Sony Online Entertainment
EverQuest 2 introduces free Lvl 85 characters, but can that spice up the stagnant MMO genre?
The problem with MMOs is all in their level grind, right? If you could just skip to the end of the content treadmill then you could finally have some fun!
Sony Online Entertainment seems to have agreed, because they recently introduced in EverQuest 2 the ability to instantly begin a new character at level 85. This should cut hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of gameplay from getting between the player and the end-game.
I've always wanted to play EverQuest 2, for some reason. I've naturally been drawn to it, and as someone who absolutely adores exploring the worlds of MMO games this seemed like a free travel ticket to go gallivanting around the world of Norrath with impunity.
So I made a deal with myself. I'd spend three hours exploring Norrath with this high-level character, looking for anything to grab my interest and make me want to continue playing. And if I did, I'd buy the full version of the level 85 character and stick around for a little while.
I have an unnatural affinity for the Dwarven peoples. I've written about this in the past. So when I was creating my new character, the noble hero who would explore the lands of Norrath on a quest to find anything interesting, I knew he/she had to be Dwarven. A few clicks of the randomizer later, and I had created “Freedom Eagle,” Dwarven Explorer.
I honestly don't even remember what class I selected, because it never came up again. When I got into combat, I was more than able to spam a few buttons and make things die. Understanding the intricacies… or even the basics of my class wasn't necessary. I slayed giants, sure, but it never required even a moment of thought, even when they were higher leveled than me.
So Freedom Eagle and I set out into the great unknown and spawned deep in the frozen wastes on an artic island populated by seal people. Hoping to get my bearings, I got myself a quest from one of the seal NPCs who wanted me to find information on the whereabouts of an assassin. With no idea what he meant by that or any firm idea on how to find out, I abandoned the seal-man's mission. He can do it himself.
I found a new quest from someone who wanted me to kill 10 raiders nearby, and I immediately scoffed. I only have a few hours to find something interesting in this game, and I can't be wasting my time on fetch quests and “Kill X Number Of” quests. It seems that even at level 85 we're still stuck in the same content grind.
The nice thing about being level 85 is that they give you a free flying mount. Any MMO player who has ever worked tireless hours to save up the gold to buy an expensive flying mount will understand the novelty of simply being handed one free of charge.
So Freedom Eagle and I soared off into the unknown to try to find anything at all worth sticking around for. It shouldn't be a particularly difficult quest. I love the exploratory aspect of the MMO genre. Every so often, I resubscribe to World of Warcraft just to hop on my mount and tour the landscapes again.
There's a lot of beauty to be found in Norrath. There's some wonderful vistas that are just magnificently constructed. Content that I'd seen everything the Seal-NPC island had to offer, I rode off to the desert on the back of a giant tortoise/ship.
The top image on this article was my favorite moment. Floating islands hovering in the sky as the sun rose above the steppes. These are the moments I live for in MMOs, and it inspired me to continue on.
It was also the worst moment in my short adventure. I looked into the sky at that floating island, and thought, “I absolutely must know what's up there.” So I spurred on my pegasus, and flew up toward the sky-island only to bump Freedom Eagle's head into an imaginary wall about a hundred meters short of the island. I realized that I'd become spoiled by World of Warcraft's fly-anywhere mounts. In EverQuest 2, that's not possible. Huge sections of the world are roped off with invisible walls and ceilings.
In the above image, the rocks to the left mark the peak of the invisible ceiling. I can't adequately describe how frustrating it is to know your destination is on the other side of those rocks, ten feet above you, but you can't get over them.
Nothing hampers the feeling of flying like realizing you're not in the open sky, but inside a box with walls you just can't see.
I had dreamed of flying through a brand new world with impunity, but now it was clear that wasn't the case. EverQuest 2 just wasn't designed with this type of play in mind. It's disappointing, but it's a 9-year-old game so I didn't expect miracles.
The hero turns
Unable to freely explore the way I had dreamed of or find anything else worth doing, Freedom Eagle turned into an anti-hero. I flew off to a few towns, and laid waste to what I found there. I killed every NPC-soul in one town before flying off to the training ground of 2-3 dozen warriors, and yeup, killed all of them too.
Pretending to be a badass villain was the most fun I'd had roleplaying since I started playing this roleplaying game, and it was only possible because I'd received the level 85 boost. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
This only stayed entertaining for a few minutes though. Ultimately, I resolved to go find some human souls, and try to have a few human interactions in this supposedly massively multiplayer game. But I found practically no one. Some people in chat, sure, but nobody to really play or explore the game with.
Discouraged, I decided to pack it in. This was a sobering reminder that there's more wrong with the MMO format than simply the content grind. What do you do in an MMO? How do you meet people? Where's the fun part? Looking at this world from this priviledged high-level vantage point it started to feel like I was looking for a needle in a big, open-world haystack, and it's something that even more modern MMOs still haven't solved.
By the end of my short quest I found nothing worth sticking around for, and no indication that anybody else would either.
Let's hope EverQuest Next is ready to tackle these problems. There are some deep, fundamental issues with the old-school MMO model that is still being used today, and the MMO isn't going to rise to prominence again until it's fixed.