Whether we agree with the tenor or not, these game-impression posts are, after all, part of the reason we read blogs. If we didn’t want to read opinions, why bother reading blogs? We’re not journalists, and we’re not paid to even pretend we’re neutral; rather, most of us are reading and writing about a subject we’re passionate about.
Spinks has one of her own today, on EQ2, which provides another very interesting read. I kept wanting to say “Yes, but –” and “Oh, but if only –” but the fact is we all approach games in our own ways, and telling people that if they only did this or if they only knew that is usually not very helpful. Many of the things that frustrate Spinks frustrated Mort and me* when we first started playing EQ2 over four years ago. The channels were impenetrable, we seemed to have way too many clicky things on our bars that we weren’t sure what they all did, a lot of the combat stuff we tried didn’t seem all that useful, we had no freaking clue where we were or how to get to where we wanted to be, and killing 10 rats in Norrath 2.0 is the same as killing 10 rats in Azeroth, except Azerothian rats are way more polished and may come out with a Monty Python reference. (To be fair — EQ2 has that sort of thing too, but it’s not as in your face as WoW’s love of references.)
Most games — not all, mind you — do reward a little deeper digging, and although WoW’s spit and polish has become the de-facto standard, it’s sort of like Brylcreem: sometimes it’s just a slick and shiny covering for nothing much underneath. My point being that polish in and of itself is not a guarantee of quality — it’s a guarantee of one department’s (or two) attention to detail. To be fair though, WoW is exactly the same: those people who come away thinking it’s just a shallow easiest-mode-in-the-MMO-world game aren’t getting the full picture either. WoW is quite complicated and complex enough in its own way; what I tend to rail against is that it’s not the only way. How the 800lb, 8 billion dollar gorilla in the room does things shouldn’t become the only way anyone else does things.
Anyway, I’m rambling again and I’m either preaching to the choir or to those who will never agree no matter what I say. Have you noticed how talking about WoW has become sort of like talking about politics or religion? I’m not sure whether that’s funny or deeply sad.
So, yes. Coming back to EQ2 after a 3 year break meant that while we had a very strong sense that there had been many, many changes while we were gone, Mort and I weren’t flailing around trying to get our feet under us in the most basic MMO sense. Instead, I’ve noticed lots of things I’ve been glad to come back to, and lots of things I’m glad have been tweaked. Here’s a list, in no particular order.
EQ2 housing isn’t perfect (the game that manages to pull off that particular challenge isn’t yet made), but it’s pretty damned good and is currently beaten only by SWG in terms of what you can do with your home. You can now rotate (y-axis only for now, unlike SWG) your furniture as well as make it larger or smaller and move it up and down, which provides quite a few decoration options. Aside, of course, from the sheer insane variety of the possible deco, even though a lot of the carpenter made stuff — and I say this with love — is ugly dark brown pap. Oh wait, some of it is ugly light-brown pap. A ton of stuff has been added in the years we were away and it’s possible to do some really striking and unique homes. In fact, the current Tinkerfest festival has just added another couple of dozen deco items, one of which is a set of cogs and wheels that move when placed together on a wall, which is just pure gnomeish awesome.
You can get a mount while still wet from the character-cloning vats, provided you have enough money and/or guild level and/or status. Okay, so you likely won’t have the status at that point, but the fact is you can buy a mount from Day 1 if you can afford one. Sure, money is an entry barrier, but exactly how much hand-holding do we MMO players need these days anyway? (Ah yes, one man’s hand-holding is another man’s way-too-hard mode — I may go back and examine that someday.)
3. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff to do.
In that respect EQ2 strikes me as very similar to WoW — you cannot possibly do all the quests in all the zones that are appropriate for your level, which to my mind is a good thing. But it’s not just the quest stuff — it’s the things you encounter while running around the world and promise yourself you’ll go back to explore properly someday, the stuff you read or hear about and swear you’ll check out as soon as you’ve got time, the stuff you promise you’ll do when you’re the right level; I’m sure you know what I mean. It’s nothing but a good thing to have more to do than you have time for, in any MMO.
4. Guild halls
Yes, these rate their own entry, because they’re a lot more than just housing, and there’s something there for everyone. Provided you’re in a guild of course, but even that isn’t exactly hard to do. There are small guild halls for small guilds and huge guild halls for huge — or really really active medium-sized — guilds, and a score of cool amenities to put in them, including bankers, brokers, and candlestick makers.
5. The plethora of classes
For an altoholic like me, having a million classes you can make is a great thing. For more achievement-oriented players, and certainly for players who prefer one main char, this may be a downside, because you’re never quite sure if you made the right choice. However, from what I can tell, while some classes are more flavour-of-the-month than others, none are utterly broken anymore and there really is something for every playstyle. It was EQ2 that really started me playing healers, though the Fury (my main character’s class) is more of a nuking hybrid so I never really felt like I was filling that holy-trinity role, which in my case is a good thing. I like hybrids and I don’t like being shoehorned. And while some class pairs (fury/warden, dirge/troubador, monk/bruiser etc.) may not seem all that differentiated to begin with, the differences do become more visible as you level up. My fury is 59 now and my warden is 46 or so, and they’re different enough that I can’t play one like I play the other — sure, they play similarly, but not identically. And, if you end up thinking you’d prefer playing the other half of a class pairing, that’s possible too. (It’s a bit of a pain in the backside to carry out, but it’s possible.)
6. The separation of church and state. Err, crafting and adventuring.
I have always hated the fact that most MMOs treat crafting as something you do when you can’t get a group. I disagree vehemently that the main focus of MMOs is and always should be combat — it may have been the original focus, but that’s like saying that tabletop RP games are only about the combat. Any game system rooted in strategy warfare games will include combat, but it’s narrow-minded to think that something’s origins dictate what they will be forevermore. Regardless of how well crafting may or may not be implemented in most games, EQ2 deserves props for being one of the few games out there that lets you be a level 1 adventurer and a level 80 crafter.
It’s everywhere! What can I say, I’m a harvesting junkie. I actively enjoy it, and there’s certainly plenty of it to do in EQ2. Having a harvesting-bonus cloak and a harvesting-bonus mount and harvesting-bonus tools are just… an extra bonus. Having to evade mobs that are high enough to single-shot you so that you can grab that foody bush or ore node is fun for me. I’m odd that way.
As Spinks said: see shiny thing on the ground, pick it up, add it to a collection (one of 600 or so currently in the game, I think) — or sell it to collection maniacs for silly money. Who can resist the lure of that little shiny ? off to the side as you ride from A to B? Pure win.
EQ2 has quite a lot of fluff in terms of silly cosmetic pets, or costumes, or particle effects and whatnot. There’s enough of it in fact that they’ve now monetised a fair bit of it through the Station Cash system, and considering it’s all entirely cosmetic that doesn’t really bother me. I haven’t spent any money on it yet, but maybe I will. Or maybe I won’t. But at least the fluff is there. It’s one of those things that you may not notice when you have it, but you miss when you don’t — as was the case in Warhammer Online. WAR was so fluff-free when I played it that it was almost painful after a while. I don’t like to be too tightly focused when I play, and fluff is like a giant “hey, we do silly stuff too!” sign.
Last but anything but least, crafting. The crafting system itself is pretty much vanilla, but it’s debatable whether an “interesting” crafting system is even possible in MMOs these days, given that you have to provide some kind of base-level difficulty. A Tale In The Desert implemented crafting that almost required you to have a degree in metallurgy, or at least CAD, which frustrated me no end. Requiring player intelligence is a good thing; requiring specialised knowledge in a non-specialised environment is not. Aside from that though, there are 9 distinct crafting professions, all of which are useful in their own way and all of which have a definite customer base, and there are a zillion crafting-related things to do out in the world now — quests to get items to make you even better at crafting, or in the case of the epic crafter earring, items that make you see special red shinies that nobody without the earring can see! The very fact that there is an epic CRAFTER quest says it all, in my book.
There are also plenty of things that still bug me or irk me about EQ2, but that’s the case for all games. I’m trying to play by a new set of personal rules this time around:
— don’t overplan your playtime. That works very well for some, but it ends up making me feel stifled. I have the most fun if I can just log on and putz about more or less spontaneously. Yeah, I have lists of things to do (actually, of things to make for people), but that’s not too overwhelming;
— if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Which is really a corollary of “If you don’t like it, don’t play it” and is such a no-brainer I sometimes wonder why we persist in ignoring it. I mention this because of a game-bashing exchange I saw in chat the other day, which made me want to ask the bashers why, if they hated the game/the designers/the publisher so much, they were still paying $15 a month for the privilege. Then again, it’s their $15 a month; if they want to spend it complaining about what a horrible time they’re having, who am I to judge?
As a final tangent mostly to Spinks, but also to anyone else who’s playing EQ2 and casting a leery eye on mods — get them. There isn’t a single game out there that I’ve seen that has a decent or decently-customisable UI straight out of the box, and EQ2 is no exception. (I happen to think UI design should be given a lot more dev time than it apparently is, but in a world of finite resources I bet the thinking goes something like “Well, we’ll have fans making these within weeks anyway, so why bother spending the time and money doing it ourselves when we could be doing quests and content and particle effects?”) They’re not required, but they sure do help. I’ve only got one screenie that shows my UI to any great extent, but I’ll try to remember to take more, and maybe do an EQ2 UI customisation post one of these days, because there’s a lot more under the hood (even the unmodded hood) than you’d think.
Among other things, I’ve got smaller and cleaner hotbars, smaller good/bad effects bars (just above the left chat window), a modded chat window, a different XP-bar (showing adventure, AA, and crafting though I’ve hidden the crafting part since Fair is maxed out), an extended compas (showing location and time and coords), and a different maintained-spells window (the one in the top left) that gives me names and details of what I’m maintaining and on whom. What you’re not seeing is that most of my other game windows are modded too — including the quest journal, the skill book, the inventory and persona windows, my bags, the bank window and bags — and so on.
The reason I initially got mods for EQ2 in the first place was to get rid of the stupid amounts of padding and not-so-great decorative scrollwork most of the game windows had on them. When you’re playing on a 19″ screen, as we were in 2005, game windows that are too big partly because they have too much empty space are just a waste of space and time. Then I wanted to get some resizeable bags — which can be done within the client now — and then I wanted bags that actually stayed where you put them on screen, instead of defaulting back to some preset location every time you logged in (also native now). And so on and so on. The mods I use are all pretty much cosmetic — I don’t use meters and parsers or whatever the hell achievement/combatty type people use — but having them makes my experience smoother. I’m a control freak, and a bad UI will eventually contribute to driving me away from a game.
So if you’re on the fence about getting mods, take a leap of faith. Managing them is a bit of a pain, but getting them is easy, and getting rid of them is as easy as deleting the special UI folder (or file for a single mod).
* Yes, it is “Mort and me” and not “Mort and I” in that phrase. That and people saying “phenomena” when they mean the singular form of the word are this year’s pet grammatical peeves.