Lets start with the pain. A lot of folks had problems with the login servers this week starting on Sunday and ending yesterday. Sony stated that it was a problem on their end, not the net in general, but gave few details. Problems like this get everyone riled up. It gives us a frightening view of the type of game where we spend so much of our time. We don't lose our single player games like Neverwinter Nights, Final Fantasy X, or Knights of the Old Republic don't die when servers go down, but we also don't play them for 2400 hours. It would appear Brenlo and his band of orcs has beaten the gnomes back into submission, however, and last night I heard little of login and stability issues.
I missed this year's Fan Faire and every picture I've seen or message I've read has driven a barbed stake into my chest. Many reports have said this the best Fan Faire yet. I've read a few good reports but most of them sounded like this: "I got so drunk but I think I remember Phister saying that pointy hats were coming real soon now. Then I woke up with no wallet."
Lots of players embraced the new message boards. Brenlo began the painful task of asking classes for feedback starting with monks.
We talked about Salvatore writing Everquest fiction a few weeks ago and then qualified it by saying he would edit, not write, but the Safehouse has reported that he will write at least one of them. We'll have to see how it turns out. Salvatore has written about his time in Everquest often on his message forum and stated that its a game in dire need of some solid history. Even if Salvatore only edits them, his name will help push the books out and we might get more insight into the corruption of the Wayfarers.
Last week the EQLive Future Plans update included statements about new Lost Dungeon zones. We do not know any of the details but three questions come to mind. Will the new LDON zones include new items on the adventure merchants? Will the new zones scale for levels 20 to 65 like the other LDON zones? Will this include a new Wayfarer camp? The Lost Dungeon zone that appeared on Stormhammer didn't seem to offer much. The zone would allow those around level 50 to enter. I have seen no new information about adventure point rewards, mission types, or loot.
High level players stated their concern that the Gates of Discord trials require warriors and clerics for three of the six members in order to succeed. Brenlo posted a note saying that their developers are working on a way to scale the encounter based on party composition. A lot of the issues surrounding class balance, levels, equipment, and alternate advance skills can be fixed by scaling encounters based on the groups composition, equipment, levels, and skills.
Right now encounters all come down to how much damage you dish out and how much damage you can take. Trying to balance so many classes against two variables is difficult to impossible. By incorporating new encounter types, encounters that scale based on the classes, levels, skills, and equipment of the party, they can balance classes with encounters instead of just increasing damage output or damage avoidance. It always bothered me that spellcasting mobs fight the same as melee mobs except they complete heal or gate when they get close to death. Wizard mobs should be powerful and dangerous, not just melee mobs that cast resisting nukes once in a while.
The Graveyard zone went live in an unannounced patch along with this patch message:
April 7, 2004
[T]he Graveyard zone, Shadowrest, is now live!
We have introduced the new graveyard zone, Shadowrest, to the live servers. The zone will allow adventurers whose corpses have decayed, after 7 days, to retrieve it. They will merely have to greet the appropriate NPC in one of the following zones to activate their transport to Shadowrest;
The Plane of Knowledge
The Field of Bone
If you do not have an expired corpse, you will not be able to travel to Shadowrest. If you have multiple expired corpses, you will need to make multiple visits to the zone. We hope you enjoy this new addition to EverQuest!
The EverQuest Team
No longer do level 46 hunters of the Plane of Fear have to worry that all of their gear will rot because they made the mistake of walking into that firey doorway. No longer will the level 15 paladin who fell to the bottom of Blackburrow worry about his lost minotaur axe. Items should never rot completely and now they won't. This is a great addition to the game.
Seven of the eight articles on the Fan Faire news site are about Everquest 2. I won't discuss Everquest 2 except where it relates to Everquest 1. Everquest 2's method of corpse recovery brings up an interesting question. When you die in Everquest 2, you return with all of your gear. This seems like an easy improvement to Everquest that wouldn't make death inconsequential but would help make this game a lot more accessible. Most people just don't have a free two hours to fetch a body. Right now, corpse recovery isn't optional, its required. Everquest should give the player the option of spending some time getting resurrected or losing a fair amount of experience.
Sony has three massive online games with a new one coming soon. Everquest, Everquest 2, Everquest Online Adventures, and Star Wars Galaxies. In three of these four you return with your gear after death. If all of these new games restore gear on death, why not change Everquest in the same way?
Graphics are the other big draw of Everquest 2. We don't know how it looks without seeing it in action, but those that did say it looks good. It is interesting, however, to compare the features of Everquest 2's new graphics engine with those of the new Everquest engine. Both offer better lighting, bone-based animation (some strange necromatic magic, I suspect), bump mapping (good for Trolls I assume), and other advanced graphical features. I don't doubt that Everquest 2 looks better than Everquest, but if future expansions use these new features and we see model upgrades in Everquest, how will it compare to Everquest 2? How does Sony plan to handle two games competing for our time and money? Many people can afford to pay for both games every month, but not a lot of us can afford the time to play both games. I quit playing Everquest Online Adventures not because it wasn't good but because I always felt the REAL Everquest calling me.
We will not see the answers to these questions for a few months. I have no doubt that Sony plans to continue to support Everquest as long as customers pay enough to offset Sony's costs. For now, I'm more worried about passing that last painful mountain pass trial, Yaffa or Ikea or whatever its called.
Sony has a few few big changes planned and I'm looking forward to them. We're hearing rumors of a model update. Sony mentioned the release of two new expansions in the next 18 months. The graphic update is getting more stable by the day and a lot of people are seeing performance improving. The new Lost Dungeon zones are exciting even if most of our questions aren't yet answered. Now if only Xuzl would quit whispering "Watch American Idol" into my ear.