The Tattered Notebook: The dual nature of double experience


Once upon a time I used to write about a grindy game. That game was called Aion. Eventually I dumped... er, gracefully handed off coverage of said game to the lovely and talented MJ. It wasn't that it was a bad game; I actually played it for over six months and enjoyed most of my time there, so much so that I still log in every few weeks. The grind did me in though, and it was only on those occasions when the double XP fairy left her intoxicating present under my pillow that I was ever really happy in the world of Atreia.

Fast forward a few months to EverQuest II, and the first double XP weekend on my watch has just concluded, leaving me bleary-eyed and wasted due to chasing those dings all Labor Day weekend long.

Once upon a time I wrote a column praising the virtues of double XP in that other game, but now I'm here to tell you that in the world of Norrath, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Tierdal on horseback
First off, let's get the obvious out of the way. EverQuest II isn't as arduous as it used to be when it comes to leveling. This being my second go-round with the venerable sequel, I'm constantly comparing it with the six months I spent nudging a ranger into his 50s way back in 2005 and 2006. At the time, I thought it was one of the most godawful grinds I'd ever encountered (this was obviously pre-Lineage II and pre-Aion), and the slow-as-molasses-in-the-dead-of-winter 50 to 55 gauntlet was what ultimately led to my seeking greener pastures. Back then, I would've strongly considered breaking a few laws for even five minutes of double experience.

Over the intervening half-decade, SOE has upped the game's soloability considerably, and the pre-50 levels now fly by so fast that you barely have time to appreciate the zones you're zooming through before it's on to the next quest line in a far-off land. As an example, I've got my main character at 40, an alt at 35, and two other alts in their mid- to high-20s, all in just over two months of play time. That's not exclusive play time either, as I'm currently partaking of at least two other MMORPGs concurrently with EQII, in addition to the requisite day job outside of Massively. I'd probably have at least one maxed character by now if I could put 40 hours per week into the game.

Tier'dal coupleAll this makes me wonder whether we need double XP in a game like EverQuest II. Maybe some of you high-level types will chime in here and tell me that yes, we do need it, as the endgame grind is horrific, but so far I find it to be overkill. Yeah, you can turn off adventuring XP and focus on AAs, or spend the weekend blowing through some crafting levels I guess, but it still feels like it's going far too fast for my taste. Norrath has so much to see and do that it's quite easy to level past really fun content even without double XP. This is less of a problem than in other games due to the nifty Chronomagic system, but realistically, when I get to 90 I'm going to be focused on getting into a decent raiding guild and gearing up; I doubt I'll have time to warp backwards a few levels just to experience all the cool zones I skipped.

Similarly, many people will probably say "roll an alt," which is a good idea (and one I've done already), but it still divides your attention and makes it more challenging to make a serious run at endgame content. Like most things, it all boils down to perspective. To an incurable game-hopper and completist, double XP (at least in a game with a smooth leveling curve like EQII) seems counter-intuitive to my personal enjoyment. A large part of Norrath's appeal is the vast landmasses, hidden dungeons, and the huge array of quests to conquer and items to collect. Missing even a little bit of that agitates my gaming obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I'm hesitant to complain too harshly though, as I also see the argument from the opposite side of the fence while playing Age of Conan, a game that is currently dwarfed in PvE content by EQII. In Funcom's version of Hyboria, there's exactly one way to get to level 20 (via Tortage), and I will positively gouge my eyes out with a dull, rusty, gangrenous spoon if I have to take one more character through those quest lines. What I wouldn't give for permanent Tortage bonus XP, or better yet a we-know-you've-played-this-content-a-hundred-times-already-so-here's-a-complimentary-skip button.

Then there's the other side of the accelerated experience coin. You know what I'm talking about: that powerful urge to shirk your responsibilities for however long the double XP crack-pipe persists. As much as I don't want to blow by fun content, the achiever in me salivates at the prospect of four straight days of ding, ding, ding. Yes, unfortunately double XP exacerbates the hurry-up-and-have-fun tendencies that are so pervasive in current-gen MMORPGs. Four days of it over a holiday weekend ensures that a) I'll be playing far more than is healthy, and b) I'll be thinking about playing (and wishing I were playing) even while AFK. Even though intellectually I know that I'm not really missing anything by not hooking up to an IV and soaking up every single bit of it, psychologically it's mildly distressing to think of not being able to achieve the maximum number of dings in the allotted period.

I know -- pretty silly isn't it?

What do you guys think about double XP? I'm particularly keen on hearing the opinions of folks in their 70s and up. Maybe I'll feel differently when I get there, but for now it seems like it's too much of a good thing.

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 jef@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.