Last week's update gave us quite a few improvements. Both the LDON adventure-point trade-in and the safe augment removal system went in and both work quite well. At the last moment SOE changed the refund value to 70% from 50%. The 20% increase combats the problem of adventurers skipping mid-level gear and saving up for only high-end gear. The 300 and 750 point armor sets are much more desirable now that one can return them when one decides to upgrade. With the save augment removal one can move augments from older to newer sets of this armor.
The changes to Lost Dungeons go a long ways towards helping single-group hunters equip themselves for the harder content in Gates of Discord. While we will not receive new LDON equipment until after Omens of War, these changes bring new life to LDON.
The new tribute change improves the value of Gates of Discord for players under level 55. The ability to start and stop tributes gives players a bit more control over these chaotic and expensive effects. The tribute system is much improved over the original.
The ability for zoning pets made a lot of pet classes happy. Now the equipment and buffs one gives a pet last a lot longer. Now if only pet classes could name their pets. Identity is everything.
A new LDON raid on Stormhammer focused on two groups of level 55 to 65. Early reports from my Stormhammer spy network state that the raid is quite a bit harder than level 55 equating it more towards Elemental / Time level. LDON raids offer much unused potential. SOE could easily build Vox / Naggy type raid encounters for all levels and equipment power using the expeditions of Gates. They could focus on two, three, four, five, or six groups. They could bring raiding to everyone, not just the most powerful guilds, but instead they focus most raid content on Elemental / Time level guilds.
Currently LDON raids offer too little reward for their difficulty. Raiding guilds skip them because of low rewards and everyone else skips them because of their high difficulty. The easiest way to fix this problem is to lower the difficulty and lower the reset time of these events. They offer too much potential to let them rot.
The Veeshan's Peak revamp made it to live servers with the last update. A new quest parallel to the old one both lead to a new raid event in Skyfire mountains. Another hideous shade of the Dar challenges elemental level players and rewards them with access to the revamped elemental-level raiding and hunting zone. I would complain about another hunting zone blocked by raid-level encounters but there is a lot of unlocked single-group content at the elemental level in Gates now including Riwwi, Tipt, Vxed, and the sewer trials.
Though listed on the top ten items SOE would focus on after the guild summit, it appears we will not see solo instanced adventures at least until after Omens of War. Again, I would complain except that raid-focused requests such as the instancing of Time also face the same timeline. There is a simple explanation for the delay; it takes too much time for the amount of work solo instanced adventures require.
Some asked for SOE to reduce the number of required players from three to two or one but this doesn't solve one of the biggest problems with soloing, not everyone can solo and some solo far better than others. For some, soloing is more profitable than grouping. That is simply broken. Grouping should always offer a higher gain than soloing for all classes. Soloing should be desired only when time restricts a player too much to group.
Only two solutions solve this problem. Increase the ability for a class to solo where needed or focus content around each class so each class solos effectively. Both of these changes require extensive work both in development and in balancing. New solo abilities could unbalance a class in grouping and raiding creating another round of "my class is worse than your class" woes. New content requires a lot of development work for little gain. Building an entire zone, even if it's small, for a single class only reaches a fraction of its possible population.
The delay of instanced solo content puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of the new Omens of War task system. It may be too much weight to bear if Sony doesn't find other solutions.
The real problem comes down to limited content for people with limited time. People with only 30 minutes to play need something useful to do. If they're a wizard, they can go solo but if they're a warrior, life isn't as easy. Tradeskills and quests help but not enough. Adding new mini-games might help. Additional quests like the low level newbie quests but for middle and high level hunters might help as well. Everquest requires short duration content, in whatever form it decides to take.
Hobart's testing thread shows us the updates we'll see in future days. This includes new multi-slot augments for slot 7 and 8 augments; consenting options for groups, raids, and guilds; and a new system-friendly Everquest that lets you cap your framerate. My machine's whole purpose in life is to run Everquest so I see little reason to focus it but I suppose some people want to watch others rip their cars in half on Ebaums World while raiding Uqua.
In the last sixty days we've seen many excellent improvements for all players. While a lot of cynics, myself included, have accused SOE of focusing on raid-level content, they showed their level of support to all players regardless of level or play style. Gates shifted from an expansion for only a select few to offering up some excellent zones and encounters. Simple changes like the Gunthak stone, tribute activation, LDON point returns, and the excellent tutorial helps old and new players of every class and level. A bright future lays ahead.
29 July 2004