Friday, February 6, 2009

Trials of Norrath

As you might be able to tell from my recent string of WoW achievements, I'm all but done with the non-raid content of the expansion. As such, it seemed like a good time to take up one of my New Year's Resolutions and give Everquest 2 a try. Some early comments from my first evening in the free trial.

Irritatingly, I had to go to the technical support forums for instructions on how to get the Station Launcher to work in Vista - it was triggering the Vista "are you sure you want to do that" prompt in ways that apparently made it unhappy, and the game literally would not start until I did the workaround. I really would have expected them to have come up with a better solution - this is a two year old operating system we're talking about. The initial download took overnight sometime last week, and there was another patch of some sort that it missed and had to grab last night that didn't take nearly as long as the updater claimed it would (estimated: 20 hours, actual: 20 minutes).

Server selection was relatively light on population information, as I suppose is traditional in the industry. The top PVP server, and the game's flagship RP server, were both listed as "high", but I'm not really inclined towards either ruleset. All the others were "medium", so I picked Crushbone since I'd heard it has the highest population of the regular servers on the forums. I'd definitely be open to suggestions on that front if anyone else has a server they'd like to recommend.

The gameplay
I rolled up a Sarnak Fury (think of a lizardman Balance Druid) for reasons I'll get into in a bit to try out the newbie area. As with most MMORPG's these days, the early quests are easy, and I breezed through to level 8 in about 2 hours despite various trials and travails trying to figure out the UI etc.

Things I really liked
- Travel:
EQ2 characters get a "sprint" ability that allows them to burn their mana-equivalent for faster movement speed. On top of that, my Sarnak has a racial sprint that gives me a 50% boost for 36s on a 5 min cooldown. The two actually stack, for a temporary 90% runspeed boost at level 1. I absolutely love this feature because it makes my return trips back to town (after I've already seen and explored the terrain on the way over) quick and easy. Less time spent watching my character run places means more time actually playing the game, so that's a big plus in my book.

- Quest Journal:
I'll admit, I'm probably going to take months to get used to pushing the "J" key for my questlog, but it's a nice interface that holds a ton of quests and actually records interesting information such as the date on which you accepted the quest (now you can actually PROVE that you've been working on a quest "forever").

- Spell Acquisition:
First, you automatically get your new spells when you level. You can further upgrade your spells with items from vendors or crafted upgrades, but getting the base rank immediately is nice. Also, at least at the early levels, you get spells at a rate of 2 or so per level, which means that you assemble at least the basics of your class' toolbox at a rather early level. A number of classes in WoW don't get certain stances/forms/etc that completely alter their playstyle until level 30-40, which makes it hard to tell what you're getting into.

- Race/Class Diversity:
The game has a good selection of races, and 24 classes, which gives you a lot of room for unusual combinations. Also, each class has a sister class that's a slight variation - for example, good-aligned players can start as a Conjurer and summon elemental pets, while evil-aligned players can start as a Necromancer and summon undead pets. The neat thing is that you can actually SWITCH your class to the sister class if you do a questline to betray your starting city and join a different one. (Stargrace apparently is somewhat fond of swapping classes. ;)) It's more work than a traditional respec (the game has those too), but it's also interesting to have the possibility of switching up your playstyle if you're so inclined.

(Slight downside: Your good/evil alignment is determined by your starting city, and many of the races are restricted to specific cities. If you want to play the good-aligned version of a class with a race that is forced to start as evil, you will have to plan to betray later. Also, the evil-aligned Sarnak starting zone, the most recent one added to the game via an expansion, is widely regarded as the best, but you can't start good-aligned races or classes there.)

Things I didn't like
- Spellcasting Skill:
Back in WoW's beta, the weapon skill mechanic also applied to casters. (I'm guessing both games get this "feature" from EQ1?) Blizzard removed it because it simply isn't fun when you're playing a class that can't mill around in melee range casting spells (while losing casting time to incoming damage) all day just to skill up. Don't get me wrong, I don't like weapon skill either (especially the ages it can take for the last few points), but at least you can level your weaponskills reasonably quickly by hacking away at low level mobs who aren't doing much damage without taking spell pushback for it.

Anyway, EQ2 still retains several skills for your different spell schools. By the time I got my first debuff spells, my skill in the appropriate school was painfully low because I literally did not have any spells in that school I could cast to level it. This meant that I just got a spell that almost never actually works until I can get the appropriate skill up to par. Apparently curing poison is also on a skill of some sort, which means that I need to go and get poisoned repeatedly so I can work on that skill level.

This is one of those places where realism should take a back seat to avoiding irritating gameplay. I just gained 8 levels in the hour or so, meaning that I'm more than twice as hard to kill, and I spontaneously generated 10 new spells I'd never cast before during that time. Can't we just agree that I was practicing my spellcasts during whatever time I used to learn to be stabbed twice as many times before I die?

- /Hail
When I right click on an NPC who has only one function in the game (e.g. giving out a quest, or selling stuff), I want to do that one thing, not have to select "Hail" from a menu that has a single option. Maybe this is still in there for RP purposes, but that's not without flaws either - pretty much every quest I've seen so far has my player speaking specific dialog to the questgiver. What if I want to RP a character who doesn't talk like that? It would be better to leave my character silent so I could fill in what he would say if I were so inclined.

(Bonus/Related Point: If you're buying stuff and want to switch over to vendor mode, it appears that you have to close the window and re-hail the merchant to select "sell". Can't this function be merged, like it is in all other modern MMORPG's?)

- Root and Nuke?
The Fury class sounded appealing to me because the class offers caster DPS (a role I'm familiar with), a reputation for good soloing capacity, several travel perks (a runspeed bonus talent and teleports), and can heal for added group utility. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that I'm going to get very tired of the caster playstyle, which (once you get to high enough levels that the mobs actually damage you) relies on casting a root spell at range and hoping the roots don't break while you nuke until the roots come off cooldown.

I should probably give this a bit longer before passing final judgement, if for no other reason than because I still haven't been able to max the casting skill on my root spell after having it for a level and spamming it in situations where the mob was already in melee range, just for the chance at the skill point. Also, my spells are currently at a pretty low level of quality since I'm such a low level character - right now, I'm not sure that I actually kill things faster with spells than autoattacks, and I know that's not supposed to stay true as I level. Still, I can see myself getting very frustrated at having my life depend on whether or not my roots break.

Ah well, what's a trial for, if not trying out new classes (especially since the travel perks matter less than I thought they would since all classes have the sprint skill).

What does this mean for PVD?
In case I have any concerned readers (or guildies), I'm not planning on canceling my WoW subscription anytime soon. WoW still has daily quests, world events, and other things that I'm interested in working on. I'm just in a position where I don't want to make the jump to raiding (indeed, I can't make the "I'll be here at X time and won't need to leave for Y time" commitment in advance), and sometimes spending 2+ hours LFG for the last few heroic dungeons I'm farming isn't my idea of a fun evening.

I might not even last past the 2 week trial in EQ2 (I think I will, but making up my mind is what the trial is for ;)). Regardless, I'll definitely be on WoW at LEAST one evening a week to beat up Archavon for easy loot, plus my usual morning daily quest runs, and some evening heroic dungeons when everything falls into place (e.g. daily Heroic dungeon is one that I want, the Alliance has Wintergrasp, and I have the time to find and complete a dungeon run).

In short, I don't expect the focus of the blog to shift dramatically. Many of my posts are based on out-of-game news anyway, and I've always enjoyed being able to address incentive questions by comparison to other games.


spinksville said...

I'll be interested to see how you find EQ. Now that I think about it, I remember having similar issues when I last tried the trial (a few months back I think). I had some kind of caster class that relied on crowd control and the CC just never hit.

I hit up the forums to see if this was normal and what people thought, and found that apparently it became OK if you had access to high level expensive crafted abilities which I didn't have. (And wasn't going to any time soon, due to not knowing anyone higher level in game who could give me stuff.)

I'd try a melee class also (maybe one of the rogue ones), and see what you think. I seem to remember it worked a bit better, which was frustrating because I liked the caster on paper.

Magson said...

I know this is an old old old post and your dirge is now 50+, but I thought it was intersting to find your initial immpressions.

I assume you've found the "Sell" tab on the merchant screen now, and also the "f" key doing default actions on npc's so you don't have to right-click and "hail" anymore? I didn't see that in any of your more recent posts ;-)

Green Armadillo said...

@Magson: Believe it or not, the "F" one is new to me four months later, though I did figure out where the buy/sell tabs are relatively shortly after this first post.

I also relatively recently discovered the option to change the "click for default action" to "double click for default actions that are not 'attack'", which has reduced the percentage of time that I go to click on a guild hall NPC and get an examine panel for the carpet behind them instead. On the downside, I get a merchant window I didn't want when I encounter a questgiver who also happens to buy/sell stuff.

Goes to show how hard it is to learn all the tricks of an MMORPG interface. I should probably run through the keybinds at some point to see if there are any other tweaks I didn't know about.