Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Adventurer, Outfit Thyself

With WoW's patch 3.1 launching (or attempting to launch) today, tonight is looking like a good night to plan on playing some more EQII. Euripedes has a roundup of the troubles facing Azeroth in the patch, but the server issues that have accompanied the last two patch days make Yogg Saron look like a soloable quest mob.

The only problem is, I'm having a hard time with Lyriana's crafting efforts. Lyriana crafts her own spells, which means that I want her crafting level to keep pace with her adventuring level (so I have upgrades ready and waiting when they're needed). This is getting harder and harder as I make more progress in the game.

Keeping Pace With Experience
We had a lively discussion the last time I mentioned this topic about whether crafted goods were cheaper than raw materials. Setting aside the 64,000 Gold question, though, it is definitely more fun to be able to craft stuff for a character as you level rather than crafting stuff that is weeks out of date and hoping you can sell it to recoup costs. How does this work out in practice?

WoW
I was very impressed in Wrath with how easy it was to keep my mage's enchanting and tailoring up to date. It may have helped that I can make cloth gear (tailors get more cloth from defeated enemies, thanks to a new passive harvesting skill) and then disenchant it for enchanting mats, but I really didn't notice much of a crafting grind at all in the expansion. I made a few items I was able to use, and was able to enchant and wear random quest rewards, a big step up from my pre-enchanter days leveling in TBC, when I didn't get to use most quest rewards because I wasn't prepared to pay someone else to enchant them. From my experience, it appears that herbalism, skinning, alchemy, and inscription are similarily user friendly.

Unfortunately, mining and the other gear crafting professions are much more challenging to keep up to par. Part of this is that ore nodes are required for many more professions, and a bigger part is that the items produced by these professions tend to be durable goods (i.e. gear that you keep), rather than consumables, and their costs are balanced accordingly. Also, I technically had a 25-point headstart on Wrath crafting, because Blizzard chose to start the new crafting tier 50-points into the 75 point TBC era crafting tier in order to avoid having to nerf material requirements for level 70 endgame items.

WoW has no mechanism for turning crafted goods into something more than vendor/disenchant fodder, and that it offers self-only buffs to crafters for maxxing their professions (albeit smaller buffs than last expansion), generally flooding the market with anything that players would make in order to level. As a result, I find it hard to justify the costs for training and materials needed to level crafting professions for the sake of actually crafting when you can skip the training and the time and just sell your raw materials to get the finished goods instead. Maybe things are better this time through, especially now that more professions have consumables. I'll let you know if I do end up leveling any alts with any of the professions I'm talking about.

LOTRO
I leveled Allarond as a Tinker (Mining, Jeweler, and Cooking - you have to buy uncooked food to cook since LOTRO's vocation bundles generally include a crafting profession that lacks its associated gathering profession) back in mid-2007. Mining was interesting in that you need to smelt ore into bars to gain the exp that allows you to harvest the next tier of ore. After you've filled the exp bar once, you can fill it a second time (actually, a second and a third time, as the second bar requires twice as many points) to "master" that tier of crafting. Mastery gives you a chance of critical success - for mining, this means a 5% chance of gaining 3 bars instead of 1 from a smelting attempt. Useful if you're smelting the bars because you want to craft with them, but it also means that unprocessed ore is in some ways more valuable on the market (because the buyer can get mining exp).

Actually keeping my mining skill mastered was not that hard as I leveled, in part because I made a point of grabbing as much ore as possible to sell. LOTRO offers regular ore and precious metals, and I needed the precious metals for jewelcrafting, so the regular ore was a great candidate for smelting until I mastered the mining tier (getting me a little bit more of the bars of precious metal I needed for crafting). The regular ore, meanwhile, sold very well on the open market in either smelted or unsmelted form, as several different professions require it. My personal experience was that the AH was very efficient at turning ore into weapons and armor for my character.

The crafting skill took a bit more work, though it was still relatively easy to keep pace with given that I was deliberately doing a lot of mining and exploring (to complete deeds) anyway. Perhaps most importantly, compared to WoW, quest reward gear (especially jewelry) tends to be less impressive than crafted gear of the same level. The result was that, even if I was lagging my level by a bit, it was still worth my while to wear my own jewelry. This added to the incentive to keep my crafting skill up to par.

There was the minor snafu at the original endgame because Turbine decided that the top end precious metal, Misty Mountain Silver, should ONLY drop in the actual Misty Mountains (dramatically reducing its availability compared to other tiers, since it didn't drop in most of the zones it should have dropped in). Forunately, they've since decided to rename it ancient silver and have it drop in the appropriate areas, so that problem is solved.

Finally, as Tipa is finding out, LOTRO's crafting exp system has some quirks - you need to think about which recipes offer the optimal exp gain for your materials. Then again, as I discovered in the recent retrial event, the game now offers crafting guilds for mid-high level crafters, which let you craft items for reputation. This is a huge step up from the old WoW and LOTRO methods of having players craft lots of gear they don't want just for crafting exp.

EQ2
Like LOTRO, EQ2 has actual crafting exp in place of WoW's "you may or may not get a skill point for this recipe" method (though it uses the latter system for its secondary tradeskills). In many ways, though, crafting is even more integral. All characters can, provided they keep their harvesting skills up, harvest every type of raw material (fishing, hunting for meat and hides, gathering roots or veggies, mining gemstones and ore, and lumberjacking).

Meanwhile, where LOTRO has a single new crafting guild for your preferred profession, EQ2 crafters have multiple different crafting-specific factions, and, in some cases, get to generate experience for their guilds in addition to experience and faction for themselves. You can make random junk simply for experience - indeed, you get a nice chunk of bonus exp for your first successful attempt at any recipe - but this represents a much smaller portion of your crafting progress.

The bad news is that crafting experience requirements for each crafting level get steeper as you advance. Lyriana benefits from extremely rapid adventuring exp thanks to numerous changes and adjustment to progress levels over the years, and is having a harder and harder time keeping up, especially with crafting rested exp (which, I would argue, has outlived its original purpose). Without rested exp, crafting exp takes twice as long and costs twice as much in materials and fuel.

One other downside is that, while the new spells I want come one level at a time (i.e. my level 49 class spells are available when I hit level 49 in jeweler level), my melee class jewelry is generally at least 8 levels out of date because of where it falls in the recipe books - the level 40 jewelery is learned by level 48 jewelers.

Still, in general the system has worked as long as I stop leveling to wait for my crafting rested exp to catch up every so often.

Keeping crafting relevant to the changing leveling game
All three games have increased the speed of their PVE leveling curves of late, and WoW's patch today will supposedly be streamlining some of its low-level recipes to remove various random mob drops that made a lot of sense as part of gear when most players were in their 40's and 50's and make a lot less sense now that most players who want crafted gear in that level range have a high level alt doing the farming for them. Still, I would imagine that the net effect has been that keeping crafting up to pace with your exp level is getting harder in all three games as a result.

Personally, I think it's important that developers find some way to keep the speed of crafting at around the same rate relative to experience. Crafting your own gear as you go is a much more organic experience than riding around on a max level mount, killing level 5 critters to take their copper ore because the time has come to powerlevel a crafting profession now that you're at the endgame. Unfortunately, all three games do struggle a bit with this - you CAN level as you go, but it's arguably more time efficient to sell your raw materials, buy the finished products you need, and then purchase materials to powerlevel a profession if desired using your greater earning potential once you're level-capped.

Realistically, new players have an extremely limited ability to compete in an economy driven by what bored max-level characters will pay, unless they are able to sell their harvests. That creates a conflict since both LOTRO and WoW limit harvesting in a way that makes players choose between selling their gathered goodies for cash or using them to train their crafting skills. There's no reason to create this kind of pressure on players when there is more and more room for developers to shift the crafting grind from a race to keep up with your experience to endgame mechanics like factions and tokens (WoW is starting to get to the latter, with daily quests for Jewelcrafters).

If anything, keeping the accesibility of crafting at the same level as the rest of the game will get more players interested in continuing the crafting that they took up as they leveled. This can only increase the developers' return on the time they spend working on crafting systems. In the end, I'd rather see a game with a fleshed out and interesting crafting system like EQ2's than WoW's more mercenary environment of crafting for the sake of a self-buff.

2 comments:

Ziboo said...

Agree with you on the crafting to leveling xp - it can be hard to keep them balanced.

That and it would be nice if the player crafted items were comparable or better than most loot drops.

Of the three games you mentioned I do prefer EQII's system that I can max level a crafting skill without reaching an arbitrary level. So an alt can craft without doing an adventuring if you choose. I also prefer the gathering everything of EQII - use it, destroy it, sell it - the economy is better IMHO with EQII from this. Plus it gives those that like to level slowly or prefer to just craft something to do.

LoTRO's I thought the cooking was odd - if I have to buy most of the components . . . and swapping the correct tool. Maybe I needed to go further with it, but my impressions weren't 'oh fun crafting'!

The worst I've experienced though Warhammer - it could be good, but wasn't.

spinksville said...

Dunno if it's just me but I always find it annoying that tradeskills are so often level limited. So if I want to pick a new tradeskill, I not only have to create a new alt but also level it.

I get that they don't want one player to have access to all tradeskills. But the people with more time/ energy will be able to level the alts and have them all anyway.

And I also dislike the WoW model for tradeskills. I figure a tradeskill should be something which you can trade.