My wife works in the corporate world. I think its nuts in there, but she seems to enjoy it. But every now and then I can’t contain myself. All week she’s been muttering about a signed order for work that has been delayed over and over again. But of course, that’s a mouthful, and so, like everywhere else in this world, it gets abbreviated. So she was venting a little last night about how she couldn’t get a signed order for work and nobody was helping her, and so on.
I was a very good understanding husband. After all, I know exactly what a pain in the ass it is when nobody will give you a SOW and you have to stand around shouting and begging for one.
I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering in high school. I still remember my first time watching a game, on a cheese wagon as the band went to its first away game my freshman year. I was hooked. And it all revolved around a lore set that drove the game mechanics: you were a planeswalker, an archmage traveling among dimensions, with eldritch ties to those various lands you had visited that powered your magic and allowed you to summon their inhabitants to your aid. Each new set unveiled new lands, new peoples, new spells for the planeswalker (the player) to collect. It was great!
Throughout college, my interest waned…and then died. You see, with every pack I opened in college, I started noticing a trend. The cards were no longer spells, they were actions of a predetermined set of characters, as Wizards of the Coast turned each set into a story. Before a card that let you draw cards might be named after a famous planeswalker (not unlike Mordenkainen’s line of spells in DnD), now it might be named “Wisdom of Gerrard” after one of the characters in the drama, and the flavor text relating to the story of the Weatherlight airship and its current adventure. Then we got cards that were simply not spells at all – Hand to Hand comes to mind. Eventually we got sets specifically designed to trash rules that had been developed by the lore of the game – big powerful flying *water* creatures. Regenerating trolls…that were part of the nature magic category instead of chaos and destruction.
For me, at that point, specifically when I unwrapped a pack and found a card whose name I don’t remember but that depicted the Weatherlight taking “evasive maneuvers” – I realized I wasn’t playing Magic: The Gathering anymore. I was still playing a similar game mechanically, but so much had changed that was a hallmark of the game and its lore that I just wasn’t interested anymore.
And that is pretty much what I feel when I look at all the information about EQN. I ask the question – how is this Everquest? I mean, its fine for Trion to say “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” – but how would you feel if Blizzard said it? This is Norrath – but not Norrath and nothing will be the same except for names.
And we can already see the edges of that. Where are the Erudin? The Trolls? The Kerran are a staple now? Why not call them Vah Shir again? Which leads into questions about the art style. We’ve decided to go down the road of giant shoulderpads and overly decorated shields. That works for a lot of MMO’s, but that has never been a part of what Everquest is (Where are the incredibly done cloaks, robes and hoods?) We really aren’t in Norrath anymore are we?
And that brings up classes. Classes with unique abilities and a system of checks and balances – another well established feature of the game. Sure rogues are pure DPS – unless you want to trade some of that DPS for some useful group buffs (bard). Do you want a mage with some CC, or one that trades its CC for some extra heals? Deep in a dungeon you probably want a purist tank class – but the casual grouper could use some of the self healing that shadowknight or paladin brings. Everquest 2 went one step further and gave us classes that had trademark abilities revolving around throwing knives and calling a band of thugs, temporary pets from the abyss and a wide variety of healing from warding to reactive healing to HoT’s. Some classes have pets but others can take direct control over them, fulfilling roles the group may not have.
All that is gone. Instead we have gone the route of GW2, but apparently without even the most basic class anchors that they put in place. Now we are playing Pokemon with classes (gotta catch them all!). And if you don’t think that this isn’t a set up to sell you rare and unique classes in a F2P game, your head is either buried too far in the sand or too star struck to catch wind of the obvious incoming danger-close round.
Not to mention the music. Oh god, the music. Everquest’s main theme is epic beyond reason. When you hear it, the reaction it draws is comparable to hearing the theme to Star Wars or Jaws. It rips emotions out of you and throws them on the table for you to look back, and gives you flashbacks the likes of which LSD could never hope to match. And instead of that, we get a new theme that has not even the barest of nods to the original. Instead of calling us to adventure and awesome, it calls us into self-reflective naval gazing.
Add into that some further unknowns. Over at the EQN website, they are asking about ninjas and shotguns. Are we really still that deep in the conceptual stage? Does that mean the game is still 3, 4, 5 or more years off? What is Landmark really? How much of it will take place in the real game and how much will be its own entity? Are we really serious about letting players blow up the landscape? If so…cool I guess, so long as you check & balance it, but again – how is that Everquest?
Will EQN be a great game? Who knows. Will it fulfill all our hopes and dreams? Probably not, because we tend to have lofty expectations. Will we enjoy it and get all hyped and excited? Most likely. But none of that really interests me. Its the same drama that gets played out with every new MMO release. The real question I have right now is – will this really be Everquest? I’ve played all three Everquest MMO’s, both the console based single player RPG’s, and even the PnP RPG. Right now, it doesn’t look or feel like it. None of the things that make Everquest what it is are present in the game. To me, it just looks like another new MMO.
And for the IP that all but gave birth to this genre, that’s about the most damning thing I could say.
So Syp over at BioBreak was musing the other day about the inclusion of Necromancers in Guild Wars 2. Its not a moral pondering so much as it is a question of: what is the internal consistence of games that allow for heroes that play with dead things. Its a question I’ve gone over before myself with other people, and, on a memorable (and humorous occasion) with my oldest daughter. So I thought I’d give a few of my thoughts. If you want the TL;DR version, skip to “Why I Enjoy It.”
What is a Hero?
Almost immediately in the comments sections came a chorus of “who says I’m playing a hero? I’m just a gal/guy out to [fill in the blank].” But that’s not really “not being a hero” – that’s just being a different type of hero, specifically, an anti-hero. These days the best known of those would, I think, be Wolverine from the X-Men. As an operational definition for the purposes of this blog, I would specify anti-hero as the figure who carries out heroic deeds without the accompanying heroic attitude or passion. Another good example would be Cade Skywalker from the Star Wars EU – descendent of Luke, he wants to live his life free of Republic, Empire, or external controls. Eventually he realizes that he is “destined” to fight the Sith, not because of the Force or his Legacy, but because they pissed him off and he hates their guts. Other motives might be cash (Parker from The Hunter novel, or at least the Mel Gibson Payback version of him) or a desire for power (Raistlin).
Clearly, Necro’s could – and have various times in literature – fit within these schemes. So they make perfectly viable heroes – in the since that they can still carry out heroic initiatives in a game where motive is not a concern – or at least not enough of a concern to prevent their participation. But there are so many ways of using the term “necromancer” from the standpoint of how they operate, that there is room for non anti-hero types as well.
What is a Necromancer?
I think there are three main “types.”
For example, Gail Z. Martin’s main character is a focal point for the ghosts and traumatic past of a betrayed kingdom. In this way, you could argue that he is more of a Spiritist or Medium than he is Necromancer, but then I would note that this is one of the original meanings of the term “necromancy.” In this vein, even good guys like Aragorn, aka Strider, can go necro on you in a heartbeat. Many games have gone this route – in fact, the Ritualist from the original Guild Wars would fit quite well.
On the other hand, there are skeletons and zombies and the like, what I think of as the classic necromancer – hordes of undead to do your bidding! I believe the necromancer class from Age of Conan holds the record still, with up to 11 pets out at one time. This raises the question of the metaphysics of your game world – what is powering all those dead things? The original souls? Does that mean they are not in their paradisical afterlife? Or they are cursed? Do they have any recollection of before? Does anyone mind that Uncle Bob is now under the bidding of the town necro?
Last is the person who just likes to muck about with the dead, or be more like them, or utilize the things of dead for power or gain. Or at least sympathize them – like the Dirge of Everquest 2. Perhaps the most “gross” of the those, this is the person who tends more towards the Frankenstein side of the stage. Maybe they are building a pet for themselves, “restoring” a loved one, or just have a fetish for all things dead. The most memorable for me here would be 3rd Edition DnD’s Pale Master, who also made an appearance in the Neverwinter Nights series. The original is more true to the PnP form than the sequal, showing off a character who replaces one hand or arm with that of an undead creature, and crafts a sort of exoskeletal armor of bone. In the actual 3rd Edition description, one of the requirements of achieving this prestige class was to spends three nights locked in a tomb with the undead. The idea was a sort of kindred spirit bonding wherein the undead accepted you as one of their own. The end result was empowerment and the ability to call on them as needed. Creepy, but interesting.
This version of the necromancer is the one who perhaps best personifies Syp’s “playing with dead things” mantra. And it probably also best fits the Guild Wars 2 version of the necromancer, with its ability to transform into a version of death itself, and call upon all things deathy – not just minions – to get its point across.
As for me? I’ve played a necromancer class in every game that has ever given me that option, even if they weren’t my “main.” Most often they were a solo character for me, as in group play I tend towards healing. In EQOA I had a Shadowknight for solo and tanking. Thought EQ’s IP on this has changed over the years, originally the SK was simply a Warrior/Necromancer hybrid. In EQ2 my main was a half-elf necromancer. In Vanguard my first character and solo project was a Vulmane necro. Age of Conan – of course, necro. Neverwinter Nights? Pale Master of course, as as my favorite 3rd edition Pen and Paper character. Warhammer Fantasy army? Vampire Counts – but lead by a necromancer. Even up to today – Guild Wars 2 – Norn necromancer.
Why I Enjoy It.
But why? I’m not a horror movie buff. I’m not into all things dark and scary. But there is something intriguing about the concept, and I will submit that it is out of curiosity that I play them all the time. You see, I want to know how it fits into the storyline and the world. Is the necromancer and outcast to understands death and the spirit world? Is he pressed into service because his power makes him a needed part of the front/war/survival game you are involved in? Do people mind his involvement? Can he overcome the natural revulsion to gain the trust – and even affection – of those he is working for? What is his motivation and what is the end game for him? What lead him down this path? Will he think its worth it?
In other words – they are just more interesting than the hero running around in sword and armor ans working for money. Or the hero destined for great things who always has fate on their side. I play necromancers because they get my creative juices flowing. They help me engage more in the game by setting up a tension I have to resolve, if not within the game itself, at least within myself as I play and “develop” the character in my mind.
My daughter still thinks its weird that I play “dark” characters. And that’s fine. I think its weird that she thinks New York is the greatest city in the world. Perhaps we all see some things through rose colored glasses.
I was excited by the email in my inbox last week proclaiming three free days of access to the original Everquest in celebration of their upcoming expansion (EQ2 – take note!). I was excited because years ago, I bought the original EQ Trilogy for a penny at a GameStop that had it on the clearence rack. It was marked $5 but when they scanned it it came up as a penny. The look on the cashiers face was priceless. I told the manager he called over I didn’t mind paying the five bucks, but he shrugged it off, and I handed over a penny.
You may wonder, outside of a great deal, why that was exciting? Because it means that I have an actual EQ account – not a trial one – and so I was eligible for the free time. And ever since last year, I’ve been wanting to try that famous 51/50 server that starts you at epic level. I did a little of everything, but ultimately, I spent the three days with my two favorite classes, the original Magician and original Shadowknight – now much different (both of them) from their current EQ2 incarnations.
It was fun getting to play the epic versions of classes I’d really only played for any length of time in EQOA, which is in all reality a stripped down version of its big brother. So I was dying to play around with all of the summoning skills a Magician had access too. And the first I just had to try was “Monster Summoning” – a sweet ability that calls a pet for you, but using the graphics load of the local surroundings rather than a set Elemental pet, which is the norm for the Mage. In this way you can get all sorts of fun pets, without running around for hours unlocking stupid achievements and paying gold through the nose (WoW – take note!).
So I stepped out into the grove outside the recommended 51/50 starter city to take on some basic mobs, and I used Monster Summoning to call my pet – figuring I’d get one of flying lizards, snakes, or maybe even an undead fisherman. But behold, I could not have imagined the awesomeness that awaited me, for I did not know that I was still in the same area as the peaceful gardens in the city. Check it out:
That, my friends, is pure win. The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog himself, under my control. I even look a bit like Tim the Enchanter, don’t I? Totally made my weekend people. The urge to grab a Station Pass is getting much harder to resist.
I also found that I missed some things from EQ that don’t show up alot in games anymore – requiring components for particularly powerful spells, the possibility of spells “fizzling,” limits on number of available abilities at one time, the wide range of thrown weapons, freeform NPC interaction using keywords, food and drink requirements.
I also found a few things I’m glad we have (mostly) left behind – corpse recovery, claustrophic city models, dos-era overhead maps, non-WASD movement, etc.
But mostly this is another chance for me to push my own particular MMO Design carp – the graphic on the screen and the numbers crunching in the game engine can be two entirely seperate affairs. There’s no reason other than lack of creativity on the part of devs that would keep someone from playing a tank that looked like a wizard, or having a tank whose weapon stats reflect a legendary sword, while on screen it looks like a simple quarterstaff. We’ve already seen the reverse and similar ideas in other games (LotRO in particular had to bend their classes in original ways), but honest to god free character development is still lacking. Someone step up to the plate please. Thx.
And, as a postscript, as of this morning, I still have access to EQ, even though my three days is long gone. Not sure if its an intentional error or not, but I’m loving it either way! So if you have an EQ account, check your sub status, it might still be active.
So I’m still trying to figure out this EQ delim…dalim…problem. So I’m off today, and I’m scouring the website while the baby sleeps (because when she is awake, she is way to cute to ignore) trying to find a solution. And I’m checking the EQ trial pages – and there is only one EQ trial, Escape to Norrath, a limited, ten level, not on any server, special trial. So there’s no way, right?
But then I read the fine print beneath (I’m good at that, I shoulda been a lawyer I guess):
If you currently have an EverQuest subscription or Station Access™ account, you already have access to these files and do not need to download these files. If you do not have EverQuest installed on your machine you may visit the Upgrade to EverQuest page to download Trilogy.
Well, well, well. This is what I need. So I follow the link…and discover that I was all wrong. Escape to Norrath is also the Everquest Trilogy client!
Of course I’m hoping that since my account has additional expansions enabled, I’ll be able to get to them. Especially since I don’t know where the new 51/50 server starts you out at. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
ETA: I’m reading several blogs that are indicating that free game time is being handed out as incentive to rock the 51/50 server and keep it full…so I checked my account page again, and no love this time. Strange. They give you free stuff and don’t tell you, and then they tell you they will give you free stuff and don’t.