Things are continuing to go well in EQ2. I've locked my level at 50 for now as there is so much content to do, and it gives me a chance to work on my AA trees for a while (I'm currently up to 90 AA points). It also gives Udrath a chance to catch me up so that we can run through the Desert of Flames content together (I remember really enjoying DoF when I ran through it the first time a few years ago).
To keep myself occupied and build up my AA and status points I've been running through the old Heritage Quests for the Shattered Lands. This is made more interesting by the new (to me at least!) ability to mentor your own level down so that the quests become green and blue, thereby offering more of a challenge and giving more AA. The experience has been a slight surprise though.
I have found myself running through the content very easily and quickly as a solo player. I was expecting to have to ask my guild mates to help at several stages (and I'm sure that they would be more than happy to do so, they are always helping each other out), but far from it. Quests I remember struggling through with a full group before now seem to be easily soloable. I haven't even come close to dying.
Now this may be because I'm more experienced this time round, or I may be geared better, or maybe SOE have made the combat and quests easier than I remember. Whatever the cause, I am ploughing through on-level HQs at a high rate, taking only an hour or so for each one. Don't get me wrong, I'm still enjoying myself, but the combat is far from challenging.
There does seem to be a general trend at the moment to make MMOs easier. Witness for example, the recent Rift beta. The combat was boring and easy, and I never, ever came close to being killed in a game I had no prior experience with. The same goes for all MMOs I have played recently - the combat mechanics are the same and there is virtually no challenge in solo or group play (I know raiding is different).
What can be done to change this? I understand that a game needs to be accessible to succeed, but the standard MMO combat mechanic is no longer doing the job. Things need to change, and it does seem as though some of the newer games are at least making an effort in this direction. A full-on action MMO may still be a while off as the technology is still not at the necessary level to ensure lag-free gaming in such an environment, but I do believe there are things that can be done with the current system to put a challenge back in place and to make player skill mean more than it does right now (where currently the main factor in success seems to be how good your gear is).
A recent example is the Warden class that was released with the Mines of Moria expansion for Lord of the Rings Online. This used a unique and flexible combat mechanic that was reliant on the existing hotkey system, but brought a new strategy and challenge. The warden uses a small number of skills to build up gambit skill chains, which are then executed with a final skill. The gambits can be up to five skills in length and can be changed during the actual building of them, so it is possible to react to how the fight is proceeding. This brought a whole new level of strategy to fights, requiring the player to think, react, and plan ahead.
Tera Online, a new Korean MMO is promising a more action oriented combat system, similar to that found in games like Devil May Cry. I am dubious as to how well this will work in a large MMO environment with many players, but the effort is admirable and the system does at least sound interesting.
Finally, Star Wars: The Old Republic (which regular readers will know is the forthcoming MMO I am most interested in) is taking a different approach, pitching the player against multiple mobs from the start. Beta reports have stated that this means taking a more strategic approach to combat (having to CC one mob, setting your companion character on another, then trying to take out the remaining three for example), apparently giving the feel of a level-capped character from the get go. Many of the reports I have read also refer to the player dying several times, which means a challenge that may make a refreshing change for a new MMO!
I'm sure there are other examples that you may like to suggest as well.
None of these approaches count as a full-on revolution in MMO combat, but that is not likely to happen when the development costs for these games are so high. Instead they promise an evolution of the existing systems, and like Darwin would suggest, those that succeed will continue to be refined in the future. Those games that do not try and push the envelope (like Rift) are, I feel, doomed to a slow and steady decline as others are more revolutionary.
In the meantime I'm going to keep on battling my way through some more Heritage Quests. The Hierophant's Crook is next I think, and I know that if I eventually do come across something that offers me a challenge I can call on my guild mates to come help.
Talking of guild mates, I have some news on a new Star Wars: The Old Republic guild that I'll discuss next time. For now I'll just leave you with my best wishes for the new year.
Happy New Year!
SWTOR PvP on Iokath in 5.2
8 hours ago