Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year, New Dungeon: EQ2


As I write this there are nine hundred and sixty one published player-made dungeons on the Freeport server. Really, who thought it would be this popular? Apart from EQ2 producer Smokejumper, of course. He loves the Dungeon Maker so much he was on the official forums answering threads about it on Christmas Day.

So, there are a lot of them already. Less than a month in and we have nearly a thousand on one server alone. We're down with quantity, how's quality? Well, that's the hard part, isn't it? In a way, your guess is as good as mine, because I can only tell you what I've seen and so far I've played through maybe a dozen.

This is what I know. First you have to decide who you want to be because you can't be you. You choose from a list of "Adventurers" who appear to have been drawn from the dregs of the Norrathian underworld. The default selection offers a Drolvarg, a Drachnid, a Siren and a couple more ne'er-do-wells that you're more familiar with seeing on the other end of your sword. You can add to this selection with Adventurers that drop in chests around Norrath. (That's a sentence almost devoid of semantic content in the outside world). Mrs Bhagpuss got a very nice Ettin in The Feerrott and he seemed significantly more powerful than the regular tank adventurer.

Each of the Adventurers fills a traditional role - tank, healer, dps, utility and so on. They each have four abilities and autoattack. They are all level 50. It takes about 30 seconds at the most to get the hang of any of them. Once everyone's pressed the big "Ready" button, off you go.

What happens next varies wildly. Players made these things, you know!. Every one is different. Well, kinda. I didn't mention layout yet. Makers only get a relatively small number of set layouts to work with. Something like four or five subsets of each of four themes - Crushbone, Mistmoore, Chardok and Lair of Scale. Some people don't seem to be doing much more than throwing down some mobs and calling it a day, but in most of the ones I've done, even the least ambitious, there's been some creativity on show.

Did I leave my umbrella somewhere?













I've already seen several really impressive decorative efforts. I was expecting that, given the astonishing work that's been done over the years in EQ2's housing instances. Almost anything you can place in a house you can place in a dungeon and it really is about time SoE added a Kitchen Sink recipe for Carpenters because some people are already using everything but.

What's apparent already, though, is that the Dungeon Maker is attracting people whose creativity lies in areas other than decorating. Like comedy. More specifically, puns and satire (I use the term loosely. Very loosely). You can name all the mobs you place and give them a number of different things to say. It's been a surprise to me to discover just how many Norrathian creatures watched 1970s sitcoms and know the lyrics of hits from the Golden Age of Doo-Wop.... Tells you something about the age profile of the average EQ2 player...

The family that slays together...
So, some of the dungeons look good and some of them raise a laugh (or the hackles on a roleplayer) but how do they play as dungeons? Again, they're made by players, remember. Some play wonderfully smoothly, a joy to fight through. Others maybe not so much.




The Dungeon Maker is designed to scale with the number of players in the group. If you go in solo then the dungeon is automatically a solo dungeon. If there are six of you it's the full Heroic. The way this scaling happens is very basic. The mobs just get tougher according to how many players there are. So far I've only done them solo and duo and the difficulty setting of the mobs has been the same in both: even-level "No Arrows" mobs with a smattering of "One Arrow" and the occasional yellow-con boss. I usually play the Drolvarg, who I think might be a Guardian (hard to tell with only four combat arts to look at) and he easily ploughs through anything up to four mobs at a time.

I was having a small discussion with Stargrace over at MMOQuests  about this. It seems to me that all dungeons are all soloable by default. There is no penalty at all for dying and you are often back in the fight faster after a death than you might have been if you'd won and had to heal up (although that only takes a few seconds). Consequently you can wear down by attrition anything the creator throws at you simply because your Adventurer respawns and his mobs don't.

/shout Derv 2 is CAMPED !!!
Whether a dungeon is enjoyable to solo is another matter entirely. That's down to the player who made it. Another Dungeon Maker surprise has been what a huge difference placement and pacing makes to otherwise identical dungeon layouts. It should be obvious but it's very clear that some people get it and others don't. I played one last night where the creator had chosen to put the word "solo" in brackets at the end of the name on the Leaderboard. It's just as well I was doing it in a duo, because about eight mobs attacked us before we could step off the zone-in point and both of our Adventurers were almost dead before we dispatched the final rat.

Enough with the minutiae already! Are the damn things any good? Are they fun? Are they worthwhile? Are you enjoying them?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Some of the dungeons are just laugh-out-loud funny. I really enjoyed "Everquest 1999", unsurprisingly and the T.V. and Dr Seuss themed ones had me loling. Some have been well-paced, fast hack-and-slash romps that have kept my attention focused and left me satisfied. Some have handed me a whole AA and a thick purse of Dungeon Marks (the currency that buys you some very nice stuff for your regular character) and some have had me exploring and taking screenshots after the mobs were cleared just because the set design was so impressive.

I'm guessing the one on the right is winning.
Dungeon Maker dungeons are a Lucky Dip. There are hundreds to choose from, you can do one in anything from ten minutes to an hour and a half, you can go alone or with friends and anyone can group regardless of level. The quality varies wildly but the Like system will winnow the chaff. In the end we should be left with the gems that combine excellent playability with great art direction, witty dialog and a compelling plot. I've played one or two that are almost there already.

Build them and we will come.



Monday, 19 December 2011

One Man Army. Cor! : EQ2

There are several super-hero MMOs. I played in the CoH beta which seems like a hundred years ago now. Then there's Champions Online, which I played for a whole weekend when it went F2P. And DCUO, of course. Still playing there once in a while.

If I really want to be a superhero, though, I don't go to any of those.  I fire up EQ2, log in a high-level character and head to the Chronomages.
    
Can't we at least get a counter?
Ah, the Chronomages! Just who are these mysterious men in robes? They appeared out of nowhere one day and set up shop in the great cities, offering a new and wonderful service. Before they appeared, if you wanted to lower your level you had to find an actual person who was already the level you wanted to be and actually group with them in the actual place you wanted to adventure! I know! How primitive was that?!

The Chronomages know a better way. It's taken them a lifetime to master, but they have acquired the magic of time and it's powerful. They'll tell you that much if you ask nicely. They aren't so lippy about why they've chosen to use this powerful magic to start a dockside novelty goods business but everyone's got to earn a living and quilted robes don't come cheap.

Build a collection your whole family will envy
For the nominal fee of 5 gold pieces (and a hundred status points, which you can acquire by killing the odd goblin or small verminous animal on behalf of the authorities) the Chronomages will reduce you to any level lower than where you are now, providing it ends in a zero or a five. They're pernickety that way. It's a mage thing.

They seem to think they are sending you back in time, what with the whole chrono vibe they have going on, but it's more like they condense you until you become as hard as a diamond. You keep all your gear and abilities, all your AAs, everything. Only now it's supposed to have been scaled down.

Actual Level 30
90 mentored 30
The numbers are smaller, it's true. But in many, most of the places where the numbers go an actual character of that level might have no numbers at all. The upshot is a level 90 mentored to level 30 isn't just a superhero, he's Superman. And there's no Kryptonite on Norrath.  As a mentored-down level 90 you can pull several rooms full of goblins in a level 30 dungeon and sort your bags while you riposte them to death. Or you could just fire a few AEs and finish them off in seconds.Chance of you getting hurt? Zero.

I'm in there somewhere
I'm not complaining about this. Far from it. It's a whole lot of fun and extremely useful for farming all kinds of things. Provided the player is sensitive to the circumstances of other people trying to use open dungeons or better yet restricts his superheroing to instances, then it's a perfectly acceptable part of EQ2 play. Chronomagic as it currently features should definitely stay in the game for soloists. What it isn't any use at all for, though, is grouping with other people.

Yes, your level 80 character can nominally drop to the right level to group with your friend who just started and wants to go to Fallen Gate for the first time. Just so he doesn't expect to do anything. He doesn't even get to play Robin to your Batman. That would at least be an adventure. No, he gets to be Jimmy Olsen to your Superman. The most he can do is take some photos and try not to get killed by flying golem parts. Oh, and pick up the loot. Always need someone along for that.

Stand back and leave it to me
EQ2 needs a proper mentoring system. One where you can drop to the effective level of your partners, not just the numerical. And voila, here comes Age of Discovery to offer us something that does allow players of wildly differing levels to play together on exactly equal terms: the Dungeon Maker. It's also far from ideal, but at least it's a move in the right direction.

Turn him over, he's almost done
With the coming of the Age of Discovery a level 90 in full raid gear can group with a level 5 on his first morning if they choose to do a player-made dungeon together. As soon as they zone in they will each be level 50. They'll have a range of custom avatars to choose from, each of which has four abilities. Takes about ten seconds to work out who does what and off you go. But you aren't you and that's going to be a problem long-term.

The Dungeon Maker is a great addition to the game and has huge potential, some of which you can already see being fulfilled, but it's still not a way to group your character in a meaningful way with your friend's much lower character. That's a nut that still needs to be cracked.

More on the Dungeon Maker next time.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Are You Still Playing That Old Thing?

EQ2 EQ2 EQ2 ! Does he never think of anything else? Well, sometimes...

MMOs I am playing a bit

Rift

Logged in twice this week. Did a couple of dailies on my Defiant Pyro/Chloro. Tried an Instant Adventure and found myself in a Raid of one person - me. Disbanded from myself and joined a real raid to do a zone invasion in Stillmoor. Enjoyed myself a lot. Good chance I will play again over the weekend.

Guild Wars

Logged in once this week. Explored a couple of Explorable Areas. Didn't die as much as usual. Oohed and aahed a lot at the scenery. Finished one quest. Fair chance I will play again next week.

Eden Eternal 

Logged in to check out the new races. Didn't like them. Ran around being a mouse for a while. Decided Eden Eternal will be my NeoSteam replacement. Likely to be a while before I play again.


Runescape

Finally made an account. Only about a decade late but never mind. Did a bunch of starter quests. So nice to have a "tutorial" that is in the actual game-world. Runescape is clearly a game I could have invested in heavily a few years ago. May still give it a run.

It's settling!

MMOs I am thinking about playing, but not actually playing

Everquest

Thought about logging in and leveling up my Necro on the Progression server. Thought about playing my Beastlord. Thought about doing some AAs on my Druid. Had a bit of a nostalgic daydream. Didn't log in.

DCUO

Thought about making a PvE character. Thought about the alleged 5GB update. Didn't log in.

Vanguard

Thought about getting all my stuff out of escrow and rebuilding my house now that Vanguard has a dev team again. Lost the will to live just thinking about doing that. Didn't log in, although I did the week before to do some Diplomacy, which I might do more of soon. Soonish.

The proud homeowner in happier days

Dragon Nest

Thought about logging in. Couldn't remember my account or password details. Couldn't be bothered to look them up. Didn't log in.

LotRO

Thought about doing some seasonal stuff. Thought twice. Didn't log in.

Allods

Thought about starting a Gibberling (some Gibberlings. They come in packs of three). Remembered how long it takes to level in Allods. Didn't log in.

My house? Da! Of course is my house!

MMOs I am thinking about playing, but not thinking very hard

Ryzom, Aika, Crowns of Power, Fallen Earth, Final Fantasy XIV

MMOs I can no longer play even if I was thinking of playing, which I was in a vague kind of way

Star Wars Galaxies, NeoSteam

MMOs I am not even thinking of playing any time soon, if ever, or ever again (delete as applicable)

Star Wars: the Old Republic, WoW, EVE

MMOs I would be playing if they were finished, which they aren't. Yet

Guild Wars 2, Everquest Next

Coming Soon - more stuff about EQ2!


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Village Green Preservation Society (Freeport Chapter): EQ2



I was going to get Furglebin to give his thoughts on the new, instanced versions of Freeport's villages (or " 'hoods" as the EQ2 dev team has somewhat embarassingly chosen to start calling them ). Furglebin never saw the original versions, though so he's going to have to keep his thoughts to himself for a while and let me compare old with new.

 So far I've seen behind the gates of Temple Street, Beggars Court and Scale Yard. Some of us who've been around Norrath for a few years now had built up quite a store of affection for those villages. Before the Age of Discovery arrived there were requests for one of the old zones to be kept open for nostalgia's sake, so we could go on living in the village Inn and pass on Lucan's unusually generous offer to have his personal housemovers (I forget whether they're trolls or ogres) move all our precious stuff to the ever-unpopular Jade Tiger in North Freeport. Or as we must learn to call it, the North of Freeport. No zoneism under the Overlord's enlightened rule.

Gnomish equations. Who knew?

Failing that, people asked, could we have a nostalgia tour, where we'd be whisked around the old zones on a look-but-don't-touch trip. Maybe on a Maj'Dul carpet, since the many pleas for a Sedan Chair mount continue to go unheard. But no, there was to be no last-minute reprieve. All six villages were converted into Instances, their high, ironbound gates firmly locked to those without the requisite quest in their journal.

A few weeks ago I went round my favorites (Temple Street, Beggars Court, Big Bend) using EQ2's spiffy newish in-game video option to make my own documentary on the Way We Lived. I'm quite glad I did because the new villages are very different and it'll be nice in a few years to look back at the good old days, but if I had in mind that the villages might be ruined, or just wasted, I needn't have worried.

Norrath, Doctor? Are you certain?

All three of the villages I've seen so far look very much as they did. They're immediately recognizable as the same places, the zone architecture largely unchanged. What's really changed is that the villages have come alive.

Yes, isn't it weird? All the characters controlled by living people have been booted out, leaving only computer-controlled NPCs and yet the villages feel more vibrant, more lived-in, more "real" than ever before. In Temple Street, where gnomes and ratongas always lived an uneasy, uncomfortable truce, the removal of any need to pander to commerce with players has freed both sides to give fullest expression their shared technological insanity. Clockwork excrescences have appeared on the buildings like barnacles on a boat and tin men walk the streets where pigs frolicked. It's like Ak'Anon with added ratonga.

Beggar's Court, longtime den of minor ganglords, thugs and receivers of stolen goods, has made full use of the meridian wall that was always its signature. Below, indentured craftsmen whipped straight from the refuge boats (those are still coming? Really?) slave at the forges and workbenches, while above the gangmasters lounge around tables laden with roasted poultry (looking suspiciously like Vulrich), drinking ale beneath the newly-planted palms.

A gnome would not be my first choice for Prison Cook.

Scale Yard is a prison. The Freeport Militia have annexed it and filled it with surly and unruly "criminals" and many of the inmates and the guards seem to be Iksars and Sarnaks. Hence the name. And once again there's a table groaning with food and ale for the Overlord's favored to enjoy.

The stories are pretty good, the small segments I've seen so far. The Beggar's Court one was actually too morally disturbing for even my "evil" ratonga characters. If it goes on the way it started I'll have to skip that one with the rats and let my Iksar Necromancer and Troll Shadowknight take over. One way or another, though, I'm going to explore these new villages and their stories. There's more going on than I ever knew and much more than I expected.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Furglebin's Journal 2 : EQ2



So now I am in Freeport. It is so big, with towers floating in the air and flames everywhere that never burn outs. The guards are a lot meaner than the ones in Darklight Woods but they still want everyone to do all sorts for thems, even little rats that just got here and hardly know wheres anything is. They just stand abouts looking puffed-up and shouting orders so I am getting plenty of work.

Really, I am not so little now. Well, I have not got any tallers but I am more of a Beastlord, very nearly a whole ones I think. I can spot when Tiger finds a weakness in what we are fighting and I can take advantage ofs that. I am starting to get really fired up when that happens too and feeling all savage and sometimes I can do really amazing stuff! Not all that oftens though 'cos by the time I am ready what I am fighting has generally dropped dead.

Nice pet - for a warlock...
I have tamed loads of animals too and now Tiger can put his spirit into bats, bears, birds, dogs, rats, watery animals (not fish though) and cows! For a long time he was a very sick deer, which was a bit weird but then I tamed a cow and he turned into that instead. Not that having a cow fighting next to mes is exactly what I call normal...

Turns out that he can remember how to be quite a lot of different kinds of animal but he can only remember how to look like the last one of each kinds that I tamed. So if I want him to look like a sick deer again (not that I am likely to, but if I dids...) then I have to go back and tame a sick deer all over again. Then every time I ask him to be a bovid (I dunno either, that's just what is written in this book I got called my Knowledge Book, which is a magic book where stuff gets written when I learn it without me actually getting my pencil out from behinds my ear. And don't ask me where the book came from. I just woke up with it) then he turns into one that looks like a sick deer.

You should see the dam!
At the moment he is being a giant beaver, which is getting me all kinds of respect in Freeport, which is a place where a small ratonga needs all the respect he can gets, believe me. People keep asking me where did I get the big beaver and I tell them he is froms Nektulos Forest and that is a real forest, not like Darklight Woods.It is trees everywhere and nearly too dark to see where you are going so you are always running into spiders and wolves and everything bites or stings, even plants.

Some gnome at the Fair in Darklight Woods sents me there to see his daughter 'cos she has been gone ages and he is waiting for her to bring him owlbear eggs for some scam he has running. I find her alright but what she wants me to do is just too embarrassing even to write in my journal. I got a pet baby owlbear out of it and that's all I am saying.

You can plant all the palms you want but it's still a slum

Anyway, after that I am pretty much out of work in Darklight Woods. Someone wants me to go to somewhere called Butcherblock Mountains but I have to sit on some huge catbird that looks like it is more likely to tip me off halfway and have me for an in-flight meal than get me to the other side of the ocean in one piece so I pass on thats for now. Maybe when I am bigger.

Everyone is talking about Freeport and how it is the happening place now the big boss came backs, so even though I can't find anyone wanting messages taken there or anything, off I go. And like I said at the start, now I am in Freeport, just getting ready to write abouts my adventures in Temple Street and Beggars Court except now the trumpet is blowing for the hourly execution and I got to go watch so that will just have to wait for next time!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Furglebin's Journal 1 : EQ2


So anyway I wake ups this morning in some tiny little village with a huge tiger lookin' at mes. Not a good starts to the day for anyone, really but specially not for a ratonga, what with cats and rats not getting on all that well at the best of times. Even when the cat is not a flippin' ginormous tiger and the rat is a much bigger ratonga than wot I ams (I have always been small for my age) you do nots want to wake up with one starin' at you.

I'm just looking for something to hide under when I get this idea in my head that this tiger is not just any ol' tiger. Apparently he is my Warder, which is some spirit that has decided to follow me about and turn me into a Beastlord. I don't know how I know thats. It's all a bit fuzzy if I am honest (which I'm nots, since, well, ratonga!). I don't seem to remember where I was before I woke up nor what I dids to get a Warder. I call him Tiger, by the way, cos it suits him and it is easy to remembers.

Get to the points, Furglebin. Focus!

A well-fed warder is a happy warder. Paws crossed.

Okay, start again. I am going to write down my thoughts about learning to be a Beastlord so that if one day I wake ups somewhere I never saw before and can't remember how I got there or hardly even who I am, I can just read my Journal and then I will know.

I am in this village like I said and all sorts is going ons. Guards in armor are yelling and there are these little earth elementals all over the place. Next thing I know I have been drafted in to sort it all outs. Well, why me? That is a good question! I mean, they are guards in armor with swords but they are getting a tiny ratonga in ordinary clothes to do all the stuff what you would think a guard is paid to do. Maybe it is cos I got this massive tiger looking at thems over my shoulder...

It's all about the cloak

I'm a bit scared if I am am honest (I already explained the problem with me saying that ...) but it turns out that I am much tougher than I look! And Tiger is just as tough as he looks like he is, which is very tough indeeds. Everything the guards ask us to do we do really, really easily and it is brilliant fun! If this is being a Beastlord then I think I am going to enjoy it a lot.

The guards send me on to talk to some more people. Every second person I meet seems to have work they want doing and no-one seems to want to do any of it himselfs. The more jobs I do for people, the more they recommend me to other people and before long I am Johnny Fix-It for this place, wot I now know is called Darklight Woods (although if it is a wood then I cannot see where all the trees are. Looks more like Darklight Common to mes).

The pay is pretty good and people keep giving me armor and weapons as well. Lots of the jobs are about killing stuff, mostly animals and undeads and elementals, so not like real people (although after a bit there is some trouble with some Thexians but apparently they are always making troubles so it is just as well to kill them before they starts). I can keep anything they drop too, and they drop all sorts of nice things.

Are you in there, Tiger?

Fighting so much makes me get tougher very fast and I learn lots of new moves and tricks. The best trick I learn is how to tame animals and make them into Warders. Takes a bit of getting the hang ofs, this one. First I have to concentrate to see wot animals are tameable. Then I have to bash them until they know who is boss. Then when they know I tames them and when they are tame I can have them as warders.

Except what I think is that I only have one warder and it is Tiger. I think that he just makes himself look like the animals I tame and then he can do different things, but it is always him really. So far he can look like a bat, a bear and a crocodile, which is the scariest one.

I love being a Beastlord. It's only my first day and I have learneds so much but I think there must be a lot more to find out. Tired of writing now but I will write again when I learn something new.

Monday, 5 December 2011

104 Beats That: EQ2

 I spent much of yesterday flying through hoops. Hadn't intended to but sometimes that's just how life turns out.

Norrath's travelling Festival rolled up at Halas last week giving The Flying Freebooters the excuse they needed to charge their boosters and set up the death-trap they call a racing circuit. I have no idea who the Freebooters are, other than yet another set of gnomes with a pirate fixation and a desire to find new and exciting ways to get us all killed testing another half-baked engineering project. 

Psst! Ladies! Wanna see my Crash Pad?
The gnomes offer a bribe for flying in races meant to knock the kinks out of their contraptions at no risk to themselves. It's a "C.R.A.S.H. Pad" that looks like a cut-down Enterprise. You can use it as a ground mount or as an appearance mount for flying if you have an actual flying mount. Most of my characters already have at least one so I wasn't planning on racing, but the gnomes had a juicier inducement on offer and my plans changed.

You get the mount just for completing five circuits. Anyone can do that. But if you can do it fast enough you get a title. Not just a title, a prefix. Everyone wants a good prefix and Mrs Bhagpuss especially wanted this one - Snowflake Chaser. So did I, come to that.

One careful owner
Flying the races gives Mrs Bhagpuss motion sickness so the actual piloting falls to me. Not usually a problem. I learned to do these races in DCUO, which uses the exact same system, and the Norrathian version is generally much easier. Generally, but not specifically. I found the Frostfang Sea course exceedingly hard.

To get the title you need to complete the course in 104 seconds. After a dozen tries my best time was 116. My average time was more like 124. Worse, I couldn't figure out how to improve. I'd have given up had a guildie not logged on for his once-a-week casual session, taken a couple of runs at it for practice and then and nailed the damn thing on his next run with a second to spare.

Frustration This Way
I couldn't tell myself it was plain impossible now I'd just seen it done, so I tried a bunch more times and still got nowhere. I went in search of inspiration. And more inspiration. I watched those two videos and at last I could see exactly what I'd been doing wrong. I got back on the horse bike C.R.A.S.H. Pad and tried again. And I still couldn't do it!

This time, though, at least I was getting close. 106 seconds. Then 105. So many 105s... Refine, refine, refine. Shave that hoop. Cut that corner. Hit every booster, miss every cloud until you find your dream. 

Ratonga pilot + gnomish engineering = fireworks

It took me around six hours to get the title on four characters. Time well spent? Well, I got this blog post out of it. And Mrs Bhagpuss and I are both Snowflake Chasers. Twice.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

It's The Beginning of a New Age: EQ2

 I know, you were expecting the Velvet Underground. Well you're Kinda Outta Luck.

Tuesday is the dawn of the Age of Aquarius Discovery and the NDA is down, so here are my thoughts.

 I hadn't planned on doing the Beta. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that it's generally a bad idea to beta expansions for MMOs that I'm already playing. While I do really enjoy testing stuff it feels too much like opening the presents before Christmas Day.

I didn't even apply for this one. Which didn't matter because I got added without asking. Since I had access I figured it wouldn't hurt to take just a little look at the Freeport revamp. And the Dungeon Maker. Oh, and Mercenaries. Just a little peek. I just peeled the wrapping paper back an inch or two, really. I hardly even opened the box...

Freeport Revamp.

Even Lucan can't stop the rain
Not strictly part of AoD, you get this whether you like it or not when GU62 rolls in on the same day. As I mentioned I was more than a little apprehensive about this one. I am delighted to report that the EQ2 team got almost everything right that the EQ1 team got wrong.

The new Freeport is absolutely the old Freeport. Pretty much everything is where it should be, looking like it should look. Yes, Lucan's had the decorators in and the builders too. There's been some re-zoning, a few buildings have gone and some citizens have been re-housed. But it's still Freeport, just smartened up and with all the doors open!

I wish they'd knocked down The Jade Tiger instead of The Blood Haze Inn because I purely loved that terrace, but East Freeport is so much better it balances out. There's a marvelous souk where the broker used to stand in his little cubby hole. Execution plaza now comes complete with an actual execution (which I deliberately haven't seen yet). The big ship in South Freeport had to go for technical reasons, but I can't say I missed it.

Overall, a big thumbs up for Freeport!

Dungeon Maker

I could have sworn it was bigger
I played with this one quite a bit and I really like it a lot. It comes with a small number of preset dungeon layouts. Crushbone was one. Literally the ground floor level of the actual zone as far as I could tell. I knocked up a perfectly serviceable dungeon in half an hour. I was really impressed by how easy the tools were to use. I was anticipating that only dedicated decorators would really get much out of this feature but just about anyone should be able to throw together something worth running.

That said, it's going to be a decorator's dream. Not only do you get a ton of dungeon-origined placeables but you can also place pretty much anything you'd be able to place in a house. Station Cash furniture doesn't always work - I couldn't place my Rivervale set that I bought with my free beta 999,999 SC allowance. (Generous or what?). You can even name all the creatures and give them dialog  (or will be able to - not sure if that's in for launch). I foresee some amazing creations. Having many of the items for the Dungeon Maker drop as tradeable loot from adventure content is a brilliant idea, too. Nothing like a gold-rush to spice up the economy.

There's one major downside that's been much discussed, of course. For balance reasons you can't run your own characters through the Dungeon Maker dungeons. I was worried that might make them feel like EQ1's Monster Missions, which I loathed, but it really doesn't. I found it very easy to associate with my Drolvarg avatar and the Bellywhumper was... well it's a Bellywhumper for god's sake!

Another big thumbs up.

Mercenaries

Mercenaries are my favorite ever addition to EQ1 so I had very high hopes for this. I only tried one Mercenary, a Ratonga Inquisitor called Stamper Jeralf. I was playing a very low level bruiser and with Stamper helping me I was pretty much invincible. In fact, this Gnoob video, which I took to be a parody, turned out to be pretty much on the nail. If I'd let him Stamper would happily have power-leveled me all day so long as I didn't run out of silver.

I'm calling Trading Standards about you, Jeralf.

Unlike EQ1 mercs, these all come with proper names and back-stories and they seem to be less focused on their jobs than their counterparts from half a millennium ago. Despite hiring on as a healer, Stamper pretty much never cast a healing spell. At one point I began to doubt he even knew how. He mostly liked to hit things with his hammer and cure me of any possible ailment I might have picked up over the last few seconds. Since his buffs were so overwhelmingly powerful that pretty much nothing could hit me I guess he didn't feel there was much need for healing.

It looks very much as though EQ2 mercenaries are being tuned to be less useful than their predecessors, but they still look pretty darn useful all the same. Apparently they are quite expensive to run at higher levels. I'd bet that after a while the usefulness gets tweaked up and the cost down.

One thumb up and the other hovering ready for the fully-tuned version.

I didn't try a Beastlord but the vibe on them in beta seems almost universally positive. Even the folks who couldn't find anything good to say about anything else grudgingly acknowledged that Beastlords were going to be a big hit. For my money and from everything I've read in and out of beta they aren't Beastlords at all, but so long as they're a fun class, who cares?

Tradeskill Associates and Reforging I also skipped. But... Othmirs!

All in all it looks fantastic. Has the potential to be the best expansion for years for the EQ2 demographic that's had to take a backseat since Kunark.

NDA is still up on all beta screenshots so these are all official SOE issue. Mine would have been a lot better, but there you go...
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