New Year's for Newbies
As the first post of the new year, I think it fitting that I discuss the other set of changes highlighted in the producer's letter, namely, the notion that SOE will be revamping the low-level experience.
Their plan is to allow players to pick their final class at the outset. If you want to play a necromancer, you choose necromancer at the beginning, not after 19 levels. And the abilities that you get at low levels are related to your final class. Furthermore, they intend to differentiate the Isle of Refuge experience for good and evil characters. And the starting town zones and their associated adventure areas will be redone to create an experience that is more racially distinct.
This is all about replay value. There is no difference in what skills a paladin has and what a shadowknight has until level 20. A necromancer has to earn 20 levels before gaining lifetap and an undead pet. Many people do not have the patience to repeat the level 1-20 experience, apparently.
Given that I've already leveled several characters past 20, this does not apply to me, or to several of my guildies, who have done the same thing. We kind of appreciate the story whereby you earn the right to be an Illusionist, Necromancer, or Paladin. On the other hand, I know some other folks who don't like the repetition, so I think SOE is probably on to something here, business-wise.
Of course, anytime the something is made easier, all the folks who earned it the old, harder way feel a bit cheated.
My biggest worry is that the class and subclass quests will be done away with. These are some of the best part of the game. They really dramatized what your class was about, and made you feel how that was differentiated from others. The Rogue class quest involves actual sneaking, not just turning on a skill. The Freeport brawler class quest involves a series of bouts with what are basically professional wrestlers. And so on.
However, I have every hope that SOE understands this and is trying to expand on it, not do away with it. If the first twenty levels are something to be enjoyed and played for its own sake, then people won't rush through it so fast. Which means more time and dolllars spent playing the game.
The second component of the changes consist of making races mean something more to the player. As it stands, your starting race affects very little except your appearance. You get your racial language, but that is easily learned. And your racial vision ability, which is seldom used, it seems. The most important meaning of race is the racial traditions that are offered to you, which oddly enough, mean that tradeskill class choice is coupled to racial choice at least as much, if not more than adventure class. Starting stats are differentiated, but in the long run, they don't really mean much.
Let me explain what I mean. At level 50, my Intelligence floats around 300, depending on what buffs are up. All but 25 of those INT points come from gear and buffs. If I were an Ogre, instead of a High Elf, I would have started with 15 INT instead of 25, and my int would now hover around 290 instead of 300. This might have some impact on the damage of my spells, but I'd have to parse to really be able to see it, and, as an illusionist, my bread-and-butter spells, Breeze and Mez, would not be affected at all, as best I can tell.
By contrast, in EQ1 at level 50, I had about 250 INT, about 120 of which was due to my personal INT. Had I been an Ogre, that would entail a drop of maybe 60 points of INT, which is a much more significant fraction of the total. However, in EQ1 I would not have been allowed the choice to make an Ogre Enchanter. Finally, choosing a different race started you in a completely different city, with entirely different quests and newbie zone, so that would be something you would do just to see that city.
They aren't going to change the basic structure of the game and make racial stats more important, I'd expect. It seems unlikely that they will start to restrict class choice based on race, as well. Which is nice, since I think it's kind of fun to have the "wierd" classes available as a possibility. You know, an ogre wizard, or a troll paladin.
I like a world where characters can shape their own destinies. Where it's about the choices your character makes, not what race they are, that determines their skill and ability. That's a satisfying story to me. One where limitations can be overcome. One of my least favorite lines in the Star Wars saga was "his midichlorians are off the scale." Which implies that being strong with the force is a matter of genetics, not of training.
Anyway, I think that they are going to strengthen and differentiate the meaning of your racial choice by means of changes to the residence zones and the city adventure zones. Given how good they are at dramatizing classes and subclasses, this could be a very positive thing. Here's hoping!