Tomorrow, 21 February 2006, SOE will release the Prophecy of Ro expansion for Everquest. Last week SOE released the Non-disclosure Agreement, allowing those who betatested the expansion to spread wild rumors at their hearts' content.
There's a lot of content in this expansion but two things have me anticipating a good long run through Prophecy of Ro: the Theater of Blood access quest and the new class armor sets.
I had heard many whispers and rumors about the Theater of Blood access quest but late last week I had a chance to speak to Keridon, the designer in charge of putting the quest together. What I learned follows.
The Theater of Blood access quest takes players through all of the six new zones in Prophecy of Ro: Elddar Forest, Takish Hiz, Arcstone, Relic, Devastation, and the Stronghold of Rage. The quest consists of both instanced and non-instanced content throughout these zones. The quest introduces players to all of the main plot points of the Prophecy of Ro storyline, explaining what is happening and who is responsible. While the end-game raids will follow more of the consequential storyline of the expansion, the single-group Theater of Blood access quest introduces the actors playing the roles throughout the new areas.
While the length of the quest is not yet known, it is expected to be quite a bit longer than the Dreadspire access quest in Depths of Darkhollow. The overall quest difficulty scales up to Dreadspire difficulty, requiring that single-group hunters must be well equipped in order to finish the quest. This quest is designed to be accomplished by players with no raid equipment at all but they must be well equipped to defeat the quest. The quest is designed to give access to the Theater of Blood to those who enjoy single group hunts.
The Theater of Blood itself is a zone built on the philosophies of the original Plane of Fear and Plane of Hate. It is intended to be a very dangerous zone filled with the powerful and unrelenting minions of the new demi-god, Mayong Mistmoore. Groups of twelve to eighteen players should be able to hunt the lower minions of the Theater while larger groups may battle the larger wandering creatures of the zone. Six high-end beasts control access to the final raid zone of the expansion, Deathknell.
With this much content in one zone, the Theater of Blood may soon be a very popular place. Non-raiders might group up in two or three groups to hunt the outer beasts of the zone while larger groups of high-end non-raiders or mid-tier raiding guilds will battle the named beasts of the outer areas. High-end raiding guilds of 54 members will battle the six keyholders to Deathknell. Since the Theater of Blood is not instanced, all of this will happen in one zone on each server.
This design is not without risk. Already representatives from high-end raiding guilds question the logic of non-instanced keyholders. They bring up painful memories of Planes of Power where one guild might kill a mob critical to the progression of another guild. One difference, however, is that the final zone IS instanced. While one guild might attempt to block the progression of another, they would not be doing it to preserve their own hunting ground. However many guilds gain access to Deathknell, each will have their own copy in which to hunt.
How will competition for non-instanced content work for single group hunters or the loose bands of groups hunting in Theater of Blood? That is yet to be seen. The progression quest to Theater of Blood will require killing specific un-instanced mobs in the six open zones. It is possible that these static beasts will become a bottleneck for those seeking access to the Theater of Blood. Much depends on the spawn rate of these mobs and whether any alternative paths exist.
What if no one cares? Why worry about access to the Theater of Blood when we have excellent instances in Depths of Darkhollow that offer excellent experience and fine loot? What will drive players through a long single-group quest and push them to face the horrors unseen since the days of Fear and Hate?
Rewards drive players to new content. Risk versus reward sits over Norrath like a map of mountains and valleys. Players gravitate to the valleys where the rewards are highest for their effort. Mountains, which might have some excellent content and high adventure, stand mostly abandoned. Players seek tangible rewards and it is these tangible rewards, new class armor, that will drive players to the content in Prophecy of Ro.
There will likely be two sets of class-specific armor in Prophecy of Ro: one for single-groupers and one for the hunters of Theater of Blood. The lower power class specific armor will drop from three or four of the six static zones including Devastation, Relic, and likely Elddar and Arcstone. Named mobs in these zones will drop molds similar to the ornate armor molds in Planes of Power. These molds can be combined with other more easily accessible items to form a new piece of class armor.
The power of this armor is not fully known, but I expect it to be about 150 hitpoints and mana including focus effects, combat effects, defensive effects, or regeneration effects. This would place the armor above the armor available in Planes of Power, the tier 1 Omens armor, and the Dragons of Norrath vendor armor.
This armor would mix well with the off-slot armor abundantly rewarded in Depths of Darkhollow. The Depths single-group missions offered seven items per group on every successful mission but most of these items were for non-primary-armor slots such as neck, face, back, shoulder, waist, and some rings and earrings. Primary slot items for chests, legs, hands, wrists, heads, and feet were more rare and not tuned for specific classes. This new set of class armor in Prophecy will fill those slots.
These are not the only class armor pieces available in Prophecy, however. True to the original model of Hate and Fear, the Theater of Blood will drop high-end class armor of a much higher power. Again, this exact power is unknown, but 200 hitpoint and mana armor with focus, combat, regeneration, and defensive effects are likely. Armor of this power would match the highest power off-slot items in Depths of Darkhollow and give players a very good reason to fight their way to the Theater of Blood.
Many questions still exist with these new pieces of content. Will the quest to reach the Theater be too difficult? Will too many players try to do it at the same time and create a huge bottleneck? Will the power of the rewards be too low? Will the mix of high-end raiders, mid-level guilds, and three-group hunting parties be too much for one static zone to handle? There are a lot of risks with this most recent design, but if well tuned and done correctly, it could bring a lot of new excitement back into Everquest.
20 February 2006