The Coming Death of Deathtoll and PvP in EverQuest II

The story of PvP in EverQuest II is one of brief flashes of modest popularity interspersed amongst great stretches of general ennui.  It is an object lesson in lack of focus.

Because SOE certainly spent a lot of developer time on PvP when it came to EQII in an attempt to find a way to make it work.  But in what is almost completely a PvE oriented game, with classic level and gear progression, PvP never quite fit right.  Over the years SOE tried a number of things, limiting levels at which you could engage other players, nerfing stats when used in PvP, and eventually just giving all gear both PvE AND PvP stats.   They have had open world PvP, arenas, duels, and WoW-like battlegrounds.

And all of it was, in my opinion, a waste of development time.

PvP is not at all core to what made EverQuest II (or EverQuest) the game it is today.  I won’t say nobody played EQII for PvP, because there is always a small group that likes it and shouts loudly for it in the forums, but you would be hard pressed to convince me that all the work done on PvP over the last 11 years was a sound investment based on how many players it attracted.

Back in June when the legacy Norrath team started talking about nostalgia servers for EQII, I was pretty quick to discount the PvP idea.  Not core.

That is Daybreak's graphic for the idea

Generic TLE graphic

So it was a bit of a surprise to me when Daybreak announced not one, but two Time Locked Expansion servers, Stormhold for PvE, and Deathtoll for PvP.

I am not saying that people haven’t had fun with PvP in EQII, because clearly people have.  But it has never been a serious draw relative to the PvE side of the game, a fact proven once again by yesterday’s forum announcement:

Deathtoll will be merged with the PvE Time-Locked Expansion server Stormhold. This is currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 5, 2016. If you haven’t chosen to transfer your character before this date, we’ll be moving characters that remain on Deathtoll to Stormhold on April 5.

Deathtoll is dead, gone before it made it to the Secrets of Faydwer expansion.

And, in keeping with how these things go, that forum announcement has responses complaining about how Daybreak isn’t supporting the PvP community, completely oblivious to the fact that there apparently isn’t a big enough PvP community to even keep one server going.

If you have a character on the Deathtoll server… and are still subscribed to Daybreak All Access… you should be getting a token via in-game mail for a free transfer to any other EQII server.  If you are a PvP fan still on Deathtoll, I might have suggested transferring to that Russian PvP server… Harla Dar wasn’t it… but the Russian servers are being merged into the Splitpaw EU server.

Thus endeth PvP in EverQuest II… and good riddance to it.

Yes, I know a few people liked it.  And there will still be battlegrounds.  But in the end, non-core feature was non-core, and you cannot argue otherwise without creating castles in the sky built on magical clouds of “what if…” and “If only SOE had…” speculation.

This sort of “must cater to all play styles” idea should die, especially now in this era of the niche MMORPG.  Like so many other unsustainable MMO industry trends, you can probably blame this is one on WoW as well.  They managed to carry it off through sheer size.  You can afford support a small part of your player base if the total numbers are big enough to staff up for it.  More people probably play on PvP servers in WoW than ever played EQII at any given time.

But it still persists.  Maybe Lord British has enough bandwidth to manage it with Shroud of the Avatar… color me skeptical though, no matter how much people love to talk about the good old days of Ultima Online… but when Brad McQuaid is talking about PvP as a feature for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, that is enough for me to write the whole project off.  That is too big of an additional feature.  But scope creep was his problem with Vanguard as well.

Addendum: EQ2Wire has a summary of EverQuest II PvP posted.

15 thoughts on “The Coming Death of Deathtoll and PvP in EverQuest II

  1. HarbingerZero

    Preach on. Still waiting for the world’s first PvE-only MMORPG! Or at least one where PvP doesn’t suck resources away and lead to poor design decisions.

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  2. Rob Kaichin

    “This sort of “must cater to all play styles” idea should die, especially now in this era of the niche MMORPG”

    I wonder how this could apply to Eve…

    Certainly there are many playstyle which could qualify for this ‘niche’ status…

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rob Kaichin – I would (yet again, I know) offer up “walking in stations” as a non-core feature that CCP ought to avoid devoting resources towards ever again.

    CCP has been good at keeping even its niche features at least linked in some way to the core spaceship and PvP game play of EVE. Nobody is completely safe from being shot and everybody has to use the same market, which is a form of economic PvP. They would have to get into something like completely safe PvE or space with different rules or a server with different rules to really get out of their wheelhouse i think.

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  4. bhagpuss

    Battlegrounds in EQ2 are fun. They were fun in Rift too. In fact, battlegrounds have been fun in every MMO I’ve played. I’d suggest that any PvE MMO could easily add a handful of instanced battlegrounds and keep most of the people ever likely to play their games at all more than happy with the PvP on offer. It’s only when open world PvP rears its very ugly head that the problems begin.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I tend to agree that battlegrounds are a fun diversion, so I only have a couple of concerns with them. First is critical mass. BGs are fun, but only when you can actually get into them. If you queue up and they never pop, or only the most popular one ever pops and you don’t like that one, they can become a friction point. We’ve seen Blizz make a lot of changes over the years to make sure you can get in a BG fast including, most recently, foregoing the whole Horde vs. Alliance aspect.

    And the second is when BGs become too popular or too viable as an alternative to other aspects of the game. Warhammer Online suffered because their BGs were the best route to advancing, but the game itself depended on people actually contesting keeps and such in the open world zones.

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  6. Fenjay

    You didn’t quite say it, but I fear that good memories of Ultima Online only happened because it was the only game in town at that time (or one of a very few, to whoever was going to say Meridian 59). If not for that, its open world PvP might have run off most of the victims that completed the ecosystem.

    For that matter, Eve launched to a fairly empty playing field compared to today too. I wonder if any game could today manage to get to critical mass with an open-world model of PvE “sheep” and PvP “wolves”, as opposed to the battleground model.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Fenjay – Yeah, I didn’t want to go there because that is a whole different post. There is a rich vein to be mined blogging about factors that make the good old days seem good, not the least of which are the fact that the options were pretty sparse, the whole idea was still fresh and new, and that people generally forget the bad while retaining the good… or reshape the bad into the good… when enough time passes.

    For example, I was robbed at gun point when I was in college. Today the whole tale is a mildly amusing anecdote I bore people with. But I’m not sure it seemed quite so funny at the time when some scraggly biker dude was pointing a .357 at my gut and telling me to give him all the money out of the cash register.

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  8. carson63000

    Definitely agree on the “must cater to all play styles” issue. A lot of people find it hard to understand WoW’s success, but that WAS WoW’s selling point – they tried to be all things for all people and did a better job of it than anyone else is likely to manage.

    It’s madness to try to compete on that turf. Pick the people who want to appeal to, and appeal to them!

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  9. Armironhead Eq2 ret.

    I am strongly tempted to say you know not what you are talking about. After all, EQ2 pvp had the some of most active, if not the most active, servers in the game at its peak. PVP in EQ2 did not die because of lack of interest, rather it died because of SOE mismanagement. SOE made several critical mistakes that utterly killed EQ2 pvp. First, they introduced untold number of instances, and almost simultaneously made it so that all overland content was nerfed to be for solo play, meaning that if you wanted to find new gear you had to be in an instance and thus unavailable for pvp. SOE then made overland travel instantaneous – people would essentially blink to the instance, enter the instance then blink back home, again making it impossible for them to be caught for pvp purposes. Finally, PVP introduced BG which put the final nail in the open world pvp coffin. People basically said – I cant find pvp because of the instances and the travel changes, so I might as well go to bgs for my pvp fix – which effectively ended the last remnants of open world pvp in EQ2.

    Its been so long, I forget the name of the expansions, but up until the one that came right after the cloud one, EQ2 pvp was doing just fine – it was fun and in many instances epic. Then SOE fell all over itself in trying to kill it. When SOE took a hands off attitude the game was healthy, when SOE tinkered with it, they screwed it up. So all in all, your comments are simply way off base. It wasnt a lack of interest that killed EQ2 pvp – it was soe.

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Armironhead Eq2 ret. – EQII PvP servers were never, ever, at any time, more active than ALL the PvE servers combined. Not even close. The core audience was, is, and will remain, the PvE players. That is who has paid for and support the game through the last 11 years. And while there were brief moments of popularity, as I noted, the time spent on PvP over the years would have been been better spent focused on the core aspects of the game. I would venture to say that the work put into PvP never paid for itself.

    Saying, “But it was fun at some point so far back I cannot even remember when it was” is a very weak argument. And, in the end, SOE made changes because even during its peak, PvP was messed up and the PvP players were on the forums complaining and demanding changes. Make sure you remember that part as well.

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  11. HarbingerZero

    @bhagpuss….late to the party (because of compy issues) but worth noting – not even battleground PvP is harmless, fun as it may be. I can remember updates to just about every MMO where character classes were changed, nerfed, buffed, or just rearranged for the primary reason that one class or another was doing better at PvP. In fact, IIRC, its the reason that Shadowknights lost their pets and elves lost their DD racial abilities in EQ2.

    In other words – in most PvE focused MMO’s, at some time or another, the core player base has had their game rearranged for the purpose of pleasing a minority for whom the game was not really designed. For my two cents, there is nothing more maddening than waking up to my character being changed or nerfed for no reason other than whining in the local battleground section of the forums.

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  12. Stigliz

    Wtf. I was patiently waiting for TLE to make it to RoK expansion before playing eq2 again after a 4 year hiatus. Secrets of Faydwer (SoF) expansion? Never heard of that one, but I remember Echos of Faydwer (EoF). DB missed out on a big cash cow by not making it to RoK expansion. Having the original RoK balances back from 2007 would have generated huge crowds for a long time.

    I think a big problem with the pvp devs, I hear, is that none of the original team is there anymore. When you have a whole new group of people that have no idea of what worked and what didn’t, along with dozens of players making wild suggestions, of course it’s not going to work. Maybe someday DB will bring back a pvp server so I can have some fun with eq2 again someday. It’s not worthwhile for me to play without pvp since I’m one of those “diehard pvpers”. Sorry BGs just doesn’t cut it. I want the roof-top pvp ;)

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  13. Stigliz

    Wtf. I was patiently waiting for TLE to make it to RoK expansion before playing eq2 again after a 4 year hiatus. I never really liked DoF and KoS so I thought I’d wait. Secrets of Faydwer (SoF) expansion? Never heard of that one, but I remember Echos of Faydwer (EoF) and it was ok. DB missed out on a big cash cow by not making it to RoK expansion though. Having the original RoK balances back from 2007 would have generated huge crowds for a long time.

    I think a big problem with the pvp devs is that none of the original team is there anymore. When you have a whole new group of people that have no idea of what worked and what didn’t, along with dozens of players making wild suggestions, of course it’s not going to work. Maybe someday DB will bring back a pvp server so I can have some fun with eq2 again someday. It’s not worthwhile for me to play without pvp since I’m one of those “diehard pvpers”. Sorry BGs just doesn’t cut it. I want the roof-top pvp ;)

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  14. James Caldwell

    However I disagree with diffirent servers PVE players should never be affected why join a pvp server then bitch about pvp thats what happen and pvp never really took off in the tle server because it was actually locked before pvp become available preivous players didn;t understand that veterans wa strying to get to the AA release on the tle server before locking it down

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