Depths of Darkhollow included some of the most innovative features in any of the ten previous Everquest expansions. The creativity of this expansion shows us how far this game has come and how far it can go in the future. With monster missions and spirit shrouds, Depths offers the most content to the widest range of players since Lost Dungeons of Norrath.
Yet no expansion is perfect. This article outlines the three biggest problems in Depths of Darkhollow and offers recommendations to help fix these problems. Let us begin.
Problem 1: Disappointing Rewards
The mission system in Depths of Darkhollow moves away from the point system found in LDON and Dragons of Norrath to a new mix of both dropped rewards and rewards earned for the completion of a mission. Unfortunately, the loot on many of the non-monster missions is well below the power of equipment required to defeat the mission. Those who need the loot cannot defeat the mission and those who can defeat the mission often have equipment far better than the reward. Here's an example:
The third mission from Kelliad in Stoneroot falls, "Building a Disguise", sends you off to kill 10 Witherans, 25 drachnids, 10 more drachnids, and a final boss. While the base mobs themselves are not very difficult to defeat, the boss hits for over 3,000, harder than most of the gods in Planes of Power.
What was our reward for defeating this magnificent foe?
AC: +11 Str: +12 Dex: +6 Wis: +12 Int: +12 Agi: +6 Fire Resist: +20 Cold Resist: +20 Magic Resist: +20 HP: +120 Mana: +130
This mission was harder than any other fight I have ever faced in Everquest. The reward, however, was less powerful than the rewards found six expansions and three years ago. Here is a cloak I picked up as rot loot in Plane of Time over two years ago:
Cloak of Ferocity
AC: +25 Str: +18 Sta: +20 Wis: +18 Int: +18 Agi: +20 Fire Resist: +15 Disease Resist: +15 Cold Resist: +15 Magic Resist: +15 Poison Resist: +15 HP: +145 Mana: +145
Fury of Druzzil
From Dragons of Norrath I can purchase this cloak doing any of the missions in the expansion. This takes a lot less work than the battle against the Chamber Guardian:
Cloak of the Red Dawn Augmented with a Glittering Demantoid Stone
AC: +16 Dex: +11 Sta: +11 Cha: +10 Wis: +9 Int: +9 Fire Resist: +13 Disease Resist: +12 Magic Resist: +13 HP: +115 Mana: +135 End: +135
This is only one example of many. In-game chats and forum postings all complain about lackluster loot rewarded for exciting and difficult missions.
How can SOE fix this? Improve the loot drops from the non-monster missions in Depths of Darkhollow. It is time that single-group players meeting an appropriate challenge can have access to the type of loot found six expansions back in Planes of Power. Single group hunters require this gear to progress through the Illsalin missions and to hunt in places like The Nest, the MPG trials, and Riftseekers in older expansions. Replace 120 hitpoint and mana drops with 150 hitpoint and mana drops and add focus and combat effects.
Problem 2: Unbalanced Difficulties on Missions
While many of the new missions in Depths of Darkhollow offer exciting and appropriate challenges for those who seek them, some of the missions found in Depths are far harder than many groups are able to defeat. Let's go back to our previous example, the Chamber Guardian of the "Building the Disguise" mission.
The Chamber Guardian is a powerful drachnid with an AE knockback snare that steadily grows in power as his hitpoints go down. In the final 10% of the fight he can hit for more than 3000 in a single hit. Our Time-geared fighter died in one round. We defeated him our second time through, after an hour of clearing back to him, only when I used Staunch Recovery, the veteran reward ability that fully regenerates mana. It took me over 13,000 mana to keep our tank alive during this fight.
What content was this tuned around? What non-raider could ever be expected to burn 13,000 mana? What would have happened if I had a DON-equipped paladin instead of a Time-geared warrior?
This is a mission in the middle of the expansion. It isn't a final mission and the end reward for this and the four other missions in the series is a level 68 spell. No level 68 player can withstand the Chamber Guardian's power.
Again this is only one example. In the "Preemptive Strike" mission on "Normal" difficulty the party faces post Riftseeker level trash mobs and ten shades that hit above 2000. Had I not done this mission with a Qvic-geared tank, I don't think I would have completed it.
Monster missions face some of the same problems in both directions. Some monster missions, like the original Griffin mission, ended up being too easy to finish. Others, like the "Defending the Grove" monster mission seem impossible. No doubt there should be a range of difficulties but the difficulty seems to shift from trivial to impossible very quickly.
This problem can be fixed with better and more accurate testing. Single group "normal" difficulty missions, and those missions with no difficulty should be tuned around players with single-group acquired equipment. "Hard" missions and some of the more powerful missions in Dreadspire should be tuned around those with Time+ raid gear.
Problem 3: Spirit Shroud Power, Progression, and Experience Gain
Shrouds above level 60 have a very difficult time coming anywhere even near the power of a regular level 60 or above player. With the high difficulty of content in newer expansions, shrouds cannot meet the needs of any high level player.
I had hoped that shrouds could be used to switch from one archetype to another in case the group could not find that one last required class type. However, in nearly all cases, one is better off playing one's main character even if one isn't of a desired class type. For example, as a level 70 cleric I am much more suited to tanking than a level 70 shrouded warrior.
This problem shows off the much larger problem of the power spread across the highest level. This has been a problem for some time but as our power grows overall, the gap becomes wider. As long as that gap remains as wide or wider than it is now, things like spirit shrouds will never meet the needs of anyone at high levels.
Shroud progress is also very slow. After an entire LDON as a level 50 rogue shroud, I earned less than 10% towards the next unlocked shroud. Add this to the very low experience I earned for my main and Monster Missions end up looking like a much better way to hunt with my friends.
These problems can be fixed in a few ways. First, increase the amount of experience earned while in a shroud. Second, speed up shroud progression. Three, increase shroud power at level 70 and begin to take a longer look at how to narrow the power gap at level 70.
Last week I announced my Mobhunter Spirit Shroud Contest. Send me a screenshot showing that six level 70 players using only spirit shrouds defeated the Creator mission on Dragons of Norrath and you win a free unopened copy of "God of War" for Playstation 2. The screenshot must show six spirit shrouded players, a "/who" statement or inventory screen to show levels, and a dead Creator corpse. Send this screenshot to email@example.com.
The problems above do not fully describe every problem in Depths of Darkhollow but from a content focus, they are the three biggest. These problems are solvable. Better mission testing, balancing the difficulty of "normal" missions, increasing mission rewards, and increasing rewards while using spirit shrouds would go a long way to help improve this expansion. The shroud power problem is much more difficult to solve since it is only a manifestation of the larger power gap problem at the high levels.
All of these issues came up at the last EQ community summit and I have faith that we will see them addressed in the near future.
8 October 2005