Everquest Had It Right (And Why I’m Looking Forward To Diablo 3 So Much)

Everquest UI

Lo and behold the most advanced interface known to man!

I must be getting old. As much as I love contemporary MMOs and could probably never go back to the original days of Everquest, there’s a trend emerging that I’m struggling to cope with: spell and combat ability overload. RIFT is the worst. WoW is pretty bad, as are other games like Everquest 2. You know what I’m talking about – the floods of endless abilities that end up filling your hotbars to the brim and cause your fingers to cramp trying to hit all of the keys. It’s button mashing digit dexterity gone mad.

Don’t get me wrong, I love choice. I want my wizards to have dozens of spells to pick from and I want my warriors to be able to choose between being a wrecking ball of destruction or an armoured tin can of impenetrable goodness. Choice is good, selection is good, variety is good. Having a UI clogged up with seven hotbars and 40 abilities, each of which require constant and consistent mashing is not. I don’t want a ’standard rotation’, especially not one consisting of a dozen attacks and I don’t want to have actions taking up space in my UI that I only fire once in a blue moon. What I want is to make intelligent, informed decisions when I play, with each action generating a clear and conceivable benefit. And I want to do it all with ease and simplicity.

Say what you will about Blizzard but I admire their design team and the thought process that goes into their games. They’re obviously trying hard to make WoW more enjoyable and less spammy although it’s unlikely, given the original design of the game, they will ever be able to achieve this. However, they seem to be on the right track with Diablo 3. If I was looking forward to it before, I have to say I’m more excited than ever now. I just love its skill system.

To me, D3s skill set up is perfect. You get dozens of abilities (something like 37 in total) and plenty of ways to customise them with runestones all adding up into one giant pile of versatile fun. And the best thing of all? You can only have six active skills at a time. No more cluttering your hotbars with endless rows of abilities that will sit and gather dust, no more worrying about how you’re going to cram in another spell when the new expansion comes out and no more taking your hands off the controls just so you can hit that rare ability bound to SHIFT+ALT+7.

Of course, some nerd will come up with the ‘perfect’ build for each class and no doubt plenty of us will stick to it like the mindless drones we are but, that aside, D3 skill system is a clever beast. It’s given us versatility and choice and the fun of trying out new combinations whilst removing the restrictions of play imposed by selecting talent paths such as can be found in WoW and the upcoming SW:TOR. Also by keeping the number of active abilities you can have relatively low, it allows us to spend more time actually enjoying the game rather than endlessly tickling your keyboard or scratching your head for what key to press next.

And where have we seen something like this before? That’s right, Everquest. It’s the only MMO that I’ve played that has a similar system for spells, only allowing you to equip (what is it now?) 10 active spell gems out of a spell book of dozens. It’s brilliant. The system makes you think, it makes you consider your choices before battle and it gives you the endless fun of playing around with different spell combinations. In the modern days of hotbar overload it’s nice to see that sometimes even the old dogs can still teach some new tricks. Or something like that.


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  1. Longasc says:

    Guild Wars, Gordon, Guild Wars!

  2. Gazimoff says:

    You’re right of course.

    The only solution I’ve found to get rid of hotkey overload is to have a single hotkey bar on screen, purely with the abilities I need for a fight. Anything else gets shoved into an alternate bar that fades out of view unless I need it for some reason, and gets locked out whenever I go into combat.

    I find this works better than going into windows to root around and find stuff, without losing precious real-estate to blue-moon buttons.

  3. AFK says:

    Well said Gordon. I was wondering if my adversity to the boat load of skills in mmo’s (especially Rift) was just due to my own stuborness or my stupid and slow fingers. Maybe it’s just poor design? Glad to hear I’m not the only one that feels this way. D3’s skill system looks great. I’ve been messing around will the skill calculator for days now already.

  4. Carson says:

    Quality over quantity forever!

    The worst is when you’ve got massive quantities of skills, and no interesting differences between them. Then you add short cooldowns to them all, to force you to use them all. Hello EverQuest 2, I’m looking at you. Although it was relaxing to pull and kill a monster by typing “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0″, it got boring awfully quick.

    I would also add that Guild Wars 2 looks to also fit this sweet spot of design, following on from the original Guild Wars model of having lots of skills to choose from, but once you’ve chosen, you’ve chosen, and you only have a fairly modest button bar to play with.

  5. bhagpuss says:

    Great post Gordon! I agree 100% except for the Diablo3 part. Longasc is on the money with Guild Wars. GW2 is where you want to focus, not Diablo.

    There was a bit of a discussion on how this works in Rift over on Stargrace’s site http://mmoquests.com/2011/09/12/cleric-macros-riftgame/ . It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but Rift is actually designed in such a way that you can reduce that overwhelming splurge of hotkeys to a more EQ/GW friendly several by judicious use of the macro function.

    I think, however, that that’s a somewhat half-arsed way to handle it. In my opinion nothing beats the original Everquest implementation of an unlimited number of spells in your book of which you can select just eight (latterly ten as you rightly point out). The way that EQ has it over GW in this respect is that in Everquest you can hot-swap spells on the fly, but at great personal risk.

    In Guild Wars you go into the instance with your choice made and you live or die by that decision. In Everquest I had incredible fun and excitement frantically sitting and flicking through my spellbook for a situational spell I hadn’t expected to need, desperately memorizing it and jumping up, hoping enough of my group were still alive for it to have been worthwhile. Happy days!

    I call that real player choice and real immersion. I actually liked it best of all when you not only had to sit to med and mem but when the full-screen spellbook popped up and you could only hear, not see, what was going on around you. That really felt so intense, so “there”. Nothing since has ever come close.

    • Carson says:

      Macro’ing of reactive and chained skills is, frankly, a disaster. I haven’t played Rift beyond a brief look in the open beta, but I gather it’s the same sort of poor situation of macros in WoW 1.0, before Blizzard locked down all their decision-making capabilities in the 2.0 patch.

      If the devs introduce, say, a skill that can only be used within a few seconds after a successful parry, that’s intended to add reactive gameplay and also a test of your skill, reactions, whether you’re paying attention, etc. If you can write a macro to automatically use that skill instead of your main bread & butter attack if it’s available, then it might as well not exist. The devs might as well change your main attack and add “+20% damage and a stun when used against a target that you have parried an attack from in the last 3 seconds.”

      The original EverQuest was before my time, but that does sound like an interesting system. I’m wondering what circumstances GW2 will allow skill changes in, given that it will have a persistent world rather than the outpost lobby / explorable region division of the original GW.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I do feel that when you need to macro attacks then something is fundamentally wrong with the game design. IMO macros shouldn’t exist in games.

  6. R says:

    They were probably too lazy to add a second bar, or too technologically inept.

  7. Valtray says:

    Doesn’t WoW also have macroing? or are you thinking of some other kind of macroing?

  8. Lycanthrope says:

    Somewhere in the past is a fantasy novel I read where magic worked very differently than what we imagine. In that universe you did not permanently learn spells. You had to concentrate for long periods to “force” a spell on your brain. A highly skilled wizard may only be able to hold 3 spells in memory at a time. This was important because once a spell was “used” it was literally “used”: consumed from memory and could not be cast again unless the wizard went through the arduous re-learning process. No indiscriminate spell-slinging in that universe. Thought, preparation and strategy meant everything.

  9. Azuriel says:

    WoW is particularly bad depending on the class. I have 6-7 rows of abilities on my warlock and hunter, along with having to manage the pet. Meanwhile, my paladin and mage? Everything fits in 2 rows.

  10. Valor says:

    Sorry Gordon, I will try to read the rest but I had to stop at “Rift is the worst”.

    With a little macro knowledge, avaialable via Google, Rift solved the problem I think you are complaining about. Much better than WoW cast sequences, Rift’s fall through macros allowed me to consolidate dozens of abilities into 3 to 5 buttons.

    If WOW had this system I wouldn’t have stopped playing Cat Druid!


  11. Chreo says:

    Seems I’m in a minority as I revel in having lots of choices, complex rotations and could do with one more hotbar every time…

  12. browolf says:

    When I played rift for a month, I found It is possible to spec in way that avoids having lots of abilities one would prob rarely use and mostly forget they existed.

  13. smakendahed says:

    Rift was horrible for this but I also found EQ2 was the first offender that I can remember. In Rift I find myself using macros to mitigate this, plunking similar abilities into one button in an order of priority. If X is on cooldown, it’ll drop to Y, if Y is also on cooldown, then pop a builder.


    I did like having the choices in EQ, having to swap spells for buffing and stuff.

    While I agree that D3 will have spec templates, I’m going to go with the biggest, crushiest (it’s a word…), stompiest and most brutal abilities available.

    Smaken SMASH!

  14. Wolfshead says:

    This trend of “more is better” and “super-size me” design theory has been infecting MMOs for far too long. More classes, more races, more talents, more specs, more loot, more expansions, more spells, more abilities.

    More, more and more is not the answer. Having more doesn’t lead to happiness.

    Less is more. Minimalism is true elegance.

    Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication – Leonardo DaVinci

    • Tesh says:

      But, but, “Keep it simple, stupid” (KISS) design is eeeevil! It’s the lowest common denominator! It’s easy to learn so I can’t show off my 733t raiding skillz! Waaaaaaa!


      Sorry, had to get that out of my system. In the game design I’ve done on the side, I do try to boil things down to as simple as possible while maintaining sufficient depth to make it interesting. Greed Corp. is a good little game that illustrates this. There are very few units, and not many gameplay verbs, but there is a lot of tactical depth in that deceptively simple game.

  15. Bronte says:

    This is the reason I am really glad for the talent redesign that Blizzard went through in Cataclysm. There were waaaaaaaay too many abilities, talents, and skills etc. to choose from, and they quickly got overwhelming. I also like the fact that you don’t just spam 1-2 keys for any class. You have to watch for procs, and cycle through several abilities accordingly.

  16. Twan says:

    Love the screenshot!

  17. dresdor says:

    Cataclysm did a lot to curtail WoW’s insane amount of abilities; but they still have a lot. I will say D3 is looking more and more interesting to me.

    There’s a definite balance to be made; enough abilities to make soloing a possibility without dying violently, but not so many that its pointless. I like abilities like WoW Warrior’s Victory Rush (damage and a heal only useable after you’ve killed a mob recently) but having a separate ability doesn’t make much sense to me. Either make it proc on first hit or have the first few hits (while under the effects of victorious buff from killing a mob) generate health and deal more damage. A lot of abilities can be rolled into each other and have the same net effect.

    I feel this has a lot to do with MMOs trying to appeal to everyone. You have to have decurse/cleanse abilities spread around for raiders; healing abilities spread around for soloers; buffs spread around for everyone; tanking/healing/DPS abilities spread over several classes to have variety…its really a big mess.

    • Gordon says:

      I like the Warrior class in WoW but I don’t like stance dancing. I find it pretty tricky to do and, to do it right, you really need to make macros etc. Maybe it means I’m a bad player or whatever but I rather bother changing stance. I kinda wish they’d just simplify it a bit and make the stances linked to the talent trees. It would stop stance dancing and let them balancing things a bit better.

      • dresdor says:

        You don’t *need* macros, but they make things easier. I have my little tricks; like binding the stances to insert, delete and home on a full keyboard so I can switch easily (a hold-over from vanilla that I still do, despite not needing to much anymore). That said, you shouldn’t need to stance dance most of the time (I’m not one of those mathcraft nerds who will hit enough hotkeys in a minute to break a sweat all for 0.10% more DPS/Tanking/Healing). The only times I stance dance is for a fear break in berserker stance, and I play human/undead warriors a lot just to avoid that (racial fear break ftw).

        I agree, though, that the talent trees should unlock the stances. Heck, they have a good system for it now with Cataclysm. I use “off-spec” stances about as often as I use “off-spec” presences with my DK or shapeshifts for my druid. Then again, I’m probably an exception, as I’m not interested in buffing my tanking/healing/DPS by agonizing over perfect rotations/gear/macros. I think the only macros I use are for tanking 5 minute abilities to help my healers out (i.e. when hitting Shield Wall my character says “Shield Wall up; X Seconds” and with Last Stand: “Last Stand Up; X Seconds”) Simple, short and to the point.

  18. bloob says:

    “Don’t get me wrong, I love choice.”

    They give the illusion of choice. In reality the games have narrowed to focus on constant solo combat so almost all the skills are the same – damage. Giving them cooldowns and different animations and spell effects is just a way of distracting your attention from the fact these games have been reduced to mindlessly button mashing the same keys mob after solo mob after solo mob.

    Terrified EQ chanters in illusion form buying their spells in enemy cities ftw.

    I agree collecting a set of extremely distinctive skills-spells that are good in certain situations-combinations and then limiting the number usable at a time could give more actual choice.

    • Gordon says:

      “Terrified EQ chanters in illusion form buying their spells in enemy cities ftw.”

      Ha, yes I remember those days! I also remember spending some ridiculous amount of time trying to completely my Iksar illusion quest. Ahh those were the days :)

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