Started by Lorathir, October 14, 2004, 06:41:30 PM
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QuoteAbout a month back I was sitting in front of my PC with nothing much to do, I'd just quit playing City of Heroes and had finished most of my single player games. I was toying with the idea of going back and playing some WarCraft 3 and even considered reinstalling Tribes 2 when lo and behold an EQ2 beta invite popped up in my inbox. Now if I was to say any more than that I'd usually be getting several SOE lawyers storming in through my window in approximately thirty seconds, but no, SOE have been kind enough (or foolish enough depending on your point of view) to partially lift the NDA for Jaded Gamer so that we can discuss anything up to level twenty except a few transport related issues. This actually suited me very well as I had leveled several characters into the 16-20 range and so that's pretty much what I'd be covering anyway.Before I begin I'd like to say that I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but a jaded one. When I get into a game I play for long periods and I'm very goal orientated. At the same time, when a game stops being fun I won't keep playing it because I have friends in the game [you anti-social bastard - Ed.], or because I'm attached to my character or hope the game will get better in six months time when either I'm high enough level to enjoy the fun content or the games been patched to make it fun. As soon as a game stops being fun for me I'll move on. I mention this because MMORPG's are games that are often what you make them and if you do not have a similar mindset to me then your gaming experience will likely be much different, for better or for worse. That being said you may very well still gain valuable information about the game from my experiences.PerformanceAnyway, so I start the mighty 4GB download and then begin the daunting task of getting enough free hard disk space without losing any porn in the process. A day later, porn intact, EQ2 is Downloaded/Installed and I start the game up anxious about how the game will perform on my system.I say anxious because I had previously installed the character creation disc on an Athlon 3200, 768MB RAM with GeForce 3 and it ran like a dog. The low end settings were also - in my opinion - awful to the point where I thought I was looking at sprites. They also seem to have strange ideas about what high performance entails. For instance high performance animations make models animate at about one frame every few seconds. In short this game does not look good on low end graphic cards (less than 128MB). By the time I had the beta however I had upgraded to a Radeon 9800 and the game on medium settings ran very smoothly and looked great. I should mention also that there have been many optimisations to the code while I've been in beta that have significantly improved FPS and thus 64MB graphics cards may have a better time handling the game now.Character CreationSo the game starts up and I click the mouse button several times to get past all the intro screens and advertising screens before I can start creating a character (I'd like to take a moment here to question the ethics of this increasingly common practice. If we are paying for a game why should we be forced to see adverts for Dell, Nvidia and others every time we load up the game that we've bought and are paying monthly subs for?). Eventually I'm in and I start the process of creating a character in Norrath, beginning with which race I'd like to play as. I must say at this point I was very disappointed, many of the races I would normally consider in fantasy RPG's went instantly out of the window in this game, most of the male races in Norrath seem to have contracted some kind of Down's syndrome with gormless facial expressions and unnatural stances. Even the traditional "pretty" races tended to look pretty unnatural looking. In the end I settled with a dark elf and started customising.The customisation almost entirely focuses around the head in EQ2, the only significant features which effect the rest of your body are body size and skin tone, and there isn't much variation in body size either. For the face there are plenty of sliders for fine tuning different aspects like nose length and jaw width etc. but in the end it didn't feel like they really made a noticeable difference. The only thing that really seems to differentiate people in game is the hair and accessories (like glasses/piercings/tatoos). You get to choose the colour of your shirt and pants which you don't really need to bother with since they'll be hidden about 20 minutes into the game when you get clothing/armour to wear.One of the nicest things I've seen about EQ2 is the /showhood command which allows you to hide the graphic used for wearing a helm. Helms in EQ2 remove all hair/accessories (including chin spikes on my Iksar crusader, even though his chin was clearly visible under helm) so the /showhood command is great for people like me who don't want all the time they spent customising their characters head wasted just because they want to wear a helm.Once I'd finished customising my character I had to give him a name (Stabs in this case) and then I'm thrown into the game. No choosing class yet (that's still to come) and you have no control over your character statistics (like strength/stamina) either, other than what is defined by the race you chose.The TutorialSo I finish making my dark elf (loosely based on Lau from Virtua Fighter) and I'm in the tutorial. The first thing I notice is the amazing wave effects and thinking "Wow, that would just make sea journeys great" and started thinking what it would be like swimming in among twenty foot waves. Then I'm greeted by the captain of the ship (voiced by Dwight Schultz AKA "Howling Mad" Murdock from the A Team) who takes me through some basic quests to get used to the game, all the while a tutorial box keeps popping up in annoying locations telling me how to get used to using mouselook and the WASD keys. I took this opportunity to get rid of the awful "letterbox" effect that basically blacks out the upper and lower quarter of your screen, which gives it a kind of widescreen look but basically blocks out most of your view and I really can't imagine why anyone would want to keep it. Unfortunately many probably will keep it because they don't like fiddling with settings. The tutorial itself was quite fun however, teaching the basics and you get a nice scripted event at the end when a "Drakota" dragon thing attacks your ship. You also get to level 3 from the tutorial quest (about 5-10 minutes playtime) after which you are sent to the newbie island called "The Isle of Refuge" which is where the game really starts to begin and meet other people (Though technically I would consider it still part of the tutorial since once you leave the island I found no way to go back).Once you reach the Isle you get to choose your basic archetype. At this stage you can choose to be either a mage, priest, fighter or scout. I opted for scout with my first character, I was then kitted out appropriately and given a simple kill quest to do. After which I did a few class specific quests and a quest to learn the basics of tradeskilling (which is nothing like real tradeskilling since on that quest there are no risks, but I'll cover that later). The isle as it stands is very enjoyable and a great way to get into the game, if you stick to doing quests then you should hit level 6 in no time with some nice items for your level and be ready to travel to the city of your choice. The CitiesAs a Dark elf I didn't have a choice, since all Dark Elves are evil I had to go to Freeport, that being the evil city and all. If you are playing the game for the first time I would definitely recommend Qeynos over Freeport any day of the week, especially if you are an EQ veteran. Qeynos is the good city in EQ2, and not just in alignment it would appear. The city of Qeynos is beautiful to explore, races tend to have their own districts (usually shared with one other race) that epitomise their style and have many housing types that players of EQ1 will recognise. The Elves have their treehouse complete with lift (though its not a patch on Kelethin from EQlive) and Halflings have their little Lord of the Ring rip-off Hobbitown. Freeport on the other hand felt like it was the same style and textures throughout; everything is grey and depressing and overall just lacks any sense of style that Qeynos exudes. It's like the developers put all their effort into Qeynos then went to sleep leaving the interns to handle Freeport.When you first enter the city you cannot enter the main parts of Qeynos or Freeport until you pass a simple citizenship quest, after which you can progress past level seven, enter the main part of the city and are given the ability to teleport back to your races home district once every hour or so. Until the test however you are given a small tour of the local areas and landmark locations, which you are lead through by a magical glowing trail, you can use this system also to find landmarks at a later date along with teammates and your corpse using the waypoint menu. You can also visit the other refugee districts that border the city main via docks that instantly zone you between them, which kind of disappointed me as I was hoping for boats to take me around. I later found out that all seafaring transport is like this, you don't get to travel in a ship like in the tutorial, travel between continents is instant, done by clicking on a harbour bell and choosing your destination. On arriving at Freeport you are also given your first house, a single room at an inn along with some basic decorations to furnish it. I have to say I'm not the biggest fan of player housing so I never really touched on it much, I couldn't find a way to rotate furniture [Try using the mousewheel - Ed.] so I just pretty much gave up on it at that point. I've been to several vendors however who do sell a large variety of furniture and several quests in the game give unique pieces of furniture if you're wanting to make your casa better than the Joneses. Later on you can click on other doors in the city and pick your own house that has multiple rooms for a greater fee.Once you finish your citizenship quest - for me at least - that's when the game really begins. Up until then you are limited to a degree in what you can do and where you can go.QuestsQuests in EQ2 are what make this game shine over other currently released MMO's, they are everywhere and after completing citizenship you can get about 10-15 quests per zone in the city, and including the racial districts there's about 8-10 zones all in. If you go to all the zones at the start you should have about 60-80 active quests in your quest journal by the time you've gone round hailing everyone. The first time you do this it's like Christmas getting all these quests to do, and after you've got them all there's hardly anything you can kill without advancing once of your quests. On several occasions I've killed things that updated four separate quests. You don't have to go round absolutely everyone getting quests but if you don't you'll find yourself doing the same kill quests for different people over and over when you could have gotten all the quests in the first place and done them all at the same time. Especially when the quests you are given are to kill monsters that there is usually a lot of competition for.The rewards for the quests are usually very good XP wise, you will gain XP much faster doing quests than by grinding up to level ten, and you get plenty of nice armour/item rewards also along the way due to the fact that most quests in EQ2 are non-repeatable. The main issue I have with the quests however is that hailing everyone in the zones takes a long time and you have no idea who will give you a quest or not, in fact some are just lore NPC's who tell you a story for a minute without giving you a quest. For this reason I find myself just speed hailing everyone. I hail them then click past all the speech quickly so I can get the quest and move onto the next person. Your quest journal holds all of the information you need, so there is little to no point in listening to the audio voice as it mostly just spends ages getting to the point that you can get in two seconds by looking at your journal.Another issue I have with the quests are that new ones become available every level, so you have to go around hailing everyone over and over again every level or 2 to see if new quests are available. This quickly becomes tedious after the third or fourth time you've done your rounds and I can easily see people resorting to spoiler sites to get around this.Apart from the class specific quest you get at around levels 8-10, everyone has access to the same quests, and thus, everyone of the same class usually has the same items. There are a few quests where you get to choose from multiple rewards but there is usually only one your particular class can use. It would have been better if there was a real choice of items like choosing a sword or an armour piece for a fighter, rather than a fighter being given the choice of a sword or a wand.The quests themselves are fun. Don't get me wrong, killing something for a quest is always more fun than killing something just for XP. But most all of the quests are either delivery or kill missions so it doesn't feel so much like you're completing a quest rather finishing a minor task. There are a few exceptions to this, there are one or two instanced dungeons that are quite fun, but before level twenty they are rare. Many of the quests can often be vague as well, sometimes leading me to the wrong zone or giving me a rough name of the things I have to kill, another one for the spoiler sites I suppose.The other three main types of quests are item drop quests, collectables and racial mastery quests. Item drop quests you get from killing monsters, if you examine the item you will get a quest from it. These are usually quite fun because unlike "hail" quests you get from talking to NPC's these are rare thus the rewards from these quests are usually the only way to make your character stand out. Collectable quests are shown as tiny wisp like glowing balls on the ground with a question mark above them. They are usually just lying on the ground for anyone to pick up in random locations and comprise of one part of a collection. For instance you may see a glowing collectable and pick it up and it turns out to be a pick up a purple spotted butterfly that you can add to your spotted butterfly collection but you need to find a yellow, green and blue spotted butterfly also to complete your collection. There are many different collections however, many requiring over a dozen different parts and as you level to new areas you stop getting pieces for your old collections and new collections start. In all of my characters played to the level 20 mark I haven't completed a single collection quest and the only way I can foresee people doing them is if they are incredibly slow at leveling or people pool together to help each other. That being said its always fun to stumble across these mini-treasures and the concept is a great one if only they weren't so hard to collect.Racial Mastery quests are quests which at the moment are obtained by buying books at your cities sage, by reading them will initiate the mastery quest for the race the book in question describes. For instance the "Know your Gnolls" book initiates the Gnoll mastery quest. However, whether or not a book gives a quest or is just lore is not apparent until you buy the book, and the books are quite expensive so currently this would be another area where spoiler site will be a valuable resource. Once you start the mastery quests you can start studying the body parts that occasionally drop off of the monsters you kill, if you manage to find and study all the monster parts required for the quest (they disappear when you study them, but can be traded) then you are rewarded with an extra attack that can only be used against that specific race, but does a lot of damage with a one minute recharge.TradeskillsThis isn't usually my cup of tea, but I thought I'd give tradeskilling a go in EQ2, so off I trundled to one of the little tradeskill zones. These are areas full of machines like a workhouse, where all the tradeskillers congregate and bought a book that teaches me the basic recipes, usually requiring me to go out exploring for animal furs, plants or minerals which were trivially found and harvested in most newbie zones, after getting all the components I needed (buying the rest from vendor) I headed to the machines.My first foray into tradeskilling was admittedly a bit distressing, I quickly found myself yanked in and chewed up by a sewing machine and before I knew it I'd died more to sewing than I had from hordes of sharp-toothed Goblins. Once I got the hang of things I saw there was a little bit of skill involved with a kind of "Simon says" game where you have to click the appropriate button when danger signs pop up. For instance if "Daydreaming" pops up you have to click the "snap out of it" action quickly or you are penalised severely either in the form of a large chunk of your own health or mana (both of which you need for tradeskill actions to a lesser degree) or your progress on the item is severely lowered making for a much worse end product. On top of this you have to continually cast buffs on yourself to make your progress better, which can be dangerous because you can't do the Simon says actions while your casting. As you gain levels you get more buffs and it becomes harder to keep all your buffs active while at the same time watching out for danger signs. It's all about timing and once you get the hang of things it is fun, for a while.Unfortunately you can't make anything useful in tradeskilling for the first few levels and when you can start making useful items the leveling progress grinds to a crawl. It doesn't help when many of the items that are most popular at low levels (six slot bags and spell upgrades) don't change if you make a poor or great version of it so there is no incentive to do well with these items. Other items for some reason seemed to penalise me for making a tier four "pristine item" which actually was a worse item than the tier three version. The items you make currently sell back to the vendor for the same price regardless of quality again removing motivation for making quality items. In beta, low level tradeskillers tend to be most in demand for making spell/skill upgrades. Players usually start with an "Apprentice 1" version of their abilities and they can upgrade to Apprentice 2 via store bought upgrade scrolls. But to get better than apprentice 2 you need a tradeskiller who can scribe well or hope you get lucky on an upgrade scroll dropping as loot, but those are few and far between. A high level tradeskiller in EQ2 is extremely rare from what I've seen so far. I'd imagine because of this they would be highly valued however, if they have the patience.GroupingUp until level ten there really isn't any reason to group in EQ2, you can get experience much faster soloing and it's best doing the hordes of low level delivery quests when you get the most out of their XP rewards. Once you get to level eight or so you can start your second class choice quest. As a scout I could choose to move on to become a rogue (lots of damage per second), a bard (group buffage), or a predator (short term burst high damage). I opted for a rogue with Stabs though to be honest, there really isn't much difference in second tier classes from what I've seen at the moment (the only exception I would say being the enchanter). The warriors all tank equally as well, the priests all heal equally and mages/rogues tend to all give out equivalent damage. People still say they are either looking for a tank or priest at level 10-20 rather than specific classes. I read this is what the developers intended but it makes your chosen class feel less unique. Up until level twenty it really does feel like there are still only four classes in the game with only minor differences between same archetype classes. There also seems to be a problem that the mages and rogues tend to be competing for the same role of damage dealer hence when a group usually only advertises for a healer, tank or damage dealer, making the game feel like it only has three archetypes at times.DeathDeath in EQ is pretty much XP debt plus worn item damage. If you're not dying non-stop the item damage should be negligible up until level twenty since you replace items often. The XP debt until level ten is hardly noticeable as long as you retrieve your corpse. After about level fifteen it can be pretty painful if you plan to keep playing for a while after you've died. When you die you respawn at one of a selection of locations (usually nearby) with a lot of debt, minor item decay and short term resurrection sickness. If you get your corpse back most of that debt goes away and you can make up the remainder pretty easily by completing a quest or two. Corpses are easily found by using the waypoint menu but that doesn't mean getting to your corpse will be easy, especially if you died in a pack of red con mobs. Debt also goes away on its own completely after a few days which is good news for the suicidal weekend warriors. If you're smart there's really not much excuse to die before level twenty unless it's due to one of the bugs in the beta (The main killers at the moment being the zone exit not being there where your trying to escape a dungeon with a twenty monster train on your ass, the other being two minute lag in one of the overpopulated zones and then finding out you're dead when you catch up because the server thought you'd kept running and fell of that cliff you were heading towards in the distance.). The most surefire way to build up debt unfortunately in EQ2 is by playing in a pickup group. This is due to the "shared XP debt" system of which mere words cannot display my utter revulsion, but I'll try anyway.Shared XP debt is the single biggest thing making me not want to play EQ2 right now. I'm not in an uber guild and my regular friends are either not in beta or not the same level as me. Thus with the limited amount of single player content after level 15 (especially for rogues) if I wish to play I need to find a pickup group.Now on paper it sounds fine, why should the healer take the full brunt of a death because the tank couldn't taunt properly? Everyone should look out for everyone else, because if someone dies, everyone suffers. Sounds good in theory, everyone has an incentive to help each other out. Unfortunately in practice it generally works the other way round. Instead of the tank not taunting and getting the healer killed and him getting punished for it, everyone gets punished. Not only that but that example usually isn't even the case. Almost 90% of the time someone dies in a group, it is their own fault for getting themselves killed and then everyone else has to bear the debt for their stupidity. The system works fine when you're with friends or people you're familiar with - you know what you're getting into. But it makes people just not want to do pickup groups at all. People leave groups at the first sign of trouble. It turns what should be a fun social encounter into something that people dread and often forms more animosities than friendships.CombatEQ2 uses a locked combat system where once you attack (tag) a monster no one else can attack it unless they are in your group or you yell for help (at which point the monster stops giving XP/loot). While many people seem to have problems with it role-play wise I've never had any issues with it myself. That being said, there have been more than a few occasions where a mob has been bugged and assumed our group yelled for help or did something to break the encounter and we suddenly don't get any exp or rewards for the fight. Kill-stealing still occurs, usually by ranged attackers who have the best chance of "tagging" a mob first, but at least they have to do all the work to kill it now, unless of course you cleared the way to the encounter beforehand.Combat is not the most innovative in EQ2, everyone tends to do the same thing every fight. It doesn't help that the monster AI is practically identical for everything you fight up to level twenty. The new encounter system usually makes pulling easy since mobs are in clearly marked groups and anything that aggros you have red borders round their names. Though when playing my tank character I did notice quite a few encounters that were marked as solo but if you attack or cast on them then other nearby mobs will attack also. There seems to be a trick with those mobs in that if you move just within aggro range you can pull them solo without pulling the others as you would have done if you attacked or cast spells on them. Therefore pulling may be more intricate at higher levels.One of EQ2's advertised new features is the Combat Wheel, also known as a Heroic Opportunity, which is basically "Simon says" with spells/skills. If you cast all the spells in the order that the combat wheel says then you get a bonus spell effect which could be an additional nuke or a group buff. Unfortunately following the combat wheel is often counter productive since the Heroic Opportunity reward generally doesn't justify going out of your way cast an inefficient combination of spells/skills. Hopefully this will be fine tuned to give a greater incentive to follow the combat wheel.DowntimeWhen I first started playing EQ2 downtime was minimal, but recent patches have slowed that down significantly. However in EQ2 you can reduce downtime a large amount by eating and drinking. Eating or drinking an item at the moment currently gives you a bonus to health regeneration (food) or mana regeneration (drink) for about 25 minutes per item. This bonus is only applicable in non combat situations and health/mana regeneration in combat is practically negligible so you pretty much want to be fully rested up before initiating combat. On the plus side sitting does not seem to make a huge difference when you have good food/drink on the go so you can usually scout for your next kill instead of sitting watching your mana bar. A little bit more information on the regeneration boost of food/drink would be nice. Currently you can see how much faster your health is regenerating by numbers that float up over your head, but you need to look at your persona menu to see how fast your mana is increasing, and you can only tell after you drink. Currently you mainly get good food and drink via quests rewards. I'm sure once the full game is released you will see that many of the merchants will start selling food (currently most of them only sell 4 slot bags) I've also harvested some fish in the water (you see some fish and double click on them to get fish, I miss fishing with a rod) and examining them implies that a cooking skill should be in the game in the near future. The priests can summon food and drink early on, it gives very little bonus but it's better than no regeneration bonus at all.ExplorationAnother nice new feature for EQ2 is that you get XP for exploring new areas and finding special landmarks. If you are particularly adventurous at low levels you could probably get a whole level just exploring out to high level areas. The main place you will find yourself exploring is the main zone just outside the city gates, for Qeynos this is Antonica, for Freeport you have the Commonlands. Both of these zones are huge and almost always have over a hundred players (at the moment they both have serious lag issues but I hope they will have that sorted by release). This is generally because you will be in one of these zones for a long, long time as the zone has lots of points of interest in them that usually are part of one quest or another, though after a few levels in these zones you do start to get bored of the same backdrop and you generally only have the choice of one other dungeon to get a change of scene. While exploration may be fun, unlike EQ1 there isn't really anywhere useful to explore too. In EQ1 you had interesting zones for your level range dotted around the world, in EQ2 it feels much more linear with everyone starting at the same place and slowly branching out when they reach the appropriate level. Like quests there is the problem that everyone is simply doing the same thing at the same places regardless of race or class.Items/LootItems in EQ2 are generally level based. While they say they are skill based, skills actually go up as you level, not as you use them (1 point every 20% of level regardless if you use the skill or not, this changed from raising the skill as you use it a few patches ago) so it might as well be level based. Initially most items you will get as quest rewards from hailed NPC's but later on more and more items/quests drop as loot. Items start losing their power when they become too low level for you especially in the Armour Class area. The reverse is also true however with uber items getting more powerful as you get closer to their optimal level range. Items can degrade if you die, but up to level 20 the cost of repairing items is practically negligible.The main loot option used is Lotto, though for some reason this is not the default option which has caused much grumbling when valuable no-trade items "accidentally" get looted.MonstersThe monsters in the game are very nice to look at though mostly the same to fight. They are made easier by the con system where their name colour donates their difficulty. However this can be misleading when the monster has triangles around its name. For instance a White bear with two up arrows above its name is actually two levels higher than your average white monster and the reverse is true for a monster with two down arrows under its name. While complicated it works very well in that it allows the developers to give XP for swarms of low level mobs that would normally be grey (but are more potent in a swarm) and the double arrow up monsters allows the developers to put good loot/XP on hard monsters that were not intended to be easily soloable and thus will go grey (no loot) by the time that is easily accomplished.Some of the mobs have strange abilities also, like snakes that can shield bash, another thing I'd hope they'll work out of the beta. Apart from that though the monsters act the same and usually require the same tactics to kill. This is up to level twenty however, hopefully there will be more dynamic encounters later on.Outdoor fighting is generally much easier because everyone gets a sprint ability which allows you to outrun enemies while constantly draining large chunks of your mana/energy. You can usually escape from fights gone bad by sprinting assuming you've not burnt off all your energy before running. A good tip is to yell for help when you run, this breaks the encounter but also means you are no longer in combat and thus you will gain the energy regeneration bonus from your drinks allowing you to sprint further before your mana is exhausted. Mobs tend to give up chasing after a short time however so you generally do not need more than a third of your mana to get away. In dungeons running is a little bit more of an inconvenience since you usually have to leave the zone to escape which makes getting back to your previous spot a pain.ClassesI personally tried out several classes up to around level twenty; two Sorcerers (the 2nd one I played with a friend) a shaman, a cleric, a rogue and a crusader. All classes were easily soloable up to level twelve with the sorcerer and the crusader being the ones i found soloed the most effectively. The class specific quests were the most fun parts, mainly because they were one of the few quests I had not done to death with my other characters. I can see what SOE was trying to go for with the archetype system, but I don't believe it works the way they envisaged. They wanted every class to be equally viable as one of the main archetypes but the two main problems that spring to mind is that the classes are too equally viable to the point where classes don't feel unique. Secondly, not all archetypes are wanted equally. The most sought after classes are cleric and a warrior, which form the basis of most groups (not saying this is optimal but it's what most people advertise for) and the scouts/mages are generally bundled into the damage dealer group. While I'm sure the game is much easier to balance this way it can make the game feel so much less interesting and varied.ConclusionWhile many of the above points may seem critical, overall the game is very enjoyable game and I would go as far to say that compared to other MMO's on the market EQ2 is superior to them all, at least in the early (1-20) levels - if it sorts out the bugs/lag issues. My main concern about the game revolves around the long term future, leveling slows dramatically after level fifteen and many of the quests seem to be more time-sinks than anything else. SOE are the masters of bait and hook, I myself have complained about many things in EQ2, such as the group XP debt, which have made me want to stop playing on numerous occasions, yet I kept finding myself in game. Make no mistake this game can be addictive, if you play it for long enough you'll probably get hooked. The big question is, is it good enough the whole way through that you should let yourself stay hooked?
QuoteAnyway, so I start the mighty 4GB download and then begin the daunting task of getting enough free hard disk space without losing any porn in the process. A day later, porn intact, EQ2 is Downloaded/Installed