Caster's Realm: Who Deserves New Content

We have all bathed in the dark waters of the Uber vs. Causal bloodwar. We have all seen expansions in the past and questioned their target audience. High-end raiders look at expansions like Legacy of Ykesha scratching their heads and angered at the lack of high-end raid mobs. Single group hunters look at expansions like Planes of Power and Gates of Discord wondering what dark god they must worship to access more than 25% of the expansion. Today we will look at SOE's focus with each expansion and ask ourselves who deserves new content.

The title of this article is already misleading. The answer, of course, is 'everyone'. We all play this game and we all pay our $9 to $15 a month. We all expect to receive entertainment for our money and thus our money is wasted if we spend it on a game, or an expansion, that is of little use to us.

Hundreds of thousands of Everquest players each play in a particular style. We might try to group these players by level or class or playstyle but none of us plays exactly the same way or for the same reason as others. We all have a set amount of time we play and we all have things we enjoy doing. For the most part, Everquest offers many different ways to play that might be vastly different from one another. Consider those who tradeskill and play the market in the bazaar to those who lead groups of 54 hunters against the demon kings of Kuua.

These differences become apparent when one asks another to define a 'raider' or a 'casual player'. Some consider raiders to be those fighting Grummus in Plane of Disease. Others consider raiders only those at the highest end of the game (post Overlord Mata Muram at the time of this writing). One can easily begin slicing up these broad categories into dozens or hundreds of smaller categories.

Problems arise when players begin to think that they are the largest populous of Everquest and demand that new content and new expansions focus nearly entirely on them. I have heard players say that SOE should only release expansions with raids harder than the previous. Following this logic, every raid in Dragons of Norrath would be harder than Overlord Mata Muram. I have heard other players say that SOE should release expansions with content only for those between levels 25 and 50 and exclude high-end raids completely.

It is important to remember that whatever our play style, we are a minority. No single group or play style holds a monopoly on the game. We don't all mostly raid or mostly single group hunt. We aren't mostly level 70 or level 50 or level 10. We don't all mostly want solo content or encounters harder than Overlord Mata Muram. The Everquest population is vast and wide.

When we look at various groups, however, we can see areas where players, and the game as a whole, benefit from new content.

Overlord Mata Muram is the hardest single creature in the game. He is still undefeated on some servers. On others, however, he has been defeated and the groups who have hewn him down are now out of future content. Where will they point their swords when the greatest threat has fallen? This group certainly needs new raids to pacify their hunger. From recent developer discussions, they are likely to find this within Depths of Darkhollow.

What of lower power raiders? Many have yet to climb their way through the Planes of Power but still enjoy hunting with a larger group. Some might argue that enough lower power raid content exists to keep these groups happy and they don't need new content. However, recent expansions such as Gates of Discord, Omens of War, and Dragons of Norrath have shown future advancements for all raids. Instancing, lockout timers instead of rare spawns, multi-night raid progression, and flag rewards all greatly improve over the traditional races to the rare spawns we remember from our Kunark, Velious, and Luclin days. Are lower power raiders not deserving of these new tools as well as the high-end raiders?

Single group hunters above level 60 have seen a lot of content since Planes of Power. Lost Dungeons of Norrath, Omens of War, and Dragons of Norrath have given single group hunters some of the best and most powerful hunts in Norrath's history. We have seen point-based loot systems, group instanced dungeons, and focused adventure goals. There is no lack of good and rewarding grounds from level 60 to 70. Lost Dungeons scales all the way from level 20 to 70, ensuring a wide range of hunting grounds without any risk of overcamped lands.

Still, as technology improves, as the SOE team becomes better at creating new encounter styles and new paths for progression, should these single-group hunters not reap the benefits?

What about low level players? Recently SOE revamped the original tutorial, adding all new content from level 1 to 10 and a new set of quests and missions from 10 to 20. Players below level 20 don't often stay there very long so the requirement for continually improved level 1 to 20 content doesn't really exist. However, how can EQ continue attracting newer players, even future hardcore raiders, if the lower end content isn't representative of the best that SOE can offer? Depths of Darkhollow offers new Monster Missions and spirit shrouds for all levels from 5 to 70 so even a level 5 gets new content with this coming expansion.

How about levels 20 to 50? This group has the largest bulk of existing content from the old worlds. The complaint of a lack of content at level 20 to 50 is far surpassed by complaints that zones remain empty for weeks from a lack of players willing to hunt there. Lost Dungeons offers the best instanced content from level 20 to 50. The task system of Omens of War offered a moderately useful way to solo from level 20 to 50, but not nearly as well as other games allow. Again, the Monster Missions and Spirit Shrouds open up a lot of possibility for level 20 to 50 hunters.

What about other play styles? There has been a strong tradeskill community for a long time who constantly and continually requires new content. While some expansions offered better benefits than others, every expansion has had some new direction for tradeskills.

Everquest's players travel in dozens of different paths yet all of us desire new content. While it is easy to declare that one expansion or another was a 'casual' or 'Raid' expansion, each expansion really holds benefits for all groups. The more recent expansions including Omens of War, Dragons of Norrath, and the upcoming Depths of Darkhollow include features and content for many if not most of these play styles. SOE focuses Everquest on the wide variety of play styles such as raiding, single grouping, tradeskills, adventures, missions, and quests. It is this variety that makes Everquest as strong a game as it is.

Loral Ciriclight
30 August 2005