EQII went free to play! Woohoo!
OK, maybe that’s misleading. There is only one free server, the rest are unaffected, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can still play at no cost. There are limits on how much of the EQII experience you can enjoy before Sony Online Entertainment reaches into your wallet. Naysayers may tut and shake their heads at the cash shop and the restricted access you get when you don’t pay, but are their concerns valid? I thought I’d check out the Extended server to see how much fun you can have for nothing. Can you have a meaningful MMO experience for free?
The Social Game
My first impressions are that the Extended server has the MM part of MMO down perfectly. The beginners’ areas are bustling and the chat channel is busy. One of the drawbacks of playing for free, or Bronze Membership as it’s known, is that you can’t join in with the world chat channels. For the most part this isn’t really a bad thing. The only time I was tempted to type anything was to comment on another player’s wonderfully dumb opinions. Anyone who plays any game knows that chat can vary from the heights of geek-chic to the depths of Barrens Chat. I decided that it wasn’t worth forking out some of my own cash to call someone out for being an asshat.
If you want to interact with other players, you had better get yourself into a guild and pronto. This isn’t too difficult to do: there are many guilds recruiting in the chat channels, while you can’t answer them in the global chat, you can still send a private message to the player doing the recruiting.
Playing on the Extended server is also a great way to get in some old-school dungeoning. By old-school I mean that you can run the lower level instances, but you can also get a taste of what EQII was like when we were all noobs. Using the looking-for-group tool I got into a dungeon run in the Wailing Caves. I had joined part-way through after a couple of characters had died and were making runs back to the party. I joined in with the reborn characters ready to make the run to join up with the rest. This didn’t go as planned as one of the party went afk for a looooooong time, the main tank waited for us deeper in the dungeon instead of coming to meet us, so we ended up dying a few times until calling it a night. Pure old-school action. On the plus side, nobody seemed to mind and the whole debacle was handled with good humor - a nice change from playing with the experts who expect you to bring your A-game every time.
More Bag for Your Buck
Another constraint that the free game places on you is your inventory; you get only two bag slots. At first, this wasn’t too much of a hindrance as adventuring at low levels rarely sees you venturing too far from a vendor. It’s a simple matter of completing a few quests, turning them in, then selling all your junk at the same time. At higher levels you are going to need more space. If you don’t want to make the one-time payment for a silver account (which only gives you one more slot anyway) you could always become a tailor and make your own bags.
If you’re not big on learning a trade, another option is to buy bags from the broker. Unsurprisingly, we don’t get access to this for free. If you are a Bronze Member, you need to purchase broker credits to make purchases. These aren’t expensive, but if you are determined to play for nothing then you can expect lots of trips back to the nearest settlement to clear out some inventory space.
For those who loathe the idea of paying real money for the privilege of purchasing from other players, I guess the answer comes down to the old argument of “nobody is forcing you”. If you assume that the Bronze Membership game is geared towards casual players or serves as an extended trial, then there is no reason to buy anything from the broker at all. I had a few gold jingling about in my purse from quest rewards and loot drops. If I was planning to continue to play for free, then I wouldn’t really expect to need any uber-gear so there really isn’t anything to spend the gold on.
EQII does have a lot of quests as you might imagine given its name. However for the likes of us who don’t want to hand over any cash, you can only have 20 quests in your journal at a time. This may sound like a decent amount, but when you consider what constitutes a quest, this number starts to look a little mean.
First off, as you are going around mercilessly killing foes, you are going to loot some of their bits. Many of these pieces, when examined, will offer you the Lore and Legend quest for that species. This involves harvesting body parts for a self -taught anatomy lesson, and completion will give you a powerful ability to be used against that race. Each of these takes up a quest slot and there are quite a few of them. You won’t have access to many of these quests at lower levels, but sometimes it can take a while for the last of the pieces to drop, giving you the choice of grinding for a while or moving on with the quest unfinished.
There are some language quests, similar to the L&L in that they start with a drop and you have to get several more to learn some foul fiend’s tongue. On top of these you will also get some pretty epic quests that will stay in you journal for some time, creating a bottle-neck in your quest log for other quests to pass through.
While none of this is game breaking, it does become a bit of a hindrance. At its worst, though, it forces you to become very organised about your missions, the order in which you do them and completing them before moving on.
Overall, the game itself is like that: none of the restrictions will wreck your experience; you will learn to work around them. And when you consider that you aren’t paying anything, there is an amazing amount of content and lands to explore here. If you are enjoying the game, the one off payment for Silver Membership could be worth the money. If you are feeling frustrated by how limiting the game is and just can’t live without the best and most up to date gear, then you should avoid the Extended server like the plague and go with a regular subscription and leave us simple folk to our freebie.