What's the big deal? It looks to be a UI update, a few new quests, and the usual tweaks, fixes, and improvements, right? Well yes and no, depending on whom you talk to. Many people on the boards are convinced the sky is falling; most people in-game are convinced the former are taking things a little too seriously and everything is just hunky-dory; and a few (such as your humble author) think the reality is somewhere in the middle.
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EQ2Flames, and really anywhere people talk about EverQuest II. Those upset with the update eventually reach the conclusion (after much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and walls o' text) that this was all because of SOE's desire to get the game ready for the recently launched EQ2X and maintain similar code bases on the separate clients.
When you have an update that focuses heavily on the early game experience and a cleaned-up UI, followed immediately by the debut of a new service geared toward brand-new players, spotting a correlation between the two doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist. It also helps that SOE was pretty transparent about the fact that GU57 was focusing on revamping the new player experience.
As much as my initial gut reaction was to join the chorus of folks bashing SOE for focusing on a bunch of seemingly unnecessary changes, the reality is that a streamlined early game can only help EQII in the future, regardless of whether you're talking about the freeloading servers or the traditional live client. GU57 makes total sense from a business perspective, as everyone knows that the populations on six-year old titles are top-heavy with veterans and the entire reason for EQ2X's existence is to bring new blood to Norrath. Hence, the streamlined new UI, lots of attention paid to lower level quests and skill adjustments, etc.
About that UI, it says here that it looks pretty OK, yes even the gargantuan new XP bar. Combining the persona, character, and inventory windows was long overdue, and despite the inescapable Station Cash button that now glowers like the Eye of Sauron in the lower right corner of your gaming sessions, the visual tweaks are quite welcome. Besides, anyone who has played EQII for more than a day knows to head over to EQ2Interface for a plethora of customization options, many of which (including the ever-popular ProfitUI) have already been updated to work with GU57.
Now, lest anyone think the Tattered Notebook is merely a mouthpiece for Sony Online Entertainment, it's worth pointing out that GU57 does come with the requisite annoyances. Most damning are the new spell effects, and wow do they well and truly suck. Allow me to take a brief moment to properly express my displeasure:
W. T. F.
I understand that change is the nature of the beast when it comes to MMORPGs, but change for the worse? Really? Was development time actually allocated in service of making EQII's heretofore amazing spells look marginally more advanced than alpha sprites from an Icewind Dale clone? Donning my tinfoil hat for a moment, I realize that the only reason my wizard now looks like he's perpetually misfiring and casting blobs of transparent Photoshop effects is because nice-looking spells generate too much of a performance hit. With the influx of the EQ2X crowd, the powers-that-be appear to have determined that nerfing the game's graphical prowess will help with the inevitable server loads on the F2P shards. It's already common knowledge that many players turn down (or turn off) particle effects during raids because of the performance hits, so it's not an entirely unreasonable leap to make.
At the end of the day though, many of EQII's spell effects are now spell defects, and my badarse wizard casts are now simply bad, as you can see in the Ro's Blade before-and-after demonstration shots to the right. I'm left wondering what further visual nerfs are forthcoming since the patch notes hint that this is only the beginning of a larger spell revamp. A few players have speculated that the effects were intentionally tiered to coincide with spell progression, which would encourage freebie players to upgrade their memberships in order to access the flashier animations. I can't comment on that directly since my characters are currently sub-50s with few master-level spells, but regardless, the end result is a downgrade of many visual garnishes on the live servers, which is more than a passing shame.
All that said, the sky is not falling (yet), and EQII remains as deep and engrossing as any MMORPG on the current market. While I'm firmly in the camp that wants the game designed and balanced around the traditional P2P servers, I'm not blind to the realities of business and the need for SOE to stay relevant as the Turbines and Nexons of the online gaming world look to expand their reach. GU57 was a reaction to the ongoing F2P market-share grab, and was clearly aimed at EQ2X and prospective new players. That's OK, provided GU58 (or 59, or even 60) takes a more proactive look at adding content and tweaking gameplay on the sub servers.
Oh and the spell effects, give them back. Please. Sad ratonga is sad.
Jef Reahard may be an eternal EverQuest II newb, but he writes a weekly column about the game anyway, through the eyes of a Ratonga Wizard (or any one of 3,720 other alts). If it has to do with the huge and ever-expanding world of EQII, it's been jotted down in The Tattered Notebook. Send Ratonga fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.