The Omens beta began in full last week. Larger guilds began testing out raid encounters while the rest of us ran Guktan wizards to the corners of the world marveling at the strange sights.
Most of Omens of War reminds me of Kunark. The architecture and the plight of the Dragorn empire squeezed within the Muramite's iron gauntlet creates a lot of similarities to the Iksar and their post-Shissar empires. Massive castles and spired walls stretch across the green landscape. Orange and red clouds flow over hills and ravines.
A first glance shows us nine open over-land zones and three sets of instanced expeditions: the caves, the sewers, and the catacombs, each with about four or five variants. More zones await discovery. The first overland zone and the first set of instanced expeditions supports level 45+ with beasts lower in power than those in Natimbi. The beasts grow in power quickly beyond that point.
There looks to be some excellent hunting zones between 60 and 70, although I imagine SOE developers continue to tune experience modifiers. Between Planes of Power, Gates of Discord, Lost Dungeons, and Omens of War zones, there appears to be no lack of hunting areas for any level up to 70.
I have seen no equipment or loot so I cannot know yet if the power-gap between single-group hunters and raiders will close in at all. Hopefully Omens offers enough single-group equipment to get players through the single-group trials of Gates. Too long have the mountain trials, Kodtaz, and the Ikkinz trials been closed to non-raiders.
Lists of new Omens of War alternate advance abilities popped up everywhere on Friday. While the lists contain no associated costs for these skills, many of them are surprisingly good. A lot of changes that we never expected to see began to show up. New spell-gem slots, new buff slots, a gate for everyone, two binding areas for wizards, and a surprisingly large increased mana regeneration cap for pure casters. I can only really speak for clerical abilities but the list looks good, with a lot of basic improvements to our core function including improved healing gift, healing adapt, celestial rejuvenation, and our first critical heal over time ability. I purchased few AAs for Gates, but now I am glad I saved up the points for Omens abilities.
One nice thing about new Alternate Advance skills is that any player can acquire them regardless of where they hunt. They don't get stuck on your body when you wipe out in Fear and they don't require camping obscure mobs in obscure places for a 1 in 6 chance at that one last spell you needed.
Spells in Omens are distributed with runes, one rune per level, similar to Gates of Discord. SOE developers compared it to Planes of Power. Spells will not be duplicated. What isn't known is the difficulty in acquiring spells.
Task system testing also began late last week. While continued testing and balancing needs to occur before release, the skeleton of the system shows promise. Single players are able to complete tasks in under an hour and earn a noticeable reward for doing so. The reward is nice enough to make a difference but small enough to keep players from ignoring requests for groups. Single groups should always be the core Everquest hunting team.
The task system is the one feature of Omens that supports players from level 20 to (hopefully) 70. SOE brings up the task system whenever the requests for solo instanced encounters arise. I don't believe any system can match up to the expectations people have for it. It will take a few such systems to cover all of the needs and desires for short-duration content.
The official website of Omens of War includes a couple of new features I hadn't yet heard about. One of them, a voice macro of some sort, shows a lot of promise. Now an interesting show on Tivo won't kill half a group in eight seconds. Now raid leaders can wake up that 20% of their raid who always seems to be asleep. None of this is yet in the beta so I cannot say exactly how it works.
This week, the Omens of War developers and SOE community represenatives had an moderated chat with players. EQ Stratics posted a log of the transcript. Few details are given, but topics such as spells, new epic quests, content for players under 50, and solo instances all came up.
Omens of War brings us over a dozen new zones, half of them instanced. It expands the physical worlds of Norrath even further. I wonder if SOE might best spend their time working on new expansions that take Everquest into directions other than new zones to explore. Everquest is certainly wide, it is the largest physical game I've ever played, but it isn't very deep. The vast majority of content builds around combat against bosses. The numbers increase but the gameplay is generally the same. New lines of progression need to be developed.
I could sit here and come up with ideas stolen from other role playing games, but I am sure SOE's developers can do the same so I will leave it into their capable hands. I heard some exciting ideas thrown around at the guild summit and I only hope they attempt to run with some of them. Omens is a strong expansion and its release opens up the future into entirely new possibilities. Now is the time to consider and develop those new possibilities. The world is yours.
27 August 2004