Instantly 85

The latest new thing in the continuing saga of SOE’s embrace of f2p vis a vis EverQuest II is that level 85 characters are now on sale in the store. You can either make a new character straight at level 85 or promote an existing character… and you can try for free for one level before shelling out cash. Everyone can do this once for free until October 15, and otherwise they cost 3500 Station Cash — $35 at the usual rate. After dithering for a few days I decided to promote my level 12 Conjuror, who had up to that point been nearly 100% focused on crafting (he’s a level 35 Carpenter.)

So POOF, I have a level 85 character. My main, the character I have spent the better part of the last three years leveling the hard way, is still level 79. Many people are having a negative reaction to this addition to the game. I think it sets a terrible precedent and sends an unfortunate message, but I also see the reasons why it was done.

The trouble is not that buying a level 85 character devalues the accomplishment of having leveled yourself. That effort had been made irrelevant years ago, when it became possible to powerlevel a character to 80 in a matter of hours thanks to the broken mentoring mechanic. Even if you were doing it the hard way, however, as I was, successive waves of gameplay and mechanical changes had made the game far, far easier than it has been, in just about every way. When Age of Discovery brought mercenaries in pretty much every vestige of challenge had been removed from the game. I’m guessing that the internal narrative was about making EQ2 more accessible, but the development that resulted from it just made the game easier.

So the pre-85 content and the accomplishment of having played through it was already devalued. I’m not sure that buying a pre-leveled character outright really makes any additional difference. With challenge scrubbed out of the game all that was left was the sheer grind… and if you were leveling sans fromage then there was quite a lot of grind to do.

Which brings up the fundamental problem that the insta-85 is an attempt to address. EverQuest II is now almost 9 years old. It has aged very poorly in some respects, particularly in terms of graphics and art design. What it has done very well, however, is to have depth of content; if the gameplay is perhaps too easy, it is at least very, very rich, to the point that exploring it can be worthwhile even without being challenging. Were this not the case we would probably not have gotten to the point where the insta-85 was needed; very few other games could have survived the preceding efforts to remove anything like difficulty from the game. It’s a fine line between “accessible” and “trivial”, but I would say — and I think it is impossible to argue against — that the EQ2 development effort over the game’s long life has landed squarely on the latter.

The reason for it is a problem inherent to the EQ model; almost strictly vertical progression combined with a long and difficult leveling curve puts a huge barrier in from of new players, and the old players leave steadily and inevitably. EQ2 managed a big rush of new blood with the move to f2p; some of those players surely stayed but that boost was a one-time deal. This is an attempt to generate another one. Judging from the blogger buzz, a lot of folks who haven’t given EQ2 a look for years are checking in again, but bloggers are what you might charitably call a bad sample.

Interestingly, the original EverQuest has stayed vital in part by periodically offering a fresh start on a new server. That EQ2 has not done this is perhaps not mysterious; those new EQ servers always target nostalgia for early-era EQ, and the subsequent changes to EQ over the years are such that a minor effort can be made and a reasonable simulacrum of early EQ can be brought live on a clean shard. In EQ2’s case the changes made since launch are far greater and more fundamental; a retro server wouldn’t be credible unless way too much effort was put into it.

So we have instead the insta-85, designed to redress the same issue. It is a risky move, one that few other MMORPGs could withstand. I did give myself an out by advancing one of my crafting characters to level 85; all I really did was facilitate his crafting in some respects, by making it much easier to do harvesting and tradeskill quests in zone that vastly outleveled his old adventuring level. The flying mount helps too. And indeed, that’s how I have played him since then. I haven’t done any of the level 85 content at this point.

I’m not lifting any of my other characters to level 85. I’ll keep them where they are; I would rather abandon them entirely than promote any more. My Warlock will get to 85 on his own. Endemic or not to the EQ lineage of MMORPGs, I find this new development vaguely poisonous.

7 responses to “Instantly 85

  1. I may have failed reading comprehension. I know that I sometimes do. Though, when adding 2+2 from a few of your recent EQ posts, plus this one, are you saying that we should look forward to a new promising game from a team that has given us the current cluster**** that is EQ2? I enjoy your irony. 🙂

    And I enjoy your posts. Maybe I am too soured on my experience with EQ and pre-85 EQ2. Looking forward to new SOE games sounds a bit to me like looking forward to a Diablo 4 game. Sometimes it is better to let the dead lie.

  2. I have a level 85 templar. However, I find it almost unplayable due to the vast number of skills and items I no longer remember how to use. I can’t imagine the learning curve for someone who’s instantly leveled to 85.

    Additionally, the insta-85 characters will completely ignore the level 1 – 84 content. I don’t know how I feel about this since all those previous expansions are almost completely invalidated.

    • > all those previous expansions are almost completely invalidated

      Exactly my thoughts. I use to rate MMOs by their capability to entertain players in pre-endgame and endgame, not by endgame alone. Why should a player invest time to GET to the endgame when the time spent there is not fun? And drawing the conclusion that making an endgame character available immediately (as EQ2 does now) shows that someone at SOE failed to understand that you learn to play a class in levels 1 to 84.

      But this is just my opinion, if players were lobbying to have this option, it is an entirely understandable step.

  3. The problem is not JUST that modern solo-enabled MMO’s have a long and completely linear vertical grind. The problem is that a new character (new or old player is irrelevant) needs to solo the majority of the way to get there because there is no way to maintain critical mass for leveling groups at mid-levels in a years-old game. I would much rather see the developer offer a fast track for the player who just wants to join their friends at endgame than see them ruin all of the leveling content for people who actually do want to play it through repeated nerfs.

  4. Armadillo beat me too it. As a ‘latecomer’ to several MMOs I can tell you it’s a very lonely and slow journey to catch up with the vets when most (other than the odd Guild charity group) of that time is solo. Sony certainly did make some very bad decisions that have compounded this, the itemisation is terrible at lower levels (just like in WoW actually) and mercenaries are virtually indestructible in early content too. Even worse the wonderful AA system can be easily, or accidentally, abused to make your character wildly overpowered for content too.

    I welcome the level 85 simply because, for once, I want to play new content as it launches with guild mates for the first time since I quit WoW. I’ve never managed to catchup in other games before people grow bored of the content.

  5. I don’t really see this as much of an issue. Firstly, for anyone that wishes to do so, all the original content remains available to be played through however you wish. I have a guardian in the 40s I’m leveling up with his mercenary and a necro in the 70s I’m leveling solo. In our small guild there’s someone who only plays on Sundays. He’s been playing 2-3 hours per week since F2P started and I think he’s in the 50s from memory.

    I took my free level 85 on all my accounts because they might come in handy sometime. I’m not playing them though. I’m playing my 92nd Berserker through the last expansion, which I hope will get him to 94 at least, in time for the new expansion. After 90 levels move like treacle. Every 10% takes longer than a full level in the 70s, for example. You might as well say the level cap now is somewhere around 120-130 for the time it will take you to get there if you solo.

    Starting at 85, a new player unfamiliar with the class and not being PL’d by friends/guild is going to have weeks of play before reaching the cap. At the speed my Guardian is leveling, if we both played the same hours I’d probably get to 85 before the new 85 got to 90.

    I think it’s a good move.

  6. When you say you can try a level 85 for free for one level, can you level lock it and keep it forever? Or does it expire after a set amount of play?