This is going to be long, as I have put all my thoughts about the EQ2 starter areas into the one post. Now I have levelled to 20+ in ALL the starter areas, so my opinions should at least be consistent. I am typical of a moderately experienced MMO player, with a relatively hard core casual play style – mostly solo, some groups, in other games; experienced in raiding but turned off by the attitudes. Now read on…
This is the starter area that I have used the most. The starter isle, Queen’s Colony, is reasonable, although you need t be aware of linked mobs and a very few heroic encounters. The intro area isn’t too bad for a tutorial, and there’s a separate trade skill area. The quest line takes you to level six without too much pain, then you need to move on. There are some slightly higher level mobs, but without any quests (that I could find); so you could probably level to ten here, but it would be a grind, and that’s against the theme of EQ2.
So you finish all the quests you can find, complete the two collections (shells and feathers), and head to the ship. And you find yourself on the docks in Qeynos. There’s a racial quest giver nearby, who gives you a brief familiarisation quest series, which means running around Qeynos. One thing becomes apparent: Qeynos is a massive town, with lots of sub zones, and you needs to skip across from one to another to find your way around. It takes a lot of time, and you won’t easily become familiar with it. There are also a lot of quest givers for lower level quests; clearly Qeynos was though of as an alternative to the starter island, although I’d be very surprised if more than a few people started characters here.
If you follow the eq2i quest series, and you should, you’ll pick between either Oakmyst Forest or the Peat Bog (I chose the latter, because my racial quest sent me there). There’s enough quest experience from one to completely bypass the other, and it’s not too bad; like the starter island, few linked mobs or heroics. The final quest (for both zones) sends you to the Caves. This zone is a bit of a shock: it starts out like the earlier zones, as the Caves has three levels; but the higher levels are much harder, with roaming heroic mobs, lots of linked mobs, and the quest series takes you into a heroic quest very soon. So as soon as I died about ten times on one quest, I decided it was time to look elsewhere (this is where a real new player would have genuinely looked elsewhere – at another game).
A word about population: yes, there were one or two people at some times in most of the zones I was in. They were all doing their own thing, and, to be honest, you can work your way through all this without needing help.
By this time I was about level 15, and I decided that the Antonica time line would be a reasonable alternative. This was pretty smooth – I did the initial gnoll quest series, diverted to Sayer’s Outfitters, and that was all I needed to reach 20. One of the gnoll quests “Rescue Revyl Kylar”, was listed in the guide as level 16, and, given the level of the follow on quests, really should have been 16. But it came into my quest book as 20, and the mobs involved were all level 20 – the quest has you pull about six linked mobs (all three down-arrow). I managed it, at 18 or 18, I think, by killing two, dying, then running back and killing the rest – I only needed to die once with a monk. But the quest is mis-judged.
Conclusions: the area worked overall, but with some roughness; the glitches weren’t as big as the annoying gap starting from Kelethin, however. Qeynos is too big, and the quest sequencing into the Caves is a mistake. You ideally need a different (read: easier, solo friendly) zone to cover 10-15. The rest was, well, OK.
Human monk, level 20, level 3 artisan. 13 hrs 49m. No cloak, missing one wrist.
The starter island, the Outpost of the Overlord – is exactly the same as the “good” starter area. Same map, somewhat similar quests. So no further comment from me: it takes you from 1 to 6, and you want to leave (with no option to return) when you hit six.
In Freeport you pick up a racial quest, no surprise there, intended to familiarise yourself with Freeport. Like Qeynos, it is multi-zone, way too big, and confusing – even with help from the map and getting locations and paths from web sites. The knock back from the wandering guards gets real old, real soon. The final stage (for human) sends you to the Sunken City. This area was easy enough, and ends by sending you to the Ruins – a mistake. Lots of highly aggro mobs, slightly too high level, with linked mobs, heroic mobs, and heroic quests. After my experiences in Qeynos, plus about six deaths in rapid succession, I decided to give it a miss, and back filled some slightly lower level quests in the Graveyard, which was more appropriate.
I was probably 12 when I moved to the Commonlands, with a quest from the Sunken City to lead me there. I did the Moogsha and Orc quest series, with the Crossroads quests as well. This worked out well, and got me to level 20. Downside: this is a big zone, and a lot of the quests have you running back and forth across it.
I used a human shadowknight for this, and I think the solo capabilities of the SK showed up and contributed to making Freeport/Commonlands seem easier than it really was in comparison with Qeynos/Antonica.
The real criticism of both these areas from my perspective is that you are forced into the city area too early, and the city (in both cases) really sucks. It’s too big, the multi-zone feature is annoying, and there’s just too much there to take in while you are learning the game. Being forced (“led”) by newbie quest series into tough group zones without any real indication of their difficulty is too much, too soon.
Human shadowknight, level 20 (0 artisan). 13 hrs 7m. No cloak, missing one wrist.
This is the first of the “new” starter city zones, having learned (a little) from the original Qeynos/Freeport starters. The city itself is a single zone with a smooth transition from the surrounding fighting lands; and the starter area links smoothly to a single quest series that takes you all the way to 20. It is a much more gentle experience after the earlier two.
However… at fifteen, you run into the orc quests leading into Crushbone, and the level of mobs jumps appreciably. The preceding quest hub is Spire Shadow Outpost, which is in the SE of the Greater Faydark zone, and half the quests have you running back to the previous quest hub area, Orc Hill, in the NW of the zone. Annoying. Having finished this, you should be about level 15, and the jump to Crushbone is too much. I did the initial few quests, then gave up completely, switched to Antonica and did the gnoll quests (I gave up the rescue quest mentioned earlier, as my conjurer was dying too many times), and did the Windstalker Village quest series for a change.
If only the Crushbone quests had been better spread out, this would have been an improvement. However, this area was the one I tried three years ago and gave up on. If I hadn’t already worked my way through all the other starter areas (apart from New Halas, which wasn’t open at the time I did this), I would have given up again, but at least I knew another good starting area that covered the same level range that I was missing.
Human conjurer, level 20 (0 artisan). 11 hrs 42m. No cloak, missing one wrist.
I liked this area, a lot more than the earlier starting areas. Again, there is a reasonably linear quest series, with a less painful home city to visit if you want to. I managed to get to level 18 here, doing probably all of the quests in the timeline, and finished to 20 with a little grinding, and some exploring for experience; I ended up doing a couple of quests in Butcherblock for the last half a level. This again involved killing white/yellow mobs. I had one unfinished quest, which needed a named kill in the Thexian camp to complete and he just wasn’t spawning (Overseer V’Thex, for “If You Want A Job Done Right…”).
I felt that there was a definite gap when I started the skeletons quests, as they were all yellow at the time I took the quests, with no other quests in the zone available to pick up. I also did the Halas opening quest with this character.
Human necromancer, level 20 (0 artisan). 11 hrs 28m. All slots filled.
This was the first character I tried out after my break, so some time will have been taken up with refamiliarisation. The initial starting area is quite small, with all the standard tutorial NPCs in a tight area, and two patches of mobs to kill for the initial quests. The first 10 to 15 levels take you in a straight line, towards the city. I had forgotten about linked mobs and heroic mobs, but I had no nasty surprises – which means that the few linked mobs I met were reasonably balanced, and I presumably didn’t try to fight any marked as heroic.
In the city I wasn’t so happy. Although the guards will tell you where NPCs are, you still have to know their names, and the multi-level layout of the city meant that the paths they give you were useless. I didn’t notice the tiny portals, and couldn’t figure out the ramps or lifts from the maps, as they aren’t at all clearly marked. I also spent a little time doing the basic trade skill quests.
Apart from not being able to get to grips with the city of Gorowyn itself, this was a good experience for returning to EQ2. Much better than all of the earlier (in release terms) four starter areas.
Human bruiser, level 21, level 5 artisan. 13 hrs 22m. No shoulder item.
New Halas/Frostfang Sea
I found this very similar to Gorowyn, in that it was a smooth linear sequence from a small, outlying starter area. There is sufficient quest exp without any obvious gaps to level to 20 in this area. Two things that I noticed: it is really hard to see shinies (for collections) against snow and ice, and a lot of quests gave house items as rewards. The city gave the initial impression of being small, but that was only because the entrance area hides the rest of the city by an ingenious layout of the city maps.
Human illusionist, level 20, level 3 artisan. 8 hrs 35m. No ranged item.
Conclusions and Qualifications
The more recent newbie areas are better – that’s plain and simple. It’s fair to drop the original starter areas of Qeynos and Freeport, although it’s worth pointing out that nostalgic players can move a new character to either of these and get the old experience, although missing the starter isle. Newer areas are weaker on trade skills; you really have to wait to enter the cities to start to skill up; I don’t see this as a big loss.
If you want house items (with rent reductions!), Halas is a great area to start in, and you don’t seem to miss out on equipable gear there. If you don’t like, or want to start in, Halas, then Gorowyn is a perfectly good area, not really much different.
It is frustrating to hit a level gap, when you have completed all the quests in one hub, but the next hub jumps several levels. I’d rather have more overlap and redundant quests, although I appreciate it can be frustrating to be forced to miss quests, too. Finding harvesting quests in a new area, when there weren’t similar quests in a low area, so that you are unable to harvest the nodes you need because your skill is too low – that’s frustrating, too.
In making my test characters, I ignored racial abilities, AAs, trade skills, brokers, exploration exp and named exp, and probably a lot of other things that are important. My objective was just to level to 20 as cleanly as I could, and so I’m probably typical of the category of players who are experienced in MMOs, but not familiar with Everquest II; I could have done a lot better at a micro by optimising my gear choices from quests, getting higher rank spells/abilities, and gathering AAs.
Overall, I have to say that EQ2 isn’t as bad as I thought it was, following reports at launch, and my own experiences with a new character in Kelethin a couple of years ago – Kelethin just isn’t a very good starter area because of that one annoying level gap; I would have found Qeynos and Freeport worse for a first experience. I am also idealogically opposed to levelling solely through quests, and I still don’t like the EQ2 graphics. These latter are personal preferences, and I recognise that newer players may well think differently. I can certainly see myself playing a character through to max level in EQ2 at some point – but I don’t have any feel for which class I might prefer, which is a disappointment.