Thursday, June 24, 2010
I currently have 173 AA out of a current cap of 250 (69.2% of the max possible), which is actually an improvement over my status when I hit 80 last expansion with 127/200 AA's (63.5%). I can see that being a bit irritating for someone who wants to jump into group content, but that number will improve significantly if I finish out the remaining quests and run each single-group zone at least once. I'm not sure that it really matters anyway. I just unlocked some very powerful abilities, but the difference between 163 AA and 173 is much greater than the difference between, say, 173 and 200.
TSF in hindsight
I am glad to report that quests in the Stonebrunt Highlands, the other half of the leveling content in the current expansion, do not share the first zone's flaws. Quests routinely send players against even-conned mobs, and even the occasional group of mobs. The quests are much less likely to hand out several percent of a level for talking to another NPC right next to the one you just did a quest for (though this does still happen sometimes). There are also fewer trivial factions in the latter half of the expansion - in the first zone, I was capped out on three separate factions before I turned in my first daily quest, just from the initial storylines that everyone has to complete, which kind of defeats the purpose of tracking reputation in the first place.
Unfortunately, the zone also suffers by context. This is the only solo content available for levels 85-90, and I am not convinced that it would have been anywhere near enough if I had actually entered the zone at level 85. Instead, I saved a significant amount of level 80 content from the previous expansion to do this time out, and then also gained a level or so by running dungeons with my guild. As a result, I entered the zone most of the way through level 88. Even with this massive headstart, I'd still managed to use up about half of the content in the area by the time I hit level 90.
Meanwhile, thanks to a new AA buff ability, Lyriana is now capable of hitting the 100% cap on double attack (normally her most valuable stat), wearing quest rewards from early in this expansion. The EQ2 playerbase revolted against a gear scaling plan which would have allowed your crit, DA, and other percentages to degrade naturally as you gained levels (see combat ratings in WoW and LOTRO). As a result, the entry level quests in the expansion's first zone had to hand out massive upgrades across the board for players who did not run raids and/or grind out void shard tokens in dungeons last expansion.
Still, I'm not even wearing single-group quality gear yet, and I'm suddenly in a position of worrying about collecting side-grades for when I'm capped on my most beneficial stat. Or I would be, except that it appears that someone improved the quest rewards in the first zone after they itemized the second zone. The level 78 quests that kicked off the expansion loot run gave me better rewards than some of the level 89 stuff I'm doing now. Overall, itemization could be a pretty huge problem for even the non-raid game going forward.
Was there a plan for the expansion on-ramp ?
In the end, this expansion's first zone was an odd detour. On paper, it makes a lot of sense to have an easy zone that brings players who missed previous expansions up to par. Many of us had a really hard time with the jump from the level 60's to the previous Kunark expansion, and I'm guessing that they did not want to repeat that mistake.
In practice, that zone arrives 78 levels into the game, which means that players who had been somehow gaining levels under the old system will suddenly hit a single super easy zone that rewards overpowered loot, before going back to normal in the expansion's second half. If that normal state was not satisfactory to existing players, they're not going to GET to the current expansion content in the first place.
Unless they're planning a massive revamp of the entire leveling experience - a revamp that would leave the game significant less fun if all solo quests suddenly used underconned mobs, like the Sundered Frontier did - it just doesn't make sense to have the expansion on-ramp be so different from the remaining game. I doubt that they actually have the resources to do such an overhaul anyway, so I'm left wondering where exactly they think they're going with this.
Then again, this was also the expansion that made a somewhat inexplicable decision to add battlegrounds no one asked for that non-PVP'ers now can't get into because they get steam-rolled by the regulars. And, as Ferrel notes, it seems like somehow no one saw this coming in advance. During development of this expansion, the EQ2 was functionally running with an interim producer and supposedly had team members pulled off the game to work on Free Realms. It's sad but possible that no one at SOE really knew where they were going with the end product either.