Thursday 30 September 2010

EQ2E: Sentinel's Fate expansion almost free on Direct 2 Drive

Direct 2 Drive are selling the Sentinel's Fate expansion for £4.95 today ($4.95 in the US). Even with the horrible exchange rate it's a really good deal. Usual price is £29.95.

The deal includes approx £4 of Station Cash which makes it cost just 95p for the expansion.

Sentinel's Fate is necessary to unlock the deepest AA abilities and to access the 80-90 areas and to level past 80.

Wednesday 29 September 2010


Ghostcrawler, Lead Systems Designer for WoW, has sparked a blogoclysm with his comments about efficiency:

"Posts like this make me very sad. You're portraying yourself to be at the mercy of uninformed yet tyrannical raid leaders who are quick to judge your performance based on perceived "tells." I know you need some basis to evaluate potential recruits or even pug members. But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base. I honestly think it's one of the greatest challenges facing the game."

No Prisoners No Mercy take it with their inimitable Chicago style. Tobold suggests solving the issue by rock paper scissors design. Gronthe is sceptical about developers accepting the blame. And Larisa seems worried.

Let me explain why players do this, why it's a design element that can be solved by game designers and why WoW is unlikely to address the issue successfully.

Why do players do this?

When putting together a pug raid there are a limited selection of data elements upon which to assess people.

Sometimes you can judge people by their name. I'm a firm believer that people who call themselves Aggromagnet or Wipejunkie are always being utterly unironic and should never be invited into a pug.

Sometimes you can have a short conversation which shows the player to be a veteran raider who understands his class.

You can judge people by gems and enchants.

But by far the easiest is to judge people by automated processes: gearscore is one method. From time to time talent checker mods have been written by players such as this one:

Scrub - Raidmember talent scanner (was TalentShow)
Some conversations in EJIRC led me to write a mod with the purpose of scanning and analyzing raidmembers' talent specs. Also being bored at work.

Hence, Scrub. Simple little mod designed to:

-Scan the talents of all raid members within range
-Display raidmembers talent triplet and dominant spec in a compact fashion
-Redflag talent builds that are clearly bad for raiding (<11 assassination for rogues, no instant attack for warriors, etc.) -Yellowflag talent builds that warrant a closer look (>23 disc, hemo, etc - things that may not be total fail, but are atypical)

Now raid leaders do not go out, generally speaking, with a glowing ambition to make the world a better place for everyone. They specifically want to succeed and with the maximum efficiency.

By looking at talent specs a raid leader does not just spot that you missed 1% of your maximum potential - he also sees that you don't know or don't care how to play the game in a cookie cutter way.

Building a pug raid is an applied sociological discipline. Like most sociology it fails for individual cases but can be pretty accurate for large numbers of players.

If you have a non-maxxed spec you may be less likely to know the optimal rotation. Less likely to use food. Less likely to use flasks. Less likely to have prepared by watching bosskillers or tankspot videos. Less likely to have done the fight before. Less experienced as a raider.

There are exceptions but the correlation between players who min/max by picking cookie cutter talents and players who min/max on consumables, players who have moved into min/maxing as a result of many raids' worth of experience is high.

That's why you won't get raid groups if your spec is 1% sub-par. Because most players whose spec is 1% sub-par do 50% less dps than the guy with the cookie cutter spec.

How do developers design around this?

Crowds of players function differently according to community size. That's why in less popular games you often find nicer, more tolerant people. And people are less polite when they perceive anonymity and a lack of repercussions. Not only is WoW the most popular MMO but it has designed in a reduction of community over its life. Cross-server dungeons and battlegrounds. Less world pvp. Faster travel. All of these elements are quality of life improvements that have side effects of reducing community.

In other games you see different behaviour. In AoC pug raids are really popular and take 2 of each class. 12 classes, 2 spots each. This is because most loot is class specific and the community prefers to share the loot evenly. This mirrors behaviour in Vanilla WoW - the class raids to UBRS. If loot is focussed on classes and raid size approximates the number of classes or a multiple then you get class raids.

In EQ2 raids are built around group utility. 2-4 tanks, 6+ healers, 4-5 enchanters, 4-5 bards, rest dps. This means on average, of the 4 archetypes you get:
3 Fighters
7 Priests
7 Scouts (4-5 of them Bards)
7 Mages (4-5 of them Enchanters)
It's a lot more uneven than AoC and has more issues with classes being fun to play but being unable to get raid spots or conversely being horrible to level but highly sought after for raids.

Much as I'm enjoying EQ2 at the moment from a design perspective AoC is ahead of the others. 2 of each kind has worked well since Noah built his ark.

Both EQ2 and AoC have a much higher standard of player behaviour and civility. People will stick it out through wipes, politely tolerate afks, are considerate with loot. The players are parts of small communities where getting a reputation as a dick means you don't get to raid. (You can take paid server transfers or name changes but it's very much a last resort).

It's not just the size of the raiding community. WoW has tried to keep its raid community small by not allowing cross server raids. But it's an experiment that hasn't worked. The process of community is gradual and is built up of little incidents and perceptions - by making 99% of the pre-raid game either cross server or solo WoW is finding itself without strong communities.

I believe that WoW's designers simply weren't expecting this. Players' notions of themselves as part of communities are established before they reach raid level and don't change even though logically the same issues of reputation, blacklisting and guild finding exist. It doesn't matter that there may be only 4 good raid guilds on your server and that all the leaders talk to each other about trouble-makers. Players have already set their behavioural norms in relation to other players before they apply to raid guilds.

Why WoW won't fix this

WoW won't fix this because the measures that have fragmented their community are hugely popular quality of life changes. They can't put these back in their boxes without severely alienating their player base.

LFD, instancing, epic flying mounts, instant travel are features WoW is stuck with. It's not Elitist Jerks who make casual raiding horrible, it's fundamental design decisions that almost all players applaud.

The solution, should you feel frustrated, is to try a different MMO which has raids in. EQ2, Lotro and DDO are free to play now. AoC as mentioned has excellent raid composition by design. Vanguard might be quite interesting if and when it goes f2p, I don't think it will be much fun before that as soloing to max level was pretty horrible.

Monday 27 September 2010

EQ2E: new trading site

It's new and so far a little empty. Go post some content and let's get this up and successful.

(I'm not connected, just appreciate the service).

EQ2E: Overview of the character races: 1 - The Free races

One of the things people seem to particularly aspire to when they start playing EQ2E is an unusual race. To some extent this is a perfectly normal and healthy desire to distinguish yourself from other people, basic individualism. But part of the perception comes, I think, from a notion that if you pay for it it must be better and that's simply not true.

I won't offer too much advice here in relation to aesthetics. You know what you like better than anyone else. Want to be a big hulking Ogre? Want to be an annoying giggling fairy?

The stereotypes in the lore are a little exaggerated. Fairies are very flighty. Gnomes are extraordinarily obsessed with complexity. It's very noticeable compared to WoW where there isn't really a distinctive Orcish voice. If you see quest text in WoW you wouldn't know the race of the quest giver. In EQ2 you quite possibly would.

Another factor to consider is illusions. If you want to play a fairy you can roll a Warden. At level 35 you gain the ability to transform yourslef into a giggling fairy that squeals while fighting. The guy I played with stuck doggedly with fairy form until he got me to complain about the high-pitched squeals and then, with some relief, turned back into a human.

Here's some analysis of the powers of each race, judged by their 3-4 starting traditions plus the extra ones you can develop your character with every 10 levels. A non-analytical list can be found here. Racial stats can be found here. Later in the game your stat numbers will be so high that it won't matter what you started as but early on the Ogre being 20 Strength points higher than a fairy is going to be noticeable on a fighter.

The Free Races


Humans are the best crafters. They can pick up 3 abilities that boost all crafting, one ability that boosts all crafting except tinkering and adorning and one ability that boosts transmuting. They get an innate ability to harvest faster. They get an innate ability that reduces the aggro radius of a mob, very handy when an aggressive mob is camping a rock you want to harvest. They can Call to town more often and pick up a 5% run speed boost and a sprint boost. If you are planning to build a stable of crafters you could do a lot worse than start out with a human. They are extremely effective harvesters in addition to being the best at actually crafting.

Otherwise their abilities aren't especially good. An ability like "increases Disruption and Defence by 5" isn't good because the classes that need a lot of defence don't use much disruption and the classes that use disruption don't want to be tanking. So, as might be expected, their combat traditions are mediocre because the race is so heavily oriented towards crafting and harvesting.

All of their starting stats are 20, meaning they are a little worse at any given career than a race that is more suited. Stat traditions are Strength and Intelligence allowing you to push those stats a little if you play a Fighter or a Mage.

Half Elf

The big advantage this race has is Tracking. Tracking is a great skill in a game where most of the time you're asking yourself "is that boss up?". Not only can you determine whether the boss is up but you can set a glowy orange line to it. All Scouts get tracking so this advantage is only useful if you are not playing a Scout.

The other innate traditions are pants. Sorry.

The progression based traditions are mediocre.

The stats favour Scouts and Mages. Traditions allow you to improve Strength or Intelligence.

I'd only really recommend this race if you don't want to buy a race but want Tracking on a non-Scout, possibly a Mage.


The outstanding Mage class. If you paid for a race to play a Mage you probably erred. They look horrible, they're not suited to any other class except as a gimmick but they make amazing Mages.

Starting Int is 30, they can take more Int as a stat tradition, their combat traditions offer things like Disruption and Subjugation (nuking and rooting) rather than Disruption and Defence. In other words buffs that complement each other rather than the pairs that only help one type of character (the standard Disruption package is Disruption and Defence ie nuking and tanking which no one really needs both of). Some of the traditions are simply better, eg +20% drink duration where other races only get +10% for the same investment.

They get pretty good starter traditions. 3 of them help your mobility - a teleport to a friend on a 12 hour cooldown (great for level 1 bank alts btw, no need to run across the zone to the bank), a falling speed reduction which helps with those cliff-leaping shortcuts and underwater breathing. The other is a vision which allows you to spot Mages and Healers. That is useful in pvp or if you are charming mobs (Coercer class).

Their good starting stats are Int and Wis, both of which can be boosted by race traditions. So in addition to being outstanding Mages they also make pretty good caster clerics (Templars, Defilers and Furies).


Innate traditions are +5% movement, improved sprint and a short duration buff that makes you immune to stun. Useful for anyone, the stun immunity is especially nice for tanks.

Progress based traditions suit tanks. Skilled Defender and Blocking Expertise are extremely nice for tanking.

Starting stats include high Strength and Stamina. Wisdom is slightly below average. Traditions allow you to improve Wisdom and Stamina. This makes them suited to playing Fighters. Wisdom (boosts resistances) and Stamina (boosts hit points) are solid tank stats.


The free races offer a great harvester/crafter race, a great Mage race and an excellent tank race. If you want to play a Priest then Erudite is a decent pick for a caster Priest. The main deficit is Scout. The only free race with above average Agility is Half Elf and their traditions are pretty mediocre. You could of course make your Scout your main harvester/crafter and pick Human. Scouts are excellent harvesters because they get stealth and fast movement.

Note that class traditions can be reset at an Acheivement Counsellor NPC. It's a very viable strategy to take movement and crafter traditions to start out then respec to combat ones for end-game raiding.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

EQ2E: Quote of the day

"It has to be EQ2X because an abbreviation can't start with a vowel."

Wednesday 15 September 2010

EQ2E: 2 weeks' progress

If it's been a quiet fortnight here on the blog that's not been for lack of game-playing. EQ2E has sucked me in, vortex-like, to its huge and complex world. It's even drawn in a couple of my friends.

There's a lot of flaws with the business model. It's one of the more brutal paywalls - very soon you are slapped hard with restrictions that have frustrated many people. Froobs have loot tantalisingly dangled before them like broke kids outside a sweet shop, noses pressed to the glass. Nor is it perfect from a developers' point of view - they've very clearly given away too much content. Buy Sentinel's Fate cheaply online and you've got everything. You can even buy it second hand, unlocking all content without giving SOE a penny.

In fact Smokejumper (the Senior Producer) admitted today that they've gone overboard with the content. It limits what they can do with the more bitterly contested elements of the business model because they're locked in to the force people to upgrade model rather than Lotro's system of options.

It doesn't matter.

The game rocks and like most MMOs it shows best when busy. A buzzing game is a fun game and if you like MMOs and aren't too wedded to one you should be playing one or more of the very busy main AAA MMOs that will be buzzing this Autumn: F2P EQ2, F2P Lotro, or WoW: Cataclysm. You'll have more fun than you would in a half-empty game.

I started off as a Berserker with the notion of soloing. That lasted until level 5 when I remembered Fighters were horrible with regard to downtime (actually that's mainly fixed now). I made an Inquisitor and as a starting character it's probably the best of the 8 free classes. Inquisitor is like an old school AD&D melee cleric. Plate mail, solid damage, almost unkillable. In addition to being a solid EQ2 class in general it has a particular resilience to the vicissitudes of the cash shop. Its main attacks are Alternate Advancment abilities (which Bronze players can max out) which replace spells (which Bronze players are severely restricted in).

He's now level 34 and a member of The Bronze Age, a guild which allows no Gold or Platinum players (although you're allowed to have other subbed accounts, just can't join the guild with them).

Then a friend joined and we started duoing rather obsessively. We blasted a pair of mages up to 20-something over the double exp weekend, tried out a Guardian/Inquistor pair and then, after doing a couple of dungeons, my friend decided he really wanted to sub. Seeing legendary loot drop and not being able to use it was too much for the poor snowflake!

Our latest incarnations are a Troll Shadowknight (me) and a High Elf Defiler. We both picked for imbaness. Shadowknights are currently the flavour of the month, very overpowered and function well without good gear. The Troll makes him really look the part - he's big, he talks loud, he grunts a lot, he blocks a doorway when he stands in it. He is what people expect in a tank and he's very easy for other people to keep track of. The Defiler is a shortage class at end game mainly because they're horrible to solo level. Of course since we're duoing that's a non-issue and they're really good and they look cool. High Elf is the strongest healer race which meant he had to do the betrayal quest. It was interesting but it's not really something most people would want to do if they didn't have to.

We've done a lot of crafting and agreed today to restrict the crafting and concentrate on adventuring plus one craft each (I have 4 level 30+ crafters already!). We have a guild set up which is just for us 2 and is basically for storage. In due course it will become a large building for him to decorate in macabre ways as well as a crafting centre and a teleport hub.

So against my expectations I'm subbing to EQ2 again. It's actually the fourth time I've started a subcription to this game. Maybe it will be fourth time lucky.

Monday 6 September 2010

EQ2E: storage workarounds

There's been quite a lot of concern about the limited amount of storage in the game. Here are some workarounds.

1) Upgrade to Silver. For a one-off $10 payment you go from 2 bag slots, 2 bank slots and 2 house vault slots to 3 bag slots, 3 bank slots, 2 shared banks slots (extremely useful for transferring items) and the 2 house vault slots. As Silver brings other benefits too it's worth it if you're going to spend some time in EQ2E.

2) Get really big bags. The biggest bags are, I think, 44 slots (T9 rare). These are available for Station Cash but you can also get them from player crafters in game. 150 Station Cash ($1.50) gets you 10 goes on the Broker, or you can look for bags on the broker just to see who made them and send that person a tell.

3) Boxes are just as good as bags. Boxes are now weightless meaning they are functionally identical to bags and the same size as the equivalent crafted bag.

4) Make your bags/boxes. Any T2 Outfitter or Craftsman can make 12 slotters using common materials or 16 slotters with a rare. A Carpenter or a Tailor can make much bigger ones.

5) Make mule accounts. There's no limit to how many accounts you can have so doing things like making 9 accounts for harvestables, one for each Tier is perfectly feasible. To mule you either need a friend to hold the items for you or to multibox.

6) Use your mules' Overflow. When a character's inventory fills up excess items go into overflow. A character is quite limited while he has items in overflow - he can't craft or harvest - but that doesn't matter on a mule. There doesn't seem to be a limit as far as I could see, I could keep trading items to him (so multibox or a friend's help is required).

7) Use your guild, donating is better than deleting.

8) Make a guild for your alt. It costs $10 for a guild charter and you need a silver account so a total of $20 has to be spent for you to do this. You only need this on one account, your legions of mules can stay Bronze and completely free while joining your private guild. You can store a lot in a guild. Unlimited cash to start with. There is a guild bank, it's basically 4 extra bags that grow as the guild grows. If you get your alt's guild to 30 you can put in guild hall amenities. These include automated harvesting bots that go out and harvest for you and a massive harvestables storage unit (150 types, up to 20K in each stack). There's an ongoing rent for a guild hall, I don't know how hard it is to keep up with if you have a high level character but I suspect it's not very hard.

9) Get a bigger house. House vault in bigger houses can be up to 6 slots (but the rent is higher).

10) Transmuting is both useful and saves a lot of space. (WoW players will know the concept as disenchanting).

11) Cash can (currently) be stored as high level fuel which is both expensive and sells back to NPC vendors for the same price that it costs. This may get altered by the developers but simply invest in some other commodity (eg rare harvestables or master level spells). In fact by "storing" your cash in commodities that trade on the player market you should be able to turn a decent profit, buying Masters when no one is interested in them and selling them on at a premium.

Sunday 5 September 2010

EQ2E: 2 mages are more fun than a sackful of kittens

A friend phoned today to see how I was and got persuaded to try EQ2E. We rolled mages.

Now the idea of a glass cannon is that you trade risk for reward in terms of dying more than most classes but killing faster. However in pairs mages mitigate their disadvantage in a number of ways
- the mobs die faster so you can fight things you couldn't solo.
- the mobs take more damage on their way to you so you deal a higher proportion of your damage while not being hit
- less spell stuttering
- if you are stuttered your friend will rip aggro so you can complete your cast in peace. This is automatic, simply a consequence of game mechanics.

Mages are very good at beating up large numbers of weak creatures and handle tougher or higher level creatures disproportionately badly. Most classes are in no danger from a mob a couple of levels higher but a mage is always vulnerable. Your tank is damage, if you mess up your line of sight or overpull or get unlucky with resists you quickly move out of the comfort zone.

Now what was so significant about today was that it's one of EQ2's rare double exp weekends. This pushed our mages far ahead of the curve. Normally if you start a mage you'd be fighting white and yellow con mobs (equal or slightly higher). Because of the double exp, enhanced by the free claimable exp potions given out we were mainly fighting blue and green con mobs. 2 mages nuking a weaker non-elite mob usually kill it before it reaches us, or certainly before we were in any danger.

We started out as all mages do with just a couple of nukes. Then when we got our root spells I would use root to control the fight. That lasted until about level 10. By level 10 we were hitting so hard there was no point shackling. In fact on some mobs if my friend got 2 nukes in while I got one Shackle the mob was dead before I could cast a damage spell.

At level 14 we got our Grandmaster spell. Now we had been overpowered with Apprentice level spells. Grandmaster took us to god-mode. Grandmaster is almost double the damage of Apprentice. We both took the area of effect nuke as our Grandmaster selection. So now we had super-hard hitting close range AOE with a built-in heavy penalty to resistibility.

This is where things became a blast.

We flew though areas pulling large packs of mobs. We got sent to a very tiny dungeon. Although tiny it was quite crowded. We vaped it in less than 3 seconds the first time then in about a second the next time (except the boss who survived the AOE long enough to require another couple of nukes). We pulled the entire orc invasion at Cragged Spine (except one lucky soul I managed to miss) to a big crowd and blew their socks off. Must have been about a dozen, all dead in 2 hits. Some poor sod was there soloing them. Well we did leave him one, so I guess things could have been worse for him.

As we finished the discussion turned to instances. It was only when I explained that Bronze accounts don't see chat that I realised I hadn't seen chat - we'd been so busy it hadn't occurred to me to even think about the other people who are playing the same MMO. I just hadn't noticed the silence.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

EQ2E is going to be huge

We make a lot of technical terms, features, design choices and so on but most MMO players want something very simple.

We want to have fun in a place that’s buzzing.

I think Eq2E is going to be huge, well it’s already huge with 16 concurrent instances of Halas reported over the weekend. I think it’s on course for Eberron Unlimited style results of 500% growth. What’s particularly fascinating is that the free server is packed full of people who have a current sub and can play the unlimited game but have hopped over for the buzz.

EQ2E has attracted a lot of criticism for its F2P matrix. Compared to the Lotro matrix that inspired it it seems unnecessarily harsh.

The EQ2E matrix is designed to drive players into subscriptions whereas the Lotro matrix is designed to drive players into cash shop purchases, with subscriptions as an option.

Weirdly once you adjust to the limitations (no mail, no broker, etc) you can actually play EQ2E for free for longer than Lotro. In Lotro after you outlevel the starter areas you must buy additional areas to continue. In EQ2E you can level all the way to 80 without spending anything.

I think that EQ2E will end up defeating its apparent purpose. In the end all that matters in MMOs is popularity. If you don't care if other people are around you're an atypical MMO player.

EQ2E is going to be really popular. People want to come play. And a key thing - it has the newbie fawcet that Sandra Powers talked about here. Everquest 2 is arguably the best free diku out there.

EQ2 Live is going to decline. It's lost its newbie hose. It's lost some of its players to Eq2E (and may lose a few to free lotro, to SWTOR, to WoW: Cataclysm). It can no longer replace losses. It doesn't take much for a raid to go from Just Enough People to Not Quite Enough people as I know from bitter experience in WoW. And once you start canceling raids because of non-participation you're doomed.

Now this is where SOE's restrictive matrix is actually really clever. SOE has always been a company that bends over backwards to accommodate players. Unlike Blizzard they tend to give in to player demands and whines. By starting off from a harsh position they can give in on various elements of the F2P matrix as players complain and as the EQ2E population and revenues grow. This is inevitable, it's how SOE work.

In fact it's already happening. The servers are currently down while a new feature is patched in. Restricted classes, originally entirely unavailable unless you transferred in off Live, are being made available for Station Cash. Forum noise will eventually get more restrictions lifted so that over time EQ2E gradually develops a F2P matrix that looks like Lotro's. And their reputation for listening to player concerns will be upheld and the Live players (who will lose by this) don't have a dramatic point of nerfage to rally around. Instead over the next few years people on Live will gradually move over.

And EQ2E will do extremely well. Traditionally most of us have recommended WoW as the place to start for new MMO players. There will be no point buying WoW when you can instead start with free Everquest 2 or Lotro. The newbie hose has been hijacked.

And all those high level players? Well the reason people love to raid is at heart about looking awesome. If you're in a game with tons of new people joining and going "wow, where did you get your stuff?" you get a good feeling. Jonathan Baron's classic article on why people play MMOs is as true as ever: it's all about shame and glory.