Clever Designs in EQ2

I tend to use EQ2 as my example game a lot, which makes it the butt of my attacks. But I prefer it over WoW or Lotro, so my griping is not intended to dissuade people from trying it.

In fact, since most MMO players have never tried EQ2, they have no idea what they might be missing. And far too often, I find that MMO designers haven’t played any MMO too seriously… except the one game they happen to really like. That’s a tragic newbie mistake, because you end up reinventing far too much.

So I figured I’d talk about a few of the aspects of EQ2 that are very well done.

Guilds

Leveling Up: Guilds in EQ2 have levels. As they level up, they earn all sorts of neat privileges, like more guild bank slots, discounts on items like mounts, and access to more prestigious houses. Players level up their guild by collecting special items and turning them in, or by completing special quests that raise the guild’s XP bar (as well as your own personal XP bar, of course). This is a great way to bring the guild together, and the leveling mechanism is a lot of fun. This also helps to keep guilds together longer, which means that guilds in EQ2 tend to be larger and more structurally sound than the ones in WoW.

Shared Experiences: Whenever a guild member finds a treasured item, completes an epic quest, earns a level, or so on, everyone in the guild is notified via the guild chat channel. This helps build community, because everyone can see what you’re doing and chat with you about it. It’s also a great way to get “gratz!” type messages without having to prompt for them. All in all, it just feels nice.

Management: EQ2 has had guild banks for far longer than WoW, and its guild banks are still superior. It also has neat devices like an easily-accessible log of all the guild’s activities — so you can see at a glance that your friend Bob won the fabled Book of Dread while raiding, and Sue leveled up to 75 last night. EQ2′s guilds have lots of other little touches and polish that should really be emulated in other games.

Housing

Customization: EQ2′s housing is probably the best I’ve seen. You can decorate your house, fill it with books and knick-knacks, change the wallpaper, even set up crafting stations in it so you don’t have to leave the house to make some new sandals or swords or whatever. The customization possibilities are extremely deep.

Interactive House Stuff: The game is full of interactive trinkets to put in your house, like talking statues, genie bottles that whisk you away to hidden dimensions, or seasonal items like the halloween skeleton that sneaks up and surprises you.

House Pets: You can buy or earn pets (not unlike the non-combat pets in WoW) that can run free in your house and interact with people and things there. They will interact with other house pets, too, sometimes fighting each other or stunning one another and so on. It definitely adds a lot to the experience.

Reasons For Visiting: Players can optionally buy special “display cases” to sell items directly from their home. (When selling from your home, the items are also on the auction house, too.) If buyers choose to visit your house and buy them directly from you, they save the 20% auction-house fee. This can amount to quite a lot of money for top-end items, so picky buyers are willing to trek to somebody’s house and visit their home in order to buy the item. (The owner doesn’t have to be online in order for someone to visit their house, of course.) This is a neat mechanic because it gives you a reason to decorate your house and make it impressive. And I’ve seen some really impressive houses. Many players take this very seriously.
 

Group Play

Options Galore: Although EQ2 has tried to graft a deep solo experience onto the game (and has succeeded to some extent), the core of the game has always been the huge, epic dungeons designed for a six-man group. There are a whole lot of these dungeons — some instanced, some not — and grouping in EQ2 is fun and very rewarding at almost any play level. This isn’t true in WoW, where there are many levels that are just simpler to grind through rather than trying to run instances. I also find EQ2′s group PvE experience to just be better — more polished, more rewarding, more fun than WoW or Lotro.

Difficulty Curves: Although EQ2 has a fair number of instanced dungeons that are similar to WoW’s group experiences, it also has more free-form areas. These are typically community dungeons — meaning lots of people can hunt in the same instance, and can find each other and group up while there. These dungeons have a wider range of monsters in them, and generally have very good layout and flow, so multiple groups can explore the same vast dungeon.

These less-directed, community-accessible dungeons are important because they allow groups to scale their difficulty on the fly. If you’re missing some people, you can just hunt the weaker monsters. If you’ve got a really strong group you can forge a path to the tough monsters deep in the bowels of the dungeon. If somebody leaves, you can stay right in the dungeon and start advertising for other people to join you. In the meantime, you can kill weaker monsters while you wait for replacements.

Collection-Centric Gameplay

The game really rewards collectors and offers strong incentives to people who like to explore nooks and crannies.

Collection Quests: Shiny objects on the ground can be picked up and added to your personal collection GUI panel. When you have all the items from a particular, you are rewarded with XP. If you find duplicates, the extra items can be placed on the auction house to earn money.

Named Monsters: The world is riddled with NPCs and monsters that have unique names. The first time you kill each named creature, you earn bonus XP (and alternate-advancement XP), so it is worth going out of your way to kill these creatures.

Recipe Collection: The first time you complete any given crafting recipe, you earn bonus craft XP. This gives you a meaningful incentive to collect all the recipes in the game (for your crafting profession).

Numerous Discovery Locales: Like many games, EQ2 rewards players for exploring the world map. EQ2 takes that a bit further and has numerous rewards for reaching off-the-beaten-path locations; for instance, if you figure out how to get to the top of a hill, you may be given bonus XP for discovering it.

 

Conclusion

There are a lot of other strong areas in EQ2, such as the intricate and rewarding crafting experience, the recent racial revamp (they did a good job “balancing for awesome” on the race abilities), the alternate-advancement XP, and the built-in collectible card game. I’d also like to discuss the difference between EQ2′s and WoW’s combat model in more detail, because the subtle differences are very revealing. But another day.

Of course, EQ2 also has serious drawbacks and lacks a lot of polish that WoW players expect. It’s very easy to accidentally pick a class that can’t solo well, for instance. Many of the outdoor zones are banal and uninspired. In the older areas, the graphics are extremely ugly. The solo questing path is disjoint, so it can take some work to figure out what zone you’re supposed to go to next. And there’s not a lot of people to group with on many of the servers.

But EQ2 has lots of clever and unique game systems that are well worth exploring. If you’re thinking of making an MMO, you owe it to yourself to spend a few months in EQ2.

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14 Responses to Clever Designs in EQ2

  1. Bart Stewart says:

    Not to take anything away from the goodness of the features you mentioned, Eric, but it bears noting that many of them are also present or coming soon in Star Wars Galaxies, also from Sony Online Entertainment:

    Housing Customization: The player-created customizations in houses in SWG are legendary. I once saw a fantastic rendition of Anakin’s pod racer built entirely from various crafted and looted objects.

    House Pets: Although not interactive that I know of, SWG has “holographic” pets inside houses.

    Reasons for Visiting: SWG had house-based item vendors since Day One as a part of its fully player-run economy.

    Collection-centric Gameplay: Collections was added to SWG several months ago.

    Intricate and rewarding crafting experience: This was generally recognized as one of SWG’s best features when it launched.

    Alternate-advancement: Added to SWG following the New Game Experience changes. (Some of these “new” abilities actually appear to be restorals of abilities from professions deleted in the NGE, but they’re still alt-advancement opportunities.)

    Built-in collectible card game: Recently announced for SWG.

    I mention these not to detract from EQ2 or praise SWG, but because of what it suggests about the larger picture of how SOE operates its “classic” games.

    It suggests that SOE is looking for relatively inexpensive ways to enhance its current games. Reusing code from some other game is a cheaper way to get new features than dreaming up and implementing some entirely new gameplay concept. It might even be a necessity to do some things this way if you’ve reduced your live-mode development staff to just a few people.

    It’ll be interesting to see how The Agency diverges from this feature set….

  2. Grimwell says:

    One minor nit to pick Bart: The similar systems and features you are noting across SOE games are there due to ground up work by the development teams. SWG and EQII (and EQ, MXO, PS, Vanguard, etc.) do not share engines, so the code for the engines can’t be passed around.

    What that means in English is that the collections added months ago came in because the SWG team budgeted development time to make it. EQII had it at launch, but the EQII code was not copy/pasted into SWG.

    You are seeing ideas percolate around the studios, but it’s not a cheap or inexpensive code sharing solution. It’s all there due to hard coder and designer work. Credit where it’s due to those teams.

    Onto Eric’s points ;) For me the biggest one is the guild system. I can’t imagine having less in other games, so it’s a disappointment when I find less. I love the guild system and how it brings people together. It’s a huge perk even for solo people like me.

  3. Bart Stewart says:

    If that’s a “minor” nit, I hope I never commit a major blunder. ;-)

    I’ve been a programmer and project manager for a couple of decades+ now, but I don’t claim to have insider knowledge of SOE’s coding practices. If you do, I’ll defer to you on this.

    All I’ll say in defense of my observations is that I carefully used the word “cheaper,” not “cheap.” I understand that code reuse isn’t free. (And honestly, if SOE was able to repurpose some code, the fact that from a biz standpoint I’d salute them should not be taken as any kind of criticism of SOE’s programmers.)

    That said, what about the larger point: that there’s at least one other SOE game that, whether through code reuse or reinvention, shares numerous features with EQ2? Is that a Good Thing for gamers, or for SOE? “Both” may be a correct answer; I’m just curious about the degree to which taking good ideas from one game and adding them to another game adds value.

    Is that the best way to improve a game? If not, are there other good reasons why a MMORPG developer would want to cross-pollinate features from one of their games to another?

  4. Grimwell says:

    I work for SOE, in Community Relations but still… I know enough to know that the games aren’t sharing game code. ;) We do have common back-end stuff for chat, accounts, etc. but not for game systems.

    I think your point about reuse is spot on though. Making a new engine for each and every game is a very traditional MMO thing to do; and it offers great benefits to the audience since everything is hand crafted for the game. That benefit stated, Asian MMO companies make a solid engine and routinely farm out multiple games. That gives them a much faster path to the market, and more “shots” for a hit. Reuse has serious benefits and cost cutting controls… and TBH if you like a game do you really care if another game has the same art? Anything that gives designers speed to get to actual design is wise in my book.

    I don’t make important decisions mind you, don’t go quoting me and thinking I’m a sign of the future. ;)

  5. Babs says:

    This is where I’d normally toss my two cents into the ring but since I work at EQII I’ll simply say that Grimwell is a cool cat and yes, we have a very cool game. Thanks, Eric, for validating the work of our devs. This isn’t the EQII that launched; it’s evolved into a rich landscape for many styles of game play.

  6. Michael says:

    I like to add that I like the mix between open world experience and instanced dungeons in EQ2 very much. They also did some instances which scale to your groups level — which is pretty neat imo since I get bored running the same 8 end game instances over and over again.

    Concerning the housing … well .. it may be one of the best system out there … unfortunately that doesnt say much. I really was disapointed since at least at the beginning it was only eye candy. I remember that one of the first things I did, when I got my Inn room was buying a crate to store stuff in … well … it didn’t worked :P …

  7. There are a lot of great things about EQ2. One of the best things about online games is that they can change over time, and EQ2 has definitely changed for the better. I think EQ2 is my favorite out of the current generation of games.

    The problem is twofold. First, people only look at numbers, so when they see that WoW has “one hundred BILLION” subscriptions, they think that EQ2 must really suck because they don’t have just as many. Second, people are hesitant to give a game a second chance, even though it can (and in this case, has) changed over the years.

    I like EQ2 because the gameplay is deeper than what is found in WoW. I had a lot more options for my character, and there were a lot of ways I could customize my character beyond grinding faction for a tabard. I also had a lot more control over my character’s advancement; I really like the fact that my Necromancer could play “oh shit” backup healer (and actually did save the group from a wipe once when the main healer ran out of mana!)

    Unfortunately, a lot of game developers are probably going to overlook a list like this in their own experience. Thanks for listing them out, Eric. :)

  8. Openedge1 says:

    Simply put, everything you mentioned is why I loved EQ2.

    The engine and the visuals drove me away though.

    My massive rig runs the game worse than my lowly box in the basement
    The visuals do not change with better hardware
    The models feel slightly clunky
    The landscapes can look good in one zone, and horrible in another.

    I can only play these wonderful mechanics so long when my game is chugging along and looking like yesterdays PS2 graphics.

    EQ3, I am so ready.

  9. Don says:

    Babs,

    As an avid player Of the EQ series(EQ1 and EQ2) I have to say I absolutely love EQ2. I have played WOW and found it too simplistic and elementary, not going into the deep character development like EQ2. I come from the old school days of EQ1 in the late nineties when EQ1 was KING. I just have a suggestion for SOE. ADVERTISE ADVERTISE ADVERTISE!!! All I see in the media is WOW this WOW that. When you go to the games store WOW is up front, EQ2 might be in the storage room in the back. I Figure since you work at SOE you should pass this on. You guys got beat due to advertising. It is a shame because EQ2 really is the superior game.

  10. David McGraw says:

    I absolutely love EQ2 (And EQ1, for that matter). I really wish I had more time to play in the world, but these days I’ve been so busy. I think the best thing I could hope for these days are to nail a QA position on the EQ3 team after I graduate, ha ha.

    It’s just one of those fantasy worlds that offer exactly what you outlined in your post – it boils down to choice. But it keeps you in a fantasy environment that isn’t absurdly cartoonist in nature, so you can immerse yourself in specific activities much easier.

    It, actually, is the only MMO I could get my fiancee to play.

    If you can produce a game that allows a player to focus heavily in something else other than combat related things, I think you’re on a good path.

    While I enjoy grouping, soloing, and adventuring around to explore unknown lands, I also really like to collect, build up a fancy house, and to hang out in the cities to show off my awesome gear.

    That’s a lot of things for me to do.

    My girlfriend really loves to spend a lot of time customizing her character, building up a fancy house (she’s an interior designer), and she also has a lot of fun collecting items for the rewards. Those alone can take up a lot of time as well.

    All in all, EQ2 has an impeccable design. While it didn’t blow up to WOW standards, it still blew up in the minds of many faithful players that love a semi-realistic fantasy setting, with a dose of complexity.

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  12. Great post, Eric. I run my own games blog – can we do a link exchange?

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