EverQuest II’s Black Box Problem

Written by Feldon on . Posted in Commentary, EQ2

black_box

I believe that the best games, whether in the real or digital worlds, on any platform, should have clear and concise rules which are obvious or well-documented for the player. For years, Dellmon (host of the now-quiet but formerly popular EQ2Talk podcast which frequently interviewed members of the EQ2 team) and I have railed against a severe lack of documentation in EverQuest II. Our requests for improvements have spanned how game mechanics work in unexpected ways, to trying to clear up vague item tooltips and spell descriptions, and many other suggestions that would improve the Quality of Life for players. Our input has completely fallen upon deaf ears.

From effects/procs on items that do 1,000 times more damage than the description says, to the way Reforging, Infusing, and Experimentation are indistinguishable from each other when reading item examine windows, and many other examples, it has become tediously difficult to figure out what the hell is actually going on in with your character in Norrath. Despite the availability of 3rd party tools like DarqUI, ProfitUI, Dragon’s Armory, and our own EQ2U, trying to keep even one character fully informed and properly geared for the latest content has become a joyless tedious second career.

“It’s Not Fun”

With alt-discouraging game mechanics like Ascension Levels & Spells, Epic 2.0 Spells, and with extreme item rarity events such as Summer Ethereals and various flavors of the “Burnt Key” mechanic taking the place of achievement and accomplishment, it has all started to feel like we are barefoot and strapped to a treadmill laden with Lego bricks. Our pain is ignored as sharp corners continue to find our feet. Just one of the many examples is the 50% cap on increasing item stats by Infusing. A player can spend Marketplace currency or Raid DKP on an infuser that does almost nothing when consumed, then provides no in-game explanation of what happened. Requests for clarification from the developers using the last remaining communications venue available to us (Discord) is usually met with flat denials or abusive sarcasm.

Yesterday’s update promised a much-requested first wave of rebalancing to EverQuest II’s classes and spells. Players were looking forward to logging in to see how our concerns had been addressed. Instead, according to Caith, the changes have been made invisibly and the spell and combat art windows in game are now deceiving us:

Spell tooltips are not affected by this change at all, so any reduction you are seeing between ability tooltips from yesterday and today have absolutely nothing to do with it. Side effect of the type of modifiers they recieved, I don’t yet have a way to apply the changes the way we need to with them showing in the tooltip.  That is in the works, but will probably not hit until expansion. Almost every spell in the game was changed from 1 to up to 20 percent. No, I am not giving you a list.

In an Emperor’s New Clothes way, players must now just accept that as many as 7,227 spells and combat arts have undergone undocumented, invisible, and unverifiable changes.

There has been an undeniable trend in recent years of EverQuest II denying information to players. Descriptions on spells like the Ranger Hawk and recent Adornments tell you virtually nothing about what they actually do. It’s become neigh impossible to confirm if unexpected behavior is intended or a bug. Sometimes the only way you know you’ve done something wrong is if your character suddenly finds itself on Drunder. This isn’t just conspiracy theory. The new Proving Grounds server suppresses all Parsing data. Any analysis of the effectiveness of healing, taunts, or damage are made impossible by the omission of this information from this server’s game logs. This is a real inconvenience when you’re playing time-limited events on a Frankenstein’s monster of Battlegrounds and PvE code with an untested new auto-scaling system. Players flocked to this new content not out of a desire to play this type of content (I think most of us would just be happy to have a Dungeon Finder matchmaker that works), but because disruptively powerful best-in-slot items were dangled in front of us.

We can’t trust that any game behavior is intended, a bug, or an unforgiveable exploit. We can’t glean an accurate assessment from Item and Spell examine windows, and now today, we cannot even trust the Spell and Combat Art tooltips which are shown to us. EverQuest II is starting to feel like reading a disjointed novel with an reluctant, sometimes unreliable narrator. The ability to be skillful about the game has been taken away from the average player. Unless you are a math major who spends hours in front of a training dummy testing different scenarios, you are flying blind. Again, I have raised these concerns with the team, and the response was that the average player doesn’t need to know or care about any of this. This was not the case when I started playing EQ2. It had a complexity beyond World of Warcraft, but diligent reading of in-game tooltips and spell descriptions as well as consultation with a friend or two would set players on the right path.

Today, with system after system piled upon, being knowledgeable about the game has become completely out-of-reach for all but the 1% of the 1%. Continued respectful attempts at making the EQ2 team aware of just how much the game feels like “HomeworkQuest” these days earned this quip by a developer “If you don’t like it, don’t play it.”

UPDATE:

Because an EQ2 dev will read this and ask for more concrete examples, here’s one from yesterday:

[eq2u]Rune of the Celestial[/eq2u] says it triggers 1.6 times per minute. In-game with a fully buffed character I believe it says 2.0 times per minute. However extensive testing by players has shown it triggers approximately once every 2 minutes. Simple straightforward issue. Here’s Caith‘s reply:

We’ve tested this effect both internally and monitored it on live, and it is triggering at the intended rate.

Is it reasonable to ask that in-game descriptions match in-game behaviors?

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Comments (37)

  • Bhagpuss

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    I think if they’re going to show stats they should be accurate. Personally, I’d as soon they didn’t show anything other than the absolute basics. The more stats they show, the more parsable information they open up, the more focused people become on interpreting it and thereby controlling it.

    That, to me, takes away from what I believe to be the main reason for existence of EQ2 (and most MMOs), namely to provide a virtual environment in which those willing to engage their imagination can live a virtual life. I do understand that that’s not what everyone thinks this software is for, however.

    Either way, I think almost everyone who’s played EQ2 for a while should be able to agree that the nested, overlapping systems are confusing and that the palimpsest makes reading anything more difficult than it should be. I play a lot of MMOs, though, and it’s hardly an uncommon situation. If these things are even slightly successful and persistent they tend to bloat.

    The real issue you highlight is the attitude of the current DBG team. Again, it’s hardly unfamiliar. Verant used to be almost exactly like this – passive-aggressive and thin-skinned. Bunker mentality. There’s no excuse for it, either socially or commercially. They should sort it out.

    Reply

  • Necromancer

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    “Working as intended”

    Reply

  • EQ3orGoAway

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    Customers. They don’t understand the concept.

    Reply

  • Eschia

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    When full documented changelogs become a lost art I think the devs have given up. I don’t know if EQ2 is legitimately on life support yet, but it often seems that way. It probably isn’t nearly as quiet as the skeleton crew that was assigned to Vanguard before it went under. If it ends up like that, expect a shutdown within a year. I hate being a doomsayer but I think the best EQ2 days are behind us. Sadly.

    I also think too many things have been piled onto the game over the years. With my age it’s increasingly becoming harder to keep track of everything, and I’ve long since stopped raiding since it’s hard to micro-manage and often feels like a slog. I don’t calculate stats anymore. If I see an item or skill with higher stats, I swap for it and go play.

    Reply

  • Carnifex

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    If you ask legitimate questions, you get ignored (100%) or banned. No one bans me on GoG or Steam, so that’s where I hang out now. They’ve run EQ into the dirt, let it die and find something else to do, that game you loved is NEVER coming back into style.

    Reply

    • Mizgamer62

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      So true. :?: :roll: :| :cry:

      Reply

      • Mizgamer62

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        What is GOG?

        Reply

        • Therendil

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          GOG is a site that started out years ago repackaging old DOS games into new versions that run on modern systems, but they have grown into something a lot bigger and they have an active community.. The name used to stand for “Good Old Games.”

          Reply

  • Mizgamer62

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    Great article as usual Feldon. Thanks for writing it.

    Reply

  • Therendil

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    I’m in a very strange space these days with EQ and EQ2. I started EQ in 2008 with Echoes of Faydwer. I own the latest expansion, but I doubt I’ll ever play the content. I have watched as more and more of the game relies on gimmicks and incomprehensible mechanics of the sort have always inspired me to skip boss fights and move on to something else.

    I don’t know if EQ2 is on life support, but it is definitely being maintained by a small crew compared to a couple of years ago. That environment inevitably drives devs into a bubble because they literally don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to interact with the player base. Not a good thing, but that is reality these days.

    Reply

    • Feldon

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      Good summary of the problem.

      Reply

    • Griffonlady

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      It’s that good old business practice of making things more “efficient” (aka , profitable for the people who own the company) to force the company/employees to do more and more with less.. and less… and less and less. :\
      Keep in mind, SOE was sold to an investment firm. All Columbus Nova is interested in is money. Sustaining a game company isn’t their thing. All they have to do is milk it till it dies, then sell the pieces (Headquarters, servers, franchise, etc…)
      That being said, Eq and EQ2 are still alive and producing expansions, events, etc… while nearly every other game has been sunset. EQ next bit the dust, but I think we all saw that coming as soon as they released information and artwork from it. IIRC, the EverQuest franchise was where money to produce new games was coming from any way, or at least a large portion of it, so theoretically, we should have Norrath to play in for a long time yet.

      Reply

  • CoLDMeTaL

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    They don’t have resources to “change AND document”, and there is less accountability this way.

    I’ve been complaining about this for 10 years+

    Reply

  • Carnifex

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    BTW, I should have stated this from the get go in my first response, this entire article is spot on and accurate. I’d love to see one of the so called developers show their face and dispute a single word. Yeah, I’m waiting!

    Reply

    • Necromancer

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      They’ll just figure out a way to ban Feldon from his own site rather than dispute him.

      Reply

  • Ansom

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    Eq2 is a very old game, many hand have during the years change the code, now in theory, is just pure caos, any code change can generate a random change in other game part. Since they don’t test everything, the dev just don’t know how the game will change. In this situation, is normal to put in the patch note only 2 stupid thing, because dev don’t know what part in game will Actually change.

    About the black box… i think is sad if a new (or return) player have only external site for “study” the game. If someone will start with only internal eq2 information (no forum), is pretty much impossible to become a “decent” player in end game contest.

    Reply

    • Valeriee

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      My Window 95 installation is still running better than Everquest 2.

      There is enough news emerging from the never ending stream of customer complaints that will make sure new and returning players will avoid getting into contact with the game like the plague. Wouldn’t want to enjoy the time coping with the eq2 ferengi, er devs in my leisure time.

      Reply

  • Runkimberlyrun

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    Honestly I wouldn’t expect anyone to enumerate the changes to nearly 8k things individually. But I can see how annoying it is to have admittedly false tooltips for a period of time. The tooltips issue doesn’t just affect raiders, but all players. And they haven’t always kept every promise.

    Why don’t they just tell us what this “new method” of modifying things is? If we can be expected to figure it out anyway, why bother covering up?

    People can’t be understanding about the tooltips unless they can see what you’re struggling with.

    Reply

    • Ansom

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      Prob is an other layer, above all others, with +- % change and filter based on location (tle-bg-normal server). Is… the easy and fast thing to do. In this way, they can double tank dps in.. few clic (with a decent flag work, of course). Or fast fix if a spell is able to oneshot raid named.

      And prob is the reason beside we don’t have see any change in the spell tooltips, change increment will apply after all modificator.

      Reply

    • Bru

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      If you can change the code so that the ability does something differently, then the tooltip should parse what the code is actually doing. Basically, if you’ve done it right, then you only have to update one thing, and the tooltips should autopopulate with the correct information. If you’ve coded it in such a way where you also need to update all of the tooltips by hand, then you have coded it poorly and wasted everyone’s time.

      Wasting time seems to be a specialty of these devs though. It’s just a shame they’ve felt the need to waste their own time as well as ours.

      Reply

      • Feldon

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        Most of the spell descriptions in EQ2 are hand-written flavor text.

        Reply

  • Valeriee

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    Have all players quit the game and wait whether ‘If you don’t like it, don’t play it” still stands.

    Might become “We love you so much that we pay you to come back” in fears of getting fired.

    Reply

  • madrat x1000

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    The dev who said if you don’t like it don’t play it, sums it up perfectly. When you have that kind of mindset about the people who pay your salary its time to move on. The disconnect between the play base and the devs is a real issue. The total lack of trust is another.

    I am not playing any more, the reason is simple. It became a job with the last xpac, and no fun. So I took the devs advise and moved on.

    Reply

  • Dellmon

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    “EQ2 Tooltips are neither tools nor tips….” – Dellmon

    The lack of documentation has long since been a soapbox issue for me. I do believe that at times some members of the EQII team have agreed that more could be done in this area, but I think that has been polite nod of agreement, but nothing more.

    I believe that it is an entrenched part of Daybreak’s culture (and that it dates back to SOE as well) to leave the effort of explaining the game content to it’s fan sites. And while that might have worked back in the hey-day of EQ Live where there was a website that catered to every class and end-game guild sites with public forums even websites dedicated to different play styles and activities, those days have long since past and as the EQ franchise ages there is less and less available to players.

    I think it is a crutch to say that – - oh well, it’s a smaller team now so they should get a pass in this area. I would say that now is the counter to that. Given the number complex mechanics and different systems that have been bolted on top of already existing ones and then altered again and again to FINT problems that those bolt-on’s created, now more than ever how-things-work is even more needed.

    I think their hesitation to document gameplay stems not from an ancient MMO held belief that the adventure of discovery is the fun – - but rather, if it is written down then players have a chance to point to elements of gameplay that are not functioning as documented. In today’s gameplay climate everything is working as intended until it is patched and who is to say otherwise because their is no canon of gameplay.

    I believe that informed players lead to successful players and those who are successful will continue to invest both time and more importantly dollars. I believe that is simple human nature – when you are good at something it is more enjoyable and you spend more at it.

    But with respects to this what frustrates me the most is that on any proverbial given Monday evening we as players can be playing the game one way and then login the next day on proverbial patch Tuesday and find that without warning, notice, or explanation that gameplay has changed. And perhaps by the grace of Brell – maybe there is a loosely worded partial sentence that might give some indication of what was changed. But more often there isn’t – - or even worse, what was posted is just flat out incorrect. Patch Notes are neither what was patched nor are they are they really notes.

    I have no expectation that their behavior in this space will change. If anything, I think I would expect it to maintain status quo or perhaps decay even a little further. Ultimately it is what it is – - and we as players continue to show a willingness to tolerate it and accept it by continuing to invest both our time and our dollars. And that’s okay…I just wouldn’t hold my breathe about a change in this arena…

    P.S. – Don’t even get me started on the OFFICIAL and AWARD WINNING eq2 wiki… :grin:

    Reply

    • Someperson

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      Lets just call it what it is, there is no care whatsoever to do this right anymore. There is the get something out to make a splash. TLE/PG and such. Doors into reskined zones, this all points to lets just squeeze the last nickle out of this before its not even worth running the servers for it and sunset it.

      The year subscription deal is up in October? I am guessing we will see even less after that as the subscriptions drop off. So why even bother at this point to update the Tooltips if its not going to be around much longer

      Reply

    • Runkimberlyrun

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      I agree that the black box is getting too large and unwieldy, but not that it should not exist. Middle ground opinions take the risk of being attacked on all sides. But I’ll forge ahead anyway. Look at it from Daybreak’s point of view.

      1. Game making is a creative process, if you spend time listening to all your critics, you can become unable to move forward. This is true of actors, artists and the creative people in game companies. I really do wish people would remember that you’re talking to artists. Even computer programmers are creative people who can’t work or think clearly in a hostile situation. This goes back to the “don’t rush a miracle man, because you get bad miracles” principle.

      –You don’t think this game is a miracle? OK, try playing an SSI game on your PC and compare. Or try to play through even something like Diablo. You might need to remember how far games have come since the beginning of graphical games. And keep in mind how much smaller their team is now.

      – Also, they are following the publish or perish rule. Whether it is true or not, the principles behind the death of Netscape as a browser still ripple through electronic business. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read up on the history of Netscape VS Internet Explorer in the 1990s. It will explain why they think it’s less bad to publish poor quality code than it is to not publish at all.

      2. The continued software maintenance of this game for so many decades DOES preclude spaghetti code . It began long after that kind of GOTO type code was replaced firmly by procedural and possibly was even modern enough to be object oriented, given the time period in which it began. However, long standing objects start gaining more and more attached functions, and eventually can become as complex as spaghetti code. Remove an object and the results can be very random. The point is, they are likely to have a very hard time removing features that already exist. Modifying them is more effective. Hence the patches and layered code. It’s not as common these days to have your most avid game players taking computer science classes, it’s more mainstream. But in my day, it was nearly expected that gamers studied computers.

      3. Look at the history. Those who remember paper and pen games (not just D&D but Stormbringer, Vampire, KULT, Paranoia, etc…) know that these games always have a black box. As a former in-person DM I must say I kicked people out of my games for repeatedly demanding things like “roll all dice where we can see it.” Part of the fun was wondering if the DM just rolled something real or if he was just faking. However, I wasn’t the type who insisted that players not read the DM’s guide. Other DM’s were like that;. Some wouldn’t let you into a Paranoia game if you’d read the book, ditto for the Lovecraft game Call of Cthulhu. I think there is a reasonable amount of openess about rules,and a much much smaller amount of things should be held closed.

      4. There are millions of secrets in this game. Go look up Fire Seed scrolls if you’re not sure. Many people don’t realize that spell scales. Now, with a distrusted set of tooltips, I don’t know if that is still true. http://eq2.wikia.com/wiki/Scroll_of_Fire_Seeds Go look at it in game. There are about a million other little tidbits of secrecy all over Norrath. So the “joy of discovery” will NEVER run out of fodder as long as such tings aren’t nerfed into oblivion.

      – I also disagree that the “joy of discovery” is driving the secrecy because let’s take a current example, Infusing. The infusion system is quite complex and ordinary (or even extraordinary) players cannot be expected to understand the layering aspects without being told by the game creators. Since new things are reasonably well explained, I’m not buying the “joy of discovery” theory.

      Basically I think they’re in a pickle with layers of code and complexity that can’t be modified without side effects that need a whole new programming project to handle.

      I can’t say anything about the Proving Grounds and nothing I’ve said is to be applied to it. I think they’re using it as an experimental area so if I ever do join in that part, I will just look at it as a beta test.

      The one thing about PG that I like is that it’s even less PVP than before. I deeply object to forced PVP on game moral grounds (there’s nothing heroic about PVP in my mind). This game is the original optional PVP game, and I really appreciate the move toward PGs. I hope they get it figured out and it doesn’t linger like so many other underdeveloped ideas.

      Reply

  • Noctew

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    I sometimes wish they’d just patch out all the BS systems they have added over the years. Not make them irrelevant, remove them. Just green stats, one or two blue stats and some well designed procs. Heck, even remove most AA trees and fill the one remaining with relevant effects. Then there’d be a solid base on which to build a new expansion on.

    But even then I could see an outcry by some players that they PAID for this features and how do they DARE to remove them…

    Reply

  • Quelaag

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    This game was a lot better when it was just green stats with two or three blue stats, and some neat procs. Now it’s just a mess where most of your time is spent guessing what stats do what and which stats are best. And guessing how much damage stuff actually does because the detailed information the game provides is generally incorrect. It’s not fun

    And on top of those mechanical issues, there are other information related issues. Like the PoIs and RoIs are gone, and the quests don’t tell you where to go. Either go to the wiki or guess. Yeah, real fun.

    I have a funny feeling that the developers couldn’t care less about this game.

    Reply

    • Mizgamer62

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      Agreed, especially with the last line.

      Reply

  • Sauced

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    Asking for a FULL documentation of 7700+ changes – sure, that’s a big ask. And if they didn’t do that, I don’t see the harm in giving a generalized overview.

    Something like Class = Small/Large Increase/Decrease in DPS. If they brought Beastlords way down, that’s worth saying; if they brought sorcerers way up, also worth saying. I imagine they didn’t do this specifically, though, because people would flip out for one reason or another (OMG WHY DID YOU NERF MEEEEE OMGGGGGG).

    What bothers me most about all of this is that the tooltips now cannot be trusted.

    I main a channeler… Finding information out there on the class – ways to improve, approaches, etc – that’s almost impossible. It’s all reading those abilities and thinking critically while staying three steps ahead. That’s why I have enjoyed it so much – it’s different, it’s challenging, it’s fun.

    Most people have no clue how they work, how they heal, etc. There are so few of them running around endgame, trying to crowdsource information on the class is all but impossible.

    Making the one source of information I have to better myself as a player untrustworthy… What’s the point?

    Reply

  • zzzzzzzz's

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    When you hide all the stats, parsing, RNG chance, etc. then you don’t have to be accountable for things when they don’t add up. Bottom line, players want to have fun and be the best they can possibly be with the tools/items available to us. DBG wants to make money. If DBG can’t find the balance between making money and player satisfaction then all is lost. We are paying them for a service and when they fail on the customer satisfaction level of said service – we the player are not to blame.

    Reply

  • Mathafern

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    Wow what a massive troll article from Feldon….
    … that I happen to agree with.

    Once upon a time there were enough folks using actual scientific method to suss out what happened with each patch, even when there wasn’t enough detail. Now we are more and more limited to “I seem to be dying more” and “this seems slower” as means of nerf detection- because there are fewer people willing to waste the time to carefully calculate what the change must be (with proper controls) and even fewer ways to gather that information.

    Reply

  • Anaogi

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    Amusingly, Kander just posted thus in regards to the Summer Ethereals:

    Kander – Today at 2:56 PM
    I am not allowed to give dates or info anymore. So soon.

    One wonders if, after a certain recent incident, he’s on a shorter leash now…

    Reply

    • Carnifex

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      Too bad it wasn’t muzzled years ago. But then, if it had been muzzled, we couldn’t have enjoyed such gems as, “if you don’t like it, don’t play it”.

      Reply

      • Mizgamer62

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        LOL…good one! :mrgreen: :lol: :grin:

        Reply

  • Whilhelmina

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    On my small level, I recently came back after a four year break, and levelled 2 chars to 100 using the baubles some weeks ago.
    When I was on Kithicor one-shotting mobs for the newsies quests with the bauble-levelled SK (using basic-solo AA build), I realised I was doing 3 million damages with my bow. After searching around, I found out that it was the 4k (yeah, 4000) bow-proc that was doing over 3 million damages.
    I looked at that, scratched my head and though “how the heck is that even remotely possible?”. Harm Touch is showing toping at 900k on the tooltip and makes in the two digits mills of damage.

    At that point, there’s absolutely nothing in those stats I can understand out of the blue. And I would definitely love accurate tooltips. It’s waaaay too confusing for a returning player like myself who lost touch with the system. And I’m not even close to starting ascension stuff.

    I remember back in Odus and such, combat mechanics were understandable even for a TS-oriented never-adventuring person such as myself. Now… I just don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing. And it’s a tad bit frustrating.

    Reply

  • Uxt

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    I’m still looking up stats on the wiki once in a while because I have no friggin’ clue in-game what it does because there’s zero information provided.

    Might be a combination of low resources, developer laziness, or poor reliance on player-run information like EQ2Wiki as an excuse not to do it. All focus is on short-term profit spikes and nothing else.

    Reply

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