It's not a secret that I play other games, and one of my guilty pleasures has been EverQuest 2. It's a game that I've played off and on for many, many years -- never quite reaching the level cap, but never quite giving it up for good either. It's one of those things that I'll log in and enjoy for a few weeks, then grow tired of it and go back to a better MMO (World of Warcraft).
When I logged on two weeks ago for the first time in about six months, I discovered what Sony is calling "Heroic Characters." They're not a hero class like WoW (although they feel like them, as I'll explain later). Heroic Characters are characters that you can buy via microtransations that enter the game at level 85 with a full compliment of gear and EQ2's version of talent points.
I looked at it, thought about it for five minutes, and then spent 2,500 of Sony's store points I had saved up throughout the years. For about $25 worth of digital points, I grabbed a level 85 Wizard and logged on.
Were it not for work and BlizzCon, I'd never have logged off.
For me the instant level 85 character had a few major selling points.
First, while I love EQ2's story, there are simply areas that I haven't explored before. The end game has always been elusive to me, and that's generally the most fun in any MMO. The instant 85 gave me the resources I needed to reach it -- namely saving an insane amount of time with the leveling grind.
Second, and less important than the time I saved, was the gear that the heroic character provided. Picture how gear dependent a WoW tank is -- if you don't have the gear you're not doing anything. But a poorly geared hunter in WoW is going to be able to get by, at least during the leveling and solo process. EQ2's gear dependency is even more extreme I've found -- the game's playability is heavily dependent on gear.
And that gear isn't perfect either. The stats are not weighted correctly, itemization seems to be an unheard of word (although not in EQ2's upcoming expansion, according to their press material), and there are glaring gearing holes early on. In WoW the classic joke is about Warriors having to put on Spirit gear -- and in EQ2 that's not far off the mark, at least in the early levels. Given how important gear tends to be, that significantly hampers the game's enjoyability.
However with EQ2's heroic characters, you got a set of very nice looking gear that was correctly itemized (more or less) to your character's class, and the gear has great stats on it. The gear is so good that it leads to the feeling that your character was truly heroic, much like the Death Knights in WoW are when they start out. Due to the gear in EQ2's heroic character, you're able to stomp through enemies left and right, making them suffer for all their travesties (and you also befriend otters and pandas, so there's that).
And finally, the heroic character gave me the chance to be at a place where I can actually see other people. While running into others in WoW is a common thing (especially since the virtual realms started happening), on EQ2 it's quite rare unless you're near the level cap. For me the social aspect, or at least the perception of a social aspect, is an important thing. The heroic character provided that perception. However, as I'll get to next, all that glitters is not gold.
The biggest downside to the heroic characters, the instant level 85, is the amazing amount of anger it has generated in the already diminishing player base of EQ2. There are people associated with the game that will go out of their way to make you feel like a loser for buying a character. And apparently I'm one of those fat low-life scums, who sits at home in his mother's basement*, has no girlfriend, no job, and does nothing but watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS tapes.
In reality I'm a married man who watches Star Trek on Netflix, only visit my parents, live with my beautiful wife, have lost 85 lbs. in the past year, and am relatively successful and happy (at least, in my mind I am). But this doesn't apply to the gaming world -- and I get that. The gaming world sees things in extremes, in black and white, and rarely, if ever, accepts major change without throwing a hissy fit.
And that's the biggest downside to the instant level 85 characters EQ2 is offering -- the social stigma that's attached to them. Now with all that said, I do want to make one more point: not everyone is upset about this. I've ran into a lot of people who don't care at all, or just welcome more players into the game that they love.
World of Warcraft?
Eventually WoW is going to need to bring instant leveling to the game. They'll need to offer a level 85 or 90 character as a microtransaction. The leveling process is getting too long of a grind for new people, and if they want to keep the game relevant, they're going to have to provide a way for players to bypass things that are old and outdated.
The real value of an MMORPG has always been at the end of the game, and with WoW and EQ2 that rings more true than any other game in the genre. The journey doesn't start until you have no more levels to ding; at that point you can hunker down and start making a reputation for your character and exploring some of the most challenging content gaming has to offer.
No amount of money thrown at a character is ever going to allow that exploration to happen, you have to earn it with skill and practice. Skipping older content and getting to newer and better designed content are no-brainers for video games as old as WoW and EQ2 are.
I welcome the day when friends can purchase a level 85 shaman and come kill some internet dragons with me.