Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Everyone's A Critic : EQ2

Sometime back in the late 70s I saw Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers play live. It was at the Anson Rooms, a long, rectangular box of a venue used by Bristol University for various functions, the least appropriate of which was punk gigs.

Of course, Jonathan wasn't a punk and The Modern Lovers weren't a punk band. For a while he'd been a fellow traveler of the scene, the most direct link between The Velvet Underground's mid-60s noise/art experiments and the fear-fueled motorik of The Subway Sect.

The chugging paranoia of "She Cracked" and the angry strut of  "Pablo Picasso" from the eponymous, John Cale produced album that I bought in 1976 were important signs and portents but by the time Jonathan walked onto the stage that night he'd repudiated his past or at least turned down the volume.

"Anyone who would hurt a baby's ears sucks", Jonathan pronounced in a controversial interview, as he outlined his new methodology. I saw him play a number of times and sometimes you couldn't easily hear him over the sound of the crowd chattering. Loud he was not.

Which was probably why, a few songs into the gentle, quiet, rockabilly-inflected set that evening, some disgruntled punk decided to lob a meat pie at Jonathan's innocent hangdog head. The poor lamb stood there with gravy dripping down his face looking for all the world like a puppy that's been chided for some infraction of a rule he doesn't, can't, understand.

He wasn't angry. He was hurt. He told us how hurt. Repeatedly. Softly. Unhappily. By the time he'd finished - no, long before he'd finished, because Jonathan kept coming back to the question of "why the pie?" after every number - the crowd was itching for a lynching. The errant pie-thrower wisely exited early, realizing the enormity of his error.

This all came back to me quite vividly yesterday afternoon as I was working my way through the Signature quest line of EQ2's "Tears of Veeshan" expansion. I'd done a range of chores for various dragons, most of whom I vaguely remembered from EverQuest.

I'd re-united Harla Dar with her son Fraka, whom she thought dead. I'd helped Wuoshi, who used to terrorize my characters at the Wakening Lands portal to the point where I parked a sacrificial low-level there to act as a canary in the mine and warn me with his sudden death if it was too dangerous to use the druid ring.

In the Ethernere, the realm of the dead, Wuoshi has mellowed. I enjoyed a long, philosophical conversation with him as I helped tend his garden. I'm really enjoying this expansion. It's so EQ2 it verges on self parody but, like Jonathan, wonderfully so.

That wasn't how I came to be reminded of the pieing of the Bard of Boston. That came later, in High Keep. I was surprised to be in High Keep. I had no idea the old East Karana stronghold had anything to do with the expansion in question. I'm not really clear, even now, on what it's doing there.

It seems to be some alternate timeline where the Pickclaw goblins have gained the upper hand in their eternal battle with the High Keep nobles, gamblers and militia. The meticulously detailed and beautifully rendered castle has been overrun by goblins, who are behaving just exactly as you might expect, overturning furniture, getting drunk and generally making a mess of the old place.

In the huge refectory they're having a food fight. I stood and watched as the pies flew but that wasn't what made me think of The Jonathan Incident. No, the memory trigger was even more specific than that.

I don't know about you but I don't associate goblins with musical talent. Dwarves like to sing about gold, we all know that. The problem is stopping them. Elves have that ethereal thing going on. Goblins, though...

The Pickclaws have a band. A trio. Drums, guitar, vocals. No bass. Usually the singer would play bass. Just a suggestion.

They aren't very good. They are, in fact, so bad that as you get close to the stage a big prompt comes up  across the screen that tells you the singer's so bad he deserves a pie in the face.

That was when I thought of Jonathan. As someone who's sung on stage and later heard the singer (actually, reciter) of another, very much more successful, band tell our guitarist that we're good but we'd be a lot better with a different singer, I can be sensitive to that kind of criticism, even when it doesn't come wrapped in a pastry crust. No singer is so bad that a pie in the face offers a valid critique of his shortcomings.

Still, quests, progression...sometimes bad things happen. I went to look for the pie. That turned out to be harder than expected because I seemed to have a bugged instance. I couldn't interact with any interactable objects. I could see the pie but I couldn't pick it up. It was an existential dilemma.

I solved it by swapping to the Heroic version of the zone. I figured, correctly as it transpired, that my uber-solo Terrors of Thalumbra/Scourge of Zek gear would see me through and so it proved. In fact, the difficulty and challenge in the Heroic (meaning full group expected) version seemed just about perfect.

In the Advanced Solo instance my Berserker was literally one-shotting everything, even bosses. In the Heroic the fights lasted about as long as a reasonably easy Solo instance would. I cleared my way back to where I was before, picked up the pie and lobbed it.

Sadly I was too slow to take a screenshot but the moment was eerily similar to my memory of the real-life event. The pie arced, impacted, exploded. For a moment there was gravy. Gravy and stunned silence.

And then things took a very different turn.

Bloogly, the goblin vocalist, is not Jonathan Richman. Arguably he sings a bit like him, especially that one time I saw Jonathan when he had a bad head cold, but his reaction to being pied was entirely other. So I killed him. And his band. Harsh, but there you go. They knew the risks when they set up. This is punk rock.

The rest of the instance went swimmingly until I ran into the final boss. He turned out to be none other than Brell Serillis's less famous brother Bolgin. No, me neither. I actually thought it was a dwarf with delusions of grandeur but after I died the first time I googled him and he's a real god alright.

Being a god he can Curse. In EQ2 there are no Cure Curse potions. There are no tradeable Cure Curse items. Curses are incurable and, at least in the case of the one Bolgin casts, fatal. You'd think Zhugris might have chipped in with a cure, seeing how he's my Healer Mercenary and all, but no such luck. He doesn't know the spell.

Removing curses remains the final, irreplaceable stock in trade of the player-healer. Without an actual person backing me up Bolgin can roll around on his pile of gold like Uncle Scrooge in his money pit and just laugh and laugh and laugh.

I'll see him back in the Advanced Solo instance. We'll see who's laughing then. And if I can pick up that pie this time round I'll give Bloogly another taste. I always wanted to be a rock critic.


  1. I didn't get past level 18 in EQ2, and that shocked me due to my love of EQ1. I just didn't forge connections there like I did elsewhere and never settled in. All that to say that every time I read your EQ2 stories it makes me want to get back in and play again.

    1. Heh, my highest was level 19. My friends mainly went to World of Warcraft at launch, and I confess that I enjoyed the WoW art style, myself. My recollection is that the EQ2 graphics were also implemented with an eye to future graphic hardware upgrades.

      These EQ2 stories, especially the recent one on the Vesspyr Isles zone and flying around enjoying the beauty of it, are a good fit for my virtual tourist inclinations. I've come to accept that I don't have the time to actually play all the MMO options now available, but that I do enjoy exploring as its own reward without the need for an associated "gaming" challenge.

      I downloaded EQ2 this past weekend based on these stories and screenshots, along with the seductive description of the possibility of abundant inventory space ... one of my weaknesses is being a packrat who has inventory management difficulties, the title of this blog would be a good description of my MMO experiences. I likely would have lasted longer in exploring BDO if the inventory constraints were not such a poor fit for me.

      It's nice that EQ2 veteran rewards are now given based on account creation date (2004 for me) rather than on actual subscription time of the account. Taking advantage of the fact that I'm looking at a solo endeavor, I started a fresh Necromancer, not needing to be concerned about being separated from friends over on the Evil side. I prefer summoner classes and some of the Necromancer minions look promising.

    2. Welcome aboard (again)!

      I do think that EQ2 suffers more from age-related barriers to entry than most older MMOs. It is huge - really vast - and there are so many complicated systems layered one over another. That can be very off-putting.

      The most unfortunate part, though, is that by modern standards the graphics in most of the older zones are quite poor, but those are the zones that any new player will see first, and for a long time.

      The designers got some new tools a few years back that have allowed later zones to be developed both faster and with considerably better graphical detail. I've been taking screenshots everywhere in the Tears of Veeshan zones and it's really not exaggerating to say that many of them don't even look as though they were taken in the same game. Some of the dungeons I've been doing today are just gorgeous.

      It's a shame that there's no real way to detach the game from, say, the Destiny of Velious expansion of 2011, simplify and unify the underlying systems and start new players from there. I'd actually skip the first part of Velious and reboot the game from the Withering Lands update, making level 92 the new Level 1.

      Leveling is very fast, though, and I love all the old content going right back to 2004. If you can get past the palimpsest of long outdated mechanics and the less-than-stellar graphics then you're in for a real treat.

    3. Thank you for the feedback!

      I find your thoughts on "I'd actually skip the first part of Velious and reboot the game from the Withering Lands update, making level 92 the new Level 1" especially compelling.

      I'm still low levels and enjoying the experience, and levels do go by in a painless manner at present, but do feel like the landscape could benefit from better graphics. I can afford the current "Level 90 Heroic Character" upgrade in the cash shop, if I continue to enjoy my Necromancer but feel a lack of enthusiasm for the older zone scenery, and a feeling of grinding sets in, then I may take advantage of the cash shop option to continue my EQ2 journey in the more recommended later zones. :)

      Being an exploratory and visual tourist who doesn't always enjoy fighting my way to every area of the map to see what the devs have created, I'm also a fan of being able to fly in MMOs. The gliding in Heart of Thorns is captivating, its addition to GW2 was worth the price of admission alone, to me. Which further leads me to believe that I should try the "Heroic Character" upgrade, if necessary, to experience flying in EQ2 before I consider giving up on exploring in EQ2.

      I confess that I've gravitated back to a strong preference to the older combat mechanics in MMOs, GW2 is about the limits of action combat that I care to partake in, and even then I'm better off enjoying it in smaller doses.

  2. The Teers of Veeshan content is really good fun to play through although I needed a wiki a few times to work out what to do next - it wasn't always clear to me what to do next or how to unlock content.

    I played the instance you mentioned with the pie-incident as well, a really nicely designed dungeon!

    1. I think the ToV timeline is the hardest to follow of them all. There have been several points where I'd have been completely lost without the wiki. It's also humungously long! Bear in mind I'm going through it on a character that can one-shot everything, with the wiki up, and still it's taken me about six hours so far and I'm barely half-way through. Doing it when it first came out would surely have taken weeks.

  3. Haha, you're really only telling this story to try and disprove that you're a folkie :)

    1. Darn! And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for you pesky kids!

  4. I generally have no interest in EQ2 stuff, but this piece is simply brilliant. Thanks for the laughs.


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