Mobhunter: Onward into the Depths

Last Tuesday we found ourselves falling into the Depths of Darkhollow and seeing Everquest in an entirely new light. The message forums exploded with new information and strange new lingo. A lot of excited posts talked about the new monster missions and began decoding some of the longer quests.

Within all of this, SOE announced a new Community Summit focused on EQ in the Past, Present, and Future. I think that means "we want to talk about big issues and not get bogged down with class problems right now".

So here is the plan for the next couple of weeks. I planned to give Depths about two or three weeks before writing up a "Potholes of Depths of Darkhollow" article outlining some of the problems faced in this expansion but the new EQ Community Summit popped up and I have to write an Evil Agenda for that.

So this weekend I will publish a "Loral's Evil Agenda, September 2005" article. A week after that I will write up the results of the summit article and a week later I will write up the Potholes of Depths article.

The response to the new expansion has been generally positive. People seem to really like the monster missions and after the dozen of them I've done, I am still really excited about it as a new style of play. Future monster missions and some added features will no doubt make its way into this month's evil agenda.

One thing I found interesting about the monster missions is that the rewards received are pretty good at level 70, somewhere around Wall of Slaughter and Muramite Provingground level. These monster missions may be a good way for underequipped level 70 players to gear up to at least a 120 hp / mana baseline.

Depths departs from the mission center hub that we saw in Dragons of Norrath and that makes mission progression a bit more difficult to understand, discover, and conquer.

Each of the five main hunting zones; Corathus, Undershore, Stoneroot, Hive, and Illsalin; are of a set difficulty. The missions off of these zones are slightly harder than the difficutly of the hub zone. So Corathus missions should be easier than Ilislan missions.

The Mission NPCs, however, can be anywhere. So Hive missions are acquired in Corathus, while Illsalin missions are acquired in Undershore. Even more difficult is the ease with which players find Illsalin missions compared to the elusive Corathus Creep missions. One hopes that SOE can make the easier missions as easy to find as the harder missions.

My friends Gemdiver and Nanyea of Caster's Realm released an excellent Depths of Darkhollow Mission System that captures much of the known Depths missions and plans to include even more as they get more information.

Difficulty compared to the rewards received is a large topic right now. Personally I found the Illsalin missions to be very difficult even on "normal" and from what I heard, the loot rewards were low considering the power required to defeat it. This seems to be a common problem even for the "hard" missions. A lot of other players with whom I often debate on equipment gap issues agree that these missions should be dropping loot more on par with MPG trials and Qvic armor instead of low elemental quality. Hopefully we will see greater equipment rewards and lowered difficulties for "normal" missions.

Shroud progression came up as a problem as well. Players report having to kill up to two thousand NPCs to acquire the next shroud. Progression this slow is far more frustrating than it is rewarding so hopefully we will see this improved as well.

Other players have the opposite problem with some of the monster missions. Monster missions such as "Shadowmane Invasion", an excellent battle between two rival werewolf tribes, offer a far greater reward than most traditional hunting zones. In some cases players earned 2.5 AAs for about 20 minutes of work. Already I was beginning to get flashbacks to the dark days of constant Creator missions when I heard "this mission offers twice the reward, why would we do anything else?". No doubt a nerf is already in progress. I didn't buy this game to play one mission over and over. Each mission should offer an equal reward compared to the risk and effort.

Monster missions revealed another problem as well. Since players of any level can group together for a monster mission, the loot scales itself based on the level of your main character. However, one cannot learn what the actual power of that gear will be until one already loots it and leaves the mission. A quick change added the highest power of the rewarded item to that artifact's description so at least level 70 people know what they will receive, but it is still unclear to lower level players what they might win.

An ugly bug poked out its head with missions in general. Players who either zoned or went linkdead during the success of a mission found themselves unrewarded for the mission and locked out with a 56 day lockout timer. This problem seems common and the developers have already acknowledged it and are working on a solution. Hopefully this gets fixed soon.

I offer the following list of recommendations to SOE for initial improvement to Depths of Darkhollow:

- Lower the difficulty of the "normal" missions so pre-RS level 70 hunters can accomplish them.

- Fix the 56 day lockout bug.

- Continually monitor and ensure that mission rewards meet an appropriate balance. We don't want another creator.

- Offer appropriate rewards for the difficulty on normal missions. Gear rewards should be better than the gear required to defeat a mission.

- Make it easier to find Corathus Creep missions. Easier missions should be easier to find.

- Lower the requirements for shroud progression.

This weekend I will write up my fifth Evil Agenda to outline possible large-scale improvements to Everquest. This time, however, I am at a bit of a loss to come up with critical improvements to the game that haven't been answered in the past.

So this is your chance. If you have a large issue that you think needs to be handed to the developers, either send me a note or post your idea here. I will not take every request and you must convince me that this request is a game-wide issue not already addressed. Class issues are, of course, not going to be addressed here; seek your class representative to champion your cause.

Good hunting.

Loral Ciriclight
20 September 2005