Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Relics of Endgames Past

It appears to be Fabled Harvesting Cloak week in EQ2. In our little guild of 6-8 players, I completed Lyriana's cloak this weekend, Ysh and Monty also got their cloaks, and even more people commented on her post to say that they too are wrapping up this quest line.

Though some part of this sudden flurry of harvesting may be great minds thinking alike, SOE may have played a role in the quest's sudden popularity. Originally, you had to start the quest at or near the tradeskill level cap and go back to harvest in half of the low level zones in the game. In the most recent Game Update patch, though, the quest was changed so that players can start it at any level. This means that the quest effectively completes itself as you level a new character, as long as you know where to go to start it. Such is the fate of endgame content over time.

Endgame Grinds and The Level Cap
The endgame reputation grind is a compromise of sorts. Many players would prefer to continue doing what they have been doing - completing one quest at a time, and moving on to the next, with small rewards from time to time. Developers would prefer for players not to run out of things to do, so that they continue to pay a subscription fee. The compromise is the reputation grind - instead of doing different quests for small rewards, the player does the same quest 10-20 times and walks away with a comparatively larger reward.

The big issue arises when the level cap goes up with the next expansion. At that point, the developer's interest lies in getting players to see the shiny new stuff that they've spent time developing, rather than forcing players to continue to beat their heads against content they did not want to complete back when it was the old endgame. For this reason, expansions generally have to provide some form of a power level reset, such as WoW's phenomena of replacing raid epics with green quest rewards. The developer wants to sell expansion boxes and subscription fees to everyone, not just the players who made it through the last endgame's grinds. This, in turn, blows up the incentives to do the old endgame content.

As a case in point, consider the Shattered Sun Offensive from WoW's patch 2.4. Blizzard spent time adding an entire zone's worth of carefully crafted, top-notch repeatable content. None of this is worth doing in the current game. In the time it would take to earn the reputation to unlock the next rep rewards, players could be getting superior gear for completing the new, non-repeatable quests in the first zones of Northrend. Even if someone was bent on trying to max out all the old reputations in Outland before moving on to Northrend, in defiance of the incentive curve, the experience they would gain during the attempt would cause them to level up and render the content trivial. I've noticed largely the same phenomena in EQ2, where there are a variety of repeatable faction quests that don't offer rewards I would use if SOE gave them to me outright.

One way to insulate against inflation is to include cosmetic rewards. Minipets, titles, mounts, etc are things that players want but would not be required to beat their heads against before moving on to less repetitive pastures. WoW's Argent Tournament looks like it has been designed with level 90 in mind - most of the quests are carried out on tournament jousting horses, who presumably will NOT gain levels when the next expansion comes out, and the best rewards are mounts, tabards and minipets. Still, you can only hand out so many of each of the above; the value to the player of obtaining their second unique mount is relatively high, but the value of obtaining their 46th is going to be much reduced.

One partial solution might be to offer a shortcut to old reputations once the level cap increases. Faction levels have relatively little inherent value - though there are now achievements in WoW for reaching exalted with additional factions, most players want to be Exalted with the Shattered Sun because the Offensive will sell them stuff. Once those rewards are rendered obsolete by the next expansion, there's much less of a reason to be so protective of the amount of time it takes to obtain the reputation points. For example, perhaps the questgivers might note that most of Kael'thas' forces have been defeated, and award players a large chunk of the reputation needed after completeing each unique quest once.

There are some kinks to be worked out of the system. Certain cosmetic rewards might become comparatively too easy to obtain, and would need to be retired or receive cost increases. Neither is necessarily a bad thing, though mount collectors who have changed characters recently might disagree. There might be a bit of a dis-incentive to completing the content during the last month or so of the old expansion, though this is true anyway.

Still, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Players have a reason to see well-crafted content, which makes the developers' time making it more worthwhile. Maybe you are going to replace all of those Shattered Sun rewards promptly in Northrend, but it would still be a very worthwhile haul if they could be obtained for doing each quest once or twice instead repeatedly of over a period of weeks. Overall, everyone wins if we can find some way to make these old relics worthwhile once again.


seriouslycasual said...

Plenty of MMOs out there have released expansions that don’t raise the level cap and/or trivialize pre-expansion content.

Green Armadillo said...

Plenty of games have released individual expansions which did not raise the level cap. Case in point, EQ2's most recent expansion did not raise the LEVEL cap, though it did increase its alternate advancement cap, thereby making players more powerful relative to existing content. However, the static number next to your player's picture does not tell the entire story.

EQ2's level cap has been raised three times in the last four years. The previous expansion to the game, ROK, raised the cap and contained a heavy focus on solo content. This makes it easier to have a subsequent expansion (TSO) which focuses on other areas of the game (including group content and tradeskills) without a level increase. The next expansion is widely expected to raise the cap again.

If you look at content from the previous endgame levels, which I happen to be doing, you will see precisely the type of content I'm describing in my post. There are several places in both the DOF and KOS expansions where the "solo timeline" for leveling says "repeat quest 15-20x for faction". Unless you deliberately shut off experience gain (this is a valid option in EQ2), you will trivialize this content long before you complete it.

whats my main again? said...

I believe you are wrong about the tournament horses not scaling with higher then 80 levels since right now they do scale with levels. I have been doing the dailies on my 78 mage and the horses have less health and do less damage then on one of my 80's. It doesn't seem unreasonable that this trend will continue therefore making the difficulty obsolete when you are one shotting things with a charge at lvl 90.

Sean said...

There actually is a valid reason to do the SSO quests. While you are leveling from 70 to 80, the quests give XP. On a level 70, doing all the dailies on the island will take from 30 to 45 minutes and gives you about 10% of the XP you need to reach 71.

It's true that you will be missing out on gear (and tradeskill materials) but as a start (or end) to a leveling session it's a nice boost.

On my 73 Warlock, I level a bit in Northrend, then hearth back to Shatt. I'll take the portal to the Isle and run through all the quests, then log out for the day. The next day I'll start by doing SSO Dailies, then head back to Northrend and tackle a bunch of quests. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.