The Epic Game

A look at DDO’s Epic Game

 I’ll come right out and say it: the choice to cleave DDO into two separate games was the worst single move that Turbine has ever done. And Turbine’s done a lot of really stupid, unnecessary stuff since then. There are three main reasons for this and why it’s extremely unhealthy for the game.

It cleaved the population in two

This is an obvious consequence of dividing the game into two. Previously, “Epic” was its own difficulty, where about 10%, give or take, of the game’s populace spent most of their time. Equipment was the only thing separating a fresh level 20 to a true “endgame” level 20, and there wasn’t really that much to do at the epic level. It was more of an end to the journey, the result of many days/weeks of hard training. So it made sense that people either liked to stick around here and enjoy the game from the perspective of the top, or to TR and go through the game again. In essence, there was only one real game, and that was the heroic game; the epic game was simply a capstone to that game, a sort of “final destination,” if you will.

Yes, I know it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t like how tokens were relatively difficult to get back then, what with the 24 hour timers on epic quests and rather challenging difficulty. But for the most part, it was a system that worked and which needed minor tweaking rather than an entire overhaul.

So what does Turbine decide to do? An entire overhaul.

Needless to say, this had disastrous consequences. While previously, everyone played the heroic game in some way or another, now, we’re given the option to focus on the epic game. And, of course, there are going to be those who focus on the heroic game and those who focus on the epic game. As a result, the game’s population has effectively been cleft in two. You have half of the population playing heroics, and half the population playing epics. This is a venomous, unhealthy system for the game’s longevity because of its nature as an MMO. To add to the “MMO experience,” what a company should be doing is incentivizing people to run content together. What the heroic/epic split did was exactly the opposite: it polarized the community and rent it asunder. It de-incentivizes people from running content with one another, instead encouraging people to go their separate ways (worlds apart).

As another adverse consequence of this newly subdivided game, what ensued as a result was that many people simply quit the game. They didn’t like the way it was going, so they quit. Many more have quit since then. I don’t need statistics to back this up; just log in now and see how much the populace has dwindled since the golden age. So now, with Turbine adding even more content which is epic only, we have an increasing amount of polarization going on, which is exacerbated by a steadily declining population. In laymen’s terms, it’s simply this: less people being spread more thinly across a larger amount of content.

To make matters worse, the declining population which resulted from the heroic/epic split is a vicious cycle. People like me take breaks from playing the game, come back a few months later, and find that it’s less populous than ever. They then quit playing because it’s a ghost town. Obviously, this results in the population declining. Then, when more people either join or return, they see that the population is even lower, and probably quit as a result. Vicious cycle.

I think on some level, Turbine knows they’ve permanently ruined their game with the heroic/epic split. The game will never be as popular or successful as it once was, and at this point, Turbine can’t simply delete the epic game since it’s been going on too long now. The epic game is a parasite which has become so deeply ingrained into DDO’s roots that it can’t be uprooted without killing the whole life system itself. So what Turbine tries to do instead is to feed the parasite by adding in even more epic content and shifting the focus off of the heroic content—the content which comprises the game that we all came to know and love. For over two years now, Turbine hasn’t released a single quest which is exclusively heroic; for over two years now, Turbine has been entirely focused on their epic game and has completely neglected the core game which brought them so many players in the first place. It’s truly saddening that this parasitic epic game continues to destroy the game and drive players away from it, but there’s nothing that Turbine can do about it now. It’s a monster of their own creation and it’s too large to slay now.

I understand Turbine’s desire to progress with their game, but cutting the game into two was not the way to go about doing so.

There is no endgame anymore

Previously, “Epic” was the true endgame of DDO because it offered the hardest challenges, because quests had 24 hour timers to them, and because they were balanced, yet difficult challenges. Old Epics afforded no sense of progression aside from earning better loot; ther were no “Epic levels” or “Epic Destinies.” Nowadays, there is no endgame. Turbine likes to pretend that there is and that there was some sort of “game plan” they had in mind all along, but those of us who aren’t drinking the Kool Aid know what’s actually going on: Turbine done goofed and they don’t want to admit it.

Back in the pre MoTU days, it was clear-cut and obvious that “Epic” was intended to be the endgame—and indeed, it was the endgame. The current epic system, on the other hand, resembles some weird amalgamation between the old epic system and the current heroic system. Yes, there’s still a level cap, and there’s still loot for that level cap… but at the same time, there’s progression in the way of epic destiny experience, epic level experience, and epic reincarnation which allows you to “restart” your journey at level 20. Furthermore, there weren’t really any endgame raids to speak of until recently. Mark of Death, Temple of the Deathwyrm, Fires on Thunder Peak, and Defiler of the Just, were only released within the past year, and even then, most experienced players will tell you that those raids are easy. They’re not the challenge that, say, Epic Chronoscope or VoN 6 were back in the day. And that’s part of what makes an endgame compelling to powergamers: challenge. The purpose of a true endgame is to provide an ultimate challenge for players to work towards and eventually conquer, not to provide just another means of progressing and earning loot. This is a particularly poignant problem on EE, because although the difficulty is certainly through the roof and perhaps deserving of the title “endgame,” people nonetheless run EE content for experience, and indeed many EE quests seem designed specifically for exp—why else would sagas exist? So all in all, we have a system which might be difficult enough for endgame, but by nature can’t be endgame. It’s a very schizophrenic situation and Turbine seems to have no idea what they want for the system.

Consider Final Fantasy 10’s arena system. I’d say that is a true endgame. The bosses there require lots of work to unlock, are hundreds of times harder to defeat than the penultimate boss (Jecht), and require some of the best weapons in the game to defeat. When you defeat them, yes, you’re awarded with items, but at this point, the true reward is more the sheer satisfaction you get, knowing that you’ve completed the game’s ultimate challenge. In previous epic raids, DDO had something akin to that. DDO had an endgame in the form of Tower of Despair, Epic VoN6, Epic Chronoscope, Elite Shroud, Vision of Destruction, Hound of Xoriat, Lord of Blades, Master Artificer, Epic ADQ, and every challenging epic quest. Now, it doesn’t have an endgame and just likes to pretend that it does.

This isn’t so much a problem to me personally because I’m not an endgame player. (But you should at least understand that to those who are endgame players, this is a pretty big problem.) I like TRing and I think it’s one of the things that made DDO great. So you’d think that someone like me would enjoy the game of ER (epic reincarnating), right?

The Epic Game simply isn’t fun

On the contrary, the process of ERing is horrendously ill-conceived and obviously half-assed, especially when juxtaposed to the TRing system.

From levels 1-20, you have over 200 unique quests. By contrast, from levels 20-28, you have less than 30 (our of generosity, I’m counting High Road, Wheloon, and Stormhorns as being designed as primarily epic content). Yes, that’s right—thirty. You have another 30 or 40 more if you count the heroic quests which have been epicified,” but even then, you only have about a third or fourth of the amount of content that the heroic game has. This is a problem because it takes just as long, if not longer, to get from 20-28, than it does to get from 1-20.

As a result, the ERing process is a huge grind. Most people find themselves doing the same few quests every day (Spies in the House, Chamber of Raiyum, Jungles of Khyber) for a few weeks, and then ERing, or doing the same few sagas and then the big 3 quests repeatedly for exp and then ERing. You’re effectively forced to do the same few quests over and over to ER, and you’ve likely already done them multiple times already in their heroic versions which are all more enjoyable.

And that’s another thing. The epic quests simply aren’t as enjoyable. As I’ve established in another post, the difficulty of EE and some EH quests is BS. I hate Epic Elite and I avoid it like the plague. Sure, I could roll up a pure Bladeforged Paladin or Mechanic and do Epic Elite, but that’s not how I want to play, and putting my build preferences aside, EE is just not fun. Even though it’s definitely doable on a handful of builds, it’s boring. Enemies have vastly inflated pools of HP and it takes forever to take them down. That, to me, is not fun, especially when I’m trying to progress in the game. You see, this is where EE’s schizophrenic identity comes into play: it’s difficult like “endgame” content, yet it seems to be designed primarily for progression purposes at the moment.

Even on Epic Normal, I find myself avoiding a lot of the level 20-28 content. For one thing, I don’t like redoing all of the heroic content on epic; it’s boring and it feels redundant and lazy. When I run through most of them, the thought always pressing itself in the back of my mind is “Really, Turbine? You couldn’t do anything to spice up this quest other than simply make the monsters slightly tougher?” Turbine’s made less than 30 epic-only quests over the 2.5 years that the epic game has really been a thing. And most of these came with Update 14. It all just seems so lazy. The system of “take a random heroic quest and make it harder” somewhat worked for the old endgame because there was actually some challenge to be had and because it was all for loot, rather than any actual sense of progression by way of experience. But now, it seems outdated, particularly because level 20 is no longer the “end game.”

Even counting the original epic-only quests, I hate almost all of them. The Demonweb and the unpronounceable Drow city are both hellish to navigate and are way too dark for me to see anything without a flashlight (check out this picture to see the brightest that DDO propaganda artist Geoff can come up with), which precludes about 10 or so of the quests. I think Precious Cargo is the only true epic quest that I actually really enjoy. The King’s Forest, High Road, and Druid’s Deep quests, which seemed to be designed for epic play, are decent, if a bit vanilla. That’s where the enjoyment ends though. So in total, I have about 10-15 quests that I find remotely enjoyable in the epic game. Meanwhile, the heroic game affords me over 200 quests which are all at least tolerable and are fifty times more varied than the epic game is. Not to mention that the heroic game overall feels less grindy than the epic game.

Likely for this reason and for the fact that DDO no longer has a true endgame, many people have quit the game. And those remaining have been polarized to either side of the epic-heroic spectrum. All things considered, the epic-heroic split is by far the single worst thing that Turbine has done to DDO, as it has had lasting unhealthy consequences to the game by way of pointlessly convoluting the game, driving away players, and subdividing the remaining players who haven’t already left. The old epic system wasn’t perfect, and I won’t pretend it was; however, it was a starting point from which Turbine could have improved and made minor changes. It allowed for increased focus on the part of DDO which defined it and brought it success—the heroic game. Nowadays, unless we’re playing ranged builds, we can’t even enjoy the heroic game anymore because of the haphazard nature of monster champions. You see, the game used to be fun, and though not perfect, the epic part of the game worked. That was one of the beauties of DDO, and now it’s long gone thanks to Turbine’s neglect and constant mismanagement over the past three years.