Last week, we looked at the amazing job that EverQuest II does with providing ways to make your character look unique. EQII is one of the best when it comes to making your character look special, cool, and fitting of who you are. But there's another side of this coin, and as one forum poster has rightfully pointed out, the best-looking items aren't always the best items in the game. As Rayven2 noted recently on the official forums:
A good example is the Elemental War Sword. Sure it drops from an easy-mode mob, but it's a 4x raid and takes time and effort to beat (at least the first time you do it). The sword should look somewhat cool, but the graphic is just the same reused sword graphic painted gold. The chillborne sword is the one that has the particle effects for 200SC. So you bust your hump beating a mob that took 24 people to take down only to get a reward that looks worse than an appearance weapon anyone can acquire for little or no effort. None of the scout weapons look anywhere as cool as the SC daggers out there.
Senior Producer Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson replied, saying, "It's a fair point, although if we're not paying attention to that now, it's by oversight, not by intent. Everyone wants something cool looking (not just cool stats) when they overcome big challenges. That's natural."

In this week's Tattered Notebook, we'll take a closer look at "looking cool" and how the rise of cash shops has changed the way we view each other.

Whether you play EverQuest II or not, you've probably had some moment in your MMO career when you had your eye on "that one certain item." Maybe it was a really amazing sword, maybe it was a slick breastplate, or maybe it was a set of shoulder pads that rose up above your pointy elven ears. You knew it was going to take an army to help you get it, but it was worth it for the chance to walk past your peers with something that looked cool, and more importantly, was cool.

EQII has always seemed to have that in each expansion -- until recently. Back with the original content, the prismatic weapons that resulted from the overriding questline looked so cool that players still use them in their appearance slot. Armor sets had distinct looks to them. Yes, players complained that there needed to be more variety in colors and textures (especially those poor Mages!), but when you looked at a player, at least you could instantly tell not only that he was decked out in nice raid gear but also which class he played.

The addition of the appearance tab changed that, but overall it was an improvement. Sure, it was harder to read someone by her gear, but the upside is that people had the ability to better match pieces of gear or keep a certain look that they had grown fond of. As a Monk, I celebrated the ability to rid myself of the dingy, black-studded leather armor and return to the much more Monkly gi that I wore at level 30. Things began to change, though, when the ground rules on gear changed, and the Kingdom of Sky class hats became a pivotal moment when we're examining the importance of looks.

I remember running up and down that horrid chain dozens of times to help guildmates with their quest for a unique-looking class hat. It was worth it, though, to help a Paladin get his wings or a Monk get his wok. But later on, the Legends of Norrath trading card game threw the rules out the window with its box of classless hats. Those who had that card could select any one type of hat, each one closely resembling one of the KoS class hats. So that unique Assassin mask or Ranger hood was no longer so unique to a particular class. But more importantly, it showed that you could skip past content and get a unique-looking item with some cash and some luck. By the time the card came out, the KoS questline was made trivial by level cap raises, but it still required time and work to complete. It was one of the first times that the need for cash-shop revenue had collided with in-game rewards.

With the rise of the EQII Marketplace, players saw a continued feeling-out process about where the line should be drawn when it comes to the look of an item versus its importance in game. Despite some grumblings on the forums here and there, there hasn't been much objection to the constant addition of new appearance clothing, weapons and mounts. You can't get a dropped ring with an appearance in the game, but you can through the Marketplace. During the Sentinel's Fate era, cloaks that dropped in-game, even in raid zones, had the textureless, two-tone look that hearkened back to when cloaks were first put in game. Instead, the more gorgeous cloaks were added to the Marketplace -- for you to purchase.

The crux of the matter is that Marketplace items aren't nearly as powerful as hard-earned items from group and raid instances, yet they look so much better. It's fine for a brand-new player to make a stop to the Marketplace and snag some nice-looking appearance armor, but not when a hardcore raider looks like a commoner by comparison. The ideal would be that the best items in the game look as good, if not better, than Marketplace items. More importantly, the nice in-game drops should have a different look from Marketplace items. Instead, the trend seems to involve players working through the challenging content to earn nice stats but having to shell out cash to look powerful or unique. Of course, accomplishing the ideal would take an enormous amount of time and resources from the team -- time it just might not have. In the end, I'll grudgingly purchase a cloak or two from the Marketplace, especially that stained-glass cloak. But I'll never stop knocking Monk wok hats from Barbarian Shadowknights or Gnome Wizards. That's going too far!

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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