Friday, June 18, 2010

EQ2 Quests Need More Grind

Lyriana hit level 86 in the Sundered Frontier the other day. Since Blizzard will be stopping WoW's level cap at 85 for Cataclysm, there is a very real possibility that my little Fae Dirge will be my highest level character for the next two years or more.

Random numeric fact aside, I'm a bit disappointed to find that EQ2's latest expansion suffers from the same flaw as the game's new starting area.  Much as it shocks me to type this, EQ2's solo quests need more grind.

Mapping out a quest

On this map is one chunk of the Sundered Frontier zone.  In the bottom left, an arrow (Lyriana's current position) shows where the questgivers are located.  On the top right, the X indicates the cave that the monsters have decided to camp around (but not, for some reason, inside).

You can't tell the scale from the map, but it takes Lyriana (who hovers around at +100% runspeed at all times due to her class buffs) about a minute to cover the distance, ignoring all the mobs because she can simply outrun them.  I don't think that anyone makes it to level 80 without some means of moving faster than base speed unless they've done so deliberately.  However, if you were unable to escape the mobs, you'd be in for relatively short fights - these enemies are rated weaker than normal, to ensure that future undergeared characters don't struggle to start the new expansion (as happened to solo players attempting to enter the Rise of Kunark expansion content). 

Now that you have the context, allow me to summarize the questline (wiki link here):
  1. Run to cave, loot one object without fighting, run back to questgiver.
  2. Use the looted object right next to the questgiver, obtain another quest complete 10 second later for no good reason.
  3. Run to cave, kill six intentionally weak mobs, run back to questgiver.
  4. Run back to cave again, climb a ladder, kill one mob (of actual normal difficulty), run back
  5. Run back to cave, use item, run away and return to questgiver. 
    Alternately, stand still as about eight of the intentionally weak mobs descend on your position and attack, just because you're bored enough to see if you'll live if you fight them all at once.  For bonus points, take AFK time partway through combat, while the surviving mobs are still attacking you, to click on an item for a different quest that needs to be restarted every 7 kills. 
    In a bit of variety, upon returning to the questgiver after this quest, he will instead send you back to the city (2 minutes AFK-flight away) to talk to his boss for the quest complete.
  6. The boss wants to investigate in person, and gives you a quest complete for traveling back to the quest hub and speaking to him there. 
  7. Travel back to the cave, loot five objects (no mobs to fight), run to the the boss' office in the city (about 2 minutes from the cave for Lyriana, running directly towards the city and jumping off the cliff because she can glide safely down into the city on her wings) to talk to his flunkie, then fly the AFK flight back to the quest hub.  
  8. Back to the cave again, click on the pool of water that you've waded through half a dozen times already to loot a sample, back to the questgiver.  I wish I was kidding.
  9. Run back to cave, climb up the ladder from step 4, loot some items (still no mobs here), return to questgiver.  
The quest continues, and actually includes some combat, but the good news is that you're done with non-combat trips back to the cave.  The bad news is that you just spent 30 minutes on seven trips back and forth across an uneventful stretch of terrain in order to kill a total of seven mobs, most of which were intentionally trivial. 

If I believed that this garbage was the best that the current EQ2 team can produce - which I might if not for the fact that recent efforts like the Lavastorm revamp from last year have been massively better - I would be joining Ferrel on the "EQ2 solo quests are boring, trivial chores" lecture circuit.

What happened?
The sad reality is that this is not the quest team's fault.  No one decides that there should be a "quest" in which the player takes 10 seconds to walk across the room and click on an item.  This debacle is just a more extreme case of what happened in New Halas.  The developers ran out of tasks to assign the player before they had awarded a sufficient amount of exp to allow the player to leave the zone, so they had to create an entire series of increasingly trivial followups to justify awarding more and more quest bonus exp without requiring the creation of any more content.

In a game that actually had enough landmass to go around, this entire nine-part ordeal would have been a single "kill 10 rat-equivalents" and maybe a followup to kill the boss.  There's a reason why the cliche is to kill ten rats - assuming appropriate difficulty (adjust number of required kills up or down as appropriate), that's a number that justifies the travel time without feeling overly grindy.  How did a game called Everquest of all things wind up with too little grind?

The answer is in the relative weight of mob kills versus quest exp.  Quest turn-ins are worth drastically more experience than mob kills.  I'm guessing that they may be trying to avoid the situation that exists in WoW, where mob kills are worth more than quest bonuses to begin with, group dungeon mobs are worth more experience yet, and suddenly you're raking in 1% of a level PER KILL in 5-man dungeons with the appropriate exp bonuses.  Unfortunately, this means that you cannot compensate for removing half a dozen frivolous quest completion bonuses by simply doubling or even tripling the mob kill count.

Even so, something needs to be done about the state of these questlines.  Though each minor step does allow the writers to present players with another paragraph of quest text, that small amount of added story does not make up for the sheer pointlessness of the way quest series like this one play out.  


Magson said...

Totally agree that that entire questline was really stupid as far as what it required you to do. I actually liked the story they made behind it, but yeah.. running back and forth and back and forth and back and forth etc got old.

Sadly, once you get to the Panda people, their quest lines tend to do that also. "Run down the wadi and then come back." Okay, now run down it again and come back." And so on.

Stonebrunt Highlands is a lot better in its questlines, imo. And since you're already 86 you could go there and not be too low in level. Of course, you'll run out of quests and have to come back, so you may as well just bite the bullet now and finish the quest lines for Sundered Frontier and then move one.

FYI, nothing tells you when you're done or sends you to SBH -- you just gotta go once the Panda people stop giving you any more quests.

Video Game Philosopher said...

Never played EQ but I completely understand where you are coming from. WoW has similar problems in xp terms, but their solution was to just have a billion quests that all require you to kill a dozen mobs of slightly different types (or wait for drops off of them which is worse).

Difference is rested xp from mobs in Outlands was actually worth it to grind out levels vs questlines for the first few levels. Not true in WOTLK, unfortunately.

There's a balance in there somewhere but unfortunately it lies neither in super xp-generating mobs nor in crappy questlines. Maybe just make some semi-challenging mobs that award a decent amount of xp.

That said getting max level is hardly the point in some MMO's anymore, WoW is a chief example. In WoW, getting 80 is just the begining of a long boring grind.

Love the blog, and I'll drop the line to mine:


Pangoria Fallstar said...

I remember reading a long time ago, that Blizzard wanted on level quest completions to equal about 16 or 17 on level mob kills.

So if you have a quest to kill 10 rats, you should be getting about 25+ kills worth of exp.

Under that formula, the quests you are talking about would be cut in half by adding more killing (the title of your post!).

Here's the thing, a Grind is really only a grind when you are doing it over and over again (you were quest grinding). So I think what you mean to say is that EQ2 needs a more balanced grind.

What I don't understand about MMOs is, why can't the combat be more fun? That way "grinding mobs" wouldn't be a grind, but instead be fun.