Sunday, December 18, 2016

Gather Round, Everyone : EQ2, GW2, Vanguard

Just behind and to the right of the dapper young gaucho in the cluttered screenshot at the head of this post you'll see a curious green object in an ornate container. Were you able to examine it closely you'd discover it to be a plant. No, not just a plant - an entire garden.

The Obulus Frontier Garden is one of the rewards you get from doing the extensive crafting questline in EQ2's Kunark Ascending expansion. It's not the final reward, just a stage along the way, but it's a very useful and welcome one indeed.

Every day the owner of this rather unprepossessing green plant gets to harvest a rare material from its waxy leaves. As I understand it, the rare can be any of those required for the current highest-level recipes, all of which, in this expansion, derive from the same source, the Shadeweave Plant.

So far the prize I've plucked from the pot every day has been a Luclinite Nodule, the rare for jewelcrafting. The quest explicitly explains that the plant extracts and excretes harmful Luclinite from the soil around it in much the same way an oyster excretes a pearl. That might be fanciful but it certainly makes more sense than a plant spitting out a chunk of ore or an animal pelt.

As it happens I don't have a maxed-out Jewelcrafter capable of taking advantage of this daily bounty but so long as the Nodule is selling on the broker for almost 8,000 Platinum a pop then I'm not too concerned about that. If needs be I can sell my Luclinite and buy the Shadowstone Ore my weaponsmith uses with the proceeds, although I'd be the loser on that deal, what with Shadowstone trading at a heavy premium over Luclinite.

But this isn't intended as a commentary on the vagaries of the Norrathian economy. It's a response to something Telwyn at GamingSF posted recently. Most MMORPGs I've played have had some form of gathering and as Telwyn observes gathering is ideal for when you want something relaxing and "not too mentally taxing".

In many games there's really not much more to gathering than sidling up to an obvious lump of rock
or a glowing shrub and clicking. GW2 follows that exact model. Throw in a pleasing animation and a couple of sound effects and it's surprising how calming it can be.

ArenaNet, relying heavily as they do on their cash shop to keep food on the table and trainers on the kids' feet, gussy their gathering offer up with a variety of flash-bang-wallop harvesting tools. I have never wasted my money on any of them but I have often shared the misery fun of all that fizzing, whirring and yelping as people with more money than taste or patience let them loose on the node I'm currently attending.

We share nodes because GW2 enjoys non-competetive gathering. Every player gets to harvest every node. Vanguard, which had an excellent Gathering offer, went a stage further with a group gathering system that allowed players to combine their efforts for higher yields and a greater chance at rares. Vanguard also had a separate paper doll for harvesting clothes and tools, encouraging players to dress their Rakis and Goblins up like little peasants to till the land. Then, Vanguard had separate paper dolls for crafting, diplomacy and adventuring, too. It was a dressing up game par excellence.

EQ2 has a range of gathering tools and accoutrements of its own, as well as some Alternative Advancement (AA) skills. Mostly, they speed up the rate at which the gathering bar moves and increase the amount of materials you receive. Once you've become habituated to gathering with such advantages the basic skills of a fresh character seem sluggish in the extreme.

EQ2 also has something a lot rarer in the gathering sphere than mere tools and skills. As mentioned earlier it has gathering quests. It may be that other MMOs have them - I'm certain many have the odd few scattered around and, of course, plenty of regular quests require you to gather things along the way - but I struggle to think of any other MMO that has something that could, albeit not entirely without a little irony, be described to as a "Gathering Epic".

That, though, is how many players refer to the very lengthy sequence of quests offered by the exceptionally annoying brat Qho Augren. If you take him on at the earliest opportunity, this questline will span most of your leveling game, taking you from five to ninety-five as well as into frequent fantasies of child-murder.

I'm sorry, Mrs Augren, I haven't seen little Qho anywhere...

Personally I never found him that annoying. I've done the entire sequence once and most of it three or four times. It's a great way to pass a wet Sunday afternoon in March. It's not, by any means, the only gathering quest EQ2 has to offer either although I still think there could be more.

In fact, I think there could be a whole MMO based primarily around Gathering. Particularly if the developers were to roll in Gathering's sister activity, Collecting. Imagine an MMO set in a detailed virtual world, where instead of killing monsters, fighting demons or slaying dragons your character set out to acquire rare specimens, funding herself along the way by gathering more common yet saleable stock for various merchants and powers.

The entire panoply and arsenal of MMO tropes and devices could easily be adapted to such a milieu. Gear, items, skills, quests, storylines... There could even be a modicum of combat - gathering, after all, frequently includes skinning and butchering. Combat just wouldn't be the focus - more like a secondary skill...

...perhaps a little like Gathering is today. And then some bright developer would come up with the idea of adding Combat Gear. And skills. And some quests, too, because the minority of players who like combat pay their Sub or their Premium Membership too, don't they?

I see where this is going. Oh, well. I'd play it anyway.


  1. I dislike both "kill x" or "gather x items" quests frankly. They're errands, not real quests, and I prefer to do those on my own than to have NPCs tell me what to do. I thought Everquest had some serious quests, though?
    As for gathering, my favorite version is still Runescape's. You had a bunch of nodes in the same area, like for example trees in a forest or ores in a mine, and you'd just go there and fill your inventory as much as possible before returning to the bank, then going back and so forth.
    It helped making those areas memorable and you could also talk with other players and discuss what you were working on. In GW2 if you really want to go hardcore gathering you have to memorize these huge paths from one node to another and they're often scattered in a nonsensical manner.

    There's an MMO in production that is mostly about gathering but I've heard some pretty bad things about it, it's called Albion, but it's very competitive.

    Great blog regardless, added to my reading list!

    1. Thanks and welcome aboard! EQ2 has quests of every conceivable type, from the most basic "Kill Ten Goblins" to the longest, most convoluted story-driven epics. Personally I like short, simple quests more than ones that go on and on but there's something for all tastes.

      Ah yes, Albion Online. I have had a look at that one although I haven't played it. That's the kind of competitive resource-based game that turns what I'd like to think of as a relaxed, laid-back activity into something more like economic PvP - often with actual PvP on the side. Not at all what I had in mind.


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