- The new expansion will not hit until February 2010, as SOE transitions the game to an update schedule of three live updates and one paid expansion per year.
- It will, as widely expected, increase the game's level cap.
- The game will be getting an achievement feature like (listed in order of live paid US server release of the comparable feature) LOTRO, Warhammer, and WoW - it is not yet clear whether these achievements will be purely cosmetic or whether they will offer gameplay benefits that cannot be duplicated through other means.
- Players will be able to temporarily set their level to any multiple of five below their current number to pursue low level content. The good news is that this will encourage players to tackle low level group content (the game only awards AA exp for content that is not grey-leveled) without the inconvenience of someone needing to have an alt of exactly the correct level. The bad news is that down-leveled players are more powerful than legitimate players of that level, potentially leading to some balance issues.
- There will be a new starting city and zone, which will be turned into some sort of stand-alone free trial area, with a smaller client (and thereby faster downloads - the current trial uses the full game client, which is easily an overnight download affair).
- The game is also slated to work with scaling content that may accommodate smaller groups, or optional "hard mode" fights.
Overall, it's not a bad set of features. Perhaps they're focusing a bit heavily on things that are available in other games, but they're taking those features because they have been successful and popular.
The one concern I have in the medium term is what these changes mean for my own characters. Currently, I do a fair amount of otherwise trivial content in the game primarily to experience the storylines and maybe collect a bit of AA exp on the side. Once all these changes finish rolling out, Lyriana could instead set her level to the level of the quests she is working on, use the toggle slider to convert all of the combat experience gained into AA exp, and earn significantly greater rewards than she would get for doing the content now.
Of course, ALL content in MMO's might be changed to offer better rewards down the line, but the conversation changes slightly when we're talking about content that cannot be repeated. If you choose to run repeatable dungeons in WoW while awaiting patch 3.2, you are not precluded from reaping the better rewards that will be added after the patch. By contrast, non-repeatable quest content is consumed once and gone. Lyriana will be demonstrably better off waiting for at least the AAXP change, if not the increase in the level cap as well, before completing any content whatsoever after hitting level 80.
I mention the level cap because the expansion is announced to contain only two outdoor zones, plus the requisite instanced content, to support 10 additional experience levels. SOE will undoubtedly add more options to the game through Live Updates, and possibly the expansion after this one (if, like the current pair of expansions, it does NOT raise the level cap). Still, the picture for solo players at the time of the expansion's launch might have to focus on grinding repeatable quests, with a longer term plan to add more variety. That would be one of those unfortunate incentives to wait a few months/years for the rest of the content.
Overall, I want to be excited about this expansion. EQ2 has been a very pleasant surprise for me, and it would be interesting to actually be around for things when they are shiny and new. The problem simply comes up when Lyriana hits level 80, and the incentive curve strongly favors having her take a seat until February.
What to do in the mean time? Perhaps roll an alt. But not a good-aligned alt, since that new good-aligned city won't be around until February.