One thing I have always disliked about EverQuest II is the forum community. EQ2 has problems just like every other game (in many cases the same problems as other similar games,) yet it always seems like doomsday is just around the corner, to hear the forum chatter. The voices of reason and the people with some actual perspective are there but often drowned in a sea of negativity. This really isn’t much different from most other MMO forums, but I’ve spent more time on various SOE fora than I have in the others, excepting maybe LotRO’s, which are very upbeat in comparison.
At the moment, the ire du jour is “Age of Discovery will ruin everything” and “f2p will ruin everything.” On the second… well, it’s already been around for a year and it hasn’t ruined everything. In fact, it hasn’t in any other (western) game that’s adopted a generally similar model, either. The EQ2X model, soon to be adopted by the remainder of the servers with some minor tweaking, has its quirks and foibles, but it’s also not the disaster that the persistently negative say it is, as I have clearly shown before, either in terms of how playable the game is under that model or in how it affects the overall health of either the game as a whole or each service in particular.
That said, it’s indisputable that EQ2’s population is stagnant. And by stagnant we mean “slowly declining.” The introduction of EQ2X allowed the game to garner a substantial number of new players under a model that they have found pretty friendly at all but the highest level of play – at which time it became costly due to requiring tokens for gear and spell equips and broker sales, or suffered from a bizarrely gimped subscription option. The divided model, wherein EQ2X had its own server, also kept lapsed players from returning to their old characters – if you wanted to play for free but not subscribe, you had to subscribe, copy a character over from live at $30 a pop, then cancel the sub… which is such an asinine barrier to put in the way of potential returning players that I think it safe to assume that Extended brought very few players back.
Perhaps the biggest issue with EQ2X, though, is the separation of the communities on the two services. This left Extended players in a kind of ghetto, allowing Live players to grouse about f2p ruining everything without providing the facts of the matter the opportunity to prove them wrong. Extended has a somewhat different social and progression dynamics than Live but the two communities aren’t all that different in overall tenor, and while the playstyles of the two communities differ, it’s not by that much. Had there been one community the doomsayers would have felt (or would have been demonstrated to be) stupid in short order. Splitting the communities allowed the complainers to keep their fingers in their ears.
The EQ2X model thus has these three main issues: needed tokens for gear and spells and the like, a subscription option that lacked what you’d get if you subscribed to the Live service, and segregation of the Extended service onto its own server. The new package, scheduled to go up some time today, fixes two of these issues and on top of that makes it easy for lapsed players to come back and maybe give SOE some money without necessarily resubscribing. It probably will not result in as big an influx of players as the initial Extended launch did, but it also lets new players choose play with friends even if they’re on a formerly-Live server.
EverQuest II will be a stronger game for it. It is already one of the stronger games on the market. It’s graphics are dated and the engine has scaled poorly to advancing technology, but it still looks reasonably decent and its themepark gameplay is frankly not in second place to anybody else’s.
As to Age of Discovery, it’s a different kind of expansion than EQ2 players are accustomed to. It has features but no content – content is supposed to arrive without charge from here on out. It also, unlike most if not all previous EQ2 expansions, does not include all the previous expansions. This is where it gets kind of tricky.
All EQ2 content up to but not including Destiny of Velious is going free to all players anyway. So the fact that AoD does not include it doesn’t mean all that much anyway; needing codes for content up to this point is a thing of the past. Most new content moving forward for the next year or more (the revamped Freeport/Commonlands stuff being one exception,) will be part of the Destiny of Velious content – which means that EQ2 players who want access to that content will need to buy DoV. (Protip: it’ll probably be on sale on Steam at some point in the next month; I got mine over the summer for like $10. EDIT: Steam appears not to offer EQ2 of any kind as if today. Still, keep your eyes open.)
Now, some people are saying that the new features in AoD aren’t worth the money given that there’s no new content. I can see that point, although I’m not sure I agree with it; the Beast Lord is a meaty new class, Mercs are a substantial gameplay addition, Dungeon creator is… well, we’ll see, but there’s an AA cap increase and some other stuff as well. That this isn’t enough to justify $40 is debatable, but it’s not a debate I’m interested in having; everybody gets to decide for themselves whether it’s worth the cost to them, or not.
But here’s where it gets interesting: if it’s not, you don’t have to buy it, and you won’t miss out on any new content as long as you have DoV. Even players without DoV can reach the current level cap of 90 (where it was set by Sentinel’s Fate.) So if you think AoD is a ripoff at the current price, just wait for the price to go down or don’t buy it at all, and even not getting the AA cap increase really isn’t much of a big deal.
SOE is going to find out whether this new way of structuring expansions will work or not fairly soon. Personally, I suspect it doesn’t matter – I think that future features (or content, if SOE backs off on that,) will come a la carte from the store. I suspect that Age of Discovery will be the last traditional expansion for the game. I also suspect that SOE will move away from the “all content is free” idea, but not until after their proclaimed Velious content is exhausted, which puts that particular barricade a year or so into the future.
And I’m fine with that, too. Age of Discovery is EQ2’s eighth retail expansion pack. At $40 a pop plus subscription fees, that’s a very large amount of money in a market that is evolving away from games sold on this model. EQ2 has years of life left in it, but its ability to adapt to the changing market and changing consumer expectations will determine just how many years that turns out to be. I am okay with paying for stuff – I’m even okay with paying what amounts to $15 a month spent actually playing over time. But I like to be able to spend that money as I like and be able to drop in and out at will and as my schedule demands/allows. EQ2’s model works fine in that regard, and with the adjustments made in taking the whole game to a microtransaction-based model it even gets a little bit better.