I should be used to the blogger hive mind by now, but it’s still occasionally surprising. Wolfshead recently recorded (on Twitter) that he’d got his first character through to level 20 crafting in EQ2, and noted immediately how much easier crafting becomes when you hit 20 — which led him to wonder why it’s so damned hard in the first 20 levels to begin with.
It’s something I’ve been pondering recently because I — quite accidentally, I assure you — ended up with 2 accounts in EQ2, my old full-of-crafters account and a new, soon to be full-of-crafters account. Which means I’ve been levelling several new crafters, mostly to cover the professions I don’t have on the old account, but also because I just plain enjoy crafting. Understand it or not, it’s a fact.
One thing I don’t enjoy, however, is levels 1-20 crafting in EQ2. Well, technically it’s levels 1-9 and 10-19. Did you know that the friendly book selling crafting tutor will automagically *poof* you from 9 to 10 and from 19 to 20 if you talk to him at those levels? It’s because you have to choose a sub-profession at 10 and a specialty at 20 (so you do it at 9 and you get bumped up, don’t ask me how that makes sense), but I’m pretty sure that isn’t mentioned anywhere. Then again, it’s been a good 3+ years since I read any quest text relating to crafting, so for all I know it’s spelled out in fancy neon letters, but I sure haven’t noticed it. Seriously, in any DIKU type MMO, a FREE LEVEL is like Christmas; two FREE LEVELS! are like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, and not making it glaringly obvious as an option is just weird. (Also typical of EQ2. Not that the devs want to hide things from the players, though for all I know they do /tinfoilhat — but more because it’s such a huge, rambling, varied sprawl of a game I bet nobody has a complete handle on it anymore, not even its designers.)
Even so, that’s an almost-score of tedious, difficult, and certainly frustrating levels if you’re a newcomer to crafting in EQ2 and don’t know that when you hit 20, it’s all downhill from there. Grindy and long, certainly, but not nearly as difficult. Here’s why:
In EQ2, crafting recipes require that a certain amount of progress (blue bar) be achieved before a certain amount of durability (green bar) is lost; in the vanilla client this is broken down into 4 “stages” – 4 bars stacked above each other with progress moving from left to right, top to bottom, and durability doing the opposite – but crafting is really a continuous process. At the end of each 4-second “round” of crafting there’s a success-roll and a corresponding change in the progress/durability situation; you can get critical successes, critical failures, and a whole gamut of results in between, with the base (unmodified) result being -10 durability, +50 progress. Each round, the player can use up to three arts that will affect durability and/or progress. It’s simple enough once you get the hang of it: make the blue bar go up while preventing the green bar from going down.
These crafting arts get automatically upgraded as you level your crafting profession — every 20 levels (20, 40, 60, 80). So, as is fairly logical in MMOs, your skills/arts improve as you level. What doesn’t change, and this is why crafting is so much harder from 1-20, is how hard a recipe is to make (I’m pretty sure base difficulty is relative to crafter level / recipe level, so levels don’t alter that) and how much progress you need to get to complete an item. I’m sure there are some recipes that vary from the norm, but in general, a recipe needs something like 1100 progress to complete — 400 to fill the first bar, 200 for each of the next 2 bars, and 300-ish (I can never remember this last one) to complete the final progress bar. Whether you’re making a tin flail at level 5 or a ferrite flail at level 75, you’ll need to get upward of 1000 progress to complete the item. The difference is, at level 5 your crafting arts are — how do I put this delicately? — crap. They’re just good enough to keep you from totally flubbing items IF you craft defensively (work durability for all you’re worth), watch the random results, and get lucky. Because the random results don’t change either — base round result at level 5 is -10 durability / +50 progress; base round result at level 75 is, you guessed it, -10 durability / +50 progress.
Having a -50 durability / -30 progress round “roll” result at level 75 isn’t such a big deal, because your crafting arts can mitigate that durability (and/or progress) loss almost entirely, so you’ll end up with something like -3 durability / +20 progress, or +18 durability / -8 progress and so on, depending on what combination of +dur/+progress arts you’re using. At level 5, however, when your arts tend to add a measly 8 or 9 progress or durability, you’re constantly trying to stave off disaster and a bad “roll” on a given round hurts you a lot more.
So basically, making stuff stays at about the same base difficulty no matter what level you are in EQ2 crafting, but how well you can react to it changes as you level up. Which is why low-level crafting is a frustrating pain in the butt and high level crafting is a breeze.
And yes, that’s back-assward. I understand why it is how it is, but it’s still extremely off-putting for newcomers and to my mind, it explains why so many people try crafting in EQ2 and go “ewww! I think I’d rather go get a root canal!” Having gone through the 1-20 stage many times, I know it gets better, but what if it’s the first time you’ve ever tried crafting in EQ2 — or, god forbid, the first time you’ve ever tried crafting in any MMO? Yikes.
And, so that I’m not just complaining without offering solutions, here’s what I’d do, though it would mean changing the basic “one size fits all” recipe design in the game: Make recipes require a variable amount of progress to complete depending on their level. A level 5 recipe shouldn’t require exactly the same amount of progress as a level 75 recipe — that’s just daft. Understandable design (and, I’m sure, much easier maintenance over time), but still daft.
From where I sit in my comfy armchair, it’s the easiest thing to change without messing with the whole system. You wouldn’t have to change the reaction arts or their values; you wouldn’t have to change the basic 4-second “round” system, with its random result that can be modified by applying one’s arts. Actually scratch that — I have no idea whether it really would be easy to change. Let’s say, it’s the most relevant thing to change in order to change the newbie crafting experience in EQ2. Even if all you did was make level 1-9 recipes require say 600 progress and level 10-19 recipes require 800 progress — you’re still shaving off a whole lot of frustration and irritation without substantively changing the experience. Besides, we’re MMO players, we expect things to get harder as we level, so needing more progress as you level up isn’t going to shock anyone.
Crafting is such a complete and well fleshed-out activity in EQ2 that it deserves better treatment in its first 20 levels, and players deserve a better chance to see that it can be fun and engaging (I’m not talking about the act-of-crafting system, which is average, but about the whole crafting metagame). EQ2 is one of the few games that takes its crafter population seriously, almost on par with adventurers, and where crafting is not just something you do when you can’t find a group. Being a crafter is a valid playstyle choice in EQ2, much like it is in EVE (which actually takes the whole thing even further) and a few other games. So having such a frustrating 1-2 hour (if you’re me, probably 1-4 if you’re new to crafting) induction to crafting itself is not smart, and will rebuff people who might really enjoy it.
Not that I expect this to change. Crafting has received a bunch of dev-passes over the years, but the basic crafting mechanic (rounds, use arts, result roll) is exactly the same, including the whole how-much-progress-to-finish thing. Making changes to it would require using resources that could otherwise be used on content and who knows what else, and I’m sure EQ2 doesn’t have a million (or even one) spare devs/design types running around with nothing else to do. So instead, the community relies on being able to assure newcomers that it gets easier after 20… provided the newcomers know (or think) to ask, which they shouldn’t have to do in the first place.
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EDIT — I should know better by now than to hope I’ve made myself clear in these posts. There’s clarity, and then there’s me, and we don’t seem to mix when I write. So, some clarifications:
— I am NOT saying that crafting in EQ2 is difficult or that levels 1-20 take a long time (what with rest xp and first-crafts, they really don’t), I’m saying it’s difficult for newcomers to get to grips with (which is slightly tangential to this post) and that it’s a much more difficult experience than the levels after 20. It’s harder to make pristine items. It takes longer, because your arts suck. That’s it.
— I am NOT saying that I had a hard time crafting in EQ2 OR that I dislike the system or the metagame. I had some difficulties getting the hang of it when we started in 2005, but believe me when I say it’s been a long, long time since I had any trouble with it. Even back then, once you master the whack-a-mole system it uses to counter random events, and once you work out that you can use three reaction arts every turn whether you need to or not, you have to work really hard (or not be watching the crafting, which is not something I do) to fail — or, in the case of the older system, to get anything but a pristine result.
— I’m also not discussing crafting in EQ2 in general, since I have enough to say on the subject that it wouldn’t fit into a single post. I have an opinion about the system and its various subsystems and mechanics, but again, that wasn’t what I was trying to write about.
Apologies as I once again fail to say what’s in my head and end up saying something completely different, apparently. 😉