Couple of weeks ago, EverQuest 2’s latest expansion was released, “Rise of Kunark”. After the original EQ2 release I kind of lost interest for a while, got drawn back, found the second and third expansions less than compelling and almost gave up. Then they released “Echoes of Faydwer” and I got sucked back in, levelled up a few characters before stumbling upon the Fury class. I still pine for something like the old Bard class in EQ1, but I’ve found the Fury to be a close second and Shoo made it all the way to 70.
And then work got busy, my play time dwindled, and when I had time, even though I missed my guild and playing my toon, I didn’t relish logging in. I was somewhat ambivalent about the prospect of the upcoming expansion but… None the less, I bought the digital download the day it released. I expected to spend 15 minutes going “Oh, hunh” and logging out again.
I was pleasantly surprised, but is it going to last?
Lets cut to the chase, what does Ruins of Kunark offer?
– Lots and lots and lots of new content;
– New zones that feel quite large;
– A new race and starting zone for them;
– A greatly improved AA screen (WoW speke: talents tree);
– 10 more levels, 20 more guild levels, and 40 more AA levels;
– Epic Weapons and Quest Lines (not in game yet, I believe)
There are lots of little itsy features, like a scrollable, zoomable map and such, too many to list but I believe most of them don’t require you to buy the expansion. Most of my checklist items in past EQ2 posts are covered: spam tells get blocked, coin weight is gone (since LoF), ctrl-clicking on an item link brings up a dressing room showing you how it’d look and they added an extra set of inventory slots that only affects how your character appears – great for the Totos of this world who hate having to choose between stats and looks :)
It took me a whee while to work out how to get to Kunark; it was kind of obvious and I totally overlooked the fact that Neriak is now thebest home city in the game – not only does it have a broker and banker within spitting distance of each other in the middle of the tradeksill area, an arms length from a mender, mailbox and a one-stop npc for all the faction relics, it also has portals to Steppes and Nektulous docks that are free
But, at last, Kunark. There was no sudden and startling transition in the quality of eye candy like arriving in Firiona Vie from Freeport in EverQuest 1. You land on Kylong Plains which is sort Firiona Vie merged with Dreadlands. “Autumn Valley” is now the snowed in, mountain top “Teren’s Grasp”. Karnors castle is a short walk from the initial landing area.
And at the landing area you are quickly fitted out with plenty of quests and one of the first gives you access to the Kunark transportation system, which is a sort of lizard version of the Griffon called the Sokokar. This is by far the best transport system so far using numerous little “Sokokar posts” dotted around the land scape. Once you have completed the inaugural quest, you simply have to visit a post once and double click it to add it to your destinations list. There are set routes between posts so that you can’t just pick any destination you like, but its much easier to get around in a zone now.
There’s something fresh and sparkly about Kunark, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you arrive and you think “Ok. I’m off to adventure”. The quests are readable, the tasks aren’t arduous (nobody has asked me to kill 50 of anything, or to go back and kill another 40 please). There’s good pacing of the quests. The quest items and drops are a significant step up from previous zones, so you are quickly very pleased with the fruits of your labor.
Kylong Plains is a great soloing zone. In just a few short days I had completed all 75 quests I had found in the zone and was ready to move on. There are several connecting zones, but Fens of Nathsar – a blend of Lake of Ill Omen, ruins of Cabilis, mines of Nurga, Swamp of No Hope and Field of Bone – some of the best scenery I’ve seen so far and full of flashbacks to EverQuest1 – a very nice zone.
And here, unfortunately, things began to taper once more.
In the 3 months that I’ve not been playing intently, EQ2 seems to have died a little. The game’s raid encounters have ground high-end players down with the non-stop repeats to get loot for guild members. 24 people spending 6-8 hours of hard work to get a handful of items – not each, but as a group, with no guarantee they will be the items that people wanted or of use to the people attending the raid.
There also just don’t seem to be enough trivial or mini-raids for people to practice their raiding skills on. I hope the epic quest lines will address this to some degree, but it seems that for the past 3 months guilds have been grinding away at the same arduous raid experiences trying to level up everyone in the guild while people who are already kitted out have been slowly dropping out leaving the people who stay with the burden of gearing up the slower levellers.
I’ve travelled a few zones in Kunark now, and all of the zones have been good, some areas have been excellent (whoever did the Field of Bone region and Kurn’s tower and the beaches to the north needs a raise; take it from the salary of whomever was responsible for the Bellywhumper faction/area – was he/she sick for a few months or something?)
But as you progress through Kylong Plains the loot/rewards become increasingly less impressive. The layout, the quests, all feel like they were originally developed as a newbie zone and then the call was made to make it a level 70 zone and items rushedly had their stats raised.
I was also shockedat how damn fast I levelled – I truly wish I could have turned off my vitality, because by the time I began moving into Fens of Nathsar I was level 72 and instead of being 3-5 levels higher, Fens is a Level 71 zone, so it was a low-con zone from the outset, and the items and rewards have so far all been lacking in a way that raises my suspicion that Kylong is a re-levelled newbie zone.
There’s another factor to that suspicion.
There are various camps of NPCs around Kylong Plains, and you have to do your questing bit to get faction with them all since you start out neutral. Fair enough, you think, earn my way onto the continent. But when you’re done in KP, there’s no lines of quests leading you into the next zone or passing the buck to the next group of NPCs. Basically its left to you to decide “Ok, I’m done here, I guess I have to go to Fens of Nathsar”. Fair enough, it is a level 70 zone, but…
You arrive in Fens and it turns out that all that Kylong questing was for naught. Fens has a different faction. So off you go. A short while into your adventuring you discover other camps and the zone’s trading outpost (a micro-city). And you discover that actually, there are multiple factions going on here. While discovery is fun, discovering that you screwed the pooch is not. It’s unlike SOE not to have some kind of hand-over quest.
Fens is a nice zone, large, packed with memorable landmarks. Soloing is terrific and the quests are pleasant. But the rewards are all vendor trash and since none of the vendor NPCs will talk to you, there’s no obvious way to figure out which factions you might want to be interested in; you’ve gotta get faction to find out what getting faction will do for you.
Then I made the mistake of wandering into Kunzar’s Jungle, the next zone along. Once more the NPCs are divided thru factions. I was still reading quests but I’m looking at the rewards and thinking “this isn’t even as good as what I got in Kylong, I don’t care about faction any more and I don’t care about the quest rewards, why should I collect tiger pelts for you?”
This disconnection between the zones is a big factor in my hunch that the zones were re-levelled – the connection storylines would have been facing the wrong way, and I’m fairly sure the EQ2 team wouldn’t have designed such a demoralizing and disconnected progression of quest lines and content.
Ruins of Kunark is incredibly soloable and the risk/reward factor is on the generous side so its quite fun.
Except, its really hard to get a group. Everyone’s having too much fun soloing, and the stuff that drops and the rewards from quests aren’t “great”. The crap that drops in Fens you’re going to wind up sacrificing to your deity or selling to a vendor because everyone got better in Kylong and nobody is gonna buy it off the broker, so hooking up in a group and having to share – what’s the incentive? Frankly – boredom and loneliness. In an MMO.
Now – admittedly, these are the outdoor zones I’m playing in, and its great to see SOE stepping up the available soloing content – but by contrast you zone out of Kylong Plains with its blue-con drolvargs wandering around into Karnor’s Castle where two yellow con ^^^ mobs are standing across the drawbridge ready to pounce on you if you take a step forward and you think “Oh, I didn’t bring a raid, guess I better zone back out”.
Until Wednesday night I’d only had two real, non-social groups in Kunark: the Drachnid caves in Kylong and the Mines of Nurga in Fens. Both were short but sweet. Then on Wednesday had a short-lived group that went into Chardok: there is actually some yard-trash in Chardok to give you something to do if you are LFG, unlike Karnors, after you get past that its smack into some very tough ^^^s. Wish we’d had more time, it was an impressive looking zone.
How do you find the middle ground between these two extremes of gameplay? I need a group to go into Karnors or Chardok or the other nice zones, but the last thing I want is a group while I am cruising around Kylong/Fens/Kunzar, and I’ve already reached the point where Jarsath ought to be fairly easy solo-going.
Where are the little encounters? Where are the quest lines that hint at places to explore or challenges to be taken on? (Actually, one or two have appeared) Where is the incentive not to solo? Is “it’ll be pretty” the incentive for me to bust my balls getting a group together to go hunt in somewhere challenging?
Was the outside space supposed to be time-filler for when you had a group? The attempt to provide a little more soloing capability seems to have backfired and players are grinding away at it. The expansion pretty much rolled over the EQ2 community with no insight into what its intent or purpose or design was, if there are some grandiose notions of changing the way people play, we didn’t hear about them.
Was there some schema to how players would choose their quest faction and do one or two sets of quests in a zone rather than trying to consume all of the content before moving on only to find that they have “missed out” on the next zone by out-levelling and out-iteming it?
Right now I think I give Kunark a 2/5. It has that tacked-on, thought-experiment air of the NGE, a sort of “what if” by the devs that they got so absolutely caught up in that they lost track of where it would sit with the players, that ought to be a beta test to see how players react to it rather than a live publish.
Of course, given my suspicions, maybe it was ;)