After six years attending gaming conventions, namely Fan Faire and then SOE Live, one learns to carry a healthy dose of skepticism into any keynote or panel. The Age of Discovery (2011) and Chains of Eternity (2012) panels dazzled us with glitzy new features, beautiful new zones, and tweaks to itemization and mechanics. But by and large, these nips and tucks to itemization have remained in the well-worn rut of “Stamina + Main Stat increasing on a straight line” introduced with the Destiny of Velious expansion.
In Kyle “Kander” Vallée‘s interview with EQ2Talk this spring, he candidly shared his frustrations with Stat Consolidation and his plans to bring back Player Choice and Variety in itemization. But while I had reason to be excited for the Tears of Veeshan Itemization and Mechanics panels at this year’s SOE Live, I wasn’t fully prepared for the daring long-term plan for Itemization with which we were presented. I observed a confident, unified development team laying out their vision for a future in which choice is put back into player hands, and where the complexity that has always set EQ2 apart from more “accessible” games such as WoW is embraced rather than smoothed over.
There are some big changes in ToV to be sure, and stats vital to the success of each class no longer flow like water. In a way, items have become raw materials for getting the Stats a player wants. Potency, previously a “gimme” stat appearing automatically on every item is now scarce. In case there was any doubt, Reforging will now be a necessity for all play styles rather than the plaything of hardcore players.
With the removal of class restrictions from nearly all gear (items are now restricted only to the material type: Cloth, Leather, Chain, and Plate) an item that might’ve easily been dismissed as “chain healer only” in the past may actually be an upgrade for the eagle-eyed scout who looks past the base numbers to see the item’s potential. It wasn’t that long ago that Rangers and Assassins dabbled in Mage gear for the intelligence boost to poison damage, so it will be interesting to see just how flexible this brave new world of itemization is.
After logging into the Tears of Veeshan beta and checking out the overwhelming array of gear options on the Beta buffer, heading to the EQ2 forums and absorbing the Itemization Magna Carta, and then cringing at the doom-and-gloom naysayers on the forums who have expressed suspicion and doubt at the need to make thoughtful choices about gear upgrades, I had a ton of questions about Itemization.
Fortunately, Akil “Lyndro” Hooper, Creative Director for EverQuest and EverQuest II, and Michael “Xelgad” Ganz, EverQuest II Mechanics Lead, were able to take a moment and share with me their intentions for gear progression in Tears of Veeshan and into the future.
EQ2Wire: With a return to patterns and rare, desirable items, it seems like at least some of the itemization in Tears of Veeshan is going back to popular ideas in past expansions. Can you talk about this some more?
Xelgad: We’re just trying to make the itemization fun, interesting and exciting. As we said in our Itemization Magna Carta, we believe that loot should be a combination of a gift and a well deserved paycheck. Like a gift, it should be something you want, and hopefully a surprise. Like a paycheck, you should be able to feel like you earned it. So we’re making an effort to reward raiders like a ‘paycheck’ so they definitely have items they can use, while still keeping the items desirable, and fun – as seen in the way we’re using our procs and effects.
Q: Does Tears of Veeshan completely replace the existing itemization, or are there some existing zones and items which still remain relevant?
Xelgad: Certain zones from previous expansions have had their items upgraded to the new system – and those zones are included in our progression path. Such zones include The Dreadcutter: The Pirate Kings, The Fabled Djinn Master’s Prism and Siren’s Grotto: Dissension’s challenge encounters.
Xelgad also posted some information about this on the forums:
To clarify, all loot from the Siren’s Grotto [Challenge] encounters will be instantly upgraded/upgradable on ToV release. The Pirate Kings weapons will also be instantly upgraded/upgradable on ToV release. As stated above, the Djinn Master loot will be upgraded before ToV release. The avatars in Arena of the Gods will get a little more difficult after ToV release and drop new loot that fits ToV itemization. The existing Arena of the Gods loot will not be upgraded.
Q: If my friends/guild are currently geared up from running all the heroic zones from Chains of Eternity and Siren’s Grotto, what’s the difficulty curve going to be? Will we find itemization upgrades in the solo Questlines and Advanced Solo zones?
Xelgad: Yes, players who are geared from heroic content in Chains of Eternity and Siren’s Grotto will gain upgrades from the Advanced Solo content and the questlines.
Q: What about raiders who maybe haven’t made a lot of progress into Siren’s Grotto zones? Will they be able to hit any of the targets in Veeshan? Are players progressing through Chains of Eternity and Siren’s Grotto at the expected pace, or might we see some changes in the diffculty of these mobs?
Xelgad: The new Alternate Advancements, new equipment from the heroic zones in Tears of Veeshan and our systems changes will help those players progress. They will have raid targets to fight in Tears of Veeshan and they should be able to make progress on the Pirate Kings, Djinn Master and the challenge encounters in Siren’s Grotto: Dissension.
Q: Could you tell us the intended gear level audience for the new zones and intended order of difficulty? (Cryptic, Arcane, Potent, Energized and Mystical)
Xelgad: Cryptic armor comes from the Advanced Solo content and can be used in the Advanced Solo content and entry-level heroic zones. Arcane items are accessible in the lower difficulty heroic zones and for use there and for breaking into the more difficult zones. Potent is a rank up from that – from and for the more difficult heroic zones and the raids. Energized and Mystical items come from the raid zones.
The five tiers of Tears of Veeshan armor, plus gem upgrades.
Q: In the beta, players have discovered gem slots on items as well as Weapon Damage Bonus. Can you talk about these?
Xelgad: Gem slots are a new method for upgrading items. Players can use the appropriate gem on an item that can accept it and all the stats on the item will increase. As you noted, we’re itemizing Weapon Damage Bonus as an alternate way to increase your character’s damage output and to add some choice and thought.
NOTE: In Beta testing, we discovered that each Gem boosts most of the stats on an item by 3-4%. Cryptic items with 4 gems are roughly equivalent to base Arcane items, while Potent armor with 3 green gems have a healthy gap between their stats and the gemless Energized raid set.
Q: When players login after the expansion, I understand that there will be a one-time “Item Reset” that allows players to break off the adornments or unequip some of their items. Can you talk in more detail about this?
Lyndro: Items that have had their spell weapon stats changed are being reset. There may be other items that get reset here or there….To make this easier we altered the way that the item reset works, so you can choose which items get unadorned and unattuned instead of having all of your equipment drop into your overflow.
NOTE: Due to the sweeping changes in Reforging, this will be reset on most items when players login to EQ2 after the expansion. Each item that loses its reforging will receive one free reforge.
Q: I know the team have been working to improve Server performance and tackle lag through code optimization, as well as some design changes to Itemization that put the focus less on lots of small triggered effects to fewer, more substantial effects. Can you talk a little about what role item procs will have in the expansion? What percentage of a player’s effectiveness can they expect from procs?
Xelgad: Players should notice, especially in raids, a large portion of their player power (via items) coming from effects. With a lot of these effects, we’re trying to shift the emphasis towards everyone working together as a team. We’re doing our very best to reduce latency as high amounts of lag is the best way to ruin the fun of a game. Short answer? Effects are good and powerful on the new items and we’re trying to build them in ways that reduces the strain on both the servers and player connections.
Q: Most players in beta have reported a tripling or quadrupling of their health. Why did the team decide to make such a large leap in these numbers vs. smaller incremental increases?
Xelgad: High amounts of potency and crit bonus granted over the last few expansions have greatly increased the amount of healing that priests can output. The new health values are a jump to return the game to a state of “Tug of War” rather than having to focus on one-shots and preventing damage. Rather than just let the problem fester further, we decided to just rip the bandaid off.
Q: At SOE Live, and also in the Itemization Manifesto posted on the forums, it seems the itemization pendulum is swinging in the direction of player choice and providing tradeoffs, rather than such a linear path as we have had in the past few years. Is there a risk of player confusion now that most classes will have 5-6 choices of gear styles?
Xelgad: We don’t think that players will get too confused with the new choices, and even if they do, there is a conversion merchant for all of the quested armor. Also, players shouldn’t be able to end up in a state where they are unable to play their character due to the choices they made with their armor.
Q: One of the big changes in the expansion is, Multi Attack is being soft-capped at 200, while DPS Mod is being uncapped and will increase the damage of each hit. Can you talk about this change?
Xelgad: This relates back to the latency issue. Multi-Attack can be very stressful on player connections to the server, and it’s not the happiest thing in the world for the server performance itself. Since Multi-Attack and Damage Per Second can be used the exact same way based on their curves, we decided to swap them – since Damage Per Second is a less stressful calculation. Also, keep in mind that Multi-Attack is actually capped at 1200 and that comes out to 1.75 extra attacks. Damage Per Second is now capped at 2300.
Q: As a followup question, some NPCs in EQ2 have the abilities of a Brawler and thus are very good at avoiding hits. With Multiattack and Flurry, scouts and fighters had many opportunities to try to hit an enemy. With the shift to DPS Mod — which will make even a single missed attack rather devastasting — is there something that can be done to balance the change?
Lyndro: Your accuracy isn’t changing, so there shouldn’t be an appreciable change, because math.
Q: Potency is important to every class, yet in the expansion, only certain sets of armor have this stat. Under what circumstances will players choose to miss some potency in favor of another stat?
Xelgad: The items are balanced around the Weapon Damage Bonus directly contesting the Potency from other items. The damage increase will shift from “Abilities” to “Auto-Attack” if you were to use one of those items instead.
Q: What has the Beta feedback been like so far?
Xelgad: We’ve been getting a lot of constructive feedback, of which we are quite appreciative.
I have conspicuously avoided the topic of this summer’s SOE Layoffs, however I felt I must make a few points here that readers hopefully glean some comprehension of what the EQ2 team has gone through in the last 2 months to get this expansion out the door. At SOE Live, the EQ2 team unveiled an ambitious programme of new solo, group, and raid content, as well as a complete rethinking of itemization. Four weeks later, they found out that they’d have to deliver those promises with a dramatically downsized team.
I’ve met quite a few folks who work at SOE, from the EQ2 team, to Community, to folks in Platform (for Census). I’ve chatted with EQ2 folks on beta tours, in-game, and on the forums, and I’ve bought them drinks at SOE Live. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know them and their unique contributions to Norrath, so to me, they’re not strangers on a computer screen — they’re friends. So when the layoff hammer fell after SOE Live, the bottom dropped out of my stomach.
After countless 90+ hour weeks, a team just 1/3 the size of the one that delivered Rise of Kunark has managed to hit every goal and deliver every zone they’d announced in Las Vegas just over two months ago. So I wanted to take a moment to recognize that, and give the team a pat on the back for giving us Tears of Veeshan.
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