Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekend Update: MMOADD Redux and Reasons Why EQ2 is Better than WoW

I spent the weekend popping in and out of various games. I've been suffering from a terrible bout of MMOADD lately. Right now, I'm subscribed to EverQuest II and Warhammer Online, and I just bought Eve Online so I've been trying that out for a month. I also resubscribed to World of Warcraft for one month, though I doubt I'll play it much. Also, City of Heroes reactivated all former player's accounts for the weekend.

I haven't been playing Warhammer Online much lately. I seem to be stuck at level 27 with my Bright Wizard, Dastari, formerly known as Brendis. Even after all the server merges, the PQs seem empty. Scenarios do pop faster, and I should try some RVR this week to see how that's improved. I popped in game to go make the long trek to a warcamp so I can respec my Bright Wizard, as the latest update made a lot of changes to my class of choice. But I just wasn't in the mood to play it, so I logged out once I got there and moved on to another MMO.

I popped in to City of Heroes to run a mission. Sometimes I think about resubscribing, because it's a good game with a vibrant grouping scene, but its missions grow old real quick. One of the problems with relying on randomness to generate dungeons is that they tend to lack the immersiveness of a handcrafted zone (the hallways of the corporate buildings just aren't laid out in any realistic or rational manner) and people recognize the patterns and see through the randomness very quickly. After that, no matter how much you randomize, it all starts to feel the same.

I played a little Eve Online though I'm at a point where I probably need to join a Corporation so I can gain some direction. Right now, I'm focusing on skill training, mining, and running the occasional mission. I'll look into Corporations soon, but at the moment, while I'm too ADD to settle on one game, or a manageable few, I think its best to continue on my own while I continue collect my bearings.

I toyed around in World of Warcraft. My characters are all under level 20 and although leveling seems much faster than it used to be, I doubt I'll bother to get anything over that. Something about that game just doesn't work for me. I guess I had forgotten that. I see all the advertisements and read about it on the blogs, and I think how can 11 million players be wrong, but when I actually pop in game, its like: 11 million subscribers at $15 a month and this is the best you can do?

So why did I resubscribe? I'm not sure. I think I might roll a hunter and check out a starting area I hadn't seen before, just to see a side of the game that's new to me. It seems apparent that Blizzard puts all their work on the end game though, since the old world zones my characters have been parked in for four years are exactly as I remembered them. One of the things that Sony does right is they occasionally revamp old world zones to keep them fresh and interesting.

I have been getting frustrated with EverQuest II, so I guess a part of me is on the lookout for something that might capture my imagination the way EQ2 used to. The problem is, recently I've had a terrible time finding groups for the TSO zones. I'm not sure what the problem is. I think the population on Najena is fine, so its probably not that. My main is a monk, so maybe its partly that my class just isn't as desired as it should be. Maybe a lot of people just have their static group of friends they normally play with so the rest of us get stuck in level chat limbo spamming "LFG TSO PST".

So when I haven't been able to do what I've wanted to do in EQ2, I've started to look around to see what else I might be interested in playing.

Except there doesn't seem to be any other game like EQ2. For all its flaws, it still offers the most of any MMORPG out there. Blizzard, with their cash cow of millions of paying subscribers, SHOULD be the game that offers the most, but for some reason they simply don't. I guess they just don't have to.

Its unfortunate that Blizzard has been sitting around resting on their laurels (I guess with 11 million subscribers they have no business incentive to do so). These are the reasons I prefer EQ2 over WOW:

- Tradeskills are a mini-game: Crafting should not involve simply hitting a "Combine" button and watching a progress bar; that's seriously lame.
- You can be a dedicated crafter: In WOW, crafting skills are capped based on your adventurer level. In EQ2, tradeskill levels are separate from adventurer level so you can be a pure crafter who never sets foot outside. One of the nice things about EQ2 is you can be a level 1 paladin AND a level 80 carpenter with the same character if you want. You can do it entirely by buying the raw materials you need for crafting from other players, or you can harvest them by running around zones where everything is 79 levels higher than you and can one shot you. It's your choice.
- Mentoring: In EQ2, you can temporarily lower your level, so you can help out someone lower level than you without trivializing content. In fact, it even rewards you, so if you are a level 80 and you have a level 15 friend, you can play together and both characters will be REWARDED for it.
- Level-Scaling Quests: EQ2 has quests that scale with level so your holiday, seasonal, or important story related quest arcs can be enjoyed by players of ANY level. If you are level 40 the monsters you fight for the quest will spawn at level 40, and if you are level 80, the monsters will be level 80. Level appropriate loot will drop from them as well.
- Housing: EQ2 lets you rent an apartment or house. Guilds can have their own Guild Halls where members can gather together. You can also acquire useful items to store in your homes, such as crafting equipment, Altars which let you earn faction (and temporary buffs) with the god of your choice in return for sacrificing items, or Mirrors that let you store different AA specs (similar to Talent specializations). Guilds can acquire items that assist with organizing raids, facilitate fast travel around the world, gather harvestable items for use by the guild crafters, and much, much more.
- Movable Items: The game has furniture and other items that you can move around in game; in your home or guild hall, you can move items around to decorate the property. Quests also sometimes involve moving items around a zone; my favorite quests in EQ2 are still from the Splitpaw zones where you have to stack crates to jump over barriers or to reach a high ledge; I loved moving barrels of dynamite up to "weak" parts of a wall and then lighting the fuse, causing the wall to collapse.
- Climbing Walls: Many cliffs and walls can be scaled, introducing the third dimension to the gameplay. (WoW does have free flight in some zones so it does get a point there.)
- Collection Quests: These are addictive. Scattered around many zones are items that you can collect. They show up in game as shining spots on the ground, usually with a floating ? or ! above it. If you complete a collection, you earn a reward. Players can trade items with one another to help complete their collections.
- Alternate Advancement Tracks: EQ2 has a lateral progression system called Achievements (which is different than Achievements in WOW). Achievements in EQ2 is similar to the Talent trees in WOW. However, Achievement points are earned from completing quests, discovering new areas, completing collections, and killing named monsters. Talent points, on the other hand are coupled with your adventurer level. Because they are separate in EQ2, you can continue to earn new skills, specialize your character, and improve him even after you get to the level cap, simply by continuing to do what you have always been doing: questing, exploring, and taking on challenging encounters. You might not get XP anymore once you get to the level cap, but that doesn't stop you from progressing.
- Adjustable Leveling Speed: Some people like to rush to the level cap. Others like to take it slow. In EQ2, everyone can be happy since you can disable the ability to earn experience points at any time.
- The Level Cap Doesn't Increase Every Year: One of the best things about EQ2 is that it kept the level cap the same with both The Shadow Odyssey and the Echoes of Faydwer expansion packs. The game emphasizes lateral forms of progression that allow people to advance without always making the previous expansion pack's content obsolete.
- A Living Guild: Guilds in most MMOs offer little more than a custom chat channel. However, guilds in EQ2 are levelable entities. Guild members can earn status, complete difficult missions, or defeat powerful enemies to help their guild earn status and level up. This, in turn, enables guild members to unlock exclusive mounts and powerful items.
- Appearance armor: World of Warcraft has some nicely designed armor sets, but because you are forced to look like whatever you are wearing, everyone runs around looking like they are wearing clown costumes. Appearance armor gives you an additional tab in your inventory. Items on the appearance tab determine what your character looks like; items on your regular tab determine what stats you get. (If an apperance tab slot is empty you gain the appearance of the item in your regular inventory tab just like you do today.) Collecting cool looking level 1, no stat, and otherwise useless armor sets in EQ2 is actually fun because it allows us to make our characters look exactly like we want without worrying about gimping ourselves.
- More Classes, More Races: 24 adventurer classes and 19 races... almost too many to pick from.
- The Monk: Even though Sony can't seem to implement the monk and bruiser classes PROPERLY in EverQuest II, at least it has them. Monks exist in the Warcraft lore, so there's no reason they couldn't exist in the game. Make playable Pandaran and introduce the island nation of Pandaria and you are your way to a fun expansion. I like monks. :)

World of Warcraft has some nice features too, of course. Blizzard is known for its polish; the UI design and layout in WOW is very accessible, clean, and easy to understand. Combat in WOW is more repsonsive. I like how the world is seamless with fewer places where you receive loading screen transitions to move between areas.

I guess my ideal game would take the best features from both games: it would merge the worldliness and sheer diversity of gameplay available in EQ2 with the accessibility of WOW. It would add some next-generation forms of gameplay as well (a flatter level curve, perhaps more skill based instead of class/archetype based, emphasis on lateral forms of progression instead of the exponential level curve that causes empty newbie content, discourages new players from joining, and makes grouping harder by spreading players thinly across the level range.) Until then, I'll probably continue to suffer from my MMOADD.


Ardwulf said...

If fairness, WoW's level cap doesn't increase every year either. :)

Jayedub said...

MMOADD, I get that all the time. There is just too many choices now for me, and I find it hard to just stick with one game because other games have stuff that I like as well.