Mobhunter: Three Big Changes to Everquest

Today's release of the Serpent's Spine brings us three new new features, one of them to all players and two of them to those who purchased the Serpent's Spine expansion. Today we will discuss the impact of the out of combat regeneration system, the expendable alternate advancement system, and the tiered spell system.

So long have we suffered under the long regeneration time of the Everquest of old. So long have we sat and waited, surfing Allakhazam's for new mana regeneration items, that we can't even comprehend how important a change like this is.

World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 both showed how important it is to limit downtime. Both games offer fast gameplay with short periods of regeneration in between combat. Before today, Everquest had no way to add such a system without unbalancing the game. Everquest could not know when you were in battle and when you were resting. Now, however, SOE has figured out a way to track a player's in-combat and out-of-combat state to allow very high regeneration when not in battle.

For long-time EQ vets, this system must be experienced to be understood. The impact is huge. No longer must players wait after buffing classes fully buff a group. No longer will raids have to wait very long periods of time for their melee classes to regenerate endurance. No longer is clarity a requirement for any group to hunt with any efficiency.

This feature changes how we play. It is no longer imperative for a cleric to hold on to 95% of his or her mana when he or she can regenerate to full in three minutes. Mana can drain and flow quickly, allowing for a lot more action in every encounter.

There are a few complaints of this system, as there are with any big change. Necromancers and Shaman had cornered the market on quick regeneration and now some feel that all of the other classes gained this ability as well. The difference is that necromancers and shaman can still use their abilities while in combat while other classes must wait 30 seconds after a battle to begin regenerating.

Those who spent fortunes of time and money on high mana regeneration items might feel that their efforts are pointless now, but again these regeneration items and spells work while in combat. They will still speed up combat, just not as much as they did before.

Others shout that this change should have happened years ago and they're right. EQ2 and World of Warcraft both had these systems over a year ago and it took a long time for SOE to add it into Everquest. Now we have it, however, and little can be done about the past.

The most baffling complaints come from those who feel that the downtime somehow resulted in greater skill when all it really did is give us more time for Tivo. Many of these complaints come down to the idea that with the downtime change, Everquest is now a more reasonable and possibly more popular game resulting in more players that make those of us willing to suffer with lousy mechanics less special.

Of all the major changes we receive with the Serpent's Spine release, the out-of-combat regeneration feature is, by far, the biggest and best change in a long time.

The Serpent's Spine also includes a new set of expendable alternate abilities. Unlike normal AAs, high-end characters can spend three AAs to receive a one-time ability. These abilities might include damage increases, hitpoint increases, damage mitigation abilities, and other unique abilities.

While this feature does not seem monumental on the surface, consider that this is the first time in any of the big three fantasy MMOs that experience will always be useful.

Everquest had a very high amount of rewards for experience earned. 70 levels and over a thousand points worth of alternate abilities meant that only a select few would ever get to the point where experience meant nothing. Now even those few will always have a use for AAs. Unlike Warcraft, where players hit level 60 and then receive very little in return for the hunting style that got them there, Everquest players can continue to earn and use experience throughout very long careers.

The returns for experience earned always diminishes. Levels matter more than AAs, some initial AAs are far more powerful than later AAs, and some AA sets seem almost completely pointless. Now expendable AAs add a bit more return for the AAs spent, but at the cost of being temporary.

Again, this system isn't without complaints. Some feel that they will be expected to earn and use these abilities for extremely challenging encounters. Some worry that encounters will have to be tuned around those with these AAs, making it more difficult to defeat the encounters without them. These are all valid concerns, but the advantage of a limitless upper end to experience gain makes up for it.

The last big change we will discuss today is the new tiered spell system of the Serpent's Spine. Many complained about the difficulty in achieving spells in Omens of War. While players could reach level 70 simply by hunting, spells above level 68 only came from very select encounters. These spells were not tradable and the system in place with Omens meant that one would have to collect up to six runes for each level to get all of the spells of their class. In some cases, the spell most sought after was the last spell on the list.

The Serpent's Spine includes a new tiered spell system where each spell at each level can possibly have three to four tiers of power. Each tier is more powerful than the previous, so a tier 3 blast will do more damage or have a better damage to mana ratio than earlier tiers. Most of the tier 1 spells are purchasable off of vendors in the new zones. Even though a player will not have the most powerful version of a spell at each level, they will have the base spell right away.

The tiered spell system isn't an entirely ground breaking feature, but it is a strong improvement over the spell systems of the past. It gives players the chance to upgrade to new abilities quickly but still give them improvements as rewards later in their hunts.

Though seven years old, Everquest continues to evolve every year. These three changes take systems we have lived with for years and greatly improves upon them, making the game as fresh and exciting today as it was years ago. Keep an eye out for a future full review of the Serpent's Spine in the weeks to come.

Loral Ciriclight
19 September 2006