Saturday, October 16, 2004
Everquest II - My Opinion
The NDA of EQ2 has been lifted today. Time to write what I think about this game. I'm going to sort my rambling thoughts into Good, Bad, and Ugly. So, lets start with the good side of Everquest 2.
GoodEverquest 2, like its predecessor, is a masterpiece of social engineering. It does a great job of bringing people together in different ways: Groups, guilds, trades, and chat. Groups are nicely balanced versus solo play, giving you a strong incentive to group, without forcing you to do so to gain xp. Guilds are well supported, and receive a range of goodies, like horses that can be bought with guild status points, guild housing, and even a free guild website with an automated guild roster. The player economy is well done, offering people the possibility to either find each other on the traders chat channel, or by selling stuff on a broker.
But the best feature to bring people together is probably the chat. Sure, it would have been even nicer if you could combine your chat windows into one window with several tabs, but that is the only feature that is missing. There are a good number of existing world-wide channels: For your race, your home city, your profession, a crafters channel, and a traders channel. On top of that you can open your own chat channel, and invite people to it. And of course there are the usual channels for tells, say, guild chat, group chat, out-of-character chat, shouts, auctions, and so on.
The second good point of Everquest 2 is content. There is tons of it. About half the NPCs I've met offer quests, and there are hundreds of them. This is especially nice since most of the quests given out in the cities can be done at a comparatively low level, so you can start questing right after you leave the Island of Refuge. I haven't seen all that many zones yet, but there are lots of them. Even the city has several instanced newbie zones, and with all those quests and newbie zones you might be well past level 10 before you even leave the city.
Combat in Everquest 2 is solid, and well balanced. Every class can solo, but also fulfills an important role in a group. Group play was especially fun, because nearly everybody in the beta was an EQ1 veteran, and knew the basics of how to play his class. In comparison to EQ1 not much has changed in combat, but there is the new feature of heroic opportunities. If the player(s) in a combat perform certain actions in the order shown on the screen, they get some special bonus. This is great in solo combat, but requires some coordination and discipline in group combat, and these are generally in short supply, so group heroic opportunities rarely happen.
Tradeskills are a big improvement over EQ1. The fact that you craft by doing a very simple mini-game makes crafting impossible to macro, which is good. The accidents you have to repair, and the two buffs you can cast on yourself to help your crafting for a few seconds, keep you occupied while crafting, so it isn't too boring. The latest patch about doubled tradeskill xp, so you level tradeskills now with nearly the same rate as adventuring levels.
BadUnfortunately EQ2 is far away from being finished, and it is unlikely that the game will be released in November in a state that I would be happy with.
The worst problem is lag. EQ2 suffers from bad geography. When you leave your city, Qeynos or Freeport, you arrive in a huge zone. Huge as in "you can rent a griffin to cross the zone". The zone has many hundreds of mobs and NPC, lots of teen-level content, and you need to cross it to get anywhere else, so there are always hundreds of players in the zone as well. And the servers can't handle that up to now. Lag is not only noticeable, at certain times the zone simply becomes unplayable. I checked with a stop watch, and clocked more than a minute of lag between hitting a button and the game reacting to it. Combat becomes totally random, and very slow. Your client trying to predict where the other players are makes them appear to jump all over the place. You can't even chat well, with over 1 minute delay between hitting enter and the chat appearing to others. Fortunately the devs are very aware of this problem, and are confident to get it fixed before release.
But the game has other technical issues. Crashes are still too frequent, of characters, zones, and sometimes even the whole server. Frequent hotfixes are necessary, and there will probably still be a lot of server downtime after release. There are lots of bugs that affect gameplay negatively, and many cosmetic glitches.
Everquest II is also not yet feature complete. Big features, like automated trading, or horses, are still being added in every patch. Many things simply don't work yet, for example you can buy repair supplies, but not use them yet. Several quests can't be finished yet. Sure, there is visible progress in each patch. But frankly, one month before release the developers should be putting final touches to a finished program, and not still be working on fundamental issues like lag, crashes, and major feature addition.
But even if the game were finished at release, there are other problems. Everquest 2 is firmly targeted at the veteran EQ1 (or other MMORPG) player. The learning curve is steep, and I wouldn't really recommend this game to anybody who never played a similar game before. EQ2 is more newbie-friendly than EQ1, but that isn't saying much. The tutorial and starting island will teach you the basics of how to play, but still leave many questions unanswered.
The first pitfall is probably the choice of your character class after having left the tutorial ship. You click on a NPC, and he asks you whether you are a fighter, scout, mage, or priest. You select one, the NPC says something very general about the class, and you are asked to confirm your choice. What you are *not* told is which stats are important for which class, or which races are suited for them. If you are new to the genre you could easily make the error of creating a gnome fighter, or a troll mage. And while these combinations are playable in other games, in EQ2 they simply are not, unless you have a deep-founded masochism.
Another rather fundamental information that you are never told is that you can upgrade your spells and skills. Upgrading spells and skills is very important for success in this game, and is relatively cheap. But you need to be aware of the possibility first, and even veteran EQ players can miss this one, as the system is new. The upgrade system is also unnecessarily complicated, with its scale from Apprentice 1 to 4, then Adept 1 to 4, then Master 1 to 4. You never know which upgrade level would be appropriate for your level.
You not being told important information is a constant feature of Everquest 2. This is most annoying in quests. There are many quests where you are given so little information of where to go, that you can either search for hours, or be forced to ask other players. Chat is full of people asking where to go for this or that quest. Painfully missing as well are maps. EQ2 has a nice map feature for the Island of Refuge, and the two cities. And then there simply aren't any maps any more, not even rough ones, for all other zones. Many zones are large, and/or labyrinthine, and some sort of mapping feature would help a lot, even if it was dark at the start and would only become visible once you visited the landmarks.
There will be a host of websites offering quest information and maps for EQ2. Not just for fun, but because such information is sorely needed.
UglyIn my personal opinion, the first thing to mention under ugly is the graphics. But I am well aware that other people like them, you will need to judge them yourself. Everquest 2 graphics are "photorealistic", up to a point. But realistic includes a distinct lack of color, a washed out look, and things becoming foggy and fuzzy starting from a rather short distance. It might be realistic that you can't see that there is a green goblin standing in the green grass, but it sure isn't helpful for playing the game. It also taxes your computer a great deal. Do not try to play EQ2 with a computer bought last year or before. Quote the minimum specs: "EverQuest II requires a video card capable of handling both Vertex and Pixel shaders (the GeForce3/Radeon 8500 Series and above, for the mainstream cards). Any cards that do not conform to this requirement will not work (this includes the GeForce MX line, in any incarnation, including the GF4 MX line)." Since the last patch EQ2 also requires DirectX9.0c.
The other ugly things to report are a wide range of half-baked ideas. Features that first sound good, until you begin to notice deep flaws in the details:
Tradeskills still have a range of problems. Making one item can take several minutes, depending on quality level. That is good if you are making final items you gain good xp with and are proud to sell. But before that there are a lot of steps where you have to refine resources. These are often trivialy easy, so don't give much or any xp, and take a lot of time. Some refined resources can be bought, which solves the problem of the time refining takes, but obviously makes the un-refined resources pretty much worthless. Most people only gather resources because there is a very small chance to find a highly valuable rare resource.
One typical half-baked idea is automated trading. You can only sell things using the automated broker if your character is online and standing in his house, with the selling board screen open. You can not simply dump the item for sale on the broker and go adventuring, no, you have to stay in your room. You can chat, or rearrange your furniture, and hope that at some point in the future crafting tools can be placed in houses, but most players simply go AFK while selling. So the only thing this system produces is people remaining logged in away from keyboard, instead of logging out and freeing server resources.
Another new idea is traps on all the good loot, and the traps can only be disarmed by a scout class character. Good idea to encourage groups to take on a scout, he is useful in other ways too. But really bad idea for soloers of all other classes. You fight a hard monster all alone, are happy to survive, and then the treasure kills you.
The final ugly thing I would like to mention is the spell / skill upgrade system. Not only is it needlessly complicated, it also encourages twinking. There is no level restriction on spell upgrades. A high level character can buy rather expensive spell upgrades for low level spells and pass them to his low level alts. Twinking with equipment has been limited in EQ2, by making equipment have certain level requirements, but spell upgrade twinking will be rather common, and will make a big difference between a twinked and an un-twinked low-level character.
SummaryEverquest 2 is a good game, but it definitely has its flaws. Given a choice, I would rather play World of Warcraft. But living in Europe that choice is not given to me, so I will play Everquest 2 until WoW comes out.
Once the worst bugs have been fixed, Everquest 2 will be a very good game for the experience MMORPG veteran. Newbies are advised to play something else first.