A little while back I opened discussion about the game on changes people would like at End of Time, and nearly every one of those concerns were ultimately addressed.
The focus has seemed to largely be about decreasing the difficulty of End of Time and that has been a continued focus. There is a difference between difficulty and challenge; we aim to continue to have a challenging game and are not watering anything down or making it more mindless, but rather taking out needless barriers, reducing grind while focusing on more more interesting, interactive challenges.
To that end, I would like to announce new changes and recap some of what has been changed and added over the last year.
Over a dozen new areas have been added, largely related to our nearly complete "area dungeon project" initiative, which ultimately will end with dozens of new dungeons and a homogenization of the levels of citizens in towns across the world for several reasons. Many play styles of the game revolve around being able to enter into a fight on the player's own terms, with preparation key. Much of the game is centered around "random encounters" like you would find in a typical JRPG which makes the game more difficult for those types. These "area dungeons" are dungeons that are specifically geared around non aggressive, static reset mobs that are placed within or nearby specific towns. Once there are enough of these placed around the world to compensate for the "loss" of towns as effective leveling spots (as previous this is where those types of characters would find the most success in leveling), we will be changing the levels of the citizen mobs, adding in more cityguards, and generally gearing towns more toward social interaction, roleplay, quest starting/finishing, restocking, resting, etc. with more of the grinding/mob killing focused in dungeons. This is to grow more consistent with our JRPG roots, and to provide more roleplay focused players an avenue to grind for exp without having to betray their character concept and murder entire towns. This will eventually lead into a faction and reputation system, where positive and negative actions in regions will positively and negatively impact some aspects of your experience in the region and with different groups within said region.
One of our new areas, the Morning Glory, is a luxury cruise airship that travels the world offering both a fun, relaxing, and varied break from normal play AND serves as a convenient circular travel option for traversing the globe.
An adventurer's guild has been added into the game with branches scattered around the world offering detailed directions to leveling spots based on character level along with offering unique goods and services to aid in exploring and dungeoneering. No longer should part of the game's "difficulty" be based on finding somewhere to level.
Character creation has been completely rewritten, offering basic (quick) creation, detailed character, and a random option, making getting into the game only as long or difficult as the player would like it to be. Additionally, many aspects of character creation can be revisited once in game up to level 15 by visiting the adventurer's guild, including the ability to "respec" (with more respecs available later in game). When a player chooses to respec, several points of core stats are converted back into AP which can be spent however the player chooses. Additionally, all stat increases now benefit FULL retroactive benefits, so no longer should concern about messing up your be build be part of the game's difficulty.
All potions have been lowered in price, making it easier to stock up and go exploring without having to worry about unnecessary downtime for healing. Healers have also had their prices lowered along with several new buffs added. No longer should time wasted resting on the ground be part of the game's difficulty.
Several aspects of combat have had balance adjustments to make their use more reliable, flee being among the most concerning aspects which has been changed to be much more useful. Additionally, several new skills and spells have been added across the spectrum on classes to help fill gaps in each class's effectiveness and address other concerns with the difficulty of combat. Some aspects such as stun, wait, daze have all had adjustments made to make them much more useful, while mob evasion overall has been addressed. Equipment balance has been addressed game wise, making sure that everything is in line with current values (along with an autoset version being added across all equipment and mobiles making future updates [if necessary] quick and painless).
The Fighter class has had an entirely new system added to replace the old, unreliable blitz system which offers them a level of depth akin to what spell casters enjoy with the magic system. I covered this previously in another thread so I will simply link to that for the sake of post length:
Now for some of our more exciting announcements...
We have had a complete overhaul on our world map / wilderness / overland code!
Adapted from the Smaug codebase and related code, we are now using the PNG image loading code that translates an actual graphical image into a world map, complete with coordinates and everything. The pros of this are countless, but include things such as the coordinate system allowing for better tracking code, establishing smarter caravan and traveling guard routes, a MUCH improved visual to text conversion for screen readers, an exponentially larger world map (we went from a 180x62 map on the old wilderness code to a 1000x800 map), more detail and room for new areas and geographical features, easier addition of new maps, reduction in vnum usage, and the addition of a "Z axis" with two layers of upward altitude used with flight (and airships) that proportionally "scale down" the map to represent the higher altitudes that helps speed up travel across the world (along with a handy mapspeed command). The aesthetic benefits are enormous, as well, and we even added cloud cover to the highest altitude.
Encounter rates have been adjusted to make exploring the world easier, and chocobo stables have been added outside of every town along with a massive reduction in their cost making purchase or one-time rentals much more economical. Additionally, along with eliminating world map encounters, chocobos may also be set to run up to 5 times faster than normal in order to make a much speedier journey across the now much larger map.
Along with the new world map, we have just put the finishing touches on a new in-town mini map which will make navigating towns much, much easier than they might have been before. While not a visual or ASCII representation of the towns themselves, it uses 3x3 "tiles" of ASCII characters to represent path (and in most cases showing the location of shops next to their doors with things such as an A for armor, W for weapon, etc.). Some towns, such as Narshe and Truce, were especially problematic before since a lack of any visual aid made navigating the branching and often twisting paths of these towns difficult. No longer should part of the "difficulty" of the game involve a quick trip through town turn into a frustrating mental exercise in memory.
Winterhold our annual (sometimes biannual) winter event is currently running along with 24/7 double exp. This is a popular event that makes leveling and getting new, hard to find gear much easier, as well. See a post from last summer's event for most details:
Coming up very soon (potentially as soon as this weekend) we will be raising exp gains across the board, from killing mobs to skill usage and improvement.
Unsent, Vampires, and Lycanthropes no longer have higher experience required to level compared to other races. There is a version update now in place upon login that will adjust those characters to their new experience tables and will reimburse half of the experience points they would have otherwise gained while ensuring that moving forward they will require the same experience as other characters.
For everyone else...
There were several places where code was in place to reduce exp from a normal gain, most of which started at level 25 and basically decreased exp on a sliding scale relative to character level. All of that has been rolled back (for now), so the higher level you are, the more exp you should notice you are gaining. I'm not 100% as to whether or not some of this may end up changed again, reintroduced, or reintroduced somewhere in between where it was and where it is now, but this is where we are right now.