Saturday, 3 December 2011

It's The Beginning of a New Age: EQ2

 I know, you were expecting the Velvet Underground. Well you're Kinda Outta Luck.

Tuesday is the dawn of the Age of Aquarius Discovery and the NDA is down, so here are my thoughts.

 I hadn't planned on doing the Beta. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that it's generally a bad idea to beta expansions for MMOs that I'm already playing. While I do really enjoy testing stuff it feels too much like opening the presents before Christmas Day.

I didn't even apply for this one. Which didn't matter because I got added without asking. Since I had access I figured it wouldn't hurt to take just a little look at the Freeport revamp. And the Dungeon Maker. Oh, and Mercenaries. Just a little peek. I just peeled the wrapping paper back an inch or two, really. I hardly even opened the box...

Freeport Revamp.

Even Lucan can't stop the rain
Not strictly part of AoD, you get this whether you like it or not when GU62 rolls in on the same day. As I mentioned I was more than a little apprehensive about this one. I am delighted to report that the EQ2 team got almost everything right that the EQ1 team got wrong.

The new Freeport is absolutely the old Freeport. Pretty much everything is where it should be, looking like it should look. Yes, Lucan's had the decorators in and the builders too. There's been some re-zoning, a few buildings have gone and some citizens have been re-housed. But it's still Freeport, just smartened up and with all the doors open!

I wish they'd knocked down The Jade Tiger instead of The Blood Haze Inn because I purely loved that terrace, but East Freeport is so much better it balances out. There's a marvelous souk where the broker used to stand in his little cubby hole. Execution plaza now comes complete with an actual execution (which I deliberately haven't seen yet). The big ship in South Freeport had to go for technical reasons, but I can't say I missed it.

Overall, a big thumbs up for Freeport!

Dungeon Maker

I could have sworn it was bigger
I played with this one quite a bit and I really like it a lot. It comes with a small number of preset dungeon layouts. Crushbone was one. Literally the ground floor level of the actual zone as far as I could tell. I knocked up a perfectly serviceable dungeon in half an hour. I was really impressed by how easy the tools were to use. I was anticipating that only dedicated decorators would really get much out of this feature but just about anyone should be able to throw together something worth running.

That said, it's going to be a decorator's dream. Not only do you get a ton of dungeon-origined placeables but you can also place pretty much anything you'd be able to place in a house. Station Cash furniture doesn't always work - I couldn't place my Rivervale set that I bought with my free beta 999,999 SC allowance. (Generous or what?). You can even name all the creatures and give them dialog  (or will be able to - not sure if that's in for launch). I foresee some amazing creations. Having many of the items for the Dungeon Maker drop as tradeable loot from adventure content is a brilliant idea, too. Nothing like a gold-rush to spice up the economy.

There's one major downside that's been much discussed, of course. For balance reasons you can't run your own characters through the Dungeon Maker dungeons. I was worried that might make them feel like EQ1's Monster Missions, which I loathed, but it really doesn't. I found it very easy to associate with my Drolvarg avatar and the Bellywhumper was... well it's a Bellywhumper for god's sake!

Another big thumbs up.

Mercenaries

Mercenaries are my favorite ever addition to EQ1 so I had very high hopes for this. I only tried one Mercenary, a Ratonga Inquisitor called Stamper Jeralf. I was playing a very low level bruiser and with Stamper helping me I was pretty much invincible. In fact, this Gnoob video, which I took to be a parody, turned out to be pretty much on the nail. If I'd let him Stamper would happily have power-leveled me all day so long as I didn't run out of silver.

I'm calling Trading Standards about you, Jeralf.

Unlike EQ1 mercs, these all come with proper names and back-stories and they seem to be less focused on their jobs than their counterparts from half a millennium ago. Despite hiring on as a healer, Stamper pretty much never cast a healing spell. At one point I began to doubt he even knew how. He mostly liked to hit things with his hammer and cure me of any possible ailment I might have picked up over the last few seconds. Since his buffs were so overwhelmingly powerful that pretty much nothing could hit me I guess he didn't feel there was much need for healing.

It looks very much as though EQ2 mercenaries are being tuned to be less useful than their predecessors, but they still look pretty darn useful all the same. Apparently they are quite expensive to run at higher levels. I'd bet that after a while the usefulness gets tweaked up and the cost down.

One thumb up and the other hovering ready for the fully-tuned version.

I didn't try a Beastlord but the vibe on them in beta seems almost universally positive. Even the folks who couldn't find anything good to say about anything else grudgingly acknowledged that Beastlords were going to be a big hit. For my money and from everything I've read in and out of beta they aren't Beastlords at all, but so long as they're a fun class, who cares?

Tradeskill Associates and Reforging I also skipped. But... Othmirs!

All in all it looks fantastic. Has the potential to be the best expansion for years for the EQ2 demographic that's had to take a backseat since Kunark.

NDA is still up on all beta screenshots so these are all official SOE issue. Mine would have been a lot better, but there you go...

3 comments:

  1. People who actually played Beastlords are happy. People who play existing classes and don't intend to reroll have a more mixed impression - Beastlords get pet features Summoners have been wanting for years, and apparently they fill the melee support niche in a way that makes Feldon of EQ2 Wire describe them as how a Dirge should be. (As a Dirge, I'm not thrilled to hear that review.)

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  2. The Dungeon Maker thing has been a bit confusing to me for a while. You run an avatar through the dungeon, but what is the avatar? What skills does it have? Seems odd.

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  3. @Green Armadillo The EQ1 beastlord was an extremely unpopular, even hated class for some people for very similar reasons to those you note. It was the Swiss Army Knife of Norrath and a well-played Beastlord could sub almost any group role in Heroic content - tank, healer, dps, even the enchanter role to some degree. Shamans in particular absolutely loathed them (those that didn't feel they had to re-roll and play one themselves) because BLs got a Slow that was almost as good as a Shaman's but which had a fraction of the cast time. It looks like the same might happen again, only with different classes crying foul.

    I haven't played the Beastlord so it's hard to be sure but on paper it really looks quite a lot like the WoW Hunter to me. If BLs used bows they'd be really close. I maintain it isn't really a Beastlord at all but I'm looking forward to playing one, whatever it turns out to be.

    @Wilhelm It is odd. The avatar has no relation to your character whatsoever. You zone into the dungeon as your own character but once inside you can't move. You get a pop-up window offering a choice of avatars that fill different roles - tank, healer, dps etc. You start with some standard options - I remember the Drolvarg and a Drachnid among them but they were all familiar Norrathian creatures. There are many more that you can gain as drops while out adventuring, in much the same way that various Arena champions used to drop (and still do, come to think of it).

    Each member of the group selects an avatar. I was solo but I assume it requires you to fill appropriate roles the way the Dungeon Finder does before the dungeon will start. You then become that creature. All your abilities vanish, you appear as whatever it is that you've chosen and your spells or CAs are replaced on your hotbars by those of the avatar. When everyone has chosen, the dungeon begins.

    There have been EQ2 quests over the years that used a similar system. There's one I remember in Somborne for example. The system shouldn't be entirely unfamiliar to most players who've been around for a while. It's also very similar in that one respect to the Monster Missions form EQ1, although thankfully in no other way.

    One of the big complaints has been that the avatars only have a very small number of spells or skills. I think the ones I played had four or five. Personally I liked it. It made them very easy and fast to learn and play.

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned much is that all the dungeons are Level 50. Your avatar is 50, the mobs are very close to 50 - I think bosses are 52. The dungeons also scale to the group size with the mobs starting at no up-arrows and adding up-arrows as the group size increases.

    When you complete the dungeon you get tokens which go into the Currency tab of your actual character, the one you were playing when you entered the dungeon. I didn't look into what you can spend them on.

    In beta there was an almost unanimous demand to be allowed to play your own characters instead and it looks like that might eventually happen. The balance issues would obviously be horrendous if they also allowed you to use your own abilities and I really can't ever see that happening.

    Wow, that was almost longer than the original post!

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