Saturday, April 18, 2009
Lyriana hit level 50, EQ2's original level cap, this week. That seems as good a time as any to take a look at the game thus far, since EQ2 reviews seem to be the hip thing to write of late.
Delivering Solid Solo PVE
Unlike many bloggers who are currently re-visiting Norrath, my very first experience with the game came less than three months ago. All of the increasingly positive buzz aside, I was looking to pick up a game with solo PVE content to explore, and I figured that four years' worth of EQ2 probably contained more solo content than LOTRO's new expansion. EQ2 delivered far more in this department than I had expected.
Overall, I would guesstimate that I've cleared out about 2/3 of the solo content from level 20-50, which is, in my view, exactly the right amount - enough that you're not missing out on the majority of the game if you only play a single character, while still leaving enough unexplored ground that your first alt can spend a fair chunk of their time in new territory.
The quests are industry standard stuff - kill enemies, visit locations, or loot items - but they're well executed. The player actually gets to talk back to the questgivers (conversations that are often pretty amusing), and quests automatically update themselves to the next objective; where WoW might have a quest to kill orcs, which players must run back to town to turn in, only to receive a followup to go kill the boss of the orcs, an EQ2 quest will automatically progress from the first stage onto the second, and only require you to return to the questgiver when all your business in a specific camp is complete.
The system doesn't do anything on the scale of WoW's new "phasing" technology, where players get to actively advance the storyline even though it's still a non-instanced world, but it also doesn't produce the sheer gimmickry that sometimes accompanies WoW's quest system. Sometimes it's better to just stick to your strengths and do them well. I'd still take the quests in the next WoW expansion over the quests in the next EQ2 expansion in a heartbeat, but the good news is that there's no reason why I can't play BOTH.
How's the gameplay diversity?
I can only answer some of that.
EQ2 has probably the most robust housing and guild system present in the MMO's I've played. The sheer amount of functionality they've allowed guild halls to have is a very impressive feature. Being in a guild that traces its roots back to the game's launch, and has the guild hall amenities to prove it, has made a huge difference in my quality of life in this game.
The game's crafting system also takes top honors among crafting systems I have tried, with the caveat that the crafting minigame can hold my attention for about 30-45 minutes at a time, so it is somewhat important to me that the crafting exp curve allow me to make sufficient progress in sittings of about that length.
I am not aware of any real PVP on my non-PVP server. Not really a downside for me, and I'd rather not see something haphazardly tacked on with subsequent dire effects on class balance, but not having an alternative to the ganking-enabled PVP ruleset might be a significant downside for some players.
As to group content, the only time I can specifically remember joining a group of players was a guild social outing, after I was already level 50, when we moved into a larger guild hall. I can't remember EVER teaming up with another player to quest for any reason, not even the ad hoc teamups that happen in WoW and LOTRO when you arrive at a tough quest target and find that there are other players after that same mob that you can join forces with for a minute or two. Obviously, I'm alright with a purely solo playstyle. Whether it's a good thing that I have arrived over halfway to the level cap with zero grouping skills and no in-game adventuring allies is a separate question.
Graphically, I like the game reasonably well. It's not the prettiest game on the market, but I like the art well enough. The downside is that the game appears to have unusually high texture loading requirements. My gaming machine isn't top of the line anymore, but it's well above average for 2009, which should mean silky smooth performance in a four-year-old game. Instead, I experience load times when I zone that were so lengthy that I upgraded my computer from 2 GB of RAM to 4 GB in the hopes that this would help.
I don't especially feel like dwelling on the business model, which I've covered extensively in the past week or two, but I don't feel that I can completely skip the money factor in a review either. EQ2 is very affordable for completely new players like myself - $40 gets you the complete game with all of its expansions AND the first month of subscription (make sure you get an invitation from an existing player so that you can get a free runspeed boosting cloak for all of your character henceforth).
However, the game charges the normal $15 monthly fee on top of very frequent expansions - at least one a year historically - making it arguably the most expensive current generation MMORPG even if you don't partake in the real money Marketplace that SOE is pushing more and more aggressively of late.
Overall, I strongly recommend EQ2 to players who enjoy solo PVE content who are looking for a change of pace. Between the wide variety of races and classes and the polish factor that a game picks up during four years of continuous updates, Norrath is a great place to visit. What I'll do when I actually hit the level cap is a separate question (I am at least vaguely considering potential alts), but I won't consider my time in Norrath a failure if my reaction to hitting level 80 is to cancel my subscription and save up for the next expansion box. It's been a fun ride thus far, and I'm glad to be writing one of those "EQ2 is better than people realize" reviews rather than reading them.
Lyriana and her Halasian Empire guildmates, about to purchase their massive new guild hall.