Better is Worse
There is a saying here in Silicon Valley (and perhaps elsewhere) -- "Worse is better". This is meant to convey the notion that it's often a bad idea to spend a long time perfecting a technology or new invention; it's usually better to get a new idea out into the marketplace quickly, even though it may have imperfections.
This idea shows up in Everquest II, in that the game was pretty clearly rushed into production, and there have been pretty serious changes in the game design over the last 9 months. Still, overall, the game has several design concepts that I like and endorse, and overall, I've enjoyed myself. Also, SOE has been making money at it, which is necessary for me to be able to play. Worse is better.
In this post, I'd like to address another design idea that I now think was a mistake. I call this design idea, "Better is Worse".
As a character gains in level, the game designers want to slowly raise the difficulty level of the game, presenting the player with greater and greater challenges. As far as that goes, that's appropriate. The mechanisms that they've chosen to do this create a problem though.
Whenever a character gets a straight upgrade to a spell, the new spell is typically not as effective as the old one, particularly when normalized for level. Healers often notice that their new upgrade doesn't heal for any more than the spell it is replacing, which is gray. Often, this comparison is unfair, since the new spell is apprentice I, and the old one is often Adept I. Of course, the new spell will be orange, and thus allow skill increase, and will improve as you level, which the gray version will not. Of course, if you gain a few levels, and upgrade to adept I, the new spell will do more healing, or more damage.
But in the meantime, the mobs are getting tougher, too. They have more hitpoints, and do more damage. Your new nuke might do more damage, but is it probably doing damage that is the same as or smaller relative to the health of a "typical" encounter of your level. Unless you are a warlock. But at least it looks like you are getting better.
As an illusionist, its even worse. A stun that lasted 15 seconds (Daunting Gaze) has been "upgraded" to a stun that lasts 8 seconds (Uncertainty). This isn't a direct replacement, since they don't use the same icon and aren't on the same recast timer. However, Daunting Gaze stops working on mobs above level 31 or so.
Likewise, the higher level illusionist root, Lock Mind, has an upgraded capability ( a chance to stifle, as well as root), but it breaks entirely too often to be of much use, much more frequently than the lower level version, Binding Light. Binding Light also has the useful property of slowing the movement of its target after the root breaks. Still, I'd much rather use Binding Light than Lock Mind, but on mobs above level 35 or so, I can't, because it doesn't work.
This feels very heavy-handed and intrusive to me.
Now I'm all for making the game more difficult as you gain levels, but I think that this kind of mechanism is a mistake. It puts a player in the position of working, sweating, and enduring debt and bad pickup groups in order to level, and as a reward, he receives a spell that isn't as good as the one he has, and the only reason to use it is because the better one doesn't work any more. And that isn't fun.
Everquest 2 may be a way of life for some of us, but it's important to remember that it's a game, too. Players want to feel rewarded by the game for leveling, not punished.
To me, the standard for whether a spell is an upgrade or not is whether I would use it to fight low level grays or not. Most of the damage spells pass this test, after all, they do more damage. But certain classes of spells, notably the stuns and roots, do not. Mesmerization seems to merely tread water, with the new replacements working about as well as the old, only the old ones do not work on mobs above a certain level.
So, as an illusionist, I have the feeling of being punished for leveling, or at best being put on a treadmill. I suspect other classes have the same feelings, the complaints from wizards and warlocks resulted in a big upgrade to their higher-level damage dealing last spring.
Making people feel bad about leveling is a good way to kill interest in the game, and as such is contrary to SOE's interests. However, they've kind of painted themselves into a corner, a complete revamp of spells and combat arts would be very disruptive. They are talking of a new "combat concept" though I don't know when or if that's scheduled, or what form it will take. But I do think it's needed.