Mobhunter: Shrouds, Monster Missions, AAs, EQ2, and WoW

We stand on the crest of the release of Depths of Darkhollow, Everquest's tenth expansion. My network of spies reports that the Non Disclosure Agreement by which many of us are bound to hold the secrets of this new underground world will lift soon. In the meantime, let's talk about some of the news in the past couple of weeks.

The latest Everquest Developer's Chat mainly talked about the spirit shroud system although lord Rashere revealed bits and teasers about the new Depths AAs:

"I'm putting together a good variety of AAs including some that introduce new concepts to EQ. If you're in the beta, you should be able to check them out soon."

Indeed, they were on beta a day later and the new concept is quite exciting. I will talk about it more in a few days.

Rytan also talked a little bit about spirit shroud progression, a subject I think is very important:

"The progression for spirit shrouds is completely separate from the experience you gain to increase your character's level. So you won't have to allocate any of your normal experience to advance your shrouds. It's completely a bonus on your normal experience."

Progression is the drive that keeps us playing Everquest. I am glad to see an independent progression path for spirit shrouds and I hope SOE continues to expand upon this as they do with tradeskills and AAs. Earning experience as a spirit shroud is nice, but being able to unlock new shrouds through their use will keep us using them.

Rashere also mentioned that 1/3 of the missions in Depths of Darkhollow will be monster missions. From the 60 missions mentioned on the Depths of Darkhollow homepage, that makes about 20 different monster missions.

Earlier this week I was more excited about spirit shrouds than anything else, but recent tests of the monster missions changed my mind. Monster missions open up an entire new way to play Everquest, not simply in shifting you to a new entity but in the tailored scenario around you. Expect me to spend some time talking about monster missions in a few days.

In other Everquest news, Caster's Realm had a few interesting articles this past week. My friend, the Kyv, wrote a Guide to the Muramites and my other friend Nanyea of Township Rebellion and a regular writer for Caster's Realm wrote All About Spirit Shrouds. I had the opportunity to write an editorial on Caster's Realm this past week entitled Who Deserves New Content. There are also some sneak screenshots of the new Clockwork Boar mount available to those who purchase Depths of Darkhollow in retail stores.

It appears the next SOE Fan Faire will not be until April 6 according to a recent posting from our favorite halfling, Brenlo.

It is always useful and interesting to take a look at some of the other massive online games in recent news. Here's a bit of news on the EQ2 and World of Warcraft fronts.

Everquest 2 made a couple of big changes on their test server recently: the removal of group experience debt and unlocking encounters while in combat. The first change, the removal of group experience debt, is one I looked forward to for a long time. I mentioned it in my smaller Evil Everquest 2 Agenda from the last fan faire. The big thing I'd like to see in EQ2 next would be some sort of mission or adventure system similar to EQ1. Not just group instanced dungeons, but actual focused group missions with a nice pickup-friendly reward system.

SOE will release Everquest 2's newest expansion, Desert of Flames, on 12 September. This is one day before the release of Depths of Darkhollow, putting a sixty dollar hole in the pocketbook of anyone playing both games. Fortunately or unfortunately my level 26 swashbuckler isn't quite hefty enough to brave the new deserts so I might give this one a pass for the time being.

Not to toss fuel onto a smouldering fire but it appears that Sony Station Exchange is quite profitable, pulling in $180,000 in transactions in 30 days. While I don't worry about future games built around a model such as this; we all pay for content one way or another; I don't like the idea of retrofitting this into existing games. Fortunately, I don't see that happening to Everquest or the non-exchange EQ2 servers. It doesn't appear World of Warcraft will add any similar system either.

It is hard to ignore the force with which World of Warcraft has hit the market. Blizzard recently announced that they have hit four million paying subscribers, nearly eight times what Everquest ever reached. One has to admire their ability to bring so many new players into the massive online world and apparently, despite a lack of level cap increases and expansions, keep them playing.

World of Warcraft is a very solid game. I have never played a massive online game with a better newbie game. It is easy to get into and easy to play. No doubt the ability to solo just about anywhere helps considerably, although I think this is a danger to the core of massive online gaming.

A recent interview with WoW developer, Shawn Carnes, had a lot of interesting insights. Here is one surprising quote that got a lot of people stirred up:

"An expansion is planned, not in 2005, possibly in late 2006 barring unforeseen chaos. Work is already going on for the expansion, and it's going good [sic]."

I don't doubt that they can hold their player-base until late 2006 but it still sounds like quite a ways off considering how many players have capped their characters and are already struggling for something to do besides raid for gear.

Still, no one can ignore Warcraft's success. They have an extremely solid game with a great UI, great graphics, and great gameplay. If they came out with more regular expansions, level cap increases, and added a mission or adventure system, they would dominate the market for a long time.

On a last note, Everquest 2 recently added in a /donate command to help players donate to the Red Cross to help in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Here was the press release:

Please help us get the word out to the SOE community at large about our hurricane relief efforts.

Hurricane Katrina has left an incredible wake of destruction across the Mid-Atlantic States. Sony Online Entertainment would like to ask you to take a moment to make a donation to the American Red Cross in order to help alleviate some of the suffering.

In EverQuest II we have added the /donate command, type in /donate to be taken to the American Red Cross's Hurricane 2005 relief page. For those members of SOE Communities in other games, you can contribute using this link, American Red Cross. The American Red Cross will process your donation and make sure that it is put to maximum use to help those whose lives have been affected by the hurricane.

Additionally, for our 13,000+ players actually in the affected areas, we will be suspending billing until such time as they are able to play again. In addition, any items or structures in any of our games, which decay over time, will be preserved until the user's next login.

Thank you in advance for your support and generosity.

The SOE Family

If you have the means, please donate to the Red Cross.

That's it for now. Keep your eye on Mobhunter over the next few days for a post-NDA-release writeup of Depths of Darkhollow!

Loral Ciriclight
3 September 2005