The difference between the two characters, invisible if you look just at their levels alone, lies in the gear and in the AAs. I kitted the Beastlord out in the best tradeable gear available back in the autumn, when I had my last flurry of leveling. I checked the Bazaar last night and almost everything remains Best-in-Slot for buyable gear with any possible upgrades being marginal at best. By contrast, the armor that the mage was gifted by the Heroic upgrade is vastly superior, matching the non-tradeable equipment available in current group content.
As for AAs, when I was leveling her my Beastlord had around 800. Heroic characters start with 4000, something the Beastlord can at least emulate with the February update's separate innovation of auto-granted AAs for Gold-Level accounts. Since such a huge proportion of a character's power and survivability in Everquest comes from Gear and AAs, that accounts both for the increased speed of leveling and how much fun I'm having.
|Call yourself a Lookout? Didn't see that coming, did you?|
Even allowing for bad pulls and having to clear annoying treants that see invisibility, it's easy enough to run this cycle with a few minutes left in the Lesson, coming out with somewhere around 10% of the level done. It's only possible, though, because of the many quality of life improvements that fifteen years of changes and updates have brought to this dowager of MMOs, while leaving her essential personality unchanged.
|You ain't seen me, right? Oh, never mind...|
For example the Perfected Invisibility and Perfected Levitation AAs mean the magician can travel in a straight line across entire zones, high above the agro range of all mobs, landing unseen at her chosen destination without fear of invisibility breaking unexpectedly. Her pet and mercenary are both ignored as well even though they remain perfectly visible.
It would be very easy to argue that the removal of requirements for reagents such as bat wings for levitation, plus the absence of risk inherent in invisibility that can fade without warning, reduces the granularity that made Everquest so compulsively immersive in the first place. I'd be one who'd argue that. Except, of course, all that granularity still exists if you want it. Just make a new character and there it all is, or most of it, same as it ever was.
No, I feel with increasing certainty that the time for such creative restrictions comes during the early years of an MMO's life, within the original levels and content with which it began. There they add much-needed texture and grit for a plyerbase still eager and willing to be drawn in to a fresh, new world. Later there comes a point when what was once involving risks becoming offputting. And anyway, it's not as though surprises and pitfalls don't lurk around every corner, even with all these modern contrivances and conveniences.
|Bloodmoon Keep from the air. Safest way to see it.|
Take my mage's little jaunt to Wall of Slaughter today. She'd taken Franklin Teek's Simple Task for level 70s just on the off-chance it would still give a dab of experience. Wall of Slaughter, a spectacularly ugly zone from the Omens of War expansion, is at the very lowest margin of zones in which she could expect to gain even a smidgin of xp, the mobs being mostly green or grey. Still, it's a 50 plat single from the Guild Hall portal to get there and a minute or two to complete the task, so why not?
Knowing it as a zone the Beastlord can solo with ease I didn't bother with a mercenary. Just a magician and her air pet with a rag-tag of fading buffs from The Pile (jargon for the fifty or more characters always found huddling together in the Guild Lobby hoping for free buffs). She killed a couple of greens at the port-in just to calibrate - extremely easy - then headed out onto the baked mudflats, where the first thing she saw was a massive Bazu going by the name of Cipheron.
At this point two things flashed through my mind; firstly NAMED!! and secondly a memory of the infuriating zonesweeper that made all our lives such a misery in WoS back in the day. With a combination of lust for loot and desire for payback I cast a debuff to pull and sent in the pet.
It was only after half a dozen nukes, just as I was beginning to wonder why the mob's health had only dropped to 98% and why my pet was taking such a beating, that I realized my target was an even con. This is a moment to make an EQ player's blood run cold. In Everquest you do not blithely pull a boss mob of your own level, about which you know nothing, not if you expect to live for more than a few seconds longer.
|Oh, I'm so sorry. I mistook you for someone else.|
But Kabobn was holding up well enough, or at least he was now I'd noticed I needed to heal him. There was time to assess the situation. I decided not to gate, to carry on and see how things might play out. There followed one of the kind of fights I so relish in Everquest. It lasted about ten minutes as I juggled the responsibilities of keeping the pet upright, whittling away at Cipheron's mountainous health, managing my mana and agro, while choosing and using AAs to keep the pair of us on top of things.
There was some kind of AE to avoid and once I lost valuable seconds wondering why I couldn't heal the pet before I noticed Cipheron had forced me to feign death so I was lying on the ground. It was tense for a while but in the end it was Cipheron on the deck and he wasn't feigning. When I searched the massive body there was no special loot, just a blank sheet of parchment the game told me I wasn't allowed to pick up.
After I'd summoned the Merc just in case Cipheron had any friends, taken the victory shot and finished Franklin's task, which dinged me 86 so it was worth coming, I looked old Cipheron up on Allakhazam. Turns out he's part of the Enchanter 2.0 epic. In 2005 it took a 40 man raid to knock him over. Five years ago that was down to a single group and now he's soloable by a rusty, unprepared player on a false-premise pull.
Things change. Reading today's twin blogs promoting the upcoming revisions to the Dye and Skin systems in GW2, in which I can see both losses and gains, I find myself acutely aware of Heraclitus's dictum "No man ever steps in the same river twice". Poor old Heraclitus. Born two and a half millennia too early to play MMOs. He'd have made a great dev. Or a forum troll...