Steppe’in Out

Posted: September 29, 2007 by zobek in Everquest 2

The Thundering Steppes!

See the vast expanse of sky, plain, and ocean! Take a deep breath of that air! Catch a whiff of…. centaur manure?!?

Oh, the Thundering Steppes – they hold a special place in my memory, above all the other overland zones. They were where I joined my first guild, completed my first Heritage Quest, ran my first dungeon, and killed my first named. It was the first new zone I fully explored after becoming an illusionist under the old archetype tree system, and had more than enough content to keep me going for many levels – from levels 19 to 30, 6 of my 12 dings occurred there.

Yes, the Steppes were a great place to play in the earlier days of EverQuest II, but are they still?

The short answer is that I don’t think they are. The longer answer, of course, is more complex.

A lot certainly has changed since the initial release of the game. Gone are shared experience debt, spirit shards, and many access quests. SOE has lowered barriers to entry for the average player, and we’ve seen the effects. Zones that used to be heavily group-oriented become more solo- and duo-friendly. Experience grinding gets replaced by questing and location discovery. Heroic mobs disappear as developers re-evaluate zone population.

That’s not a bad goal in and of itself, but I feel that today’s Thundering Steppes don’t meet it as well as Nektulos Forest and Butcherblock Mountains, the other overland zones for the same level range.

Questing

Let’s start with the raw data. According to the info pages over at EQ2i (solo listings here, heroic listings here), the number and type of quests in each zone is as follows:

  Solo Heroic Total
Thundering Steppes 56 10 66
Nektulos Forest 85 23 108
Butcherblock Mountains 68 27 95

For questers, that’s 44% more quests in total for Butcherblock… and 64% more for Nektulos. Even if we just compare solo quests, it’s still 21% more for Butcherblock and 52% more for Nek. That’s a pretty large disparity, even before considering the quest content itself.

It’s my opinion that that the quest lines in the Steppes are the least interesting of the three zones. In both Butcherblock and Nektulos, the quests provide a nice story flow, and the separate sub-lines interact with each other nicely. In the Steppes, you deliver some mail for Jacques and everything else seems fairly hodge-podge.

Travel

Two words why I feel travel in the Steppes is the worst of the 3 zones: Bridge Keep.

Especially after the developers have put in significant effort to make content more accessible, I remain puzzled as to why players are still required to complete quests in order to pass through Bridge Keep at night… not to mention that you have to know the Halasian language in order to get the quests in the first place. It’s an artificial barrier that serves no real purpose other than to gate characters from part of the zone – and even then, it’s not 100% effective, since you can use invisibility or stealth to go down the Dead River and work your way around.

Population

In terms of zone population, the Thundering Steppes aren’t too bad. There’s a fairly good distribution of solo and heroic content. The griffons and giants provide appropriate challenge for those who seek it, while players who desire a more relaxed pace can find it as well.

There are, however, two things that I feel detract from the overall experience.

First, faction with the Great Herd. If you want to hunt the centaurs, by all means go ahead, but you’ll take faction hits, eventually reaching a point where you’re KOS to them. This faction shift used to be horrible. In the early days, you started just above Threatening faction with them and it only took a kill or two to reach the tipping point – and there was no way to gain faction back. I personally dropped many a group rather than kill the centaurs. Thankfully, there are ways to restore that faction now, but it’s still a pain.

The other part of zone population that annoys me is the Splitpaw gnolls, specifically the Tesch Mal Abductors. Nothing interrupts my gameplay more than being whisked off to a different zone I don’t want to do, and being forced to fight my way out of it.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the Thundering Steppes today are, well, just sort of OK. There’s not any major draw to be in the zone itself, apart from a few Heritage Quests and a handful of decent mob camps. Sure, there’s the Cove of Decay, the Ruins of Varsoon, and Splitpaw for those who choose to do it, but all these are connected to the zone, not in it itself. I’d venture to guess that the most a typical player sees of the Steppes anymore is the docks, using them as a travel hub for further destinations.

The disappointing reality is that there are far more interesting places to spend levels 20-30 these days. I think it’s a shame to see what was once a great zone no longer be able to keep up with its peers. Nostalgia or not, in a head-to-head comparison with other zones of the same tier, it just doesn’t stack up.

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Comments
  1. Gunthore says:

    I agree with everything you say except the bridge thing. I like the fact that you can’t cross at night, it’s pointless true, but it adds needed dept to the game imo. There aren’t enough things like that in the game. Requiring to speak Halasian is overkill, but the immersion is there. The Barbarian guards keep the bridge closed after nightfall, I wish there were more things like this in the rest of the world.

  2. zobek says:

    That’s really the flip side of my point, though, Gunthore – there aren’t that many things like it in the world. We used to have more – the boat rides to unlock the Enchanted Lands, etc., are the best example – but for the most part they’re either been removed or are no longer mandatory. As it stands now, Bridge Keep is more of an anomaly.

  3. prrasha says:

    What I want to know is: what is Bridge Keep protecting, other than Bridge Keep? There’s dangerous critters on both sides of it, the shortest path to Thundermist village from any of the giants, gnolls, undead, or centaurs doesn’t go through it… it can’t be guarding Antonica as there’s gnoll pits on the wrong side, plus there’s an unguarded door over in the griffon fields… it certainly doesn’t protect the dock area at all… So it just protects the centaurs and undead on the Karana side from the centaurs and gnolls on the Antonica side?

  4. Kendricke says:

    That’s a great point, Prrasha!

    I hate zone design that doesn’t make sense…and that does not make sense.

  5. Illuminator says:

    It wouldn’t bother me so much if there were a rich world behind the Bridge Keep, but as it stands the Thundering Steppes has an excessively barren feel to it. Your tabulation of the quest count settles what for me until now has just been a gut feeling while grinding alts. I think the zone really badly needs a dose of Darklight Wood.

  6. Kendricke says:

    By the by, am I the only one who recalls the large fogbanks of mist which used to reside within the gnoll filled craters?

    I used to think that was one of those little touches that added so much to the zone. You’d have to enter the mist to find the gnolls. Now, no mist and you can see the gnolls clear across the craters.

    Ah well…

  7. zobek says:

    There’s still mist there, Kendricke – I can see it just fine on my system.

    Methinks someone needs to play with his graphics settings. 😉

  8. Kendricke says:

    Bah, I have the particles up higher than they used to be. I’ll play around with it later this week.

  9. Steventhearmy says:

    You know you can jump over the wall on the left side?

  10. Kendricke says:

    Sure you can. That’s what’s I tend to refer to as a work-around, as opposed to a solution. When players have to get creative to compensate for design decisions…that’s a workaround.

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