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EQ2: The sixteenth minute — a rebuttal

Posted by on July 22, 2009

The planets are in alignment at the sicteenth minute...

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

faces

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.

Random screen shot.

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.

35 Responses to EQ2: The sixteenth minute — a rebuttal

  1. Gareth

    I liked a lot of Wolfshead’s article, one big small thing that’s true is that while the Rivendale style backdrop is great for Good characters I think they missed a mood thing when a big troll is standing there, it doesn’t need a Picasso in the background, but something mood setting for each distinct race would be great.

    The biggest bone I have though with his comments are on character customisation and also looks, personally I was quite horrified at the thought of someone from SOE reading them and thinking “this is a good idea” with the result that overnight EQ2 gets filled with beautiful Anime style characters that all look a bit the same as each other, man that would drag! Guildwars is already standing there in that spot, they look beautiful, they all look very similar, I like that game but still prefer EQ2. (as an aside I find it really cool that you can find people who choose to play trolls in EQ2, I respect a player who can do that!).

    Personally I play a Froglok and the character customisation for them is awesome, I feel a connection with the character that I don’t so much with WoW, WoW’s changing to a product made for video gamers who want the instant gratification, yet as they go further down that route I find that I cannot get the sort of pleasure from playing WoW that I used to at the same time, so basically they’re driving people like myself out, but I digress.

    If WoW is the gold standard, well they have a lot of really ugly races to play, yet they have a lot of people who choose to play what you see are ugly races, so I think you’ve gotten this one wrong.

    For some people its about being beautiful, but for most its really about being something you can believe in, its a role play thing because even WoW bills itself as a RPG (although its sort of a very basic one, and barely one at all these days at the end levels). But the lack of customisation here really does bite badly for long term play, its a natural impulse that people have in many cultures especially the western ones for people to look different. In WoW a lot of complaints come out that people look too samey at the end game, most are looking at the armour, but when I played it I had many a moment where I thought I saw a friend, but instead it was an identical avatar for someone else, that sucks.

    So overall I think you are right on a few quality issues, I disagreed on the button pushing thing with times, playing WAR for example lots of abilities are very fast, yet they feel very weak, in EQ2 they feel more powerful when they do happen. There is though a culture shock thing going from WoW to EQ2 with the lack of Global cooldown, its a step worse going to WAR where you can stack commands over time (which results in abilities going off seconds after you wanted to).

  2. foolsage

    Good discussion here. Honestly, I think Wolfshead made some valid points, especially about the UI. If you need to rely on 3rd party mods, the UI itself isn’t that great. Note that this same problem is very much the case for WoW. Who plays WoW without a ton of plugins these days? I also agree with the character creation background issue – it’s trivial but it does make an impact. The ESRB notice isn’t significant to me and I don’t see a need for change. I also think it’s valid to question what content is introduced in a new expansion. The game should make this plain to the player so we can make informed choices about whether we want to purchase the expansion. Frankly I never had a clear sense what content was in TSO either, in the time I played EQ2.

    I do however agree with Psychochild that it’s good to be clear on whether you’re approaching a review as objectively as possible (i.e. as an outsider with as much of a tabula rasa as possible) or subjectively comparing it to other MMOs. Both approaches are quite valid – subjective reviews of games and other media have become fairly normal for blogs in the last 5 years or so, and there’s nothing at all wrong with it. However, there’s a shift of tone from one to the other in Wolfshead’s article that’s a bit disconcerting to the reader.

  3. ysharros

    Wow, a week away from blogland (and rss feeds) and all EQ2 hell breaks loose! Meanwhile, I’ve… happily been playing EQ2, in between heavy working bouts. Which leaves me with 2 observations:

    – It was REALLY nice to be away from blogland and the RSS feeds, and have some mental peace and quiet for a chance. All this sturm und drang we shake, rattle and roll… it’s all in a teacup. An interesting one, but a teacup nonetheless.

    – Amen, sister. I have 3 (almost 5) level 80 crafters and no adventuring chars over 58. Hell, I was 70 crafting back when I was 30 adventuring, and harvesting quite happily in level 70 zones. So I died a few times… so what? It’s not impossible. And EQ2 is one of the very few games that absolutely does not force me to adventure in order to craft. That is a rare and precious thing, especially since the majority of players STILL think crafting is that button you click when you can’t find a group to go run a dungeon instance with.

    I seem to have lost my taste for polemic in the last week or two. Thanks for writing this rebuttal. ;)

    (Oh and AFAIK there is no auto-attack timer bar in the base UI and there really, REALLY should be. I’ve played nearly 18 months in my couple of EQ2 stints and it’s only recently that I got any kind of understanding of what auto-attack does, what a huge part it plays in combat (for some classes) and why you shouldn’t mash buttons so fast you never get one in. Anyway, there *are* modded auto-attack bars available.)

  4. Angry Raider

    My only issue with this whole thing is Wolfshead’s insistence that these are all just his opinions, and then turning around and insisting he’s right.

    But we all know it’s fun to bash something that people like and get them riled up. Just ask Tobold.

  5. Wolfshead

    Wolfshead, I’ve been meaning to write on your blog, but you made a few comments I read here first that I want to point out.

    Wolfshead wrote:
    This should not be what we as veteran MMO gamers are comfortable with, it should be about what EQ2 feels like from the perspective of a new subscriber.

    then wrote:
    I remember the original EQ where you were screwed in the endgame if you happened to choose the wrong class, so forgive me of being suspicious of SOE.

    You contradict yourself in these two sentences in the same comment. So, which is it? Are you looking at the game from fresh eyes untainted by previous associations, or are you bringing in your existing biases and opinions? I think that’s the core issue here, and the reason people are taking you to task for the continuous comparisons to WoW. You’re not really looking at this from a fresh perspective, and it shows. (Not to say the rest of us could easily set aside our biases, though. Mine shine through quite completely on my own blog.)

    I think you are holding me to an impossible standard here. I stated that I as a game designer was trying to simulate what a new subscriber to EQ2 might be thinking during their experience with introductory content. That person may very well have only played WoW before. I’ve made the point continually that part of what I was trying to do was to see how a WoW subscriber might perceive EQ2. I and others also made the point that it’s folly to ignore 11.6 million players currently subscribing to WoW. It’s would be unthinkable to analyze EQ2 without measuring the impact of WoW.

    There are lots of people who’ve chosen classes in WoW that find they aren’t particularly useful in the WoW endgame. I feel that is a legitimate question that a potential EQ2 newbie would want to ponder when deciding to choose a class. I’m not sure how stating this hurts my case.

    For me one of the core and innate abilities of a good game designer is having empathy for your players. Being able to put aside your own wants, needs and elite skills and think about the situation of the player. The ability to transpose your mindset into the mindset of the average gamer is a rare skill indeed. I don’t claim to have it but at least I tried to approximate that via the article. Take it for what it’s worth :)

    Let me give another example:
    However, how does one gather items if one doesn’t level up? I’ve seen most resource nodes usually near enemy camps in hostile areas?

    Again, you’re speaking as the veteran here. You want to know everything about the game, and you want to know it at the start! A less experienced person is going to go in and experience the game. Sure, you’re not going to be harvesting the highest level resources a few hours after making your first character. But, as you learn the game, you’ll figure out how you can get resources. In LotRO, I’ve taken my level 26 character into areas that are level 40+ to collect resources. You could do the same thing in EQ2 once you know the game better.

    The experiment is over for the purposes of my article and I’m now here replying as “me” not “Joe Newbie” to some comments about crafting where it’s been said that you can level crafting up independently of your character via combat. Of course a new player may not know that is possible or not possible. Speaking for me here, I’m very intrigued about other aspecsts of EQ2 beyond the newbie experience which explains my questions re: crafting.

    And, one last big then I’ll stop hanging you with your own words. (At least on here. ;)
    Because it felt tedious. You spend a lot of time looking at the casting bar/progress bar when you are casting or gathering. I felt it was a common theme in EQ2, that everything is created to be a laborious timesink. Perhaps it goes away but why torture and frustrate a new player with long casting times for spells and abilities?

    You see tedium, I see a more thoughtful pace. I loved EQ2’s combat much more than WoW’s because it was slower paced, and there were more options. You a wide variety of abilities instead of a handful of abilities that get upgraded again and again. If you increased the speed of combat in EQ2, then all those options would be overwhelming. Again, you’re looking through the eyes of an expert. “I know how to push buttons, so let me push the damned buttons faster!” EQ2’s combat doesn’t work that way for a good reason, and it becomes apparent at higher levels.

    Some really good points and I don’t disagree. EQ2 does have it’s own pace and that’s fine for some. All I would say is that if you look at casting times 30% would not cause an NGE apocalpyse and radically change the MMO. Still I think it would mitigate some of that “waiting for the spell bar to finish” sense of tedium that I experienced.

    Blizzard recognizes this (sorry to mention them again…) and you’ll notice that for the first few levels most spells have very short cast times which slowly creep up in a few levels. So it’s not just me saying this. The idea is to hook the player and get them attached to the MMO as fast as possible.

    The irony here is that the combat seems tedious at the lower end exactly for the newbies you want to represent. They’re not masters of hotbar combat. They don’t want to be rushed into pushing the wrong button at the wrong time and feeling like they fucked up. It’s us experts that are happy to barrel forward and hope for the best, knowing we’ll be able to pick ourselves up if we suffer a setback.

    Have you been at a focus test of young video gamers lately? Their skills blow me away and they should not be underestimated. Trust me, I’ve seen kids ages 7-9 who we brought in to test some handheld games who play Halo and Gears of War and other FPS games that are twitch fests show up at professional focus testing centers. They are simply going to log into EQ2 and find it a snooze fest.

    I think that what you wanted to do was great: look at how a game holds up under the scrutiny of a newbie player. But, I think you’re bringing a lot of your existing notions to the table. I’d love to see you try again, though, because I think it can truly be insightful.

    I appreciate the compliments. I spent a considerable amount of time doing the research and writing the article. It was rewarding in its own right and I’m glad that many people found it fascinating and it seems to have sparked some good discussions. I wanted it to be informative and helpful. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that I’ve learned quite a bit about an aging MMO and how communities react to things. Thank you again for insightful comments and advice!

  6. Theo

    To put some perspective on how subjective all of this is. The SINGLE thing that brings me back to EQ2 above all others is the character models. They breathe, their movements while running, swimming, jumping – all top notch. While many mention art I am talking about animation. Avatars in EQ2 feel alive, WoW and others after long in EQ2 feel like plastic pieces.

    I admit I use SOGA as I fine the artwork more appealing. But why does no one ever talk of the most superb avatar animations in MMO existence when in this debate?

  7. Stropp

    @Theo – Ysharros and I were discussing this the other night. I was in Wailing Caves and most of the mobs there were gray to me. When I approached even the most fearsome mobs (when they weren’t gray) they’d cringe in fear and hide their faces.

    The same applies when a guard walks by me, or I pass a random NPC, they look at me. I’m not being ignored!

    That’s a great attention to detail moment that makes me feel a little like I’m in a living world.

  8. Taymar

    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.

    I love this!