EverQuest Next: Skills - Failure is Not an Option
For a couple of months now, I've been talking about EverQuest and the importance of numerous systems interlocking to make the game not only an engrossing experience for the player, but to help ensure a community that worked together. Some of those systems involved each player taking a little bit of effort to do some homework and work on improving their play. Skills were not only an effective carrot that rewarded you with periodic increases, it was crucial for the player to keep them maxed in order to be effective in a group. And trust me, if you were not effective, you either learned how to play better quickly or you'd find yourself without a group in a hurry. That might not be a big deal these days, but back then, it could end a character's progress.
Okay, so you had to keep your skills up. No big deal, right? Yeah ... right. Let me give you two scenarios in which I failed horribly at this before I finally caught on. My very first character was a Wood Elf Warrior that followed Rallos Zek (that worked out well ... not!). I decided the character was going to be a master of one-handed blades. I got a sword early in the game and used that (along with the occasional minor upgrade I was lucky enough to find) as I progressed. When I was level 14 (this was after over a month of playing), I found my first magic weapon... a 2-handed blade with a +1 to strength. I was awe struck. It was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. I quickly disregarded my previous stance of only using one-handed blades and equipped my new epic blade.
Armed with my new weapon of mass destruction, I quickly called my best friend and he hopped on to join me for some sweet hunting. And it was sweet indeed... right up until the point when we reached the North Desert of Ro and I pulled the very first Dune Tarantula I saw. And then missed with my opening swing. And the next, and the next, and ... you get the picture. Needless to say, after a few blows (my friend didn't realize that I hadn't hit the mob yet), it spun on him and munched him like a Trisket. Right there, an EverQuest life lesson was reinforced: as the Warrior in a group, your companions lives are your responsibility. Youre the one whos supposed to keep the monsters from using them as chew toys. Duly noted!
I failed to hit the Dune Tarantula more than once or twice during that encounter (neither of the few blows I did connect with increased my 2H Blade skill up from a measly 5 points... at level 14 it should have been about 70, if I remember correctly). Okay, no problem, I thought. I'll just go to some newbie area and get my skills up that way. And therein lies the moral of the story and proof positive that the EQ development team had yet again implemented a system that was not to be carelessly ignored.
You see, unless a mob would give you at least some experience points, you could not gain any skills off of it (no risk, no reward). As such, this meant my level 14 Warrior needed to spend an eternity fighting mobs of just slightly lower levels to gain any skill points. Fortunately, I had a friend who was a Cleric and was kind enough to waste an entire night healing me while I brought my 2H skills up. One more point of pain and woe in this tale - the closer you get to your max skill level, the slower you gain those skill points. OUCH! After that, I was sure to swap weapons and get my 5 skill points each level to avoid such pain again.
While I had gotten the point of this lesson through my head in terms of my Warrior, I hadn't done the same for my Necromancer. Oh sure, my buffs and combat spells were always kept at max and I kicked ass in groups. There was one school of magic I had virtually disregarded in its entirety, though. That is, until I hit level 18 and received one of the most coveted Necromancer spells of all time - Track Corpse. (Finding a lost corpse was such an event that it even spawned a song). Ah... once again, everything goes back to being designed to help others in the community. At level 18, my Divination skill should have been 90. By the time I reached that level, I think my actual skill was less than 10. It was going to take a hell of a lot of casting to get my skill up to acceptable levels. Ugh.
Well damn the developers, right? How dare they want me to keep my skills up, and then not give me access to any spells that utilized that skill! Actually, they did, right from level one with two spells entitled Sense the Dead and Invisibility vs. Undead. Unfortunately, I rarely if ever used them. The same is true of a number of other spells used for sensing direction (there were no mini-maps back then), invisibility, and some humorous spells to turn your skeleton pet into a ventriloquist dummy (dear gods, did I have some fun with that spell combo, haha). I didn't have to use those spells as I leveled my character, but doing so would have kept my Divination spell up where it should have been.
So, what's all of this got to do with the price of batwings in the East Commons Tunnel? Everything. Players were expected to take a certain amount of responsibility for their characters and how they could benefit the group, not just themselves. The gamers of the day took pride in the class, their character, and as I've mentioned previously, their reputation. By encouraging players to utilize the wide range of skills they had access to, it also allowed players to regularly come up with new and innovative uses for all of them. Warriors began to learn that blunt weapons were much more effective on skeletons than they were on Orcs, and casters came up with all kinds of wacky uses for the myriad spells they had available at their fingertips.
This wasn't the only method the EverQuest developers used to let the player explore and figure things out for themselves in the game. Back in the day, you would also have a conversation with NPCs in an attempt to discover quests and get clues to solve them. Of course, you know what that really means... I'll see you back here next week to talk about interactive quest conversations!
While you wait for next weeks piece, catch up on any previous EverQuest Next articles you may have missed! If youve got questions, old-school aspects youd like me to cover, or anything in between, shoot me an email or hit me up on Twitter!