Monday, December 6, 2021

You Can't Get The Staff

Let me rephrase that. You can get the staff but you shouldn't. Trust me, you really shouldn't.

I'll tell you why. It turns out there's a very simple explanation for that little problem I was having in EverQuest II's new expansion, Visions of Vetrovia. The one where every mob was hitting my Berserker for billions of points of damage, something that even EQII's runaway stat inflation was never designed to handle. 

I say "explanation". I don't think we quite have one of those yet. An explanation would tell us the mechanisms involved, the how as well as the why. What we do have is a reason, a proximate cause: the Abysmal Sea Staff of Stratagem.

It's one of the free weapons you can pick up from the Tishan's Lockbox on the landing dock in Svarni Expanse, your arrival point for the start of the expansion. It's not the only weapon in the box. There are several others you could choose - an axe, a dagger, a couple of maces. 

There's even another two-hander, a great axe called the Abysmal Sea Greataxe of Insight. You're very well catered for when it comes to implements of mayhem, murder and carnage. Pick any of them you like and you'll be fine. Any of them except the staff. Don't take the staff or you'll be sorry.

I took the staff. Or, I should say, my Berserker did. It was more my choice than his, I think. I like a staff, as I'm about to explain.

Once upon a time, many years ago, he favored a sword and shield. Much of a Berserker's offensive power rests in an alternate ability (Aka AA.) called "Reversal", which does exactly what you'd expect. Every time the Berserker parries, ripostes, blocks or defends, Reversal procs a massive retaliatory strike. 

Since all those actions are autonomic in EQII, Reversal effectively provides continual, passive DPS, not dissimilar to a damage shield. Once you've spent enough points to max the AA, the difference in combat is very noticeable or at least it used to be.  

And for years you had to have a shield equipped for it to work, so naturally most Berserkers went sword-and-board. Or axe and board. Or mace and board. The board was the key factor is what I'm saying. You used a shield. I think I'm making my point clear.

I'll have that staff, thank you.
Of course, there were dissenters. I remember many debates over the alternatives. Things could become quite heated and emotional, dual wield and two-handers both being seen by many as far more appropriate to the whole "Berserker" ethos than namby-pamby, goodie-two-shoes sword and shield combos that made you look like some god-bothering Paladin. 

I wasn't all that bothered either way, especially when our characters got the option to overwrite what they were actually using with whatever they wished they were, first by way of the Appearance system and later the even more flexible Wardrobe. I forget now what order the changes came but at some point the requirement to have a shield equipped was stripped from the Reversal AA and at that point I moved over to using a two-hander, probably because one slot is easier to manage than two but also possibly because I happened to get a very nice two-hand weapon as a drop.

However it came about, my Berserker's been waving a massive axe or a sword bigger than he is for the longest time now. I barely even look at single-handed weapons any more so when it came time to swap to something from the box there were only two choices - the staff or the greataxe. 

I like staffs. I've always liked them since I was lucky enough to win Cros Treewind's during an event in EverQuest some time back in the early 2000s. For a long time that staff was my most prized virtual possession. It wasn't very powerful but it was very rare. You had to be the person who killed Cros Treewind during the event (Or at least the person who looted his corpse. I'm pretty sure I didn't kill him but I sure as hell prized that stick from his stiffening, leather-gloved hands.) and the event itself , like all the great mmorpg events, ran for a short time only and was never repeated.

For a few years that staff was something worth linking in groups or general chat but time passes and eventually few people even remembered Cros Treewind's name. It was just a low-level staff with crappy stats and no-one cared. I still have it somewhere. I never throw anything away. I might go look for it later.

It got me hot for staffs, though. I've always liked them, ever since. It helps that I've played a staff elementalist in Guild Wars 2 pretty much since launch, after a brief dalliance with playing a ranger for a few months. 

Here's the thing about staffs in mmorpgs - they're big enough to see. Staffs, greatswords, greataxes and shields are about the only weapons large enough to justify the fuss people make over cosmetics. One-handers and offhand weapons, especially symbols and similar hand-held fetishes, often look amazing in a dressing room display but once you put them on your character you can barely make out what they're meant to be. Give me six feet of timber any day.

Even with all that background, I'm still not clear on why I gave my Berserker this particular staff. I do like a greataxe on a Berserker. It's very much in keeping with the job description. A staff, on the other hand, brings to mind either a priest or a mage.

It might have been because the Abysmal Sea greataxe doesn't look like an axe. I have a particular dislike of weapons that call themselves one thing but appear as another. What it in fact looks like is a greatsword that's split at the pointy end so you can carry eggs in it. It's not so bad I'd never use it at all but I certainly don't like the look of the thing.

The Abysmal Sea staff looks fine. Nothing special but perfectly acceptable and it has a nice particle effect. I'm a complete sucker for sparkles. I don't think that's why I picked it over the greataxe, though. I think I was just in a hurry and grabbed the staff pretty much on the flip of a coin. As I said, in EQII we have not one but two very good systems for replacing the look of any displayed item with the appearance of any other so I could have made the axe into anything I fancied.

Had I chosen something else, my Vetrovian experience so far would have been completely different. I'd have had no problems taking the blows dealt by the local wildlife, no frustrating, multiple deaths,  no repair bills, no sessions spent removing and re-allocating hundreds of AA points. 

I'd have continued as I began, playing my Berserker, levelling to 125 in both Adventuring and Crafting, going through the two Signature questlines together, just as I usually do. I'd have played the 'zerker exclusively until I'd either finished most of the solo content in the expansion or reached a point where it was too hard for him, which sometimes happens in the instances.

Only then would I have turned to my Bruiser/Alchemist, run him through the tradeskill line so he could level up and make upgrades for all the Berserker's combat arts. Then it would be back to the Berserker to carry on until everythng was done.

The rest of my half dozen erstwhile max-level characters would have had to wait their turn and when
that turn came preference would go to those with a useful craft. The Sage and the Jeweller would do their five levels and as much of the crafting questline as I felt they needed for practical purposes. Only then would the other adventure classes get a chance, by which time I'd almost certainly be feeling the pull from some other game.

That's why, even though I've wanted to shift focus to my Necromancer for several years now, it never seems to happen. This year, in Visions of Vetrovia, for the first time ever, my Necromancer was the first to hit the new level cap. And what's more, my Sage, just this afternoon, became the first character in the team not only to cap out as a crafter but to complete the tradeskill Signature questline as well. (The rewards for which are excellent, by the way.)

None of that would have happened had I not picked that cursed staff out of Tishan's Lockbox. Without the Berserker being benched by a bug, any good intentions I'd had of doing things differently this time would have been just that - intentions.

I'm not going to go as far as to say I'm glad the bug exists. It was a pain when it was happening and it would be incredibly unfortunate for anyone who only had one high-level character and couldn't swap to play someone else instead. I'm very happy the general problem has been identified and even happier there's such a very simple and painless workaround, namely don't use the damned staff. 

I'm sure it won't be too long before a fix appears, although by then I'd bet my Berserker will be well past the point where the staff is anything he'd want to use anyway. Upgrades in EQII come thick and fast as winter snow and I will be levelling him quickly to 125 - it only takes a couple of hours, if that.

Thanks to the enforced hiatus, however, he won't be resuming his customary position as team leader quite yet. I've very much appreciated the opportunity to get to know some of my other characters a little better and I intend to keep at it for a while. 

I think the Necromancer might be better suited to clearing instanced content than the Berserker ever was and I definitely want to have max-level crafters who can make things the team needs before I think about someone that makes weapons no-one really wants, although with Niami Denmother at the helm, I don't imagine any crafting class is going to feel useless for long.

On that note I'll wrap this up, not least because I'm in the very priveliged position right now of having a new expansion to an mmorpg that I'm thoroughly enjoying and I want to get back to it. I've enjoyed just about all the EQII expansions there have ever been, so that's not unexpected but this one feels particularly solid. 

I wouldn't call it ambitious or original but so far it feels more coherent and cogent than we've become used to in the past few years. There seem to be no major, new systems to get to grips with, just good, thoughtful use of the ones we already have. I like learning new things but there's a lot to be said for working with what you already have, especially when what you have works better.

If the day-one database problem and the staff bug end up being the biggest issues at launch (And I can't see much sign of anything else blowing up in game or on the forums right now.) then I think we can count this expansion a win. I'm certainly having a great time so far.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Say Anything.

I started a couple of posts after I came home from work this evening but they were so bad I had to delete them. They weren't even worthy of a spot in draft folder limbo. 

It was clear I had no inspiration and nothing to say today, so I started thinking maybe I should take the hint, skip a day and finally break my run, like I've been talking about doing for a while now. 

But then I thought of something. Everyone is probably playing Endwalker. Or at least waiting in a queue to play Endwalker. No-one's going to be reading anything I write. I can post anything I want!

Oh, boy! Let's do it! (My Luci T-shirt says that. It's good advice.)

This morning after breakfast, before I left for work, I just had time to read this news item on Stereogum, which informed me Lana del Rey had been named Artist Of The Decade by Variety magazine. I should bloody well think so, too!

I watched the embedded video. Both of them, actually. Award acceptance speeches are often odd but this one's gloriously off-kilter. I just loved it. I wonder what it means?

Do you think she's going to get a job in a bank or an insurance company? I hope not.

I can only think of one famous person who actually did that mid-career and that was the comedian Nick Hancock, who left showbiz to work as a mortgage broker. That didn't go very well. He lasted a year before quitting and hasn't really made it back into the public consciousness since, although not for want of trying.

There is, it has to be said, quite a difference between hosting a clutch of laddish TV panel games and being named Artist of the Decade by the Show Business Bible. I think we Lana fans are probably safe. Or as safe as we ever are.

Incidentally, I have discovered another Lana fan in the bookshop where I work, which makes for some interesting workplace conversations. It was a bit of a surprise because he normally favors the likes of Rammstein and only today he was waxing lyrical about the Cardiacs. Just goes to show her reach. Artist of the decade, indeed!

I suppose we could have a bit of Rammstein and the Cardiacs now, just so we know who we're talking about. For a comparison with Lana, see any number of past and future posts.

That was disturbing. I don't recommend digging into their back catalog without wearing protective equipment. Now for one of my favorites by Rammstein.

One of the tuneful ones, that was. And one of the less upsetting videos. There used to be a surprising number of Rammstein fans where I work but I think most of them have left, now. 

Okay, maybe it's time for something lighter. How about Jenny Lewis? She's always fun. Here she is, singing a song about how all you need to be happy is a puppy and a truck. It's called Puppy and a Truck. I guess that about covers it.

Hmm. That first verse is a bit of a downer, come to think of it. Still, puppy and a truck, eh? All alright in the end.

Bootlegger turn. I've never been much of a Dave Grohl fan. No, that's disingenuous. I don't think I've ever knowingly listened to a Foo Fighters song. I have an idea what I think they sound like but I don't believe in sullying my prejudices with actual facts so I've taken great care to avoid hearing anything they've ever done.

Until now. To be fair, this is just Dave Grohl, not his band. And it's a cover, not one of his band's songs. So I'm good, still. He has a book out that I keep having to pick up and look at and it seems pretty interesting plus I heard him talking in some thing I watched the other day and he seemed like a very smart, articulate guy. It's annoying when people won't conform to your mindlessly ignorant expectations, isn't it?

That just seems wrong in so many ways but I guess he knows what he's doing. I hope so, because I laughed even though I felt I shouldn't have.

Okay, if we're burning bridges... I don't have much excuse for posting this. I mean, just because sixteen million people have watched it doesn't make any of them right, does it? Except they are. It's great. I love a big singalong chorus.

 We didn't have them quite like that in my day. Oh, wait...

And... that's probably enough self-indulgence for one Sunday evening. Good thing no-one's reading any of this, eh?

Oh, hang on, I forgot. One more! I read  the excellent Craig Brown's excellent book on the Beatles recently. Are the Beatles excellent, too? I dunno. Read the book and decide for yourself. It's called "One, Two, Three, Four" and I recommend it even if you don't like the Beatles. I don't particularly like them, myself, although I find them historically and culturally fascinating. I read the book because Craig Brown is a superb collater of facts and anecdotes and a master at making mosaics that bring the past to life. 

Of course, it had the side effect of making me go look at Beatles-related stuff on YouTube, except what I really looked at was Yoko Ono. I've always liked Yoko, possibly more than I ever liked the Beatles. I've never liked John Lennon much (In the way we don't like famous people we've never met and know almost nothing about.) but he gets a whole lot more interesting (and listenable) after he got together with her. I do very much like the stuff he did with the Plastic Ono Band right after the Beatles broke up, especially the rip-roaring Live Peace in Toronto album, which I own and used to play all the time when punk was hot. It fitted right in. 


I liked the rock'n'roll covers but what I mostly played was side two, which is Yoko screaming for about twenty minutes. The shorter of the two songs she screams is "Don't Worry Kyoko, Mummy's Only Looking for a Hand in the Snow". It wasn't until I read Craig Brown's book that I realized Kyoko is actually the name of Yoko's daughter, who was about five years old when that performance was recorded.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Anyway, I was looking at various versions of that online when I found this one by the unlikelily-named Tater Totz. They were some kind of side project incorporating members of well-known punk outfits Redd Kross and White Flag among others. They recorded a couple of covers albums in the late 80s, one of which also featured Cherie Curry of the Runaways. Presumably because there were several Beatles numbers among the songs they chose, they somehow ended up playing a big Beatles convention in Los Angeles called BeatleFest '88.

I have no idea what the rest of their set consisted of but the climax was this astonishingly aggressive version of Yoko's signature tune, "Don't Worry Kyoko...". Yoko is famously unpopular with most Beatles fans and her music is famously unpopular with almost everyone. As the notes provided by the curator of the YouTube channel politely put it, "this caused many of the audience to protest. The band was lead off of the property by security right after the performance."

If you read Craig Brown's book, you'll realize that sort of behavior would have been considered extremely mild by the Beatles original, German fan base and the Beatles themselves did things on stage that were far more outrageous. It's amazing what you can learn by reading.

Oh, did I inadvertently make some kind of ironic, self-reflexive point? Sorry about that.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Scenes From Vetrovian Life

Visions of Vetrovia is turning out to be a spectacularly good-looking expansion, particularly if your tastes run to abstract expressionism in general and color field in particular. It might seem unecessarily pretentious to drag fine art into a post about an EverQuest II expansion but a) there's no such thing as "unecessarily pretentious" and b) I can't help it if every sunrise, sunset and sea view in Vetrovia sets me thinking about Rothko.

The amount of thought and care that must have gone into the zone design is exemplary. There's a simplicity and a rightness to almost everything I've seen so far. Of course, I've only made it to the second zone. Maybe the next one's a strip mall.

I'm also more than impresed with the dinosaurs or "deinos" as they're called for some inexplicable reason. Dinos aren't new to Norrath. There were herds of them in 2014's Altar of Malice, where they roam the beaches and dunes of the Tranquil Sea, the same place we first meet the "pygmies" who worship them.

Those same pygmies, or some very close relatives, turn up in Vetrovia, which asks some interesting questions about Norrathian ecology, not to mention geography. It also raises some rather more concerning questions about whether "pygmy" is an acceptable term these days. I have a strong feeling it's not but here it is just the same.

More in keeping with contemporary ways of thinking are the dinosaurs themselves. Unless I'm misremembering, the deinos of the Tranquil Sea had the traditional dull colors, hard scales and leathery skins familiar from the dinosaur books of my childhood. There are plenty of those in Karuupa Jungle but many others are resplendent in the irridiscent feathers now believed to token the widely accepted, real-world timeline that sees dinosaurs transitioning into birds.

Whichever evolutionary path they've taken, they look magnificent. They move fluidly and with great individuality. Some stalk, some meander, some frolic. I stood on the beach and watched them playing and it was good.

I also tried to get some close-ups and that wasn't so good. Never send a Necromancer to do a photojournalist's job, particularly one with an entourage, not unless you want to spend most of your time shifting position to get the whole damn lot of them out of shot. 

Of course, everyone in EQII these days travels with an enotourage. It's very rare to see any player without a mount, a mercenary, a familiar and a selection of vanity pets. I'm not quite sure how things got that way but any player who travels alone is a positive cultural outcast.

Anyway, I'm not going to say much more because time is short today. I'll have something to say about the levelling process and the questing soon, I imagine. It's going very well and it's getting interesting but there are some curious structural peculiarities I might dig into a little.

Or maybe not. Things move so fast. What seems like a topic worth a post or two today may well be old news and already forgotten by the time I come to put my thoughts into words tomorrow. 

One thing I can guarantee won't change is the endless supply of gorgeous screenshots. I can't stop taking them. These scenes look even better in game, too. It's a real visual delight, this expansion. Can't stress that enough.

Or maybe I can. Maybe I have. I'll shut up about it now. 

Until the next time.

Friday, December 3, 2021

The Return Of The Necromancer or How To Turn A Bug Into A Feature.

After yesterday's cheery assessment of the new EverQuest II expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, I ran smack-bang into an unfortunate glitch. A very unfortunate glitch. A glitch worthy of Amazon's New World, except that if it happened there it would probably affect everyone and make news around the world rather than just affecting me and making one tiny ripple on the EQII forums.

Remember how I said after I remembered to put on all the gear from Tishan's Lockbox, everything was fine and the only death I had was self-inflicted? Yeah, well that didn't last. When I logged back in after finishing the blog post something very strange had happened. Something much worse than the original problem I'd been having.

Somehow, instead of being better able to withstand the blows in his new armor, my Berserker had become about as brittle as one of those roses supervillains like to dunk into liquid nitrogen before shattering to let the hero what's coming next. 

He'd become the absolute definition of a glass cannon. If Ihe opened with one of the Ascension spells and blasted a mob - any mob - from a safe distance, the mob would drop to the ground, dead. If, however, he was careless enough to let the mob hit him first, it would be his turn to hit the floor, instantly.

It made for some very odd gameplay, especially for a melee character. It's possible if he'd been a wizard I might not even have noticed but the traditional Berserker pull tactic of charging up to something and spinning was working about as well as running face-first into a steel door. Hard to miss that.

I spent a while reading combat logs and checking settings. I managed to get some questing done but it wasn't enjoyable at all. In the end I posted on the forums about it and went to bed.

This morning someone had replied, suggesting I might need to reset all my AAs. He'd had the same issue and it had fixed it for him. That has actually happened to me before and it worked for me that time, too. I'd forgotten all about it. So I did that and it didn't make any difference at all.

Being me, I then decided to run a few tests and make a few notes. I wondered if it was only happening in the new expansion. Before all this happened, my Berserker had felt extremely comfortable killing stuff in the opening zones of the previous expansion and close to godlike in the one before that. Would he feel the same way now?

I went back to both, walked the Berserker up to an aggressive mob, stood there and let it hit him. 

He died. Instantly. 

Not every time. A few mobs seemed to do normal damage, but most of them were happy to one-shot him in his fancy new armor. Some of the adornments from VoV don't work in earlier content but even with those out of action, he still had over 800 million hit points. When he did some of those older zones the first time he probably didn't have a tenth of that.

I made a note of the damage he was taking. It was spectacular:

Sand Rock Lizard , Svarni Expanse - 9,293,912,700
Swamp Needler, Svarni Expanse - 4,215,656,200
Rock Growler, Echo Caverns - 5,973,298,500
Enormous Rhino Beetle, The Blinding - 2,947,716,400

Clearly, a character with 992,827,858 HP, as he has in the new expansion, is not going to get far if he's been hit for several billion hit points in a single attack. Also, just as clearly, this cannot be working as intended. 

I went back to the forums and found someone had added a comment to say they'd seen this happen in beta. They also said there'd been a thread on it in the bug forum but the explanation had been misinterpreted as the reporting player not having equipped the right gear and the thread had been marked closed.

The commenter had helpfully opened a new thread reporting the bug was not fixed after all so I added my findings to that. I also did an in-game bug report. We'll see if anything comes of it.

That still left me largely unable to play but I still wanted to play. I was also curious to test whether the problem affected my whole account or just that one character. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to throw a rock at a couple of birds and see if I could knock them both out of their tree. 

It's at times like this that having multiple characters at the cap begins to feel like an insurance policy rather than an indulgence. I've been aware for some time that a Berserker isn't the best class to take through new content and I've been wanting to transition to using my necromancer instead. Well, here was my opportunity. 

Luckily, I'd already tidied her up and got her ready in anticipation of playing her in VoV. All I had to do was port her over and swap out all her panda gear for the stuff in the box. 

I was more than a little anxious that the same thing would happen to her as had happened to the Berserker but I'm very happy to say it didn't. I wheeled her through all the quests the Berserker had done at breakneck speed, not needing to read any of the dialog since I could still remember most of it from last night. 

Her pet could tank everything without seeming to take any damage at all and when I deliberately let things hit the Necro to see what kind of damage they were doing, the numbers in the combat log were as you'd expect - nothing much over 20-40 million hit points. With a health pool of almost 200 million that's barely going to raise a bruise.

I ended up taking her into the first instance, where she acquitted herself well against the regular mobs. The first boss proved to much for her but mostly because of the really awkward positioning. He's an archer who stands on a high rock and also teleports. She died but not for any weird reasons. 

All of which leaves me in a slightly odd position. I'm a little annoyed that I can't play my Berserker, especially since he's by far my most prepared character out of combat, being a maxed Weaponsmith and Adorner among other things, but it's past time I transferred my attention to the Necromancer and this is a nudge in the right direction.

I also ought to take my Warlock, who's a max level Sage and can make the upgrades for the Necro's spells, through the tradeskill signature line rather than the Berserker, because who needs a weaponsmith? No-one! Certainly not me.

There's absolutely no doubt that a Necromancer in EQII is much better suited to my solo playstyle. The Berserker is enormous fun to play in combat with all his AEs and death saves but the Necro is the Swiss Army Knife of classes, able to pop out the right tool for any occasion. She kills everything much faster than he does and she can do all kinds of other things, too. Not to mention she can always drop and feign dead if I need to go answer the door. That's incredibly handy.

I very much hope someone at Darkpaw takes note of the report and fixes the bug sooner rather than later because I do want to keep my Berserker up to speed but I can't say I'm unhappy at the turn of events. This could and indeed should mark a turning point, where I return to my EQII roots and go back to playing the class I played so happily for years, before I was lured away by the knockabout fun of first the Bruiser and then the Berserker.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

EverQuest II's Visions Of Vetrovia - Very First Impressions

By the time I logged into EverQuest II's latest expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, the unfortunate launch day issues were no more than a memory. The servers were up and running and I couldn't wait to get started. I couldn't but I should have. Waited, I mean.

Oh, not because of anything lacking in the expansion itself. So far I'm very impressed. I know I'm something of an easy sell for EQII expansions but even by my relaxed standards this one gets off to an exemplary start.

Well, after you've closed all the windows, that is. I'm sure this won't be everyone's experience but if you've been hoarding infusers for the last few years, the way I have, letting them pile up in multiple stacks in your bags and bank vaults rather than using them as they were meant to be used, your first act in EQII's eighteenth expansion is going to be clicking "Ok" a dozen or so times to get your screen back into a fit state to be seen.

They did not space themselves nicely like that. If only. I tidied them for the shot.
As we've come to expect, a new expansion is an opportunity to clear house. All mmorpgs collect systems and mechanics across the years and over time some of them go out of fashion or become problematic in one way or another. This year sees a bigger clean-up than most. 

Say goodbye to most of the infusion system and to the entire concept of reforging, both once key selling-points in expansions of their own but now outmoded, unwanted and unloved. As Wilhelm often says, any feature, however annoying, is certain to be someone's favorite but I can find remarkably little bleating about the removal of these two.

Personally, I always disliked reforging and rarely used it. It probably suited raiders and min-maxers, trying to squeeze the last drop of utility out of the game but I was happy enough to work with the stats my gear came with rather than fiddle about trying to shunt them around. I did quite like infusing for a while, if only for the "Spin the wheel and see where it lands" thrill factor but after a while I forgot all about it, hence the big stacks of unused infusers. 

I don't have any pictures of infused or reforged items. Fortunately.

Of course, devs never want to take something away without giving you something in return (Customer services would loosen the bolts in their twirly chairs if they tried.) so now I have stacks of temporary adornments instead. Luckily, I have plenty of space for those because this year's expansion is truly massive... for depots!

I love depots. Every mmorpg should have them. They're player-crafted furniture items into which you can throw all kinds of things - potions, crafting materials, lore and legend pieces, collection items, scrolls, ammo, food and drink... there's a full list in the extremely long and detailed patch notes if anyone's interested.

Big deal. So they're just storage boxes.

Nope. Not just storage boxes. They were always big but now they're huge. They're also sortable and searchable and anyone with the right house permissions can put things into them and take them out. I already had most of the available depots but you can only place one of each in any given house and some of mine were full.  I'd started another batch in a second house and I had two shared bank slots stuffed with things that still wouldn't fit.

Batik. It's going to be the next big thing. Trust me.

The super-generous size increases let me consolidate the whole lot into one set of depots in my main Mara home. It freed up a ton of bank space and I haven't even given the place a full-on tidy yet! I was very happy once I'd gotten all that lot sorted.

None of which happened until I'd died half a dozen times, decided I should probably take a deep breath, slowed down and tried to stop getting over-excited. It was one hundred per cent my own fault although in my defense I'd say it's not usually this easy to just run into a new EQII expansion and get started.

Usually there's some awkward preamble, where you have to do a pre-quest or a series of pre-quests or go talk to the Duality in his sanctum or answer a summons from Lucan or Antonia or go to some out-of-the way place like Neriak docks to click on some weird machine or, oh, I don't know, something

Not this time. There's a letter inviting you to come to the new continent but you don't even need that. It's right there on the World Bell. I couldn't believe it. I only clicked on the bell because I happened to have logged out almost next to it and it was there in front of me. I didn't expect it to work!

It was night-time when I arrived at the dock in Svarni Expanse because it's always night-time when I get to anywhere new. There's some kind of law, I think. Even at night it looked just beautiful. So far I've only seen some of the first zone but it's all gorgeous. The art team does a superlative job with what must be some very limited resources in a game engine this old. 

Everything looked so good I took nearly seventy screenshots in not much more than a couple of hours. It's a shame IntPiPoMo's over. Not that that's going to stop me. 

The old barrel raft! A Norrath classic!

Thematically, the opening areas just work. The lighting, the colors, the foliage - everything blends perfectly together. You might notice the re-use of assets but they're exactly the right assets and there's enough new stuff to give the whole place its own identity. 

The wildlife works so well, too. Most of the creatures are very familiar from other zones and continents - elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, hyenas - all the old favorites from Commonlands and Sinking Sands but again they're the animals that ought to be there. They look right. They feel right. 

It's like a wildlife documentary round here.
And then you see something like the wonderfully-animated storks, standing along the waters' edge in the tidal pools. If those have been used before I can't remember it.

Okay, there is the usual apex predator problem, common all over Norrath as it is in most mmorpgs. I'm not sure any prey population could support that many lions and tigers even assuming the cats didn't kill each other fighting over territory. We've all learned to live with idiosyncracies like that, though, or we'd have given up playing years ago.

Tigers, chasing a player who just vanished over the hill. Time to move.

I'm getting ahead of myself again. Getting back to the plot (Hah!) I arrived on the docks in the middle of the night, where the first thing I saw were a couple of people with feathers over their heads. Like the good Pavlovian player I am, next thing you know I was questing. Didn't even stop to think.

The first couple of quests didn't involve any combat at all and the one after had me killing crocodiles who seemed to be about as terrifying as week-old kittens. I actually stopped to check my combat log because I seemed to be taking so little damage. It turned out the crocs were hitting about as hard as the ones in Sinking Sands, a level thirty zone.

I'm still not sure if that was a feature - another very gentle introductory quest to get us setled in - or a bug. What I am sure of is that those crocodiles do not in any way represent the capabilty of the rest of the wildlife, all of which is ready to chew off most of your health in one bite. 

I don't know, maybe I'd better just stay in the village, where it's safe.

Let's put that into some kind of perspective. My Berserker, coming in, had over 850 million hit points. A lizard I recklessly attacked as I was running around exploring took three-quarters of that in one hit. 

I spent about twenty minutes poking my nose into places it wasn't wanted, aggrivating the local wildlife and paying the price. My death save kicked in most fights and though my Mercenary was quick on the rez (Something else that's been fixed with this expansion.) it was still fifty-fifty I could finish the fight before I died a second time.

For a while I thought he'd learned to rez only by forgetting how to heal. I checked the combat log and he seemed to be fine healing himself but not so hot on healing me so I swapped him for a more reliable, if lower-level, healer. She was worse.  

What exactly is it I'm paying you for, Zel?

And then it occured to me. In my rush to get out there and explore I'd completely forgotten the advice I'd given everyone else in a previous post: don't forget to pick up the free gear in the Tishan's box next to the first quest-giver.

Which is how I ended up back in Freeport, sorting my bags and banks and depots. I wanted to clear myself a nice, clean bag so nothing would go into some obscure slot where I couldn't find it, when I started grabbing everything out of the starter box, which is what usually happens.

I considered comparing every piece individually, checking all the adornments, making a thoughtful series of choices... and then I thought sod it, I'll just trust that whoever did the itemization knows their job. I had my Berserker strip completely naked (Don't worry - he has appearance gear and I didn't touch any of that. It was like getting changed under a beach towel.) and then I just put on everything from the box. 

Other mercenaries are available. Although not this one. He just told me to get lost.

His health dropped by around a hundred million points but his Potency absolutely skyrocketed along with his crit bonus. I also replaced all of the mercenary's Accolades (Don't ask.) with a dozen from the box. Then I took the pair of them out and started bullying animals.

Oh. My. God! The difference! What had been long, risky fights became slam-bang, five second scrims. The Berserker had fewer hit points but he took a lot less damage and his DPS was hugely increased. If I let the creature take the first whack, a huge chunk of  the 'zerker's health still dropped but nothing like the previous ninety per cent and anyway the fight was over before the mob got another go. And my Merc managed to land heals that actually made my health bar move.

After that I trotted around happily on my demon horse doing good deeds for anyone that asked, like we do. I also went exploring and got myself into all kinds of scrapes. I managed to make my way right to the top of the undead pygmy village before I accidentally attacked a named and had to jump off a cliff trying to run away. I was aiming at the ocean but I missed.

This guy respawns way too fast.

That was my first and only death after I changed my gear. I'd also dinged 121 and the difference that one level made was highly noticeable. Visions of Vetrovia only raises the level cap five levels (To 125.) so I had wondered whether we might be pulling back from the hyper-accelerated levelling pace of the last several expansions but no, it's just the same. With full vitality, each quest was giving me twenty or thirty per cent of the level. 

The quests, I ought to mention, are very good. If you like EQII quests, that is. They are quintessentially EQII in every way. I have no idea how the team manages it unless there's literally one person who's been writing every quest for the last decade and a half but every quest I did this afternoon had just that tone I've come to expect and appreciate. I realize it's not for everyone but it's like a comfy pair of slippers and a nice mug of tea for me. Exactly what I wanted. 

Ok, you still have a job. For now. But I'm warning you. You can be replaced.

As for the Signature Quest line, either of them, adventuring or tradeskill, I can't tell you much. I started them both but almost every quest I did was a side-quest. It's easy to tell because the sig line ones have a different iconography. At the moment I'm more than happy just to wander around, do a few small favors for the locals, get my name known and enjoy the delightful scenery. There'll be time to get on with the serious stuff later.

And now I'm going to get back to it. It's great to be somewhere new that also feels so comfortably familiar. That's what I pay my money for.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How To Pass The Time While The Servers Are Down In Preparation For the Latest Expansion To That Game You Play (Or "I Got Buffalo '66 on DVD")

There was never really much of a chance I'd be able to post anything meaningful about the launch of EverQuest II's eighteenth expansion, Visions of Vetrovia on the day it hapened. Wednesday is one of my two regular workdays (The other being Sunday) so I'd have been pushing my luck to get home, get patched up, get in, get some screenshots and get them posted, even if all I'd been planning was a "Postcards from Vetrovia" post. (That is all I was planning.)

Even for something as perfunctory as that, I hadn't taken into account the length of time it takes the old game to power up for a new expansion. It's no Final Fantasy XIV with its twenty-four hour layoff but EQII usually takes a good few hours to get ready before throwing open the doors to the latest continent or planet or alternate dimension. 

When I got home this evening they'd not long taken the servers down and as I type this they're still locked. It's scheduled to be a six-hour downtime so there's ninety minutes yet to go and that's if there's no overrun. There's usually some overrun.

Wilhelm has already posted the salient details, including a rather spiffy new launch video, which I'll also include just for the heck of it. I have to say that since the EG7 takeover (Or the assimilation of EG7 by Daybreak, whichever way you prefer to look at it.) something seems to have happened to the marketing department. Everything looks that little bit more polished and professional. Obviously not compared to a real game company but still...

That's not going to keep anyone entertained for long, though,is it? It only lasts a minute. Let's have something a bit meatier to pass the time while we wait for the doors to open.

Remember Wet Leg? When I posted their first video it was the only song they had and no-one knew who they were. Now Chaise Longue is closing in on two milion views on YouTube, they've released two more singles, they're about to release their first album, they've been marked as a band to watch by every music platform you care to mention, they've been on Jools Holland's Later and they've just done their first NPR Tiny Desk concert.

Let's have all of that, why don't we, because it's all well worth having.

That was the second single, Wet Dream. I thought the video tried a little too hard to be the follow-up video to that video but the song itself is wonderful, particularly the magnificent couplet"You said, "Baby, do you want to comе home with me? I got Buffalo '66 on DVD." Possibly the most disturbing chat-up line you'll ever hear. The Tiny Desk version is even better, too. 

The video for third single, Too Late Now, is unsettling. I love it. The song doesn't seem like very much until about half way through, when it suddenly kicks up a gear and turns into something not unlike 88 Lines About 44 Women by The Nails, a tune I have loved always and then into something else that I keep thinking I'm about to put a name to but never do. I love songs that do that. 

That's a lot of loving for one paragraph. This might calm things down.

The "Later" version of Chaise Longue is a bit mannered. I don't think any of them look one hundred per cent comfortable. I imagine there are a bunch of cameramen and technicians crawling around just inches away, which could be very offputting if you weren't used to it, I imagine. I'd much rather have seen them doing it in the TV studio with all the other bands watching, the way I'm used to with Later performances. It's always interesting to see who applauds and how energetically.

And finally the truly excellent Tiny Desk set. I recommend watching this all the way through. It's a joy not only to listen to but also to watch. The band seem far more relaxed and the setting is gorgeous. Whoever did the lighting is a genius. Apparently some of it was shot on VHS which might explain the oversaturated tone. 

The set features the three singles plus one new song, "Oh No", from which the line "You're so woke/Diet Coke" leaps out. It also reveals a dangerous prog-folk edge to the band that I'm sure will surprise absolutely no-one.

Can't wait for the album.

<EDIT> While I was finishing this post the servers came up... and then they came down again. "All EverQuest II servers have been taken down to address a database issue. No ETA at this time." Quel surprise. I'll see how things stand tomorrow but I'm not counting any chickens. I don't, in fact, have any chickens but if I did I would be leaving them uncounted for the foreseeable future. I think that would be wisest.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Can You Keep A Secret? Doesn't Look Like Funcom Can.

You know that feeling, when when someone tells you there's something you can't do and even though you didn't want to do it, weren't even thinking of doing it, now you know you can't do it, you really want to? Yeah, I bet you do. Well, I had it today, when I read this news item at MassivelyOP.

It's a long time since I last thought about logging into Secret World Legends. No, actually, that's not entirely true. I thought about it yesterday, funnily enough, although not because I wanted to play. 

It was while I was running through Great Cleave in New World, looking at the dirty snow and wondering if it was the most convincing winterscape I'd seen in an mmorpg. I've always been something of an afficionado of imaginary snow. One of the first articles I ever wrote for a comics fanzine was called "Good Snow Art". 

There generally isn't all that much "good snow art" in mmorpgs. Rift wasn't too bad, particularly when it came to blizzard conditions and whiteouts, but even there everything was absolutely pristine, as it is in most games. 

Snow zones tend to share a certain unreality with lava zones. Make everything the same color and then add some glare so it hurts to look at, that seems to be the general principle. Even the Guild Wars 2 art department, otherwise exemplary, seems to throw up its hands at the thought of grading fifty shades of white. 

New World has some very odd ideas about representing weather but the art team has done a pretty good job with snow. The covering in Great Cleave is scrappy, trodden down with the dirt showing through along the tracks and not too much lying on the exposed rocks. It feels cold and bleak and wintry without the slightest hint of wonderland.

It's good but it's not as good as the snow zones in Secret World, Carpathian Fangs especially. At least, I don't think it is. It's been a while since I was there. Maybe I'm remembering it as better (or more realistic) than it was.

So, yes, I was thinking about logging into SWL just to go check. Probably wouldn't have done anything about it. Even if I'd wanted to do a post comparing the two, I could just have flicked through the hundreds of screenshots I've already taken there. No need to go to the trouble of patching up, logging in, finding the right portal in The Agartha and running halfway across the map to get a photo.

And I doubt I'd have done the post, anyway. I've posted about my feelings for snow before. I don't have anything new to say (Although when has that ever stopped me?)

It's likely nothing would have come of it, if it hadn't been for that news item, telling me I couldn't log in so I shouldn't bother trying. I tried to ignore it all day but by teatime I couldn't resist checking to see if the issue had been fixed. 

According to the update at MOP, Funcom was "looking into it". At least that suggested it wasn't intentional. They hadn't just shut the game down and hoped no-one would notice. 

I found my login details and clicked on the icon on my desktop. The patcher went through its usual four-stage routine, downloaded a few files, then handed me on to the authentication server and thence to the login server... and that was as far as I got. 

I could have left it at that. I'm sure Funcom will get things sorted eventually. They'll give us some notice before they sunset the game. They're that professional, at least.

In a way, it might be for the best if they did close the servers and call it a day. I would lay good odds that The Secret World and/or Secret World Legends would be back in emulated form in short order and I'd also bet that whoever set that up would do a better job of curating the IP than Funcom have.

For now, though, Secret World Legends is still there, even if no-one can log in. And so is the original game. I'd forgotten about that but the MOP article confirms "the original Secret World server is still up and operating", unaffected by whatever's troubling the newer version of the game.

I'm sure everyone can guess what's coming next...


It really wasn't that difficult. I found this post on the forums which explains the process in five very straightforward steps. I added a sixth, almost certainly unecessary, step of my own by copying the entire SWL directory and making my changes there. It was 50GB so I wouldn't recommend it. I'll be deleting mine when I'm done.

Once I'd gotten the config file sorted all there was to do was run the patcher again. There was a gig and a half of data to download, which went very slowly. I wrote most of this post while I was waiting. Other than that, the whole process was perfectly smooth.

It's been many years since I last saw my TSW character. I tried to remake her as closely as possible in SWL but I can see now that I didn't come all that close. My SWL character's something of a show-off. The original's more introverted, less flashy, a little bleak.

The other character on the account, who I remember making but not playing, seems to have suffered some kind of identitiy crisis in the long lay-off. Whoever they were, all that remains is a string of numbers and a blank space.

Once in game I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the settings, trying to get the controls to work. Unfortunately, the Nvidia GeForce Experience overlay, which I didn't ask for and can't seem to switch off, overwrites TSW's native controls. That's why the screenshots in this post aren't very good. 

It also took me the best part of half an hour to find the right portal in the Agartha to get to Carpathian Fangs so I could get a few pictures of snow. When I got there, winter seemed nowhere near as well-rendered as I remembered but there were a lot of werewolves wandering around so I was a little on edge. I may not have been appreciating the finer details.

All in all it was an interesting little expedition. It was very nice to reacquaint myself with my original character but somewhat to my surprise what that did was demonstrate that, emotionally, I've moved on. She didn't feel like my "real" character. I could sense an absence. She didn't seem to be quite there in the way my SWL character is.

That might all change if I were to play her regularly but there's precious little chance of that. It's good to know that I can drop in for a visit if I feel the urge, all the same. 

And who knows? One day it may be the only Secret World game left. I wonder which has the more players these days? There were several people in the Agartha as I was bumbling around and there was some activity in general chat. I'd log into SWL to compare but, oh, wait, that's right! I can't.

Let's hope Funcom get that fixed and soon.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide