The Equipment Gap
by Loral on June 25, 2005
"Remember how Kunark came out and suddenly players and items were just so much more powerful than in the original game? Remember when Velious came out and it seemed at first that items were only increasing in effectiveness by a small margin? Well, throw the curve out the window, students, because there is not just a gap between good items and awesome items, there's a freaking canyon."
- Moorgard, 29 June 2001, Mobhunter
Over the past few weeks we have talked about the fan faire, the new expansion, and some of the new directions SOE has taken Everquest. This week I thought we would take a step back and talk about a topic in Everquest that has been around since the days of Kunark: Equipment balance.
No doubt this article will ruffle a few feathers. My intent, however, is not to focus on one particular style of play but instead to look at the details of this topic that often get lost. If all you see is "Loral wants better gear for the casual gamer again" then you're probably not reading hard enough.
There comes a point at the highest levels of the game when equipment can double the power between two equally leveled players. This generally only happens at the highest levels, right now between levels 65 and 70.
Consider these two pieces of equipment:
Faithbringer's Breastplate of Conviction: AC: +125 Str: +30 Dex: +25 Sta: +30 Cha: +25 Agi: +25 Fire Resist: +30 Cold Resist: +30 Magic Resist: +30 Poison Resist: +35 HP: +315 Mana: +355, Mana Regeneration: +5, Regeneration: +10, Avoidance: +10, Shielding: +5%, Spell Shield: +6%, Effect: Blessed Healing Aura: Increase Healing by 50%, Focus Effect: Keldovan's Light: Decrease Spell Mana Cost by 25%, Required Level: 70
Plate Vest of the First Order: AC: +72 Dex: +12 Sta: +12 Wis: +12 Int: +12 Agi: +12 Fire Resist: +13 Disease Resist: +13 Cold Resist: +13 Poison Resist: +13 HP: +125 Mana: +120 End: +120, Required Level: 70
I want you to pay particular attention to the last part of these two lines: "Required Level: 70". These items are designed for the same level character. Yet the power of the first item is well over twice the power of the second especially when one considers the focus effects, regen, mana regen, avoidance, and shielding.
No doubt the difficulty in acquiring these items is vastly different. One can be purchased from the Dragons of Norrath vendor after completing somewhere between 7 and 12 missions. The other requires drops from the Arch Magus or Overlord Mata Muram in Anguish.
Obviously, these items don't compare in either power or in the difficulty to receive it. However, there are some areas where these items must be compared.
Encounters are based on levels, not equipment. At level 70, the same creatures are dark blue to you regardless of your equipment. The same mobs give the same experience regardless of your gear. Yet, based on the power of your equipment, an encounter could be either impossible or trivial depending on what type of equipment you use.
At level 70, level no longer accurately describes how powerful you are. Yet systems in the game continue to use level as a way to determine encounter difficulty. Lost Dungeon adventures and Dragons of Norrath missions scale their content based on level, not equipment. The Omens of War Task system and the quests given to you in Dragons of Norrath are based on level, not gear. Some of these are trivial to well-equipped players and impossible for the rest.
Even those with the best equipment expect growth yet they cannot get it from single-group hunts. Not everyone raids all the time. There comes a time when even high-end raiders want to get together in a group of six and fight an appropriate challenge. At the highest end, even the most powerful single-group areas offer little reward for high-end raiders. High-end raiders cannot increase their equipment power in single-group events. This leads them towards a "raid or nothing" attitude. Why bother hunting anywhere if there is no reward for doing so?
One single-group hunting zone or mission cannot challenge both single-group equipped players and high-end raid equipped players. No challenge will be acceptable to both groups. I hear it often. Riftseekers is too easy for raid-equipped players and too hard for single-group equipped players. The only players who seem to find the perfect challenge in this high-end zone are those who happen to be equipped with Time or Elemental gear of roughly 150 hps and mana each.
The power gap will come back as a hot topic when Depths of Darkhollow brings us monster templates based on level. If these templates are built around single-group equipment, raiders will find them extremely low powered for the level. If they are built around raid-level equipment, they will be more powerful than many players' main characters. The only answer is to base them on single-group equipment and accept that raiders will find them extremely low powered.
How can SOE begin to close the equipment gap? There are few, if any, easy answers. It isn't just a matter of offering better equipment for single-group encounters. Doing so devalues the reward of higher-end raid encounters.
It is not unreasonable to expect that the absolute best single-group equipment available should meet 75% of the absolute best raid-level equipment. If a cleric breastplate from Overlord Mata Muram includes a 50% healing focus and 355 mana, a breastplate from the hardest single-group encounter might offer 250 mana and a 35% healing focus.
Even with gear 75% of high-end raid gear there isn't anything to say that difficult single-group zones will still be impossible for non-raiders. In places like Riftseekers that extra 25% power makes the difference between success and failure.
A more difficult solution would be to add some sort of "legendary" status to items. Items with this status could have different statistics when used during a raid than they do when used during single-group events. This lets equipment balance out during single-group events but meet the proper requirements during raid events.
Another solution, also radical, would be to add in a Dungeons and Dragons style "power level". Equipment and levels could combine into a single power rating that determines the difficulty of an encounter. However, after playing 3rd edition D&D for a year now, the power level in D&D isn't very accurate and doesn't help much when matched to challenges. There is nothing to say that a power level in EQ would be any more accurate, but perhaps it would help.
Every new expansion increases the power for both raiders and non-raiders. With the recent addition of slot 9 augments to Dragons of Norrath gear, single-group players now have customizable armor comparable to Elemental and Time level armor. More of Norrath becomes accessible to more players with every increase in power.
However, it is clear that Everquest becomes very gear dependent at the highest levels of the game. It has been this way for the last four or five years and I see few ways to fix this problem without radically changing the game. As it has been since the days of the Ring War, the topic of equipment power will always continue to be a hot one.
26 June 2005