The Tattered Notebook: Peeling back the layers of time, part II

EQ2
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how EverQuest II is like an onion. It's got layers upon layers of content, and some of it has really helped the game mature, like a bottle of fine wine. In the previous column, I talked about how some of those layers have made gameplay more convoluted, but for every arena pet and every lonely looking-for-group tool, there are many examples of clever features that greatly improved the quality of gameplay, and in some cases, should be considered a standard feature in all MMOs going forward.

With the recent buzz around SOEmote, it's a great time to look back at some of the changes to EverQuest II that really left their mark.


Distressed Merchant

Long before Guild Wars 2 wowed the world with its dynamic content, long before the RIFT's rifts, and long before Warhammer Online's public quests, the Shattered Lands in EverQuest II had its own pop up content in the form of Distressed Merchants. You'll spot them only in the original zones, and they're not always up, but every now and then you'll spot a merchant that's surrounded by tents and groups of Gnolls and is calling for you to help rescue him. You have to kill several groups of Gnolls, and sometimes it involves multiple rounds of them, but eventually the Distressed Merchant will be "saved" and turn into a Gratified Merchant, who will buy your items and sell you general goods at a discount as well as some items that can only be found on that merchant. The special items aren't anything game-changing, although if you're a quest fiend, you'll want to snag the books since it's the only way to get them. I'd be amazed if anyone does them anymore, other than by accidentally stumbling on them while traveling, but it's interesting to think about how EQII attempted to put in content that was dynamic eight years ago.

The Tattered Notebook Peeling back the layers of time, part II
Guild raids

I'm sure that practically no one runs guild raids anymore (and probably only longtime veterans even know they exist), and I'm honestly not even sure they're still available now that Freeport has been revamped and Qeynos is due for a facelift this summer. In fact, it took me a while to dig up the above screenshot of a time when I ran them. But guild raids were great because they were fairly short tutorials that showed players some of the different types of raid encounters they would eventually be facing. One guild raid, for example, taught players how to handle a boss with adds, while another gave players a taste of what it's like to deal with an AoE. Eventually, the raids culminated with one that threw out every trick in the book, from stuns and AoE damage to waves of adds and even interactables in the zone. They eventually were scalable and dropped armor patterns and a nice chunk of guild status. The rewards aren't enough to entice players to do them today, but the idea of tutorial raids is an interesting concept, and one that I'd love to see a developer riff off of in a future MMO.

Multiple zone copies

This one is subtle, but it can make a huge difference in the game when there's a short-term bump in the population, like after the launch of an expansion. When certain zones hit a population limit, a new copy of the zone will open up. As the numbers go down, those zones disappear. It helps prevent crashing, lag, and all of the usual problems that come from crowded zones, but it's particularly fun to see how long players can keep those multiple copies open even when the population has smoothed out.

Shinies and discovery experience

Players sometimes bemoan the fact that travel has lost its importance in the game, but shinies and discovery experience give it a renewed purpose. Discovery experience rewards you with experience when you reach certain landmarks on the map, which is a nice little perk for explorers. There are hundreds of collections in EQII now, and it can be a real challenge to find some of them. In addition, there are specially colored shinies that can be seen only with special goggles, such as the ones from completing rare collections or the ones from high-level crafting. And with the new update, there are special collections that you can only get by flying to certain areas in the new zones. If you enjoy wandering and poking into little nooks and cranies, EQII definitely rewards you.

Appearance mounts

At first, I was a little dubious about the notion of choosing my mount's appearance, but in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. I've always felt it's important to be able to create the right look to your character and not have to walk around in mismatched armor, so why shouldn't we also be able to pick an appropriate mount? After all, a pretty cloud mount might have great stats and top speed, but it doesn't necessarily look quite right with an Ogre riding it. (Unless you're that Ogre who likes clouds, long walks on the beach, and time to appreciate the beauty of a flower, which in that case is perfectly fine -- just don't pull my arms off.)

Scalable content

Along with mentoring, this is a feature that I'd love to see in more MMOs because anything that moves us away from the one-direction railroad track is a great thing. Scalable content enables players to do the same content at a variety of levels, and the mobs and rewards will be adjusted accordingly. We first saw this with the Splitpaw Adventure Pack, and it's been used many times since, most recently with the Freeport Revamp and the instanced hamlets. Scaling content means that you won't end up outleveling the zone, and it also means that you can return to it multiple times as you level up. In our age of disposable content, it's refreshing to see players have the chance to play the same zones at different points in their level grind.

I'm already short on space, and I feel like I've only begun to scratch the surface. In fact, I have another dozen or so that are sitting here on my list, so I plan on revisiting this topic at some point in the future. One thing that's evident about EQII is that the team has always been willing to try out new ideas, and while some don't necessarily work out as expected, there are plenty that have helped make this game a real gem.

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.