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Tweaking Norrath: Finding the Fun

As I've elaborated extensively in my last entry [edit: which has been removed because extensive elaboration of games is an unproductive focus] I've been having a hard time getting back into EverQuest 2. It's not that I hate the game - I actually had a pretty friendly relationship with it up until recently. So it's unfortunate that here I've resubscribed to EverQuest 2, partly for the very reason as to document it on my shiny new game blog, only to find myself running into a brick wall of apparent burnout that may drive me out just as quickly.

Then it hit me: Maybe I'm going at this all wrong.

Finding the fun missing in EverQuest 2 has been my effort this Thanksgiving weekend, albeit it has been one of mixed results. It's sort of hard to enjoy the "massively multiplayer" when half the players are totally inaccessible due to a recent expansion, after all. But I have undergone several efforts to justify the $15 of my wallet's soul I willingly sold to the Sony Online Entertainment empire, and I think that I've partly succeeded in this aim.

--- Soloing: The Antidrug for Grouping Issues ---

In the wake of criticism following EQ2's release, soloing has risen from a substandard drag to the primary activity this game, but I've often felt it was lacking. Lately, I've uncovered one of the major problems behind it: Green-con quests and a misguided belief one has to finish them. EQ2 is so busting at the seams with quest content that you can't help but outlevel the majority of your quests, and I know this because I wasted quite a few hours in trying to avoid doing just that. Even in completing nothing but green-con quests I'll outlevel some, and most green quests will be unchallenging and unrewarding.

The solution is a simple change in priority: I've been focusing on blue to yellow quests. The first major benefit of this is that suddenly the quest journal is a much less crowded place, rather than simply the greater rewards and challenge involved in tacking appropriately leveled quests. If I ever run out of proper leveled quests, I'll no doubt have green ones to do. So far that hasn't proven a problem, as EQ2 is more than happy to deliver up another delicious pile of quest content. If my journal fills with outleveled quests, I can always just abandon some... maybe taking the time to look to see if I'd still be interested in that reward. I could very well find EQ2 getting much more interesting now that I'm willing to drop the deadweight of old quests.

It shouldn't concern me that I can't find much groups resulting in a buildup of unsoloable content. There's quite a lot of solo quests, recognizable as being not "Heroic" and not "Epic" on the journal. If I ever find myself short on solo content, there's actually a quite few adventure packs one can purchase for under 10 bucks (or free with an All Station Pass) which provide some more.

--- Crafting: The Other Half of the Game ---

Crafting is another great option, and one that City of Heroes doesn't (yet) have. While I would hesitate to make a character purely for crafting purposes, EverQuest 2's crafting system is so robust that one can actually do so. Crafting is more than just a subgame in EQ2, it's another half (or at least a quarter) of the game. A great deal of sustainable enjoyment can be found in EQ2 in leveling up not only your adventure levels and also crafting levels, and that's something I've been playing with a bit.

Part of the reason why crafting works transcends the interactive minigame of crafting the items and gets into the broker. The broker is EQ2's "auction house", a market in which players can put their items up for sale to other items. If you're not using the broker, start, because this is where you'll make the vast majority of your money in EQ2 through putting up things you don't need for people who do. If EQ2's broker is at all unique compared to that in other MMORPGs, it's just in the sheer sophistication of the thing, dealing with many more categories of items than you'll find in WoW and delivering them in a far more elegant manner than FFXI's console roots allows it to.

Even when City of Heroes gets around to adding its invention system, the lack of a broker will leave it lacking in terms of making trade skilling a viable activity. If they want traffic in the Pocket D, forget about adding arena terminals, try adding brokers.

--- Playing With Friends: The Other Grouping Antidrug... Fails in EQ2 ----

Another way to get around having not that many pick up group players is to play with people you know. Unfortunately, I've found that this didn't work out too well with me and a good friend who was also playing the game.

My friend plays on Nagafen, a PvP server, along with some long known guild mates of his. He has a character over level 40, and I just have a level 20 Coercer over there. I decided to abandon the Coercer because, on a PvP server, such a low durability character is just every passing Scout's pincushion. I wanted a character that would invoke hesitation in a Scout to attack it. Deciding that a Fury could just be silenced with the right poison, I briefly started a Bruiser with this goal mind. However, I soon abandoned it when I realized the central problem I have with EQ2's PvP servers is it's a completely unoptional activity that serves only to deliver periodic and uninvited interruptions to my play experience. It is pretty exciting having to watch your back all the time, but my nerves don't enjoy the stress.

However, that my friend plays on a PvP server isn't the reason why playing with friends fails in EQ2. It's the level limitation, which EQ2 attempts to resolve with the mentoring system but not quite well enough. There are some benefits that mentoring has in EQ2 compared to City of Heroes's mentoring, that being that the mentor can continue to gain experience and levels while fighting lower level content. What's more, as many as five players can mentor to the same player. Unfortunately, not many players care for the idea of experience points fighting in the same content they've cleared, nor care to explore EQ2 enough to find content they missed n the way up. I like CoH's sidekicking option better as it a low level player to join his higher level friends wherever they are. That way the higher level friends can feel good about playing where they belong without having to interrupt their progress, and the lower level guys can tag along and check out content they won't be able to reach for quite few more levels.

Meh, I guess they're both CoH and EQ2 have okay systems, but in my case the combination of a PvP server and EQ2's mentoring system proved toxic. Who wants to mentor down to a deadly PvP level: level 8, the level my Bruiser on Nagafen achieved, is prime hunting for the newbie gankers and I don't blame my friend for keeping as far away from that as possible.

--- Savor It ---

I'm going to preach a bit of mindfulness philosophy here. EverQuest 2 is a beautiful game, there's a great deal of work done at producing some elaborate content for you to enjoy. Though we often tune these things out, we should really stop more often to smell the roses. Sit up, take a breath, and look at whatever's on your screen with new eyes. You may find you've been missing something obvious and very enjoyable regardless of where you are in EQ2. If I remembered this more often, I'd probably find nothing to complain about EQ2. For that matter, I'd probably find nothing worth complaining about anything. It's funny how paying more attention can cause one to find less to complain about.

--- Desperate Measures ---

Some players resort to multiboxing as a way to make their MMORPG experience more interesting. This practice basically involves purchasing multiple accounts and connecting with multiple computers simultaneously. Although it gives a single player an advantage, it's completely legal... unless you try to assistance programs/bots. What's more, it offers a much different gaming experience over trying to play these often oversimplified games.

Multiboxing is not exactly a practice above reproach though. I've already mentioned the advantage a player gets over non-multiboxing players and, while that's legal in most games, multiboxing still renders the playing field uneven. It's also a problem because it provides players an alternative from socializing, which limitations inherant in a single character are often deliberately engineered to encourage. There's the easy criticism that you'd have to be real desperate to dump that much cash, purchasing the necessary multiple computers and accounts, to play a single MMORPG. The most damning criticism, however, probably belongs on the shoulders of the game developer: Look, dude, your game is so simple that some people resort to playing it on sevreal boxes simultaneously to derive fun out of it! But actually, EQ2 and City of Heroes are fast paced enough that such cannot really be done at full efficiency, at least not without illegal botting assistance.

Another thing I'll never do is engage in Real Money Trades for gear. EverQuest 2 has actual "exchange" servers specifically set up to facilitate controlled RMT transactions. They even offer free character transfers to these servers. I don't like the idea of buying virtual items for my characters. This isn't just because I can't afford such a proposition, but also because its premise is flawed. The idea is that you don't have as much time as other players and therefore you purchase items from them in order to complete. The logical flaw is in believing you're actually there to compete. MMORPGs aren't a race, and if were, you lose whether or not you dump money into buying gear just because you don't have as much time to use said gear. What's more, if you're bored at level 15 with newbie gear you're probably also going to be bored of the game at level 45 with fully twinked out gear: the game mechanic has not changed. You may think you're saving time to get to the fun, but you're missing the point that playing the game itself is supposed to be fun.

I mentioned RMT because it belongs in a section called, "Desperate Measures", and not because I really recommend this as a way to find the fun missing in your MMORPG. But hey, some people can delude themselves into thinking this works, and that's why the RMT industry exists. I'm not going to change the world with this blog entry: RMT is here to stay.

--- Still Not Hooked ---

So, there you have it, a long blog entry few people have time to read about some ways to enjoy (or not enjoy) EQ2. In short, my new tactic is to focus on even con quests, do some trade skills from time ot time, and stop to smell the roses. That should keep me entertained... at least until the end of the month.

That's assuming I'm not repelled from EQ2 outright, which currently feels likely. I've mentioned few other players to group with, but that's more of a magnifier than a direct game killer. The main problem is that I'm just having a hard time getting into a single character despite having come up with some ways to find the best ways to enjoy them. Without that level a commitment, there's no way a MMORPG can stand, but it's more a personal issue I'm having with getting into the groove than a problem with EQ2. My saying I'm going to leave the game for CoH doesn't help establish that sense of commitment, either.

So it is that I'm just reinforcing the feeling that, unless I'm hooked by the end of the month, I'll likely go to City of Heroes. It's not a plainly superior game, but it has some things going for it: CoH's combat is no faster than EQ2, I've actually found it a bit slower thanks to the animation time balance, but the effects of individual powers (hotkeyed moves) are a lot more flexible. Grouping is another great boon to CoH - I know how to use their robust grouping mechanic enough to get into one every day over there. If my friend who is into PvP was over here, he'd be able to enjoy the PvP takes place in specific (if often sparsely populated) PvP zones with built in additional PvP activities while I'd be able to sidekick or mentor to him at any time. Perhaps most influential aspect of all, the upcoming issues promise to add a whole lot of fun to the game.

Both games have a fair amount of depth in the game mechanic and attention to the game world, but CoH is just a bit more... I don't know... comfortable? EQ2's world has become a giant mansion filled with elaborate hand-crafted furniture and designated workships, but is haunted by large expanses of empty wings. CoH is a reasonably large sized town house with paintings of colorful abtract art on the walls and, while it may accomidate less people than he mansion and still have empty rooms here and there, it is considerably more cozy than the mansion. I don't know why I thought of that analogy, but it strikes me as most appropriate to describe the differences between the two games.
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