Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Tradequesting Revolution

Lyriana finally hit EQ2's new tradeskill cap this evening. Not so-coincidentally, I'd just completed the last of the expansion's new tradeskill quests, including the signature quest for the class specific crafting tool/weapon. In my view, the current expansion crafting content is the best in any MMORPG I've seen. The biggest complaint I have to offer about the experience is that it points out how sparse the earlier crafting content is by comparison.

My new crafting tongs have a better DPS rating than my offhand weapon. They've also got a tradeskill exp bonus that I'm not going to need until the next time the level cap increases, which will probably be at least a year from now.

The Evolution of the EQ2 Crafting Quest
The thing that's really unique about EQ2's approach to crafting content is the use of tradeskill-only quests. These quests are a great change of pace in a world where most problems are resolved by stabbing something. Sometimes, the player has to craft some gizmo. Sometimes, the player has to craft some gizmo and turn it in to a questgiver, who will then turn around and hand it out to the next adventurer who comes along needing a tool to complete some mission or another. Add in some amusing writing and you've got a recipe for a pleasant change of pace.

The catch is that the content does not kick in at low levels. The crafting tutorial will deposit players at level 10, but, after that, they're on their own with a single original quest every ten levels through to level 50+. Instead, the bread and butter trade leveling are handled through grinding out recipes. You can grind items to sell, or grind items to turn into a writ agent for guild experience, but grind grind grind it is for hours at a time.

The continent of Kunark starts to try and shake things up, offering repeatable tradeskill quests for some of the area's major factions. It's a nice attempt, but falls short because the rate of reputation gain is often laughably low - two of the three reps are easily maxxed by adventuring, so players who intend to quest eventually anyway would be wasting their time if they bother with crafting.

The next expansion, the Shadow Odyssey, still shared three of its four trade factions with adventuring. It also has a badly designed introductory quest - because EQ2 crafting is intended to be independent of adventuring, the quest offers teleportation shortcuts across a massive zone, but the shortcuts go away if you actually complete the quest. There are also AFK-flight paths, but we're talking about flights that take 3+ minutes, which I would have needed literally dozens of times during my stay in the Moors - well worth delaying access to the TSO crafting quests in my book, so I did not complete any of these quests until after I was done adventuring in the Moors.

TSO did also introduce a crafter-only rep grind, including the only group-based crafting quests that I'm aware of anywhere in MMORPG's. These quests offer amusing storylines - the story for the one I actually did is that a raid group is getting slaughtered, and the player needs to fix the portal out of the zone before the fleeing raiders arrive, presumably with some angry boss in hot pursuit. (The quests also do not warn you in any way that the quest will require a total of 108 combines to complete. I would not have attempted the thing solo had I known that it would take nearly two hours, though I suppose I did get most of a crafting level, two rare harvests, and a random piece of salable jewelry out of the effort.)

The problem here is that the rewards for participating are, frankly, a bit underwhelming. There are entire sets of gear that offer crafting bonuses, but any character with the required reputation and tokens to purchase these items has already completed the hardest crafting content in the game. There are mounts that offer increased harvesting skill, but it would take a very long time for that investment to pay off when you consider the time it takes to earn the mounts in the first place (time which you might otherwise have spent on harvesting).

The really hardcore crafter had the chance to make raid-quality gear for fewer dungeon tokens than the NPC vendors charged, but there's a really limited amount of value in the whole exercise for players who aren't in it so professionally.

TSF Gets It Perfect
So, after all of this, players hit level 80 crafter in time to hit the new expansion. Sure enough, there are, once again, quests. Only this time, we're not talking about a few lines that duplicate reputation that can be obtained more easily by some other method. Crafting quests lead to crafting-only reputations that offer unique recipes. Players who set out to craft so they could make their own gear/spells/etc can actually expect to reap the benefits of finally reaching the cap.

Meanwhile, the quality is accompanied by a large quantity. There are four separate trade factions to interact with, each of which offers generous reputation through their introductory quests before offering up daily repeatable quests to finish off the relevant reputations. (Each of the three crafting vocations has a specific faction that offers them more quests and sells their recipes.) Overall, the end result was that my trip from level 80 to 90 was as smooth as the typical leveling path for PVE questing, with very little time spent grinding miscellaneous rush order writs in front of the same crafting station.

The Paradox of Improvement
The problem with EQ2 crafting at the moment is that it is entirely backwards. Crafting an item requires an equal amount of progress at level 1 and level 90, but the level 90 character has improved crafting abilities and gear that make the recipe far easier to complete. In other words, the very first items players attempt to complete are the hardest that they will ever suffer through. When you pile that on top of the extremely limited amount of content available to lower level tradeskillers, I'm a bit surprised that more players don't give up on the mechanic entirely.

Perhaps even more than adventuring, EQ2 crafting could really use a Cataclysm-style revamp to gut and overhaul the pre-70 trade content. I don't know how likely this is, but it would be a huge improvement to the game in general, and my willingness to repeat the experience on future characters in particular.


iamstillwater said...

If you include transmuting here, I'd definitely agree! :D

Yeebo said...

Absolutely agree with you, I'd love to see some decent low level crafting quests in EQ II.