During the initial dark days of the release of Planes of Power, life was hard for non-raiders. Experience rewards had dried up for levels above 60 and the available unflagged hunting areas in the Planes were few.
For weeks I ran a Sunday morning Plane of Justice Executioner Trial event that would help non-raiders get into Valor and Storm so they could find areas worth hunting in. These trials, tuned for "high level players" proved nearly impossible for lower-equipped players. The way I got around this was easy: I brought in a ringer. High-end raiders from Luclin had no problem getting through these trials yet non-raiders could barely get through a trial without wiping out in the first encounter. This was my first experience with the danger of the equipment gap.
Few topics get as much attention or as much excitement as the discussion of the equipment gap. Often these discussions begin focused around a specific circumstance, for example the power of a new piece of armor dropping in Ashengate, but degenerate into large and long winded arguments about the core reward system found across Everquest over the past seven years.
While many equipment gap discussions can be easily discounted and ignored with no harm to either the players or the game, there are some important things for players and designers to both consider.
First, let us scope our discussion.
We will define the term "equipment gap" as the gap in statistical power between level 75 gear available to non-raiding high-end level 75 players, and the statistical power of level 75 high-end raid-level gear. Other power levels in older raid content will also be discussed and compared to current level 75 non-raid gear.
There are many zones in which the equipment rewards given are less
powerful than that which is required simply to enter the zone, let
alone defeating any of the bosses. One such zone is the Theater of
We will define "raid equipment" as any equipment that requires more than six people to acquire. We will also define "raid equipment" as any equipment that can only be accessed by those with a raid flag or those with equipment acquired in raids.
We will define "raids" as any event that requires more than six people.
We will scope the whole topic of the equipment gap at levels 71 to 75. Any characters lower than 71 can probably find equipment of sufficient power to hunt in zones for the experience required to take them to level 75. However, it is important to note that level 65 raid gear still outstrips level 75 single group gear in some areas like Tacvi.
We will not define "casual" or "hard core" or "uber" in this article - they are meaningless and worthless terms.
So, with thos caveats laid out, lets look at the current state of the equipment gap and why it is an important point to consider.
The following helmet is the highest powered helmet available to a single-group level 75 cleric. It requires drops from a rare mob in Sunderock Springs, three more common drops from Direwind, and a Softly Glowing Powersource that drops very rarely in Vergalid Mines or Valdeholm, two level 70+ dungeons in TSS:
Mana-Fused Plate Helm
STR: +14 CHA: +15 WIS: +16 AGI: +13 HP: +215 MANA: +225
SV FIRE: +10 SV DISEASE: +13 SV COLD: +12 SV POISON: +15
Shielding: +2% Regeneration: +3 Mana Regeneration: +2
Effect: Truesight (Worn) at Level 75
This next helmet is a raid-level cleric helmet available in the high-end raiding zones in TSS:
Mysaphar's Spiritmind Helm
STR: +30 STA: +30 CHA: +25 WIS: +35 AGI: +20 HP: +445 MANA: +455
SV FIRE: +30 SV COLD: +35 SV MAGIC: +25 SV POISON: +35
Shielding: +2% DoT Shielding: +4% Mana Regeneration: +3 Damage Shield: +3
Effect: Faerune (Worn) at Level 75
When you consider the power of augments available at both of these areas of the game, the statistics get even more wide-spread, with a high-end of about 315 mana for a single-group equipped character and up to 650 for a raid-level equipped character - both at level 75.
With the release of The Serpent's Spine, the equipment gap between raiders and non-raiders is larger than it has ever been before. While single-group equipment power has gone up significantly since the previous expansions, it has not yet outstripped raid-level equipment released six expansion's ago even though that equipment was designed around characters ten levels lower than the current level cap.
One has to go back to early Gates of Discord and even Planes of Power in some cases to find equipment dropping in raids that is less powerful than the gear available to single group level 75 players in the most recent expansion.
Why does equipment matter?
Some specifics aside, and as a general rule of thumb, equipment power equals about 1/2 of the power of the character barring big discrepencies in alternate abilities. From the standpoint of raw numerical statistics, about half of the hitpoints and mana of a character can come from equipment. With level 75 Ashengate-level raid gear just about doubling the power of level 75 Ashengate single-group gear, a raider can be just about 150% more powerful than a non-raider at level 75 due to equipment alone.
Of course, this discounts a few important factors such as alternate abilities and player skill which can dramatically change the overall power of a character but these variables stacked with the variables in equipment power make it even more difficult to balance content.
The arbitrary numbers associated with gear don't matter outside of the game. There is no real extra joy that comes from a pair of 450 mana boots over a pair of 250 mana boots. The real problem comes from SOE's inability to properly balance content at the highest level. SOE isn't alone in this - Blizzard shows that they have the same trouble even more so in battlegrounds where two level 60 players will have dramatically different abilities to defeat opponents based on gear alone.
The gap in power between raiders and non-raiders makes it very difficult to properly balance content and SOE has proven unsuccessful almost all the way back to Planes of Power.
In Depths of Darkhollow, SOE attempted to account for the equipment gap by offering "Normal" and "Hard" selections on single-group missions. However, some "Normal" missions still proved far too hard for those without some type of raid-level equipment and "Hard" missions were still trivial to raiders wearing the highest-end armor from one or two expansions back.
The wide range of equipment power makes it impossible to pinpoint any setting of "normal" or "hard. Most content is tuned somewhere in between but ends up being only useful for a very select audience.
We saw this with Ashengate where SOE admitted that the range in equipment power meant that the zone would have been unusable to a large section of the player-base. However, in the tuning, they made it trivial for high-end raiders even before those raiders geared up on the new TSS raid armor.
The player gap is an important problem simply because properly tuning single-group content at the high end has proven unsuccessful for nearly eight of the twelve expansions.
What can be done to solve this?
There are a variety of methods to look into this problem, but the one that comes easily to mind is to simply reduce the gap. Offer higher-end armor for non-raiders and make it easier to acquire.
SOE should decide now how far back raid content should go before becoming obsolete. Particularly on level-cap increasing expansions, gear power should jump more significantly than it has in the past. For example, with the release of The Serpent's Spine, SOE could have decided that any gear found in high-end raids before the Citadel of Anguish in Omens of War should be easier to acquire for level 75 single-group hunters in TSS.
Raid content is important to keep alive, so improving it any more than that would make too much raid content obsolete and remove a lot of the entertainment found in places like Anguish, the DON dragons, DODH, and POR raids.
How would these changes improve the game?
Reducing the equipment gap helps the game in three ways:
First, it helps SOE properly tune content for certain level ranges instead of tuning around one point in a huge spectrum of player powers.
Second, it helps guilds gear up without having to repeatedly fight through very old raid content just to power up new members.
Third, it helps smooth the path for non-raiders to enter the raiding game. The raid game is a clear advantage of Everquest over competing massive online games. SOE should do what it can to make it easier for newer players to enter this area of the game's focus.
The power level that SOE decides to release for single-group and raid-level equipment in each expansion can have repercussions that last for years. It is important that SOE structure the power levels of equipment and thus improve their ability to properly tune high-end content.
20 November 2006