing there like a lemon while I’m luring some ranged mob around a corner. Of course I’m out of line of sight, that’s why it’s a line of sight pull. Do I really have to spend two minutes typing that before I do it, or … can I just assume that the healer is watching the tank. In a 5 man instance. Just before a pull. I mean, what the heck else were you watching?

Also, do not get pissed off at me if the conversation during the pull goes something like:

You: Argh … line of sight

Me: So move then.

Do not claim that this was not polite. Believe me, it was VERY polite.