For the past several weeks, since the release of the new Lavastorm, we've watched the progress of these little gnomes as they slowly carve their way into the northern rock of Lavastorm. Then on Tuesday night, with the help of a few enterprising adventurers, they broke through.
The release of Dragons marks the first time that players worked together on a quest to open up the new lands. This quest, only open for about two days, led players back to Ak'Anon, down into Kaladim, and hunting down rogue clockworks in Steamfont. On their return, the gnomes used the result to send in mechanical exploding spiders into the deepening caves. After a few dozen such quest turn-ins, the wall broke and revealed the Broodlands and Terranun, a lava dragon from the depths of Lavastorm, crawled up from his molten hole to eat adventures.
The release of Dragons, while not quite as brutal as the release of Gates of Discord, wasn't as smooth as the release of Omens. Due to the complexity of new systems, exploits were found and NPCs were wisked away to safe-houses as the SOE developers sniffed out the trails of dastardly criminals replicating new DoN crystals or using the guild vendors to duplicate gear.
A few bugs in the missions initially marred an otherwise strong new feature. A few players reported missing out on Mission rewards due to zoning while the reward was given. Until this gets fixed, make sure to stay in one place as a Mission reward is given.
No doubt complex systems like the new Mission system are bound to cause a few problems, even after beta testing. Nothing shines a light on bugs like multiplying your number of testers by one hundred.
A few players began to discover the power of some of the new Dragons of Norrath features. The bandoleer, for example, lets rogues macro the switching of daggers for optimal backstabs. Others have a new "get out of jail free" macro that switches them to their Overthere hammer if they think they are about to lose a battle. Though none of this is much different than keeping a bag open right next to inventory, the increased usability makes for very interesting combinations. The melees aren't the only ones having fun. Casters can set up macros to switch sets of hand-held focus gear depending on the spell they are about to cast.
As many players sat in their jacuzzis drinking Fizzlecutter and throwing wet towels at the gnome-in-the-wall in their Guild Hall, others began to uncover much of the mystery of the two Lavastorm camps and the work they have for us. Players already uncovered some interesting surprises. Faction rewards, for example, led one enterprising player to a new rewarded statistic-enhancing AA. Like the AAs given during the Muramite trials in Omens, these AAs are unlisted and no experience gain is required. Who knows how many of these hidden AAs are there and what other rewards will we find as our reputation grows with one of these two camps.
Some players speculate that these opposing factions will split players up between the two camps and make it even harder to find the group that you want. It seems SOE found a few ways to keep the camps opposing and rewarding to those loyal to each camp without harming groups.
Any character, regardless of their past alliances or religious choice, can join any camp by turning in tokens to the Wayfarers who whisper of your great deeds to the camp of your choice even though you would be slaughtered for entering the Hoard's camp. New solo tasks also let players earn faction with one camp or the other. I particularly enjoy the Wayfarer mercenaries and their desires to work both sides of the two opposing camps for their own gain.
The crystal mission rewards themselves, the commerce of DoN, can be traded and even sold in the bazaar. If you happened upon 150 ebon crystals you don't want, trade them for 150 light ones or cash them in. This will make for some interesting twists in the economy much the way Muramite runes effected the economy in Omens.
While the mission vendors currently took their carts elsewhere, the initial look at the rewards revealed a lot of powerful items. The vendors included focus gear up to level 5 for just about every focus type, hate-inducing gear for tanks, mana regeneration 2 and 3 augments, and armor with a base of 125 hitpoints and mana. Each piece of the highest end gear takes between seven to ten missions to acquire.
Between LDON, Omens, and Dragons of Norrath, it now appears that the gear available to a single-group hunter can take them all the way through Riftseekers, Ikkinz, Kodtaz, and the MPG trials. Equipment progress from level 1 to 70 seems much smoother now than it did during the reign of Planes of Power and gates of Discord.
The missions themselves stray far from the cookie cutter adventures of LDON. One particular mission, the recovery of the Dark Lady flower from Thundercrest Isle had my group discussing and puzzle solving as we carved through goblins, pumas, and ancient animated statues. Most certainly these missions will become well known and well understood in time, yet solving them the first time adds a lot of fun to what might otherwise be a simple experience or point grind.
On an unrelated note, we saw a particularly shrewd bit of marketing in Everquest 2. A new "/pizza" command opens up an external web browser and loads up the website for Pizza Hut. Slashdot, Boingboing, and even the more mainstream CNN all reported on the new feature putting millions of eyes all over the Everquest 2 logo. Certainly advertisement deals helped motivate this change, but the mainstream coverage of EQ2 alone made the feature well worth the cost of adding a URL to an in-game slash command. Even if they don't sell one single pizza, the attention to the feature make it well worth the cost.
As for the use of the feature or the implied push of advertising and how it will effect MMOs in the future, I will let you discuss amongst yourselves.
21 February 2005