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The Tattered Notebook: Looking beyond the price points in EQ2X

EQ2 Antonia Bayle in Qeynos
Last week, I began a little experiment in the world of EverQuest II Extended. I wanted to see whether a longtime, loyal veteran could find enjoyment on the other side of the wall that separates my live server from the free-to-play server. Almost every assessment about free-to-play servers is dominated by talk of price points, fairness, and bang for your buck. But it's not a used car; it's a virtual world, and there is a lot more to look at beyond dollars and plat. EverQuest II and EverQuest II Extended actually offer a unique look into the similarities and differences between subscription based servers and free-to-play servers because they're completely separate entities, yet they're basically the same game.

Read on for highlights of my second week in EQ2X!

First off, I want to clarify my stance on free-to-play a bit. Last week, I discussed my resentment of the EQ2X server, but that doesn't mean I resent the notion of free-to-play. In fact, I'm a huge fan of it, and I really enjoy the fact that I can sample lots of great MMOs without having to eat the cost of the initial purchase as well as a subscription fee. At GDC in March of 2010, I listened to Fernando Paiz of Turbine talk about the stunning success that Dungeons and Dragons Online had when it went free-to-play, and that was before the tsunami of MMOs that made the transition. But I also remember hearing him speak at PAX this past spring, saying that if you're going to go free-to-play, don't do it halfway, and he alluded to EQII's model of adding free-to-play. He warned against splitting up your community and added that companies shouldn't fear revolts from going free-to-play because it probably won't happen (and he used DDO and Battlefield Heroes as examples). That was the issue for me: Even though part of me didn't necessarily want to see my favorite IP go free-to-play, I wished that SOE would have just put it on all servers and been done with it. Given the reality of the situation, however, I'm spending my time on the Freeport server with an open mind and an eye for how it compares to the live servers.

You lack the ammo required.

I fully expected that bag space would be my first temptation to hit the marketplace, but it actually wasn't. It was arrows. I had been blissfully pulling orcs and snow lions with my bow when suddenly I ran out of the starter supply. I was far from my quest hub and remembered that arrows were for sale on the marketplace. I mulled it over but decided to just use my short-range combat abilities or body pull if they were on cooldown. I actually did not have an issue with inventory space during my time in game. There were a few "overflowing inventory" moments, but overall I was able to clear up room and not have to destroy valuable stuff. Other than that, I really did not find the need to spend any money on items or on a better subscription plan. My little Berserker is OK with not wearing legendary or fabled gear right now, and with itemization still in flux, I am hesitant to spend a lot on armor anyway.

The only thing I wished I had bought was a mount because there is a ton of running around to do in New Halas. Even with my run speed boost from the /claimed Journeyman's Cloak, it was driving me nuts how slow I was going and how much time I was spending just running back and forth to basically the same spots on the map. The quests themselves aren't bad for starter quests, but after a while of doing my best Gimli impression ("Keep breathing. That's the key. Breathe."), I ended up leaving New Halas for a bit to pop over to Qeynos.

Free-to-guild?

I'm happy to say, I've already received several guild invites on the Freeport server. Granted, they're all done the same way, with a sudden pop-up invite and no tells or messages from the inviting guild. It's interesting that the barrier to guild recruitment (for some guilds) is actually lower on the free-to-play server; you'd think it would be the opposite. With so many players coming and going, and no way to gauge whether someone is in it for the long haul or just there to check things out, I would think that guild leaders would have a tighter screening process for guild invites. I'm sure that there are plenty of guilds that indeed do this, but it's amazing how many do not.

I did take a look at the recruiting window to see what sorts of guilds there were and what they were seeking. Out of the 23 listed, the majority of them described themselves as "casual-friendly," and not one of them required a certain subscription level to join. (In fact, a few specifically added that they welcome everyone regardless of rank). The only limiting factor that I noticed with several of these guilds was age (many sought only players 18 and over). Overall, it looked like there were several great choices for a new player.

I considered joining a guild just to see what it's like, but I'm holding off for now. I don't really need to be in a guild at this low level, and there's part of me that's mulling over trying my hand at setting up a guild myself down the road. As you probably know, I'm a big fan of guilds, so one way or another, I'll be exploring this area a lot more in the future.

EQ2 Willow Wood
That comfy couch feel

Even though I could do without the regularly occurring pop-up box reminding me of my lowly bronze rank and encouraging me to upgrade, there are plenty of things that remind me of my old home on Guk. Level 1-9 chat is full of the same common topics and banter as the live servers, and only the character names are different. You'd assume that it would be dominated by new-player questions and "barrens-chat" topics, but it actually is not. I also noticed quite a few SLR auctions, a good indication of an established core playerbase that's into endgame content. There's definitely a sense of community on the Freeport server, and it's doing quite well even with free-to-play firmly in place. It's still very early on, but I haven't noticed any separation or animosity between the free/new players and the more invested ones.

Overall, there's a lot that is the same when it comes to the community and the "feel" of the server. And it was actually nice to see multiple copies of Frostfang Sea listed rather than getting the empty feel of the starter zones on Guk. But will those healthy populations continue into the higher level areas? That's one area I'll examine more closely next week as I continue my time in EQ2X. And if you have anything that you'd like me to check out, make sure to post below or contact me at karen@massively.com!

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.