Feldon reports the latest in EQ2 itemization news, which leaves WoW's notorious gear resets looking gentle by comparison.
The Velious Instance Game
EQ2's group game was in an odd position. Even though the level cap did not rise in February's expansion, a gear reset effectively took all previous level 90 content out of the conversation. Instead, non-raiders had effectively three tiers of group content, each consisting of a cluster of three 6-man dungeons.
Progression from tier to tier is strictly gated by two stats - critical hit chance and critical hit mitigation - and eventually a fourth tier was added with such thresholds that it is difficult to even qualify for without raid loot. On top of that, the tiers get increasingly difficult, even after you hit the minimum thresholds. Like Feldon, my experience has been that players stick to the first two instance clusters (indeed, avoiding the final zone of the second cluster, which is noticeably harder) to maximize their shard/time earnings and minimize the chances of PUG failure.
All of these instances award a token called "Primal Velium Shards", which are exchanged for both loot and "yellow adornments" - enhancement slots found on group dungeon gear that can only be purchased with tokens, and which are essential to meeting the higher crit/crit mit caps. Meanwhile, the loot includes three tiers of armor sets that can be purchased or crafted with some combination of shards, faction, platinum, and dungeon drops.
I am currently working on the "Ry'gorr" armor (tier 2, even though it is associated with the third instance cluster). Each time I obtain a rare gem, I need Velium shards (40 at the expansion's launch, 20 after an earlier nerf) to have it crafted into a piece of armor. As a result, I am extremely reluctant to spend five shards on consumable yellow adornments, or even the "tier one" armor set, both of which would be wasted when I replace the gear as I can get the gem drops.
As Feldon's earlier commentary noted, SOE has removed the crit mit requirements from all nine of the launch Velious zones. While this change does mean that an undergeared player will no longer be one-shotted in the instances, I agree entirely with Feldon's observation that such players are probably not going to be prepared to make a good contribution to groups in even the earliest zones (much less the later, harder ones).
I suppose we should have seen the next change coming - the latest test server build slashes prices on shard gear to fire-sale levels. The first tier is available with no meaningful cost at all to anyone who can find a crafter with the appropriate book (or from an NPC if you want to grind up some faction and plat, albeit on a faction that advances very slowly). The second tier will now only require the rare gem (which are apparently skyrocketing in prices on the broker). The third tier is now available as outright drops rather than through a complicated crafting chain in which players had to obtain large quantities of loot from the fourth and hardest instance cluster just to break it down for ore and then combine it with shards to craft the armor.
On the plus side, I no longer need to fret about spending shards on yellow adornments, since it doesn't look like they will be needed for much of anything else. Also, to the extent that the problem with moving on to harder tiers of content is the difficulty of the content, rather than acquisition of gear, I expect that we will see some in-coming nerfs to some or all of the instances in the coming weeks. The addition of an automated group finder in the coming weeks will only hasten calls for the content to get easier.
In my experience with the Velious dungeon game, the issue was the attempt to force too many tiers into the available content. Players were expected to spend a long time farming the same three dungeons repeatedly before leaving them behind to work on the next three, which gets old very fast. If they had done only two tiers - the first 5-6 instances on one tier and the remaining 3 launch dungeons, plus the 3 newer ones, on the second - there could have been much more variety and much less tedium.
The changes they are making instead do little to fix this problem. Instead, they remove the incentive to run any of the instances from the first half of the expansion, cramming all group players in to the remaining dungeons, which are still too hard to PUG effectively. Moreover, how excited can I really get about farming up loot now, when the trend appears to be that it will get even easier if/when more instances are added?
Unless the plan is to force players into content that is over their heads in an attempt to sell the new expansion box with additional AA's, I don't see how this approach gets anyone where they want to go.