Last week SOE released a patch that upgraded over 1000 items in the Depths of Darkhollow expansion. These upgrades were limited to single-group non-monster missions and drops in static zones off of random or named beasts. This is the largest upgrade in equipment that any expansion has ever received and SOE made the intent clear:
"After DoD launched, we saw a lot of feedback from players that non-raid loot rewards weren't't appropriate for the difficulty of the content. Carefully evaluating the cases players brought up led us to audit the model that has been used for itemization for several expansions now."
"The old itemization model was based around the top end single group gear being roughly 50% of the stats of top end raid level gear. This worked fine when it was first implemented, but as stats have increased, so too has the gap between raiders and non-raiders. Since content is tuned with player power in mind, this has caused a growing gap in the difficulty of expansion zones, in turn leading to the problems players have been reporting."
"After a lot of evaluation on the potential impact, we decided to change the itemization model to bring single group gear closer to the level of raid attainable gear. Beyond providing more tangible upgrades in the expansion, this change should also have a number of positive effects on the game as a whole and is something we will continue to use when making items in the future."
Equipment receive an average of about 125% to 150% upgrade in statistical power, mostly in hitpoints and mana. Few focus, combat, or regeneration effects were modified except in cases where the rewards dropped in the wrong paths. For example, some Hive-level missions dropped Corathus-level loot.
The boards lit up with responses, both positive and negative as usual. One post, DoD Upgrades Went Too Far discusses the issue of single-group loot eclipsing raid loot in Planes of Power.
To me, this clearly shows just how out of proportion the loot has been over the past four years. Few complained very long when better Kunark single-group loot dropped than that received off of old-world dragon raids. Few complained when Velious single group loot outperformed Kunark loot. Only Planes of Power offered such powerful loot and at such extreme quantities; thirty six 150 to 200 hp and mana drops in a single Plane of Time raid; that players had little choice but to raid in Planes of Power even four years after the expansion's release.
This new loot opens up a lot of opportunity. For one, single group players now have a clear and long line of progression in level, alternative advancement, content, and equipment without ever having to raid. Play time is now the only factor in the advancement of single-group hunters.
This also offers up alternative equipment progression areas for guilds or raiding groups. Instead of farming the same raids over and over to gear up enough people for the next step, guilds can augment their raid rewards with single group items in high end DoD hunts. This new jump in power should be able to take guilds beyond Plane of Time and into the deeper Gates, Omens, Dragons, and Depths raids. As individual power grows, the opportunity for pick-up raids increases as well.
This jump in power also opens up more content in old worlds for non-raiders such as the MPG trials and the Ikkinz expeditions.
Not every item received a proper upgrade. With fifty missions, five static zones, and over one thousand items, a few slipped through without upgrades. For example, two of the four rewards on the the Jarzarrad the Prophet missions were upgraded to 210 mana items but the other two, the rewards for the harder two missions in the set, stayed at their original 150. I expect we will see these reported inconsistencies addressed in the next patch.
Some items seemed to improve a bit too much. A humorous post by my friend, the Kyv, states that the Gear Gap between Raiders and Casuals has gone too far in the other direction. He cites two new augments dropping in Illsalin and Dreadspire with well over 100 hitpoints and mana. These two single-group acquirable rewards, though currently available to single-group raid-equipped players, offer better statistics than the rewards from raid encounters in the same zone. While closing the equipment gap between raiders and non-raiders is an admirable goal, the intent wasn't to trivialize raids within the same expansion. I expect we will see these augments change soon.
As the equipment on single-group missions improved, so did the population of these areas. Instead of most players focusing on easy monster missions to polish off a few AAs before a raid, players now hunt in difficult missions for excellent experience and nice usable loot.
This latest patch also tuned the difficulty of the missions in Depths of Darkhollow to offer a smoother curve of progression. The intent is for single group hunters to have a smooth line of progression from easier missions through the harder ones. With around fifty single group missions, the progression path and the loot will help steer players through a long range of missions and story arcs instead of focusing them on only one area like the Faerie monster mission.
Monster missions also received some updates. SOE lowered the experience of easier monster missions such as Queen Noknok's Tomb and released two new monster missions, one in Paw and one in Solusek A. Monster missions are in danger of the creator problem in Dragons of Norrath. The Creator mission offered the best reward for the fastest mission. Instead of trying out every mission available in Dragons, players focused on the one that offered the best reward for the smallest effort. Even those wishing to try other missions often had to choose between hunting the Creator or not hunting at all.
Rashere, the lead designer, wrote a note on SOE's intent to offer scaling rewards based on popularity. As certain missions grow in popularity, their experience reward lowers and those on the least popular missions increases. This keeps players traveling across many missions instead of focusing on the same one.
This patch helped fix the largest problem in Depths of Darkhollow: low powered rewards. It also did much to improve the game overall. The power rift caused by large amounts of high powered equipment in Planes of Power has gone away. Single group hunters now have a clear progression to excellent items and the content their new power will make available. It also helps players gear up for higher-end raiding guilds and lessens the requirements of raiding guilds to gear up new members. This is a great change for Everquest.
19 November 2005