Saturday, October 20, 2007

Overcoming Our Shard of Fear

Or trying to, anyway. A couple of guildies and I ventured forth into the new Shard of Fear zone that was introduced recently in GU39. The zone is really well crafted and it was exciting to adventure in there.

Stargrace was particularly excited that the Shard of Fear is an outdoor area. I agree. I like to group when I can, but I don't like that it almost always involves going to into a dark, cramp, stuffy dungeon where I can't zoom my camera back comfortably far. And I tend to like it zoomed back really far. So it was a refreshing change of pace to have a dungeon crawl in such a wide open area.

In addition, I was particularly excited by the fact that many of the monsters behave differently than your standard encounter. Many have long stuns that wreak havoc on the group, and many of the monsters live up to the name of the zone and fear you constantly. The aggro range for many monsters is a lot longer, and the social radius seems wider. Some of the mobs (the phantoms, anyway) seemed to have pretty wide ranges in which they roam, which was nice to see. This added an additional element of challenge than we normally have to face.

On the other hand, many of the encounters did seem to be a little on the weak side, in terms of HP. My guild is pretty casual when it comes to raiding, so we're hardly the best equipped, and we ripped through the trash and standard heroic nameds with ease. So I can see why many people think the zone could use some toughening up.

I'm not sure I entirely agree; simply making the monsters take longer to kill doesn't really add to the challenge, it just makes the zone boring. Challenge comes from managing variables like the roaming mobs placement and various degrees of aggro. So I'd love to see EverQuest II become more challenging, but I'd rather see the challenge added in by making mobs have newer and different types of aggro behavior, larger "home" areas in which they can roam, wider social radius, new tactics like running and calling for help, and so on. Increasing HP just makes fights we can predictably win drag on longer, but it doesn't make them harder.

The quest line in the zone guides you through the steps to summon the named monsters on top of the pyramid. It involves several ring events. Some of the ring events make use of some of EverQuest II's more unique features, such as the ability to move objects around the environment. It is unfortunate that this feature is not utilized more often in the game, as it is one of the reasons why I (and many others, I believe) find the game to be so much more compelling than World of Warcraft and the rest of the competition.

The quests do a good job in letting you know what you need to do without overtly telling you. So it walks the fine line between hand holding and leaving you completely in the dark as to what to do next. If we're going to see more quests of this caliber in Rise of Kunark, then we're in for a treat. Quests when EverQuest II first came out were often overly obtuse, sending you trekking across the zone and back often with very vague instructions. On the other hand, its not quite as fun if the game holds your hand the entire way through. Well, maybe eight million people think thats fun, but some of us would like to be able to explore a little without having to click on everything in the zone. There's a middle ground somewhere, and it seems like SOE might be finding it.

All in all, I was rather pleased. We did have trouble on the Epic x 2 mobs. But I don't feel so bad considering that even though Terror bested us in battle (for now...), at least we know how to navigate stairs. (The pathing for some of the monsters on the pyramid is awful.) Anyway, Terror, we'll be back to settle the score. Mark my words.

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