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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.