Once again we find ourselves with a a new unknown corner of the world to explore. While many originally labeled Prophecy of Ro the "Ykesha" expansion, anyone to reasonably do so now clearly doesn't see what it contains. Besides increased bank space, the expansion is no comparison to the mid-level mini-expansion, Legacy of Ykesha.
New debates begin to emerge, however. Prophecy of Ro contains a wide range of raid targets, many of them in open zones. These high-end targets, like the three dragons of Relic, are dropping gear that some claim to be far more powerful than they should. Veteran raiders of Demiplane of Blood were quick to jump on this topic, claiming that the high-end rewards from open-zone mobs removed any reason for them to hunt in Demiplane of Blood.
Back about the time the single-group gear in Depths of Darkhollow received an upgrade, the raiders began to bring forward similar complaints about the raiding gear in Demiplane of Blood. Initially SOE responded to the complaints about high-end raid targets leading to the Demiplane by saying that flagging mobs generally don't have the gear to which a raiding guild would upgrade. The real upgraded gear was in the Demiplane of Blood itself.
This wasn't the case. The raid gear they received in Demiplane of Blood was an upgrade to previous Omens and Dragons high-end raid gear but not powerful enough to motivate raiders to use their votes, DKP points, or other loot distribution credit to purchase this equipment.
Likely the cause for this feeling came from the fact that few items were tuned to specific classes. Unlike the class armor in Anguish, the armor dropping in Depths was tuned for a wide range of classes. It would not likely have the same dedicated power for any one class that a class-specific piece contains.
Now, high-end raiders complain that the gear dropping in open zones is too close to this gear they didn't like already. They don't like the gear they receive in Demiplane but they don't want others to have anything close.
That is obviously a biased and simplistic view of the problem, but there are important points to consider. This gear is not as good as Demiplane gear. This gear drops on non-instanced raid targets. Few guilds below Anguish level will have the ability to defeat these mobs and receive these items. While a guild can have a dedicated shot at clearing their own versions of Tacvi, Anguish, the Dragons of Norrath, and Demiplane of Blood without any worry that someone else will take these areas, other guilds will compete for the static mobs in Arcstone, Relic, Devastation, and Stronghold of Rage. Guilds will not be able to gear up on these mobs as effectivly as instanced raid zones. Also, once guilds begin to enter Deathknell, they will receive even higher-end rewards in a dedicated instanced zone. As always, the paths to glory shift in new directions.
SOE recently scheduled a town hall to discuss how best to change the Test server. Likely they do not wish to alienate the community that now resides on the test server but also want to change the test server into a server that is actually able to test new content. The test server, like any of the specialized servers, goes through the process of losing so many players that it becomes nearly deserted but those who do stay fight tooth and nail to maintain their community as much as they can.
The town hall is now scheduled for 5pm PST on 8 March 2006.
The changing communities on specialized servers is not a new topic in recent days. A while back I said that I would discuss the closing of Stormhammer and some posters have requested it. While it is now somewhat old news, it still is an important topic for the future of other specialized servers.
At the September 2005 Everquest summit, the attendees had a chance to walk through the SOE operations center. On one board they had all of the existing players on each of the servers. Most of the numbers were close to the others except for three: Zek, Firiona Vie, and Stormhammer. While Zek and Firiona Vie had roughly half the number of players of other main servers at that specific slice of time, Stormhammer had under 10%.
At the Summer 2005 Las Vegas Fan Faire I had lunch with some community representatives who played on Stormhammer and talked about the situation. For them, nearly four months after the release of Dragons of Norrath, the Nest had yet to be opened. While GMs worked with players to schedule server-wide raiding events, the power could not be mustered to defeat high-end raid targets. Grouping was very hard at the high-end and grouping at lower levels was all but impossible.
While the community members I talked with had some ideas to re-invigorate the server's numbers, it was clear to me that there would be little SOE could reasonably do to increase the server's population. There was only one clear answer. Close the server.
On the first of February 2006, SOE closed Stormhammer. Characters were allowed to move to any server of their choice except, perhaps, Firiona Vie.
One of the louder complaints came from those who used Stormhammer as a way to farm characters from one server to another. When the announcement went live in mid January, all transfers back to Stormhammer were shut down. Some players had characters on other live servers they intended to move to Stormhammer and then to another server. Now, doing so costs $75.
I never expected Stormhammer's costs to allow players to use Stormhammer as a stable of characters to move wherever they wished whenever they wished. While I never like to see any community crumble, I have a hard time sympathizing with those who didn't get a chance to shuffle characters around one last time. That isn't a community problem.
The closing of Stormhammer was sad for many involved, but it was clear it had to happen. Stormhammer ran for months with far fewer players than any other server. Because of its specialized nature and higher price tag, any sort of server merger was out of the question, although Stormhammer players voted not to have Stormhammer turned into a normal server and merged with another.
Like Test and Stormhammer, all specialized servers will one day face this same choice. Firiona Vie and Zek cannot hold their numbers forever and because of their specialized rules, they cannot simply be merged with other existing servers. I expect we will hear more about these servers within a year.
Last week Ryan Barker, Rytan the Spell Tzar of Everquest, announced he was moving to a secret project (likely SOE's competition to Hello Kitty Online World). I met Rytan at the first Everquest summit and again at many of the fan faires. One thing was made very clear to every player who ever approached him to complain about a spell: Ryan knew his subject. Never have I seen someone able to so clearly describe the relationships and details of so complicated a system. While often the target of recklass hate, Ryan always faced his critics with even temperment and dry British-style humor. He will be missed.
At great personal risk to himself, my friend Nanyea from Caster's Realm posted the checklist for access to Theater of Blood. The checklist outlines the seven to eight missions one must undertake to gain access to the newest Plane of Fear style high-end hunting and reward zone. The items from this zone have also begin to filter out through Lucy and Caster's Realms's new monster database.
Last week I had the great privilege of being in the EQ Players community spotlight. This gave me the chance to talk about why I enjoy this game as much as I do and even gave me a bit of room to stretch out my own evil agenda a little bit more. I give thanks to Kytherea for the opportunity.
Having only one week in Prophecy of Ro, it is too early to give a full review of the expansion. I will likely write a full review once we have a wider view of how this expansion changes Everquest.
6 March 2006