Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Passing 30 in Norrath

I started writing this to mark my EQ2 Dirge hitting level 30; she has since zipped on up to level 32, so time, like a winged Fae, is flying in Norrath. Various things I've observed over the past few levels....

Not your average Tolkein races

When showing my wife my characters the other day, she remarked that they seemed to have a bit more personality than WoW's choices. The list includes one boring human (they make good cooks), alongside a walking rat creature (the Ratonga), my winged Fae, a giant frog (Froglok), and a spiny lizard (Sarnak). This is a bit refreshing.

The fantasy genre is dominated by the four races of the Fellowship of the Ring, Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and short but not bearded peoples. When you start branching out into evil-looking races, you get orcs, goblins, evil humans and/or elves, and undead. Most of these races make their way into EQ2 as well, but they're joined by a more unusual menagerie of critters that add some flavor to the choices. The races don't play dramatically differently (the Fae can glide on their wings and the Frogloks are amphibious and can opt to walk on the bottom of bodies of water instead of swimming), but even a dedicated min-maxer like myself can appreciate having an agile, maneuverable race that actually looks the part.

Upgradeable Spells
One quirk that EQ2 has that I haven't seen in many other games (WoW, Warhammer, LOTRO, FFXI, and Guild Wars off the top of my head) is upgradeable spells. In EQ2 you get new versions of spells every so often, but there also quality grades for each level's spell.

You automatically gain the lowest grade, Apprentice 1, when you hit the appropriate level, and can quickly and cheaply upgrade to App 4 (which crafters will be making in bulk to level their tradeskills). From there it gets very expensive. In practical terms, going from the cheap App 4 scroll to the expensive Adept 3 (the best crafted rank, there is one higher that drops as very rare loot) boosted the base damage of one of my bread and butter spells by about 20% - some spells, especially with longer cooldowns, will see even larger increases.

The fun part is that getting an upgrade for a key spell can be exciting. A level 20 crafting quest (that's crafting level, not adventuring level) awarded me a rare recipe scroll that I was able to use with a rare item I harvested to make myself an upgrade that's going to last me for something like 12+ levels (until the next time I upgrade that spell). That's in some ways far more epic than a typical loot reward for a quest. The downside is that these things simply aren't priced at levels that a newer player than myself can afford - bored level 80's set the market for leveling spells, and it doesn't make sense to sink all my money into a spell rank that I'm going to outlevel in another week or two.

Sony's actually talking about adding NPC spell researchers to the game to make the higher quality upgrades a bit more attainable. This kind of upgrade is significant enough to the game's economy that they can't just give the highest quality versions away easily, but I hear that the prices for the raiding-relevant level 80 spells go through the roof. Allowing an NPC to help players with this would be one way to ease players into raiding, though that's still going to be a pretty long road if it takes a month per spell you want upgraded.

Do Guild Halls Kill Cities?
I've heard EQ2's guild housing described as "player cities". Your guild can hire NPC's for just about every service you can think of - banking, auction houses, vendors, tradeskill questgivers, or even an NPC druid to sit in your guild hall and open portals for you. Between the druid and other, inanimate forms of transportation, you can get from your guild hall to just about anywhere in the world instantly. On top of that, you get a second hearthstone ability that allows you to return to your guild hall every 15 minutes.

Overall, these perks are massively convenient, and they mean that you never need to weight the ability to teleport highly in your class decision-making process. That said, there's also increasingly little reason to actually leave your instanced guild hall and go into the city. That's not to say that the real cities of Norrath are deserted, but they certainly feel a bit sparsely populated. I guess this is why Blizzard insists on leaving auction houses and class trainers in the old, pre-expansion content in WoW.

Lyriana, in the deserted Fae home city

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