Mobhunter: Of Wing and Fang

SOE released quite a large patch this week. You can read the entire patch message here but I will highlight a few of the more interesting features.

Lost Dungeons received a much requested selection menu for one of the four mission types. While this decision will certainly be popular for those who still adventure, it basically removes the assassination and rescue missions from the list. The collection and murder spree missions are much easier than the assassination and rescue missions. Few would ever select a mission that offers a harder difficulty for no gain in reward.

One of my problems with LDON is the lack of a story arc. I actually prefer going on assassination missions because they are one of the only adventure types that has a building plot and a final confrontation. Boss mobs and anti-heroes are important not only in video games but also in traditional fantasy. Walking into a dungeon and killing 58 skeletons or collecting 28 bone chips doesn't have the same energy as going into a dungeon, killing 57 skeletons and then killing Ograth the Skeleton King.

A better solution to the selection choice would be to make rescue and assassination missions offer up a higher reward for their difficulty. Giving boss mobs nice loot or rescued NPCs offering up a reward for their return might have made the difference enough that people would once again select them. This change puts a band-aid on the problem of convenience.

SOE revamped two older zones this week including Mistmoore and Paw. Both zones now harbor beasts above level 60. Walking into Mistmoore at level 69, I was reminded of how I felt entering the dark castle at the young age of 30. Mistmoore was always a very difficult dungeon and well known to eat even the heartiest of adventures. It is nice to see it return to its former danger.

Part of that danger, however, came from some of the quirks of the dungeon. Mob pathing was never very good and it wasn't uncommon to see enormous trains pour out of the castle and tear across the courtyard killing anything that moved. That tradition remains today. It isn't uncommon to see a mob run in the opposite direction and return with a couple of friends when you pull it. From the item links floating through our network of channels, the loot supports the reward, but it would have been nice to have a zone whose danger didn't come from its unexpected bug-based behavior.

I have yet to step foot into the new paw but from the equipment I see, I imagine it is as difficult as Mistmoore was. Paw always had one of the most difficult dungeon layouts that only the oldest old-world dungeons had. Remember upper and lower guk? How about Kedge Keep? I am sure old timers wax nostalgia about the difficulty of old-world dungeons but few ever went deep into paw. Most groups found a cozy corner near the zone and pulled what they could see. Only adventures many levels above the zone population would dare to delve deep in and even then they had a gate potion at the ready.

One very small fix in this patch that had me cheering out loud was a fix to the font system. I always preferred Verdana over Arial as a font but using such a wide font ended up breaking the item counts on stackable items. This last patch fixed this problem. It was a small but useful fix.

This patch did not implement the task changes I had hoped to see. We will not see these new tasks and task improvements until the release of Dragons of Norrath. It would have been nice to see these new tasks before the release of the next expansion but improvements to the task system at any time will hopefully help those who prefer to hunt solo.

This week EQ Stratics hosted a developer chat with Travis Mcgearthy and Ryan Barker of the EQLive design team to talk more about Dragons of Norrath. This was the first time SOE discussed the details of the new Mission system with those outside of the Dragons of Norrath beta. While a future preview of Dragons of Norrath will go into more detail on this system and the other features of DoN, I can make a few general statements on what we see so far.

Of all of the features of Dragons, none excite me as much as the Mission system. The Mission system ties together the Omens of War task system, the Gates of Discord expedition system, and the Lost Dungeons adventure point system. Players pick a particular mission, one with much greater variety than the four LDON types, and complete that mission in an instanced part of a larger dungeon zone. Completing this mission awards a sort of currency that can be used to purchase new items.

There are a number of advantages to this system. They have well-defined timeframes for completion, in this case, about an hour. They reward every member of a group equally rather than favoring one lucky party member with random loot. They offer gameplay variants other than sitting and hunting at a particular camping spot.

For those of us who thought LDON was one of the great improvements in Everquest, the Mission system answers our roar of requests. Unlike LDON, however, Dragons features a lot of raid content (dragons!) and general overland and dungeon non-instanced zone exploration.

We had a busy week and I expect a few more in the future. In the next couple of weeks I will write a preview of Dragons of Norrath that will go into further detail into these systems and the other features of this expansion. In the mean time, lets hunt some vampires.

Loral Ciriclight
2 February 2005