Aggro Me: Worst. Update. Ever.
Worst. Update. Ever.
I don't like some of the game design decisions that have been made recently, culminating in Live Update 17. I've tried to be reasonable about removing annoyances from the game to make it more accessible while still challenging, as you can read here. But things have just gone way too far. It's more than the game just being "easier." Immersion and the complexity of gameplay have taken a hit as well.
But, unlike the Froglok quest caper and the introduction of Station Exchange I don't think SOE is doing anything wrong to their customers. They're just making game design decisions I happen to disagree with it. I'm sure they are doing it with the opinion with that it will make the game more fun for players. That's something reasonable people can have different opinions on. Even if I'm right.
I'm a little late to the battle with this Live Update. The debate rages on the forums and my compatriots, Quylein and the Bandit have discussed it as well. You can check out Blackguard's argument in favor of the shard removal mechanic here. I recommend reading Beylanu's response on the next page. It was also discussed a bit on the latest EQ2 Daily Podcast (which is a good one). We also discussed it on the forums here in this thread and this one.
Let's start with the removal of the shard mechanic. Even in WoW, as light as the death penalty is, you're at least a ghost for a bit and everything is black and white and you have to return to your corpse. You at least feel like something actually happened. With EQII now it's just click here, pop, respawn. It's worse than WoW, it's Quake.
The death penalty had three facets, progress (xp debt), money (armor repair) and shard retrieval. Sure, you've ramped up the xp debt portion of that a small bit, but on the whole the death penalty is much weaker now. And as for the xp aspect, vitality is so absurdly hard to burn off right now that it's basically just perma-double xp.
Shard retrieval was more than just an annoyance, it was an immersive part of the game. We would have to figure out how to grab our shards, who was going to invis who, how we were going to fight back, whether we should all revive or whether a rezzer could get to us. Moreover, it would affect what fights we took on and how we would take them on. "Better not fight that mob here, our shards would be tough to get." That entire aspect of the game is completely gone now. Yes, there were a few times that it was late and I was not in the mood to fight through RE to get my shard. But that's what the sting was. Removing it doesn't just make the game easier, it takes away a core mechanic and all the strategies surrounding it which added to the depth of gameplay.
I should have protested the shard buy back arrangement in the last Update more strongly. I apologize for that. The low prices made shard buyback meaningless, making this a battle that should have been fought earlier. And I realize that the death penalty was somewhat trivial before this change. But that's because SOE slowly made it that way.
In my first few weeks of playing EQII, which is the first few weeks it went live, one of the things I thought the game really got right was the death penalty. It was tough to take sometimes, sure, but never a horrible thing. Never something you couldn't overcome with relative ease. It was lighter than some older games but on the whole I thought it still had sting. In other words, it was fair. And that's what you want your death penalty to be. Fair. Since then it has been watered down more and more, including the removal of group debt which I felt was a terrible decision for reasons I outlined here. Now it is meaningless.
And there was a reason for that sting. Risk is important in any game as it heightens the feeling of excitement. It also makes rewards all the sweeter and makes you think carefully about embarking into dangerous territory. Moreover, it is a tool that teaches you the proper way to play the game.
I'd really like to address the Customer Service time argument. It's probably true that shard retrieval is a major part of CS time. I don't debate that. Here's my issue. When SOE was selling Station Exchange, what did they tell us? "Dealing with fraudulent transactions of one type or another takes up roughly 40% of our customer service people's time. We have players calling us up or requesting in-game service for activities related to these sorts of transactions constantly, even though they are specifically disallowed by our EULA." That's from Smed's letter, which you can view here. So, you already eliminated 40% of your CS time with your deplorable Station Exchange. That's from your own words. So what's the problem? CS should have plenty of time to deal with shard retrieval. Fix areas of the game where shards are frequently bugged and do not spend time on frivolous shard requests. Do you want to eliminate every CS issue one by one?
If you're level 60, you have only the monetary aspect of the penalty, and frankly that's ridiculous. Level 60's can use the lack of any fear of death other than monetary as a tool to make the game even easier than it is now. Believe me, due to the other changes that have been made I do not see any level 60's hurting for money.
One of the biggest gold sinks, mounts, is practically gone. Mounts are not only cheaper but faster. And if you don't want to pay for a mount, hey, just do a quest and get a 40% speed one for free! What's that, the quest takes too long? Don't worry we'll fix that too by eliminating the wait time!
Why was the run speed increased? Frankly, I think the perma-sprint speed at which people are running about now just looks silly. You can stealth through anything like lightning. And SOE had already made travel much, much easier than the old days by restructuring the bells and adding more griffon towers. And it wasn't that difficult to begin with.
I realize the Master Chest extravaganza issue was quickly addressed but there will still be an increase and this is just another example of the game getting easier.
The purpose tags over NPC's? Guess what? I hate those too. They look absolutely ridiculous. As Bandit said in this thread, "Next thing you know, we will have ! marks above available quest NPC's." Is it really that much of a problem for people to figure out what a person's role is? Dare we ask that they actually learn their way around a new zone? I click on an NPC and find out she's a banker. Okay, now I know where the bank is. Do I need a tag that says, "I AM BANKER<----." Can we have just a little immersion? Those people who read my forums might think I'm crazy for wanting to do away with a ton of what I think is extraneous information for the sake of immersion (if you're interested check out this thread). But I wasn't really talking about EQII, just throwing out ideas. I don't expect them to do away with the pretty damage numbers. But do we need to see that a guy standing in front of a forge is "MENDER?" I sure don't think so.
So there, I am, respawning in Maj'Dul with people literally whizzing past me like brightly colored gumball machines attached to rockets and chat is filled up with talk about double digit master chests being found in an hour and I'm facing an NPC whose name is "Hay, I'm A MENDER - I Repair Armor :)"...
What game am I playing?
In all my time in EQII I've never logged off in disgust over a tough death, a failed raid, a wooden chest or anything else. But right then, I logged off in disgust.
People say EQII is becoming more like WoW. But soon that won't be a fair statement anymore. WoW might end up being harder.
Okay, I could end the post right there and it would be an accurate and honest portrayal of how I feel. But I always like to take a step back and try to be fair. Whenever I criticize SOE I like to pretend I'm the Emperor of SOE myself, kind of like Smed, only much better looking. It's a good exercise.
So, let's say you're the Smed for a day and in a meeting you are presented with these facts:
1. Our data shows us that most MMO players prefer a more casual experience (i.e. less risk and more reward). What's more, people leave the game every day because the death penalty is too severe. (Don't ask me to explain that one because I don't understand it.)
2. Shards are pretty meaningless right now anyway because we made them purchasable.
3. They're a huge waste of CS time.
My first response would be to say those gamers who think EQII's death penalty is too severe have got to be kidding me. My second would be to say this is not a democracy and the players don't always accurately know what is best for the long term health of the game.
But then, I'd think about WoW, think about the numbers. And if I thought I was going to get more subscribers and more people would actually have fun with the change, I would do so, regardless of whether I, as a gamer, liked the idea. If the massive majority of gamers like a more casual MMO, I really have to listen. To do otherwise would not be doing my job. Maybe the player base in this still "young" area of gaming needs to get more comfortable with playing MMO's before there is a wide scale market for more challenging play.
Back to me as a gamer: I am not happy with the direction the MMO market as a whole is going. Rather than games being made for what I call "moderate" gamers, like me, the wedge between "casual" (WoW) and "hardcore" (Vanguard) is widening. And sadly, I've either beta-tested myself or spoken to people I trust with first-hand knowledge about the crop of upcoming MMO's and frankly I think most of them will be dismal failures. But there's still a few I have high hopes for.
I'm sure I will still enjoy EQII and I still have faith in the EQII team. I'm sure they will continue to add great content to the game. But I have to be honest and say I think the game has taken a step back recently.
There is some other stuff in the Update I haven't touched on, some of it positive (wow actual high level adventure writs - amazing), but I'm done talking about this one.