Video Games

Grand Experiment Thoughts: Part 3

In my last post, I discussed death and dying. After playing a touch of World of Warcraft this past weekend for the first time in a while, I was again starkly reminded of the differences. While this is not the thrust of this post, I will touch on it briefly before jumping into the main topic, itemization.

In playing through two brand new characters in World of Warcraft, my average death downtime was sub-ten seconds. This is no way noticeably impacted what I was doing in the slightest. This includes death in instances in a purely pick-up group setting. My average repair bill was around 10s or something small like that. It’s so inconsequential as to be a non-issue. In fact, there are a plethora of mods out there for the game that automatically repair for you when you speak to someone capable of it. This further pushes the death penalties into the realm of “why bother”. Again, I’m not pushing for anything as dire as the EverQuest penalties of “naked and far away”, experience loss, and res penalties, but something to actually make it feel like it’s something you shouldn’t want to do is a good thing.

Anyway, pushing on, I wanted to address the overall strangeness of Everquest’s itemization schema. It’s kind of unreal how it managed to handle stat-flation as well as it did for as long as it did. Now, did it eventually get out of hand? Yeah, absolutely. However, it’s so strange to think about now in comparison to say, the World of Warcraft model of “seasonal loot discard”, where everything has a two to three month patch-cycle shelf life. Now, a lot of this is really part of a larger commentary on the economy, but I’m not yet prepared to really discuss the insanity that is the Al’Kabor economic scene.

To provide some context of what I am discussing, let’s look at WoW’s itemization from the original box to The Burning Crusade. Here we have a two-handed sword that was attained via a 40 person raid, and I think it’s reasonable to say that a fair percentage of the players base at least experienced Molten Core, the first raid zone of WoW. Everyone might not have finished it, but even the worst of “serious guilds” got a glimpse. So, it’s a good point to start. Here we have the Obsidian Edged Blade, and here we have the Hellreaver.

The Obsidian Edged Blade is a shared drop from bosses in Molten Core, a 40 man raid instance. Yes, it was the first of the 40 man raids, but it’s still a solid data point. The Hellreaver is a drop from the very first five man dungeon in the Burning Crusade. The Hellreaver is a vast improvement over this weapon, without a doubt. Ok, so maybe at this point you are saying, “Sure, but that was the FIRST raid zone”. Well, you know, fair enough. So how about this weapon from the second raid zone, Blackwing Lair. Most people did NOT ever make it here. So we have the Untamed Blade. Oh, the Hellreaver is STILL better. Ok, ok. So what about a later thing that people DID see? How about the second 20 man raid? Sure, the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj, AQ20. Here we have the Manslayer. Shit, the Hellreaver is still better. Now, I will absolutely say that the best gear of the base game did get you about halfway through the leveling of the expansion before you upgraded. This is a pretty common theme in World of Warcraft, and dare I say that it’s their game model. It’s a constant churn of gear, and it’s that want of constant upgrades that they base their hooks around. I am just outlining the above to show that this was always the way WoW of has done things. It’s just gotten even more streamlined and is now on a two to three month cycle rather than a per-expansion cycle. However, I am not here to discuss the WoW model in depth, I am just outlining this model in order to compare it to what happened in EverQuest.

The first thing that must be understood is that until Planes of Power, the fourth expansion, every single expansion provided content for every level range. Now, a lot of people would probably consider that wasted dev effort, but it did interesting thing with gear. For example, let’s compare two items that would be able to be obtained around the same levels. Here we have the Darkforge Vambraces and the Ry’gorr Armguards. These are two examples of armpieces within three to five levels of each other in content. You’ll note that the stats are different, but it’s a comparable difference. Now, some wag might pause here and say, “Yeah, but that shit ain’t an endgame direct comparison, son”. That wag would be right, so here’s a direct example of that. We have the Shadow Knight class armor from Kunark, the first expansion, and a breastplate that’s class armor fromthe Plane of Growth in the second expansion. Now, “random creatures from the plane” isn’t precisely “boss of the expansion” content, but it comes from the named more often. In fact, Trakanon, that old manky dragon, isn’t exactly a “boss of the expansion”, but I’ll leave Veeshan’s Peak, Plane of Sky, and the attitude of Progression Gating for another day. Any way, here we have Blood Ember Breasplate from Trak, and the Noctivagant Breastplate. Yes, the Noctivigant is better, but worlds away better? Not really. In fact, the Blood Ember Breastplate has a clickable effect that adds a lot. Now, if you have both, you could just click the BP and swap, but in that case I say, you want both, right? Anyway, clickable items and interdependence is yet ANOTHER post. The point here is, it’s a raid content to raid content comparison. One is better, but not so much better that it’s just plain silly. It also stands to say that yes, it’s raid to raid, not raid to 5 five man intro content. The lifecycle there is much, much longer.

Now, some will argue that this model is kind of shitty. They want to progress their gear in faster and more meaningful ways. My answer here is, this expansion introduced alternate advancement. You had alternate progression other than gear. In fact, in many ways, that alternate advancement was much, much more meaningful. This alternate advancement allowed gear to scale more slowly, and allowed meaningful progression and accomplishment. Was this a bit too “grindy”? Yes, the scaling on the numbers and the implementation could use some modernized love, but having more than one path of progression is paramount, I feel, to the numbers game. If everything isn’t packaged in a single system, it allows more levers to be pulled.

At this point someone might say “Well the World of Warcraft talent system…”, and I would point out how it cannot continue to be advanced. However, they could say the Dark Age of Camelot Realm Rank system was like that. I would agree, and then thank them for making my point. You know what Dark Age of Camelot never had? PvP gear. Instead, there was a Realm Rank system that was usable in all aspects of the game, and was garnered through PvP. This system was independent of gear, and allowed you to continue to grow, even if gear wasn’t involved.

It’s a shame that this system, which was considered “too grindy”, got dumped, when people are involved in a 90-day cycle of perma-gear grind in the modern MMO and people find that acceptable. I would like to see a return to a more differentiate system of advancement. People like to see that their past actions mattered. To see that the past was important. Right now, the model isn’t about that. Sure, there are achievements and vanity things, but even that is being shared out and dilluted. If that’s the case, what’s left?

So, to sum up: More controlled, more granular advancement? Yes please.

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