I had originally intended to write this piece about zone lines (as noted at the end of last week’s article), but after thinking about it over the weekend, I came to a different conclusion. It’s not the zone lines that I want to see make a return (although separation of areas is important as I’ll talk about in a bit), but rather the unleashing of mobs with EverQuest Next. “Mob leashing” refers to the act of having mobs on an invisible leash so that if a player runs far enough away, the mob will turn around and return to its starting point without passing go or collecting $200. It will also ignore anyone in its path and will not stop until it reaches its origin point.
Without any doubts, there are legitimate and well documented reasons why mob leashing became a common theme almost 10 years ago. As a whole, gamers will always find a way to abuse and torture their fellow players. Whether it’s because they feel they’ve been slighted in some way and are seeking revenge, are just assholes that think it’s funny to ruin someone else’s gaming experience, or are simply mentally deficient human beings, the reasons don’t matter. When mobs were not on leashes, it was an easy matter to train other players or groups (get a large number of mobs to follow you and run past the player, since at least some of the mobs chasing you would peel off and attack them as well). With the right class and enough skill you could also solo mobs that were never intended to be taken down by a character of that level.
There are other reasons the genre-wide change was made as well, but there simply isn’t enough time here to list them all. The short version of this is that if there is a way for a player to use the lack of a leash on a mob to abuse someone else, it’s going to be done at some point. Despite all this, I think it’s time for mob leashing to go the way of the dodo bird or at the very least, be altered significantly. There was fun and excitement in the act of trying to get away from a pull gone horribly wrong. The sense of terror that engulfed you as you desperately tried to avoid a sometimes inevitable death was often one of the most thrilling aspects of the games of yore.
Mobs without leashes can also be a great tool for one of my favorite things about all games that incorporate it – that sense of random adventure or unexpected consequences. I’ll give you one of my favorite examples and the tale of my most infamous revenge killing spree ever.
In the original EverQuest, there was a great low level area to hunt in called Crushbone. It was the home of the Crushbone Orcs and was a fantastic zone. There were Orcs (duh) aplenty but there were also a number of slaves. One of those slaves was a small gnome by the name of Retlon Brenclog. He would spawn in one of the slave pits and there was a quest which involved freeing him with a slave key. There was just one problem when someone would release him – he and his earth pet would immediately go on a rampage and kill everything in sight.
I can’t count how many times I was the victim of this rat bastard in my early days. One day he managed to kill me over 10 times. The worst of these was when I ran for the zone line and as I came to a frozen dead stop, thought that I had made it and was just waiting for the screen to load. Nope – his damned pet had rooted me a hair’s breadth away from the zone line. While I went about then retrieving my corpse, Retlon went to the very top of my revenge list. Years later, when my Necromancer was almost level 50 (Retlon is only 15 or so), I sat in that pit and killed him all day. And by all day, I mean almost 6 hours straight. Over, and over, and over. It was glorious and one of my favorite moments in gaming history.
If Retlon had been on a leash, or would only keep agro on the first person he attacked, then it wouldn’t have been a big deal to have him in the game. Rather than being a named gnome I clearly remember almost 14 years after first encountering him, he would instead have been yet another faceless mob that I couldn’t care about.
Part of that is because of mob leashing. The other side of this coin is that without zone lines (or some sort of modern day equivalent), I wouldn’t have had that brief moment of triumph as my nose froze just shy of the zone line in my desperate escape. It would have been reduced to “Oh, I just need to run 50 years in any direction to get him to drop agro.” I will agree this mechanic lessened the ability of your average person to grief another player, but personally, I think it removed far more than that.
The removal of zone lines and the addition of mob leashing (combined with a lack of a real death penalty) has removed a genuine sense of danger, of thrill escapes, and of camaraderie from the games we play today. No more can you and your friends sit and talk about how you barely escaped from Crushbone, how you saved that Halfling Ranger as he went tearing past with a train of Gnolls on his tail, and more.
I know that mob leashing helped solve some problems, but I firmly believe that it’s time for a game to come out that finds other solutions while not handicapping its players in the process. I hope EverQuest Next is that game.