Where I live, both Burger King and Texas Steak House are in walking distance. Both serve meals, and both of those meals may contain beef. I could walk into the steak house and notice that the wait was too long, the menu was not posted prominently with pictures of the meals as you walked in, the meals were vastly overpriced, the music was too loud, the place was too crowded, the servers demanded I decide how I wanted my meal cooked, they served alcohol, and that since Burger King was arguably a LOT more popular, they would be well served by changing their business, or at least to be more aware of the BK way.
And the server staff occasionally breaks into line dancing! BK doesn’t do that AT ALL! What are they THINKING?
But I won’t go there, because that would be weird. Burger King and the Texas Steak House do their own things, and the world of fine dining is enriched by the choices on offer.
Wolfshead wrote a piece a couple days ago about EverQuest 2′s first fifteen minutes. He mentioned this is the sort of review you might find a game undergoing in game development, but the post was written for public view and in the time-honored role of the blogger, here are my thoughts on it.
Much of his review was actually a direct comparison between EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft, where WoW’s positioning of the ESRB warning, the background for its character selection screen, and lower emphasis on crafting at lower levels were seen as the gold standard from which all better MMOs would do well to copy.
First, it’s pointless to EVER design an MMO, even a fantasy MMO in the same general genre as World of Warcraft, as an homage to WoW. Blizzard will always be better at making WoW than a third party, and as Wolfshead points out, most WoW players couldn’t really care less about non-WoW MMOs, so efforts to copy the game would mostly be for nothing.
Secondly, WoW is indisputably the most profitable MMO in the world. But is it the best? That’s where personal tastes enter the picture. World of Warcraft is an on-rails, largely solo game until the level cap (even when I played WoW pre-BC, hardly anyone grouped outside of instances). EverQuest 2 is meant to be a more social game with many different paths to the level cap. Both approaches are valid.
The Shadow Odyssey
Wolfshead wonders why, several weeks in, he still doesn’t know where The Shadow Odyssey takes place, whereas he knows exactly where Wrath of the Lich King takes place in WoW. Well, truth is, he’s probably already been there. TSO added breadth to the game — it added more dungeons and quests to zones all over Norrath. The Freeport newbie fields, Commonlands, holds TSO content. Everfrost, Lavastorm all have TSO stuff. The new zone, Moors of Ykesha, you can travel to and do certain quests from level 45. This is something unknown to the WoW world, but common in the EQ world — the broadening of the world.
Especially for crafters (but also for higher level adventurers), TSO opened a new leveling path — and for those who like soloing, it is almost entirely a solo leveling path.
Crafting, in EQ2, is a separate line of advancement. You can be a level 80 crafter and have access to the appropriate level chat channels and so on — and have special high level crafting armor and jewelry — without gaining even one level in your adventuring class. This is unknown in the WoW world, where your crafting abilities are tied to your adventure level.
One of the first questions you were asked when you left the newbie island in the original EQ2 was if you were to be an adventurer or a crafter, though your answer did not constrain you to one or the other path.
Minute 2-3 — inappropriate character background screen. This got a big “HUH?” from me. I thought back to all the fantasy MMOs I have played — Guild Wars, Spellborn, EverQuest, Dream of Mirror Online, Florensia — and tried to recall what the character selection backgrounds were. Well, in EQ, the background used to be a little room specific to your class you could run around in. That was fun :) EQ2 used to have random character background screens before they replaced them all with the current screens from Echoes of Faydwer’s New Tunaria background. But still… background screen?
Minutes 3-4: Character Creation — Too Many Choices
EQ2 was so proud of their character creator that they gave it away prior to the game launch so that people could design their characters in advance. Most people saw this as a good thing, including me. Here’s some of my actual EQ2 characters. All are halflings, most of them female. Their faces are unique and yet consistent. Tipa’s mood is happy, while Etha’s is angry — you can change your expression to fit your mood in EQ2 (but because that option is not available in WoW, does it matter?)
Should you decide to change your face, that option is available for a single gold piece in major cities. So there’s no problems with hitting the random button a few times at character creation until there’s something you can live with, then coming back to it later. I’ve changed Verd’s face a couple of times.
Minute 6-7: Class Selection
Wolfshead’s comment: Class selection should tell how good each character is at soloing, grouping and raiding. Well — that changes all the time. All classes can solo, have group skills, and raid options. I play a bard, and the bard’s role in raids is about to drastically change from being utterly necessary to meh, one will do. Each class has one or more specs that will increase its soloing potential; each has one or more specs that would help groups, and one or more specs that would boost its raid use. Any two specs can be freely switched with the aid of an AA mirror. Wolfhead’s comment on class selection has no meaning in EverQuest 2, while it might in WoW.
Minutes 8-10 – The Player Arrives in Norrath
Largely spent trashing EQ2′s user modifiable UI with the non-modifiable (without addons) WoW UI. Eh, different tastes. EQ2′s casting and combat are very different than WoW’s; in particular, EQ2 has far, far more options. Whether this is a plus or a minus is a matter of taste.
Wolfshead acknowledges that pretty much all of his perceived issues could be solved by a custom UI, such as those commonly and nearly universally used in WoW. As a hard of sight person myself, I was able to arrange things for easy seeing. Here’s my UI — and yes, it’s busy, but that’s EQ2 for you. A matter of taste. I can find everything I need.
Clearly, a new character’s UI won’t be this busy — but it needs to have room to expand. WoW’s fixed default UI won’t last you very long at all, unless the thought of switching hot bars all the time appeals to you. (Note, I am not acquainted with the WoW UI aside from the game as it was when I played.)
Minutes 12-14: Combat and Abilities
Combat in EQ2 is very different from WoW’s. There’s no global cooldown timer, for instance. There ARE some instant (or at least, extremely short cast time) abilities, but I’m not sure how many a new character would have. I tend to recall only a few things being offered to new characters. I use a mix of fast and slow abilities on my characters.
The melee bar to EQ2, which not only tells you you are in combat mode but also when your autoattacks will hit so you can plan ability use around auto-swings should have shown Wolfshead when he was not only in combat mode, but in combat range. Not sure how he missed that.
He also advises reducing cast times by 30% for everything. I’m not sure why. Plenty of buffs, AAs and item effects which do that as you level, anyway.
Minutes 14-15 – Exposing the Player to Crafting Too Early
Already covered this — crafting is a separate character advancement path. Crafting characters, of which I have a few (Dora is my foremost), probably want to get started crafting right away, without having to kill stuff. Also, this low level crafting stuff sells for good money to other adventurers. Why wouldn’t you want to harvest it?
Wolfhead concludes that EQ2 fails on many fronts, most of which can be traced back to: It isn’t WoW, and is clearly subjective, though he mentions these things as if they were incontrovertible fact.
Here’s are my subjective thoughts: I find WoW’s character graphics grotesque and very off-putting. The bizarre death grins on the human males is particularly disturbing to me, but most WoW characters, especially as they advance, look as if they were crudely sculpted from Play-Doh.
It’s subjective! I LIKE the old EQ2 character graphics, and that’s what I use to this day. Wolfshead doesn’t like them. That’s okay! It doesn’t make EQ2 better or worse than WoW, just different.
His main recommendation is to update the newbie experience, which is such a good idea that SOE has done it many times. The Isle of Refuge has been entirely revamped, and new newbie experiences have been added in Kelethin, Neriak and Timorous Deep which not only improve it in various ways, but are so different from one another as to provide entirely new leveling paths.
I can’t look back on my first fifteen minutes at WoW for comparison, because they are all caught up in my year in the game. I liked WoW, I loved its newbie experience, I’m not going to say it was disappointing, because it was not. But I liked EQ2 as well, and I don’t ever want it to be WoW. EQ2 should NEVER add a feature JUST because it exists in WoW — it should always go its own way.
There’s nothing SOE could do to EQ2 to convince a million WoW players to switch, after all. That said, EQ2 does get a good share of WoW players — and I’m one of them.