I did not know it was going to be a free “gold level” weekend in EverQuest II Extended this past weekend.
Not that it would have mattered. I opted in for a month of Station Access which, it turns out, also gives me a Gold Level membership in EQ2X, as I think I shall refer to it.
I figured that, as I had just done the level 1 to 20 jaunt in old, subscription style EQ2, that it might be an opportune time to compare that with extended.
I thought I was actually going in as a bronze level player when I grabbed the EQ2X client on Thursday. However, I quickly noticed that I had a lot more bag slots than I was supposed to get as a bronzie. I also did not have the option to upgrade to silver, which you can do for a one-time, 1,000 Station Cash transaction.
When I went to check my SOE account information, it showed me as a gold member by virtue of Station Access.
The current (as of this date) EQ2X membership chart will show you what the differences are (I have the previous one here, if you want to note minor changes):
Still, even if I wasn’t a bronze, I figured that the comparison was still worthwhile.
I decided to repeat my experience as closely as I could.
I rolled up another barbarian berserker. I started him in Halas. I even named him Sigwerd.
Sigwerd (the second) is now level 22 on the Freeport server, the EQ2X server. Here are things I noted on the way to that level.
I saw a lot more people playing on EQ2X compared to my adventures on the Crushbone server, which is no slouch when it comes to population on the old servers. It isn’t Antonia Bayle, but they are not going to merge it with another server either.
The Freeport server always shows a heavy load because it is the only EQ2X server available. SOE appears to be ready to try out that single fantasy world idea I was speculating about roughly two years back.
Because EQ2 uses multiple versions of the same zone when a zone becomes heavily populated, I was not seeing anything like all of the people running around in the New Halas area.
Because you end up doing a couple of solo instance events as part of the New Halas 1-20 quest line, you can tell when there are a lot of people about. On Crushbone, on a Saturday afternoon, I never had to choose which version of the zone I wanted to enter. But I saw as many as 7 versions of the Frostfang Sea on Freeport.
Of course, there is a downside to this. If your main argument against WoW is that people are there are idiots, then EQ2X is proof that idiots are a fixed percentage of any population. With everybody allowed access to all channels for the weekend, the idiots made themselves known. I think the main purpose of the levels 1-9 channel is to force new players to learn how to turn off a chat channel.
And even if we vary on definition of who is a idiot, certainly the masses on EQ2X show a very WoW-like attitude towards what messages are appropriate on the Auction channel.
Still, I can put up with a bit of that to have a world that feels occupied and in use. Or at least in a world where parts of it do.
Certainly New Halas is a vibrant and active location. But it is the hot new zone with the fancy new housing. Everybody wants to be there.
Meanwhile, a trip through Qeynos was a trip through an almost empty city. A couple of people were running around, but it was about as active as the Crushbone version, which is to say not very active at all. But then, what is there to bring people to Qeynos these days?
Buy Stuff, Sell Stuff
I was interested to see that on the EQ2X server that you could buy your way through the equipment rat race. A set of master crafted armor, for example, runs 600 SC, or $6.00 US.
And the equipment grind is even more of a rat race these days since SOE has made old equipment lose its effectiveness as you out level it.
I am not sure what this is doing to the in-game market. You are forced to buy new equipment every 10 levels, but SOE will happily let you buy your way out of that worry. Is that good or bad for people who, say, craft armor?
The broker seemed pretty vibrant for things like collection quest items. I made over a plat with those, mostly because I was being a bit obsessive about finishing off the butterfly collections. But this was a weekend when everybody had access to it.
Most of the time, bronze players have no access, and silver players can buy but not sell on the broker unless they buy special credits.
I realize that it has been said that there is a hope that we’ll go back to the Commonlands Tunnel method of commerce. The problem is, SOE will sell you all the important equipment, which leaves commodities like trade skill materials (which SOE will also sell you directly, btw) which are best handled via the broker. I mean, there is a reason they put a broker in every trade skill instance, right?
The Inevitable LOTRO Comparison
Content is an obvious area of comparison with Lord of the Rings Online.
EQ2X gives you all the content in the game up to level 80. If you want the Sentinal’s Fate content, which is 81-90, you’ll have to buy the expansion. This is a big selling point over the LOTRO system where they want to sell you content past level 20 or so.
I was a bit surprised at how many restrictions I could not buy myself out of in EQ2X though.
Again, comparing with LOTRO, I like that they allow you to get past the bag slot restriction with cash. More bag slots, more bank slots, more shared slots, all yours for some Turbine Points. In EQ2X, these items are not available for Station Cash. No, you have to move up to a higher access level. The only exception seems to be character slots, on which I have given my opinion already, an opinion I heard echoed a few times in-game.
Then there is the currency question, Station Cash versus Turbine Points. I like that Station Cash seems have a set value versus real world currency, so no matter how you buy it, it is 100 SC to the US Dollar. (In the US at least.) Turbine Points can run anywhere from $0.60 to $2.00 per 100, depending on how and where you purchase it.
Station Cash also seems to have more options for purchasing. For example, if I want some Station Cash, I will probably buy it via my cell phone, which is on a pre-paid plan that I barely use. So there is more than $200 sitting there that I have already “spent” once, by putting $20 on the phone every 90 days to keep it active, that I could turn around and “spend” again on Station Cash.
On the flip side, I do really like that you can earn Turbine Points in game. Played right, and not too far off the most efficient path, you can earn enough points to get a few zones past the initial level 20 cap. Station Cash, as far as I can tell, is a cash-only situation, barring the 600 Station Cash I seemed to have accumulated by just being subscribed off and on over the last couple of years.
Well, aside from the lack of that “Knight of Bayle” quest for new players, EQ2 and EQ2X are the same basic game.
EQ2X’s main draw, for those already play EQ2, is the fact that the server is well populated. It is very nice to see the game feeling alive again. It am glad that SOE is holding firm on keeping this to a single server, even if it does mean more disconnects when zoning. (On Sunday, every attempt to enter my house ended up with me at the character select screen.)
That said, it is kind of a pain that for EQ2 vets the option to play on a well populated server seems to require moving to a place where your $15 a month doesn’t buy you nearly as much. I wonder if SOE should pursue a more aggressive plan towards server consolidation for EQ2 Live.
Then again, part of the liveliness of the Freeport server is that new people are joining the game. You could crush all the EQ2 Live servers into a single server and still not get any new blood since the only trial for the game is EQ2X, and once you make characters there you cannot move them to EQ2 Live.
So it looks like EverQuest II Extended is the wave of the future.
What do you think? Is a more vibrant and varied population worth the restrictions that hit even Gold level accounts? Is there a way to save EQII Live, or will it be non-stop server consolidation from now on, until we’re all playing on the Antonia Bayle server?
And should SOE try this with EverQuest as well?