Well, I tried EQ2 last night, and found I enjoyed myself a fair bit. I made a Fae Dirge and decided to let my inner powerleveler shine for a night; with a bit of muddling around to learn the controls and iron out the kinks, and a lot of time spent running around looking for quest locations, I somehow managed to vastly exceed my own expectations and get the little guy to level 11. Yeah, I know.
So how was the experience? Really fast… unlike Ysharros, who leveled every time she sneezed, I seemed to level every time I blinked. But how was the experience of playing the game? I guess it was more or less as I expected… everything felt very familiar to me, mechanically speaking, but I liked the feel of the game, the responsiveness of my character, the look of the Greater Feydark (though dark, it was nice… but I learned quickly not to leave my infrared sight on, or it became really hard to navigate), and the voicework. Actually, the voicework was pretty great, which is nice… the soundtrack was also quite pleasant, and when I played for a short bit without headphones on to test my reaction, I found myself dearly missing the audio. So that’s a good sign. My laptop’s getting a bit agèd these days (time to replace it, will do soon), so I had the video settings pretty low, which is a shame. I suspect the game is fairly pretty.
I’m a veteran MMO player and enough of EQ2 is your basic Diku that I had a good idea what to do, but I’ll note that the game doesn’t do a fabulous job explaining everything that’s going on. There are NPCs scattered around who will walk you through various game mechanics, but I think a solid, short tutorial would go a long way towards smoothing out the newbie experience. I always thought CoX did a great job there, explaining powers and the GUI and all the basic game mechanics without being too oppressive. LotRO’s intro is a good tutorial as well, for that matter.
The craft materials gathering was fun and easy, once I figured out that I could just left-click instead of right-clicking and navigating down the menu. Again though, I wasn’t sure what I could do with all the stuff I gathered… obviously it’s used in crafting of some sort, but which craft uses which materials? I was also a little surprised to see that I wasn’t able to sell the crafting materials that I gathered to a merchant. I presume I can sell them to other players via the broker, but not in the trial. So I have a bank full of stuff of dubious purpose and (currently) negligible value. I do intend to try the crafting, but again, the game hasn’t really helped me know what to do there or where to go. By patiently poking around the map of Kelethin I found several NPCs who teach various crafts, and I’ll visit them next time I play.
The combat was fun and fast. By level 11 I had a lot of different things to do in combat, including stunning my foes and running around them to deliver a quick backstab – so it felt very active, not a sit-in-one-place-and-autoattack sort of game. I liked that the hostile foes had a red line around their names, too… that’s a simple visual indicator that works well. I used my character’s stealth rather a lot, and found myself a little disappointed that the red hostile indicator disappeared when I was stealthed… meaning if I approached a group of foes while stealthed, I couldn’t tell if they were hostile or not without uncloaking, which clearly can be dangerous. I think the UI could be improved in this regard; a second visual indicator could be added which indicates that the target ~would~ be hostile but can’t currently see you.
Speaking of stealth, I was surprised to find that my stealth was 100% effective against everything I came across. That certainly made travel easier, and kind of trivialized the quests to go deep into various caves, past multiple hostile foes, to kill a boss deep inside. I’m not sure how I feel about the stealth really. It surely is convenient, I’ll say that much. Between the stealth and the high DPS of the class, I found the Dirge to be powerful and fairly easy.
The quests were of the usual sort; nothing really stood out there as being especially interesting or well-done. I’m jaded because I’ve done probably tens of thousands of quests in my lifetime, and the usual “kill X”, “gather X”, “go talk to X” are the staples of every MMO. I will say that LotRO has an edge here since the Shire offers a host of interesting and different quests (e.g. deliver mail or pies, or the fabulous chicken quests); that’s just one area though, and the rest of that game has quests that are typical of the genre (i.e. forgettable). Anyhow, the quests in EQ2 were neither good nor bad, just typical. They sufficed. Were it not for the better gear available thereby, I’d probably spend more time just running around killing things, which in fact I did a fair amount last night. Stealth surely is nice for exploring.
The UI was basically what I expected, though I noticed that a few elements aren’t explained with mouseover tooltips. That’s an odd omission. I know from other games that the second bar beneath my EXP bar is the rested experience, but I didn’t have a tooltip explaining that, nor telling me how exactly it works. There’s also a series of small rectangles laid out in a broken line beneath my health and power meter in the upper left; I gather it has something to do with buffs but still don’t know what it’s telling me or why. That’s a failure of design.
Overall, the game was fun, and I liked the world and the class. I’ll keep playing through the trial, and probably make another character or three to test out the other mechanics and settings. Right now it seems likely that I’ll subscribe.