Time to Go

by Moorgard on 2003-05-11

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

There's nothing like a major in-game accomplishment to get people buzzing about EverQuest again. And what could be bigger than the latest "final" zone being entered by multiple guilds nearly simultaneously? Of course, not all the buzz is of a positive nature, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Over on the EQLive site, the EverQuest Team posted an announcement about access to the Plane of Time, and even managed to take a thinly veiled shot at some uppity uberguilds in the process:

We've been keeping a close eye on the progress of high-end guilds towards the Plane of Time, and have made difficulty adjustments over the past few weeks to improve the Rathe encounter. Guild Afterlife of the Mithaniel Marr server were the only players to defeat the Rathe council, and we'd like to congratulate them on their success. While Afterlife was successful in beating the Rathe council, we felt the encounter was still harder than it should be, and made one last adjustment to make it an easier encounter. Since we made that change, a few other guilds have also managed to beat the new easier Rathe council and we look forward to their adventures in the Plane of Time. We feel that this encounter is now well balanced and don't anticipate further changes to the event.

Now that the Plane of Time has been entered, it's given us an opportunity to look at what's involved in getting there. One issue that's been brought up is that once a guild gets into the the Plane of Time, it's a bad idea to have them going to kill lower-tier gods to get story flags for their new members. This has two real issues - first, it means the Plane of Time capable guild is killing gods they wouldn't normally fight anymore, and second, they're taking those gods away from lower-tier guilds who are interested in experiencing them.

We're making some changes to zone entrance requirements throughout Planes of Power soon, in order to make the lower tiers much more accessible to players and to help with the feeling of being "left behind" if you miss certain raids or events. We'll be detailing those changes in the next week or so, but we're going to make this change to Plane of Time access tonight:

In order to gain access to the Plane of Time, each character simply needs to have killed the four elemental gods and have a Quintessence of Elements.

This change should maintain the difficulty of gaining Plane of Time access, but decreases the amount of lower-tier content needed for reflagging new members. This leaves the gods in the lower planes for the guilds who want to experience them, and keeps the Elemental Planes guilds in zones more appropriate to their power level. We feel this is a good change for the game and benefits high-level guilds of all types. As noted above, we'll be announcing additional Planes of Power changes next week that address many of the common concerns we've heard about planar progression.

Nice of the Team to dumb the encounter down so other guilds could have a shot, eh? While I'm sure people are reading a bit more hostility into that message than was intended, it still comes across as a bit of an insult to the likes of Fires of Heaven and Township Rebellion. After all, the Rathe Council encounter is still insanely hard, and it's not like the latest change turned it into a Naggy raid or something. Guilds deserve credit for beating it, even if doing so a day or two after Afterlife.

The change to flag requirements is interesting. While on the surface it seems to be an invitation for twinking alts with Plane of Time loot, that outcome is highly unlikely. Those alts would have to be brought along on all four elemental god kills, and the time and difficulty involved in some of those encounters isn't something people are likely to put up with for the sake of twink gear. It does allow those with incomplete flags to join their guildmates in Plane of Time without having to keep farming lower-tier gods for flags, which seems like a sound idea.

So now uberguilds are happily playing together in Time, right? Well, not exactly. Furor of the aforementioned Fires of Heaven guild is particularly distressed about the fact that events in Time are limited to three groups at a time, forcing guilds to split up into units of 18. Why is this bad? He explains:

To be brief, I did not work my ass off, jumping through your idiotic hoops with my friends and guildmates, so I could go to a zone where only groups of 18 could enjoy the content...

I cannot believe this... right now I'm just so pissed off. I am sitting here in the Plane of Time, and 3/4 of my guild is just sitting around while a group of 18 is repeatedly trying to beat one of the mini ring encounters...

The tragic irony of creating the ultimate cockblock encounter in the form of the Rathe which requires 80 people to defeat and then to limit encounters in the Plane of Time to 18.

After deleting most of the expletives, he kinda has a point there.

My guild isn't in Plane of Time, so I can't fully pass judgement on whether or not the zone is "done," or if gearing encounters there to groups of 18 is good or bad for the game. It does seem an odd choice, for the exact reason Furor mentioned. It's like having 70 guildmates beat the Emperor in Ssra, only to find that Vex Thal stops letting people in after the first 18 enter the zone. It was understandable and interesting to do things this way in the Plane of Justice trials, but seems a bit suspect in Time.

On the other hand, there could be a very good reason for doing things this way, as it might allow for more interesting encounters. And if the whole guild can reunite in Plane of Time B and take on ubermobs in an effort to complete the Planes of Power storyline, then the events in Time A might be understandable. Since guilds have only been in Time a few days, it seems a little soon to pass judgement.

But not for Furor. He's drawn his line in the sand, giving the EQ Team 14 days to "fix" Time according to his specifications, or FoH quits EQ and goes all-out into World of Warcraft. You can count down how much time he has left (and read a damn funny parody of Furor's threat) over on Township Rebellion's site.

To me it seems highly unlikely that the EverQuest Team is going to be held hostage by Furor's ego. I'm sure they will address bugs that arise in the zones, and hopefully will ensure that content is indeed working correctly so that guilds can beat the final encounters in Time B, but threats aren't going to motivate them to change their overall zone design. However, if the whole Plane of Time thing doesn't start to make sense soon, and other guilds end up feeling the same way FoH does, then it will be apparent that SOE has some work to do on their endgame encounters. But it won't be because they were bullied to do so; it will be because it's the right thing to do for the game. If limo rides, hotel rooms, and free food have taught me anything, it's that those SOE folks aren't in anyone's pocket.

Hmm, that didn't come out exactly right, but there's a point there somewhere.

State of the Game Address

Of course, there's more to the game than just Plane of Time. SOE published a lengthy article called "Upcoming for EverQuest," which they intend to be a regular feature. It's too long to post here in its entirety, so we'll just comment on select points. But you should definitely read the whole thing.

Here's what's coming in a beefy patch apparently happening on the 14th (though it isn't mentioned on the Scheduled Downtime page yet):

1) More improvements for new players are in the works. We're opening up the Legacy of Ykesha map system for newbie zones to all EverQuest players. This should be very helpful to new players trying to learn their way around the cities of Norrath. Context tips will become available. These are helpful tips that pop up when a player performs certain actions to help our new players to more easily understand the gameplay and controls for EverQuest.

2) The new Plane of Hate will be available on all servers!

3) Veksar will be introduced on Stormhammer. This ancient city was a hub of the Iksar Empire before it fell. There are plenty of interesting things for daring adventurers to discover there.

4) We've fixed an issue with the Divine Intervention line that caused a character's hit points to get out of sync. This should be a boon to all players that cast or receive that spell.

5) We have increased the power of the Child of Bertoxxulous Necromancer pet. We'll be increasing its offensive power as well as giving it a useful spell ability similar to Banshee Aura.

6) We've remedied the long-standing situation that caused characters to lose all their buffs if they zoned with fewer hit points remaining than the bonus hit points provided by their items.

7) We have increased the maximum amount of mana that can be gained through the use of items by an additional 50%. This should provide a noticeable increase in the mana available to many spell casters.

8) We have completed what we hope will be the final adjustments to the Rathe Council encounter. The encounter should be at just the right difficulty level now, and should provide an interesting challenge to those that undertake it.

9) Travel in two zones should be a little easier now. We will be removing the restriction on Call of the Hero that existed in the Plane of Water, as well as removing the restriction that forbid the casting of Gate spells in Veeshan's Peak.

10) Due to player concerns (and to make the zone a bit more fun to play in), we will be removing the ability to summon player characters recently added to some NPCs in the Halls of Honor. We have introduced another mechanism to address the challenge level in that zone.

11) There will be a couple of improvements to Alternate Advancement abilities as well. We will be giving Beastlords access to the Mass Group Buff ability. This is an ability that many Beastlords feel would be very useful to them and make some of their buffing tasks a bit easier. We will also be reducing the reuse timer for the Magician Elemental Form ability from 72 minutes to 15 minutes. This will allow a Magician to keep the Elemental Form up for as long as he wants.

12) We have corrected a problem that was causing some people to be unable to log back into the game quickly if the were disconnected. This has been a complicated problem to correct, and we're glad to have found and fixed it.

I'm not sure why casters need more mana, considering how they are already overpowered compared to melee. Perhaps other caps will be readjusted, such as haste, regen, and ATK limits. But otherwise there are certainly some nice changes upcoming, especially the buff loss and extended 1018 bug fixes. Bards already noted the changes to HoH mobs on Test server, which fixes the problem of mega-kiting while allowing other classes to solo there in peace once more.

The article also talks about changes coming in "the next month or so" that address a lot of other issues on the table. These include:

Partial Zone Revamps - These consist of improvements in the experience gain, monster density and/or item rewards in some of the older zones. The goal is to improve the playability and reward for adventuring in these zones without completely remaking the contents of the zone. We plan to do several of these, and we'll keep you updated as we move through these. Currently we are working on a partial revamp of Veeshan's Peak.

Makes sense, especially with the removal of teleportation restrictions from VP that were mentioned above. Such changes shouldn't require nearly as much effort as complete zone redesigns along the lines of Hate.

Experience Range Adjustment - ...we will be increasing the level range of NPCs that will give 61+ level characters experience. They will have approximately the same range of NPCs available to them as they did at level 60, and should be able to gain experience in some of their old hunting grounds, as well as in Planes of Power zones.

If you recall, this was one of the news tidbits we brought back from our trip to the SOE offices, and we've been wondering what was taking so long. This is a change that's well overdue, especially for the sake of casual players. Plus, the idea of being able to solo again for at least moderate exp gain has me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Planar Progression - ...we will be removing the flag requirements for entry into the following Planes of Power zones:

Bastion of Thunder
Plane of Tactics
Halls of Honor
Plane of Nightmare
Plane of Storms
Plane of Torment
Plane of Valor
Crypt of Decay

This isn't surprising at all--we knew it had to happen someday. Frankly, it only makes sense as a way to give casual players more of a feeling of value for plunking down the cash for PoP. The article promises that those who have earned their flags the hard way will be given a reward for doing so, but we'll just have to see whether SOE will deliver anything worthwhile (like, say, a free AAXP point for each of those flags a character has gotten).

Items in the Planes of Power

We will be looking at the quality of Planes of Power item rewards and improving them where appropriate. Items for many of the lower tier gods will be upgraded and more rare items and NPCs will be added to the following zones as needed.

This one is a bit of a mystery. One of the reasons for removing the flagging requirements for guilds entering Plane of Time was that "it's a bad idea to have them going to kill lower-tier gods to get story flags for their new members." By the same token, it's a bad idea to give the lower-tier gods loot that is attractive to elemental guilds, because they will go back and farm the items if they are deemed worthwhile. While certainly some of the early PoP loot needs tuning, if it becomes too nice then it simply opens another can of worms that SOE was apparently trying to avoid.

And finally, the big boy:

Class Balance

We are going to look at improving the damage capabilities of melee classes, as they've fallen behind their magic-using counterparts at the very high end of the game. Some options being considered are:

Improve melee damage-increasing disciplines
Improve Planes of Power melee weapons

Additionally, we're looking at the concerns from players about their spells, and changing them where appropriate. The goal here is to remove annoying issues with spells, not necessarily to increase caster power overall.

Improving melee weapons is certainly a good start, especially in terms of making one-handed weapons more attractive again. While increasing the effectiveness of two-handers was a great idea, the balance is pretty far out of whack, and in general it takes an extremely potent combo of 1H weapons to come close to the damage output of 2H weapons that are much easier to obtain.

Lots of folks have been complaining about melee disciplines for ages, as about 80% are completely useless. We've been advocating an EQOA-like solution for a while now, where unique spell-like abilities would be available to melee classes while being limited by a type of mana pool. But even just a revamp of existing disciplines would be acceptable, if the reuse time is considerably less than many of them are now. And it would certainly be nice if some of the mysterious abilities that turned up on Lucy a while back went live, as Rich Waters alluded to. But regardless of the methods used, most everyone agrees that melee classes are overdue for a much-needed boost in the high-end game.

Another update is promised on the 14th, along with a special message from John Smedley himself. Some of these changes will be very good for the game, and we hope that "month or so" doesn't take too long. Like any kid looking forward to unwrapping presents, we hate waiting.