Read on for a look at the highlights, which bring a welcome change to Dungeon Maker fans, add a new tool that should make testers happy, and hint at changes to bring about more "low-impact" gameplay.
I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to see the announcement that we'll see player combat in the Dungeon Maker this month. I recall the brief test SOE did last year, and when it disappeared, I assumed it didn't work out and we'd be back to running dungeons in creature form. Back when we previewed the Dungeon Maker, Executive Producer Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson explained that the content in the dungeons needed to scale to a single level but that the mentoring system isn't balanced enough to be useful in the player-made dungeons. The best short-term solution was to have players take on the role of creatures so that they'd be entering on a level playing-field. That made sense, but the limited combat abilities of the creatures don't compare with the ins and outs of playing a character that's yours. People who love dungeon running enjoy it partially because it lets them push the envelope with their particular character classes.
The new level-agnostic system that's being introduced to the Dungeon Maker sounds like it will let us have our cake and eat it too. We'll be able to group with others, regardless of level, and everyone will feel as if he's an equal participant in the dungeon run. It's not on Test yet, but if it's part of a May Update, players should expect to see it there soon, and it will be interesting to see how it actually works and how it compares to the mentoring system already in the game.
Out of all of the highlights in the May update announcement, this one was my favorite. Ironically, the Skyshrine update seems to have launched in much better shape than past updates and expansions, which is great. But in the past, when something has come up after a launch, you'll almost always see a few posts from people who said they pointed it out on test or during beta, and it wasn't fixed. No game update launches without at least a few bugs, but in EQII's case, it's usually time, not feedback, that accounts for pushing systems live without proper tuning. EQII has a great community on the test server, and many longtime players will take time from gaming on their live servers to participate in group and raid testing. But as Longdale described it, when it comes to group and raid content, it takes time to make adjustments to the content, which forces those players to interrupt their sessions and wait until the next build before testing again. The tool the devs are working on will allow developers to make those fixes on the fly so that parties can test and re-test instantly. It's a great idea, and I think it could help with testing not only group and raid content but also the solo and crafting content in overland zones and open dungeons. Heck, just have a developer fire up the tool and follow the Soreshas, Cylienas, and Cloudrats of the Test server for a few hours, and the game would look incredible by launch!
Longdale went on to explain that the team is also looking at the more practical aspect of EQII, particularly with making low-impact solutions for gameplay. What does that mean? In short, it seems to mean making the game more streamlined and intuitive. Last year's map revamp is a great example because it added quest locations and markers to help players find updates faster. On the way for May is a new targetting system that should tell players whether a particular mob is used for a quest update. It's a handy feature, and while it might seem small, it will help players quest without having to constantly tab in and out of game to look up waypoints and quest information.
When's it going live?
While the title of the letter is "Here are the May Update plans for EverQuest II," it's unclear when exactly we'll see things go live. In fact, Longdale hedged a bit by saying that the team hopes to launch the changes in May but won't do so until the patch is ready. It's good that SOE isn't rushing things; these changes need to be done right in order to help strengthen the roots of the game for further new content and features. But at the same time, we know that the big Qeynos revamp is coming up, and the longer this update gets pushed back, the longer we have to wait for the bigger updates like Qeynos. In any event, it looks like the current trend is moving toward three or four major game updates each year, with smaller monthly updates in between. That probably works better with the free-to-play model, since each update announcement is an opportunity to market and attract new players to check things out. And this new May update looks like it has some meat and potatoes changes that should have a ripple effect on other areas of gameplay.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.