For every Everquest Fan Faire or guild summit I have attended, I have written up an Evil Agenda; a list of recommendations to SOE to help them improve Everquest. In today's article, we take a look back at the items of previous evil agendas to see where SOE has shined and where they have fallen away from the path. Using this, we can begin to formulate a new Spring 2006 Evil Agenda for the April 2006 Fan Faire. Please note, redundant evil agenda items were removed from this list.
Let us begin.
Since LDON, SOE has continued to add new single group content from levels 65 and above. Levels 20 to 50 have little other than LDON and Monster missions, however, taking the grade down to a B.
The Dragons Guild Lobby corpse alters took care of this problem. Horrible corpse recovery is now mostly a dark memory.
Level 66+ spells have dropped in DoDH with increasing frequency, but I am not convinced that non-raiders have more access to spells. The quests and missions for spells in DON, DODH, and POR also help, but not for base class spells from 66 to 70.
Monster missions offered great low time commitment content. The abstraction from actual play-characters, however, hurts their overall effectiveness. SOE should find a way to offer the same high-speed groups for actual play-characters.
We never saw any improvements to LDON gear and DON gear never reached the goals needed for single group hunters to progress. Gear situations improve every expansion but SOE continues to make single-group gear too low powered compared to the content that single group hunters can face.
DON, DODH, and POR all added some excellent single group missions with changing goals, good rewards, and new game play elements. The mission system lets Everquest lead the pack in group-friendly massive online RPGs.
The expansion of the mission system and the task system since DON has added some excellent rewarding quests. The four arcstone quests are examples of excellent new quest content. The only thing lacking are sets of progressive quests for primary-slot armor which continues to only be randomly dropped. Using missions and monster missions as progressive quests also has a lot of potential.
The LFG tool, mission systems, monster missions, and global channels helps people find groups quickly but more could be done to centralize LFG areas. Why not have a huge cozy tavern where people can seek others for groups?
Most missions and raids can be accomplished in under 90 minutes. Many monster missions can be done in under an hour. A few missions like the Cicero's Notebook mission and the Chamber Guardian mission seem to take far longer than they should for non-raiders with lower damage output.
Some of the monsters in DODH show how encounters can vary for single-group hunters. POR took this further by adding unique game play elements to even basic zone population mobs. For example, the fire demons in arcstone will summon miniature versions of themselves to harass healers and the tangleroots will continually chain cast root spells that must be handled in order to defeat them. Encounter variety shakes up traditional button pushing and forces groups to change tactics depending on the mobs. Encounters like the five Spirit mobs in Arcstone give single-group hunters the feeling that raiders get facing big, powerful, and complicated beasts.
The new tutorial, redefined interface, and Knowledge quests do a great job bringing players from level 1 to 10. From 11 on, however, corpse recovery is still complicated and hard to understand, groups are hard to find, and no clear progression path exists. Level 11 characters are released into a huge world without any clear idea where to go, who to meet, or what to do.
While scores of new missions exist for levels 65 and above, very few interesting or progressive missions have been added from levels 10 to 50. A clear line of missions from 10 to 50 with clear beneficial rewards help new players reach the higher levels without getting lost.
SOE has tried a half dozen different loot systems and hasn't found the perfect sweet spot yet. DODH offered a wide variety of high-end items but only for a few slots. DON offered items for all slots but of limited power and with a system that reinforced bottom feeding off of the easiest mission. In POR, SOE goes back to the original loot systems from which the point systems originally broke away. SOE went full circle instead of evolving into a new system that offers all of the advantages of the older ones.
The Plane of Knowledge grows older every day with no new improvements since its original release. It's time for Plane of Knowledge to be rebuilt in the style of the new Freeport.
Spirit Shrouds and Monster Missions let players play together regardless of level, class, or equipment power. Characters earn experience and equipment based on the base level of their play character. While some worry that abstracting a player from their play-character could be dangerous, the base intent was met very well. Monster missions can bring friends together quickly, easily, and without concern for level, class, or equipment.
Prophecy of Ro introduced a new set of monster missions including the first monster raid and a progressive series of monster missions with an excellent augment as a reward.
The uncovering and ascent of Mistmoore takes us back to the lore of the original expansions. Prophecy of Ro feels far more like Everquest than the far away lands in Gates of Discord and Omens of War.
Traps, spheres of influence, breakable objects, unique monster missions, unique scenarios inside regular instanced missions, and the newer creature abilities found in Prophecy of Ro all push to change combat styles from one encounter to the next.
While we have seen great changes in the game from level 60 and above, the 20 to 50 game continues to lag behind. Players seek out the fastest experience paths to reach the high levels and SOE does little to change that path. New missions, new evolving items, new quests, and greater experience rewards from group-based encounters could help build a progressive track for new players to follow. Right now, players are released into a wide open world with no clear idea where one should go to progress. Lower level groups are difficult to find and solo content is lacking at the lower levels.
While many games offer expansions that simply introduce new content. SOE redefines itself with the release of each expansion. Entirely new gameplay options not only offer new variety into an old game but change the way the whole game is played. Players from the original, Kunark, Velious, and Luclin days would not recognize Everquest today. Missions and monster missions in particular have focused Everquest towards the important goal of getting players together, giving them a fun solid adventure, and rewarding them for their efforts.
The game is not perfect, however. Reviewing the recommendations from past years, we can clearly see a few gaps. The Plane of Knowledge, the hub of travel in Norrath, clearly shows its age. The existing player models are now almost five years old. Clunky, broken, and poorly performing; it is time SOE took another serious look at upgrading them. The level 10 to 60 game also needs serious work. While tracks of progression are clearly laid out from level 65 and above, newer players have no clear path for progression. They simply go where the experience flows best and grind until they get to the highest levels.
All of these things are fixable, although some; like new player models; are very expensive. As it has over the past two years, SOE can continue to redefine Everquest into a competitive and highly entertaining massive online game.
Prepare for next week we outline the Spring 2006 Evil Agenda.
20 March 2006