Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Ethec
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
"We design to meet the perception of the player, as opposed to what's really happening. We could easily sit in our offices and look at spreadsheets all day long, but it wouldn't be what you guys are feeling. And what you guys are feeling is actually a little bit more important to us than what's mathematically going on."
-Bruce Ferguson, EQ2 Producer
The two-day EverQuest 2 Community Summit in San Diego, to which avid posters, uber guild leaders, and fansite leads were invited to share their thoughts regarding the current state and vision for the game, included a discussion forum for the recent Combat Changes. I believe everyone was a little bit scared of what could happen; the official forum community's reaction to the changes was, by and large, far from cordial. If anyone decided to take umbrage, we could've had a long, painful, angry tangent on our hands.
Imagine the surprise and relief when these people with such a heavy involvement with EQ2 tacitly admitted that the Combat Changes were good for the game in their present form. Before you go there, I don't think you could classify any of us as pandering group-thinkers; many of us in private or in the discussion setting had laid down our own laundry-list of concerns. Our biggest question was why? and when there was no good answer, many times we were given a rundown of the solution that's already in development. On the rare occasion that someone stumped the team, you'd see notebooks flapping and pens scribbling throughout the room as the ten or so devs eagerly took up the challenge.
If you're a low to mid-level player, you might be wondering why such drastic class changes were implemented. Indeed, the sort of things that were essentially legal exploits (e.g. cost-free buff stacking on Guardians, how a Templar's reactive "heal-tick aggro" was charged to the target and not the Templar) were pretty much the domain of high-level raiders, "min-max'ers," and forum trolls. From random discussions with the designers, the Combat Changes sought to make every class a viable solo class ("Now every class can solo the Champion [in Splitpaw solo arena]" was one random quote that sticks out from the half-drunken "Dave & Buster's" sessions Friday night- good times!) as well as give each class a sense of uniqueness. But the number one reason? Survey says... juicing the challenge. Jared "Lockeye" Sweatt, the developer assigned to the spell changes, stated: "We're changing a lot of things that were problems in the original design of the game that caused a lot of content to be designed around the broken concepts; trying to fill in some of the gaps and distribute the power."
Re-learning a class is never pleasant; at first, a lot of players felt like SOE had nerfed their horse in mid-stream, then shot their puppy for good measure. Many of the guild members agreed that the overwhelming majority of those who stuck with their class grew to love the EQ2.1 classes. Got a guildchat stank-bot? Recommend these fine, random tips from the SOE team before booting them: "Open your spellbook, sort by spell type, and read every single spell description...a lot of classes have had to adjust their play style significantly. It might be all the spells that did nothing before, if you rely on what you used to you won't do so well." With another nod to the frustrated, Blackguard insisted that new spell lists are coming "very soon" to the main site.
Many high-levels noticed copious amounts of green-con aggro mobs since Update #13; Brad of the EQ2 blog Aggro Me pointed to the long string of aggro Frost Giants that must be dealt with on the way to King Drayek's tomb. "That one's a double-edged sword... the reason we actually did it is target availability," producer Scott Hartsman commented. "When we were setting up the playtesting for each class, we asked 'Can I take out a yellow solo creature?' and 'Can I take out a green, group heroic creature?' That's actually really possible now." Hartsman went on to point out that group mobs can now be tackled solo later if grouping isn't convenient at the moment; World of Warcraft gamers might feel like that's a page out of their MMO. In case you think Hartsman side-stepped the real issue (no one minds named greens, but aggro greens in a popular landing pattern?), he went on to say "The rest is kind of annoying, but hopefully we'll get that fixed soon."
Blanket down-tiering of zones also contributed to some degree in the confusion. "At the time when we did it, it was pretty quick. We weren't as accurate as we could've been, we probably over did it a little bit," recalls designer Steve Kramer. "We decided to go back and redo things... the Scarecrow fields in Antonica, the classic stuff that people used to hunt all the time, we wanted to make sure that was available again for groups."
Scott Hartsman dropped quite a bombshell when he stated that the developers have a list of "703 named and boss mobs that have between 2 and 6 special abilities on them that make them well above the intended difficulty level." The good news: the non-raid desirables can be tested and fixed in groups of 12 or so: "They're not like raid mobs, where we have to be really, really careful how we tune them. If we screw up things with Dyleena and accidently make it so you can kill her with one hit, okay, so more people get into Cauldron Hollow faster. Darn. You know, it's that kind of approach."
The raid mobs, well, that was another discussion entirely! Stay tuned; I will post linkage to the upcoming article.
"I'm still open to make changes. But I don't see any sweeping changes across the classes," stated spell chief Jared Sweatt, and producer Scott Hartsman confirmed: "These changes are infinitely scalable... We don't want to have to do this again." So where do players suffered from forum-based stigma shock stand? There's good news for guardians and other mitigation-based damage takers, at least. With Live Update #14, mitigation users will benefit from a blanket change on mobs to slower yet bigger single-hit melee damage. The Devs hinted at additional changes to mitigation coming soon, as well.
It seems mages will get the biggest spanking from the future nerf paddle, though mages profitted overmuch from the changes in the first place by any reasonable assessment. Enjoy that 50-second root that cycles every 6 seconds while it lasts, for soon the chain-permaroot will be no more. AE damage spells are also overpowered, look for the nasty radius nukers to be taken down a notch or two as well. Mad tanking Necromancers might be in trouble too, but no concrete word on that.
Scouts (and any invis'ers) are getting a boon in the form of 100% movement speed stealth across the board with Live Update #14, but you probably already knew that, you clever test server notes readers, you. The catch? Look out for that red border; there's more "See Invis" mobs... everywhere. "It won't be the entire zone, you'll just want to keep your eye out for that one mob... the lookout maybe," stated Hartsman.
And, finally, the priests / healers (I'm trying not to get emotional here!). It's part of the design that only one special heal from each healer class - not subclass, mind you (clerics can stack special heals with druids, but Wardens can't stack with Furies)- can be stacked at a time. The idea was that all the healers have a niche- clerics take care of spike healing, wardens use heal over time spells to mend long-term minor damage, defilers grant the biggest hitpoint buff in the game, for example. Specialized roles might work well in raids, but what about for casual gamers and low- to mid-level players who just want to keep their ad-hoc groups alive with one healer? Bah, I always think of good questions too late!
There's a lot more in my tangled, dog-eared Colombo-style notes and my trusty IC recorder, and it's yours once I shake this jet lag.
Check it out in the Community Summit wrap-up!