EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 18 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

Eighteen years and still kickin’. EverQuest is no World of Warcraft when it comes to user base but it’s hard to deny an online only game having this kind of a lifespan is impressive. It’s doubtful that there are new players signing up daily. At best old users are returning during promotional times with free access of celebrational perks. Why is that? What kind of hooks has Sony Online Entertainment dug into us to keep us for so long?

Well a lot of it I feel we approached in the past two articles – The larger community surrounding it, as well as the intimate community within it definitely play a part. If that was it thought people would just have abandoned it for newer games or gotten bored long before EQ had time to build up steam. What we’re looking at is something bigger than just the social network serving as the blood pumping through it. The other part was more mechanically driven, controllable by the developers at SoE to ensure players always had something to do. As long as there were new goals, new progression systems, players would have a reason to come back and play with their friends. From the very start of the game leveling up gave you a now iconic tinny shrill sound of “DING!” that would wake the dead if played loud enough. It was somehow both soothing and terrifying at the same time hearing that at 3am on a Sunday night when you’re alone. Once you ran out of levels to gain they’d add alternate advancement systems, epic gear upgrades, and elusive spells or trinkets to keep you plugging away. No exaggeration, I eventually acquired an item that all it did was turn you into a skeleton aesthetically. I ended up selling it for $175 in real life. There was always another step you could progress your “toon” with from a gameplay standpoint, another carrot dangled in front of you to chase. As a player you were never left wanting or directionless for long. Putting a cherry on top of this deliciously inviting pie was the flagpole event and ultimate goal within the MMO genre: Raids.

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Welcome back, Guardians! Glad you’ve decided to join us again in the fight against Oryx, the Taken King. If you quit playing Destiny after it’s initial launch or never gave it a try because of the super-grindy, clumsily designed progression system and horrible RNG mechanics not rewarding your time you’re in luck finally. With TTK they’ve revamped all of that so now you can just play naturally. It’s designed with traditional leveling/loot concepts, and a combination of reworked level path and much improved characterizations of it’s NPCs in The Taken King’s campaign really makes this feel like the game it was meant to be. Previously the storyline just ran you through a linear chain of levels that didn’t make a lot of sense at times. Now it’s been designed with branching quest lines, broken down into logical bite size collections of 4-6 missions each. On top of that the Light Level system has been reworked. In vanilla (original) Destiny once you hit level 20 you switched into an entirely new progression system where your level climbed with the gear you equipped instead of a traditional XP gain system. The gear required to advance was fixed to a select few pieces that could only be obtained from the hardest encounters. The random number generation (RNG) for loot meant leading up to that gave you no direct way to actively level. You were at the mercy of random drops that were scarce at best already. To really top of the ridiculousness of this they made it so the best gear that got you the final few levels required you to repeatedly run a six-player raid that didn’t support match-making.

ALL OF THAT HORRIBLENESS IS GONE. Level progression now up to 40 is purely from very reasonable XP gains. Pick up some daily bounties before you play each day and just keep advancing through whatever missions / quests you have and you’ll hit the cap of 40 in no time. Light level (LL) still exists, but it’s an average of all your gear’s damage/defense. So there is a difference in being level 40 with 180 LL and being level 40 with 280 LL. The higher the LL, the more damage you deal and hits you can take. What’s really nice about this change though is drops now scale based on whatever your LL is so you’ll constantly be progressing. Say if your helmet has a 180 armor rating when you kill something, it’s likely to drop gear that has an armor of 185 or 187. Equipping that and killing the same mobs (which are all level 40 now) are likely to drop a new helmet that is 190 or 193 armor now. It basically opens the door for constant improvement so you never hit a rut. All of this improves through natural play too. No need to worry about organizing with five of your friends a night you all have 1-3 hours blocked out to run a raid together. If you’re spending time in Destiny, you’re advancing your character. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Progress

Progress is a funny thing sometimes. We assume there is always something better to be had, wringing every little bit of advancement we can out of something… and then we squeeze it even more. We’re raised with the thought that everything needs to always be improving. Even when it’s no longer obvious we push forward under the idea that there must be something more. Applying this to games seems to leave us in this awkward state though. What if there is nothing next? If there is no more forward progression? Do we still push devs even if it’s an unsolicited expectation; an inevitable disappointment? Are we at a state where we’re expecting progress for no other reason than for progress sake? Because it’s beginning to feel that way. The science enthusiast in me says we’re looking for there to be a new evolution of games because we want there to be one, not because there is evidence suggesting there should be. The technical expanse has hit a terminal point. Developers are now limited by budgets or creativity instead of the devices they build games to be played on. Storytelling has no barriers. If the dev can imagine a way to do something, it can be done. So what is this next level we’re waiting for in anticipation?

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As usual, a conversation with folks on Twitter got me thinking further into the topic after virtually walking away. Nearly all games have gone in the direction of adding one in some form. Some thank RPGs for the incorporation of this leveling, while personally I think it’s just a natural evolution of games. I mean if you’re going to dump dozens of hours into an experience, the idea of losing everything at the end of your session just isn’t appealing. The depth being added to the experience creates layers of skill for advanced play while still being accessible when you first sit down. Imagine trying to sort through all the guns and mods in Call of Duty if out of the box you were able to select what you’d want. You won’t have a basis for what’s going on or be able to gradually grow into your play style. Are you a sniper by default, or more of a run and gun infantry player? There’s beauty in a progression systems let you slowly build into what you want from the game. The end result is a win for consumers and developers alike. As a player you get what feels like a tailored experience, and for developers you can widen your net of appeal to welcome new gamers into your world.

With progression systems abound though, what makes them stand out from one another? Just having a system doesn’t mean it’s going to improve the game. Personally the addition of advancement in the Halo series multiplayer starting with Halo: Reach actually turned me off from the series. The idea of prestige in Call of Duty terrifies me from playing; a reset button to completely wipe all your progress to gain a shiny star next to your emblem. Really they can come in a myriad of forms good or bad, but here’s a few notable experiences where the progression system really drew me into the game.

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