Whether you are eagerly awaiting your chance to jump (back) into Norrath and see what things are like in the newest story arcs or you're eyeing the sudden influx of high level newbs with trepidation, there's no denying that EQ II is going through a fundamental shift today. This patch has the ability to change the landscape of play in the game more so than anything since the free-to-play conversion. When you couple these new Heroic Characters with the lifting of item restrictions, there are literally no more gates barring people from joining and experiencing most of what the game has to offer.
In anticipation of this big change, I had the opportunity to sit down with Franchise Director Dave Georgeson and Producer Holly Longdale to talk Heroic Character shop, and they shed more light on this upcoming experience. They also revealed a little something extra coming for the raiders in Norrath.
Why the changes now? The thought of giving away high-level characters makes some folks feel that the devs are dismissing all the rest of the content. But the devs feel that that's not really the case. Georgeson illustrated how the Heroic Characters coupled with all the other changes (the AA templates, the tutorial revamp, and abolishing item unlockers) are aimed at increasing the enjoyment of the game by using his own experiences as an example. He noted that even after playing one of his own high-level toons for a while, moving to another one leaves him at a temporary loss as to how to play. So now imagine how a returning player feels after being gone for a significant amount of time!
As Georgeson put it, the devs are offering an easy path to get back into the game. These changes help to avoid slapping returning users with a massive culture shock that might make them throw their hands up in defeat and leave again. Simply put, the game is made for having fun, not for driving people away. And he continued by mirroring my own hopes that delving into the game will hook people into staying and exploring even more. He said:
"I genuinely think that will be the case... I think that people will come in and try this level 85 character and get hooked back into the game, find out that it's a lot of fun, and then start exploring the rest of the world."Georgeson then reminded us that players can also revisit the older, nostalgic areas with special content just for the higher levels. New level 85s will also get to experience the older dungeons and such without new characters or mentoring down. "The more that we up-level that older nostalgic content, the more they can explore the rest of the world even at those higher levels."
And let's not forget, as Georgeson put it so succinctly, "If there are more people around, there are more people around, period." A healthy population is good for everyone!
Pick me, pick me!
The hardest part, in my opinion, is going to be choosing which class to make a Heroic Character. Remember, there are over 20 different ones to choose from! And I am not the only one who is having trouble deciding: During the interview Georgeson was also switching between classes when trying to decide which to make a heroic character, first thinking his Inquisitor, then changing to Troubador. The fact is, if you haven't played a class really before (and new players certainly fit this mold), you have no real idea if you will even like the class. What if you make the wrong choice and waste your free slot on something you hate? The devs actually planned for just that.
Players have the opportunity to test drive a Heroic Character for one full level in order to see if that is the class they want to continue playing. And this free test run does not end with the free promotion; it will be available permanently. One word of advice though: This free trial is only available for newly created Heroic Characters, so if you are planning to bump up one of your existing toons, make sure it is the one you want; there is no going back.
A guiding light
If you can get past the question of which class to play and finally log in, the next step is actually playing. Remember how in my recent guide I said there was no tutorial, unless SOE had something up its sleeve? Well, apparently it did! As it turns out, the entire tutorial system is getting a revamp, with a special emphasis on the Heroic Character experience first. For those new Heroic Characters just logging in, a new welcome window will pop up offering the basics. As for the rest of the system, Longdale said, "What we have done basically is integrate the tutorial files into our help window." She continued by explaining that it's going to be the same information, just delivered a lot better -- the tutorial hints will be more accessible.
Remember that combat window that takes over the screen when you target something? "All that's going away," Longdale informed us. What replaces it is a flashing green icon that will be placed over the time-of-day icon on the minimap. With this change, "everyone is going to be able to dig a lot deeper into all the information we have in there."
Besides the revamped tutorial, the devs have other measures in place to help players get the hang of their new and powerful characters. In her latest producer's letter, Longdale explained that Heroic Characters would begin with one hotbar filled with core abilities and then new hotbars would slowly be added. That, however, is not quite how it will happen.
Longdale disclosed that the "slowly-add-them-in approach didn't work that well," so instead, players will get one hotbar with the class' beneficial spells (buffs, etc) as well as the mount and then another hotbar with the core combat abilities. Then at level 85.5, players get the option of unlocking an entirely pre-built UI (arranged specifically for that class). Of course, at any point before then players can still opt to build their own hotbars simply by moving a skill on the premade one. Georgeson added, "For new players and for returning players we created a mechanism by which they can be eased into the information. But for people who already know it, you don't have to pay any attention to it at all."
If my circle of raiding friends is any indication, there's at least one group of players who aren't too happy with Heroic Characters. And there is some legitimate concern about how well these new characters will be able to play their classes. That concern is not lost on the devs; if you notice, Heroic Characters start at level 85 instead of max. As Longdale noted, 85-95 is not a trivial level range to navigate. And both she and Georgeson admit that from one to 85 is really more of a solo experience these days, with most grouping and social interaction happening at the highest levels. With the tutorial hints, the UI templates, and 10 levels to work through, the devs feel like most players will be able to get the hang of their classes.
While the lifted item restrictions and Heroic Characters cater to the more casual crowd, raiders are not being left out of this update. Longdale revealed that raiders are getting some very specific love with this update in the form of upgraded gear to help prepare for the Tears of Veeshan expansion.
This month-long itemization event includes Djinn Master's loot upgrades where players can either obtain the newly itemized gear or convert their existing pieces using a vendor within the zone. There's also new gear, as two new ethereal jewelry items have been added to both the solo and the heroic versions of Wurmbone's Crag, Wurmbone's End, and Chelsith: The Ancient Vault.
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!