Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Day Six


Christmas At The Zoo - The Flaming Lips

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Craft Your Way To The Skies In Ballads Of Zimara

As an addendum to yesterday's post, I thought I ought to add a little more detail to my account of the Crafting Signature Questline in EverQuest II's latest expansion, Ballads of Zimara, now I've finished it. Yep, already.

I didn't put a stopwatch on it but I'd be surprised if the whole thing took ninety minutes and that would include a lot of faffing about on my part. I'm going to do it with my Berserker/Weaponsmith next and I'm guessing if I don't read the quest dialog for a second time I'll be done in less than an hour.

I understand that for some people reading that's going to make it sound as though Darkpaw have really skimped on the crafting content this expansion. You can do the entire questline in a couple of hours, tops? When it probably takes an adventure five times that? At least. Scandal!

That's an Adventurer talking, that is. Most crafters will probably be happy to have the whole thing over with as soon as possible. 

By and large, it's always been my impression that what most Crafters want to do is craft. In the olden days, that's all you could do if you wanted to level up a craft skill. You stood at the crafting station and made stuff. 

You got big experience for making new things for the first time and a lot less for making the same things again, so you made everything in your Recipe books once and then picked the easiest or cheapest thing and made it over and over until you dinged and got a new Recipe Book so you could start all over again. Obviously, you also made stuff to sell on the broker and stuff for your guildmates and friends but basically you just ground out crap no-one wanted and sold it back to the vendor at something close to cost, hoping to break even if you were lucky.

Over time, all of that changed. Crafters got Tradeskill Writs - repeatable orders from NPCs that gave better XP than making random stuff. They got quests and then whole questlines. There were NPC factions to work on and gear to upgrade. Crafters even got "raids".

During the reign of Domino, Queen of the Crafting Devs, Tradeskilling became a fully-fledged, genuinely complete, wholly discrete playstyle. She added enough questlines to cover the entire level range so you could make a character and go out into the world and adventure as a crafter. You could level all the way to the cap without ever having to kill anything, do writs or make stuff to sell or give to other players.

In retrospect it was all a bit strange but Domino was so good at what she did I think everyone just bought into her vision. And then she left. 

After that, various developers did their best to keep to the plan. Every expansion came with a new, detailed, lengthy Tradeskill Signature Questline. Or it did if the resources permitted it. At least once the quests weren't ready by launch and we didn't get the Signature line until well into the New Year. 

There was clearly an effort being made to keep Crafting in line with Adventuring but as a Crafter and an Adventurer I'd have to say it was always significantly easier to level to the new cap as a the former. On characters who did both, I got into the habit of doing the Crafting timeline first. 

There were some definite advantages in doing it that way, the biggest of which being flight. It's been a very long time since flying mounts have been able to take to the skies on Day One of a new expansion. How long it's taken has varied a little but the rule of thumb is for the final Sig Line quest in a zone to grant the ability to fly in that zone.

It can feel like a bit of a pyrrhic victory sometimes. You can fly in a zone you're about to leave. You'll be grounded again as soon as you take the next quest.

If you do the craft line first, though, you'll be able to fly in all the zones as soon as you begin adventuring. The Tradeskill Sig Line follows the same pattern, letting you fly as soon as you complete each zonal set of quests. Since that typically takes a fraction of the time it would take to complete the same zone as an Adventurer... well, as they say, you do the math.

For some reason, in last year's expansion, Renewal of Ro, this policy was reversed. Crafters didn't get to get to fly at the end of each zone. They didn't even get to fly at the end of the whole Sig line. They had to do all of that and then also complete fifteen research missions - and the missions were on two-hour timers.

As I remember, the effect of all of that was to make it faster to do the Adventure line to get flight for once. Since I was going to be doing both anyway it didn't make much difference to me but I imagine it must have annoyed the heck out of pure crafters.

This year, the finely-crafted boot is very firmly back on the other foot. And then some. As I mentioned yesterday, while Adventurers have had their XP rates trimmed back to levels not seen for many years, crafters are still getting half a level per turn-in. 

Added to that, the questline itself is much shorter than usual. As Naimi Denmother, who designed it, confirms in a forum post, it comprises just eight quests and as I can confirm, having done them, some of the eighte pretty much involve walking ten feet, making a combine that takes a few seconds, then walking back. 

So why isn't the Tradeskill forum full of threads complaining about crafters being stiffed on content in BoZ?  Because crafters mostly just want to craft is my guess. Even as Domino strived to bring the entire profession into equivalance with Adventuring, there was always a vocal demographic that just wanted to stand at the crafting station and grind out writs. Not everyone likes quests. Or going outdoors.

And of course, for both Adventurers and Crafters, getting to max level is just the start. Adventurers have to run dungeons for gear if they want to be truly endgame; Crafters have to get all of their recipes. In this expansion they do it through Research Missions, which unlock once the Signature questline is complete. Since those are time-gated, that should keep everyone busy for a while.

Having seen how it works and how long it takes - or should that be how short? - my own plans have changed. I'm going to take the Berserker through his Weaponsmith levels before I go back to adventuring with him. Not only will that allow him to fly in all the new zones, the mount he'll get is a huge upgrade on the free one he got only a few days ago. And it has both Adventuring and Tradeskill stats. 

And most importantly, it looks amazing!

After that, I'll most likely take my Warlock/Sage through the craft line so he can make spells for himself, my Necromancer and my Wizard. Neither of them crafts, so they'll have to do the Adventure line, which is going to put them at the back of the line.

Since they'll both have the advantage of flight, the Warlock/Sage and the Bruiser/Alchemist will go through the Adventure line second and third, although not necessarily in that order. There's a 20% bonus to XP for each max level Adventurer and Crafter, calculated separately, so it'll get faster each time. By the time the Necro gets to go, she should have at least a 60% bonus, which I hope will make up for not being able to fly.

The wild card in all of this is my Inquisitor/Carpenter. I'll probably slip her in before the Necro, just because of the crafting and the flight, even though it's always the Necro I really want to play. Or maybe I'll just succumb to the call of Necrotic fun and leave the Inquisitor as a max-level furniture maker for now.

All of which, I think, explains why the expansion not having enough content isn't likely to be a problem for me. It never has been before and I certainly don't think it will be now. I'm very happy to have a quick and easy route to flight for almost everyone. In fact, maybe I ought to think about getting those slacker casters into a crafting training program.

I could always use a Jeweller, for the scout skills. And a Provisioner. Everyone has to eat!

Day Five

Snow Day - Lisa Loeb

Monday, December 4, 2023

Through Splendor Sky By Cloud And Owl

EverQuest II's latest expansion, Ballads of Zimara, continues to be both a delight and a surprise. My progress has been slow, for which I can only blame my increasingly poor sense of time management. It seems the more free time I have, the less I get done and anything labelled "Inessential" goes right to the back of the line. I swear I found it easier to make time for playing games when I worked full-time, which is just ridiculous.

Because of all that, I'm still in the opening zone of the expansion, Splendor Sky Aerie. It's charming, open, airy and vast; a perfectly lovely place to explore. It's also precipitous and twisty, making the lack of flight a potential drawback.

Fortunately, there's a workaround to not being able to fly: my Featherfall cloak. Wearing one of those is almost exactly like having Levitation cast on you in EverQuest. All you need to do to get from one side of the zone to the other is climb up somewhere high and then drift slowly down. You can move freely in all directions at a good speed and it feels just like flying - just so long as you don't need to go upwards again.

The last several expansions have handily provided plenty of mountains and cliffs to launch yourself from and this one's no exception. I've been riding my Tishan's Fluffy Transport, the free big white cat mount, through the air in style, although not as much in style as when I've been riding the official Kingdom of Sky public transport system - clouds - or better yet, travelling about the Aerie the way the locals do, on the back of a giant owl.

Experience gain is, as promised, very slow. I just dinged 126 this morning after completing the first instance and doing the hand-in. I found that instance itself something of a surprise in that I didn't need to kill any of the bosses to complete the quest I was on. I just had to do regular stuff inside the instance, killing a set number of ordinary mobs, freeing some trapped apprentices and escorting the senior trainee back to the zoneline.

I can't remember the last time a Signature quest took me into a new instance and let me come out again without completing the zone and killing all the bosses. It felt really good, like someone was actually thinking about what a solo player might enjoy doing rather than just giving them the cut-down version of the Heroic instance and telling them to get on with it.

Since I wasn't being forced to, naturally I decided to try the first boss anyway, just to see how it went. I'd already been using the regular instance mobs to see how reliable my new Mercenary might be and he was doing fine but a boss would be a much better test.

I couldn't find a specific walkthrough for the boss so I just pinged him with an arrow and went toe-to-toe. If he had any tricks I missed them although I did notice Valek announce several times that he'd cured me, so I guess there must have been something going on. 

There was one moment when my Merc looked like he was getting behind on his healing duties but as  Berserker I have a bunch of self-heals. I popped a couple of those and we were back on top right away. 

For the first boss-fight of an expansion it all went very well. Add to that the open world solo Named I took on and beat (Close fight!) a couple of days ago and I'd say so far things are just about perfectly tuned to my particular tastes and my character's abilities. I'm pretty sure there will be people claiming it's all gotten far too easy but I rememember a few expansions back I literally couldn't kill even a solo overland named until well after the mid-year update so I'm definitely not complaining.

Whether the difficulty ramps up later in the Sig line or in subsequent zones I'll wait to see but normal practice has generally been for things to get easier, not harder, as you'd expect when you acquire better gear from the quests and drops, so I'm optimistic.

One thing that has always made a big difference, of course, is upgrading your spells or combat arts, which is why as a solo player I take some care always to have crafters on my account who can make them for all my adventurers. 

If I'd had some kind of ten-year plan all those years ago, when I rolled a Berserker on a whim to try out the new Free to Play server, Freeport, I'd have made him an Alchemist so he could make his own upgrades. Obviously, at the time I had no inkling he'd become my main character and stay that way for more than a decade, so I made him a Weaponsmith because it seemed like a craft a Berserker might do. Bloody roleplayers, eh?

I've long since rectified that error of judgment by giving my Bruiser the Alchemy job. He's also a max-level Adventurer, or he will be when he does this Sig line, but I thought he might as well get on with the Tradeskill Signature in the meanwhile, so he could make new spells for the Berserker going through ahead of him.

I started on that a few hours ago, which was how I learned two things. 

  1. The Bruiser never did the follow-up quest to swap his Gathering Goblin for a gathering speed increase so he gathers at a painfully slow rate compared to the Berserker.
  2. All that stuff about reduced XP and slower levelling in Ballads of Zimara? Does not apply to crafters!

I did one quest in the TS Sig line. It took me about five minutes, most of which was zoning. I handed it in and it gave me about half a level. 

Then I did the next part, most of which was doing a handful of combines at a workbench right next to the questgiver, using materials he'd just given me. I handed that in and dinged 126. 

The whole level probably took me ten minutes. Fifteen at the outside. Half of that was reading the lengthy quest dialog. If it carries on like this, I'll have a 130 Alchemist long before I have a 127 Berserker.

All of which works for me. I have half a dozen adventurers and four or five crafters I'd like to get to max level. I'm very happy to have it go faster. 

There's already a structural problem with alts in EQII in that the first hundred levels offer multiple paths to avoid repeating content but after 100 everyone pretty much has to do the same thing. I almost always enjoy the Adventure Sig line in each expansion but rarely so much I want to do it half a dozen times. When the XP  rate was jacked up, it wasn't too bad but I'm already starting to dread having to go through it all at this pace again and again. At least it's nice to think I won't have the same problem with the crafters.

That said, looking at the walkthrough and bearing in mind what I read on the Beta forums, I think both questlines are probably quite a bit shorter than they have been the last few times. That might sound like a negative in that it might mean there's less content but if, as I hope, it really means there's less padding, I'd say it's actually a positive move.

Once again, we'll know when we get there. So far, I'm having a great time. If it carries on this way, I'll be a very satisfied customer.

Before I get any further through the storyline, though, I really need to go back and do that Gathering Goblin quest I missed. I have two hundred and forty assorted mats to gather for the next stage of the TS questline and I'm jiggered if I'm doing it all at half speed!

Day Four

Christmas Sorrow - Krampus ft. Steve Smith

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Day Three

Krampus - The Freakbeats

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Day Two

Under The Tree - The Water Babies

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