Friday, March 17, 2017

It's Your Birthday, Give Me Presents! : EverQuest

I had plans for today's post. I was going to write about something that occurred to me the other day while I was playing Lord of the Rings Online. I had all the screenshots ready and everything.

Then Wilhelm alerted me to EverQuest's 18th birthday celebrations, which include a free level 85 Heroic character for every account that has ever logged into EQ, even once, at any time in the last eighteen years. I have, I believe, seven of those.

Okay, more accurately, I know the log-in and password details to seven of them. Technically they aren't all mine but let's not get all lawyered up about it. However you  cut it, the opportunity is there for me to create seven new, free Heroic characters, just so long as I can be bothered to go through the process seven times.

My old Stromm enchanter, who just jumped forty levels.
And looks exactly the same.
What I would do with seven extra level 85s scattered across seven accounts is a question I prefer not to think about very hard. Certainly my previous plans of three-boxing a Heroic Magician, Necro and Shaman never got beyond an idle fantasy. Nevertheless, suffice it to say, free stuff is free stuff and I'm a lifelong believer in that philosophy which can be neatly summed up by the expression "it might come in handy someday".

Murf of Murf Versus asked Wilhelm on Twitter and myself in a comment which Heroic 85 he should choose, which is a question that just begs more questions. What do you want to do with the character, for example? Go exploring, solo casually, level up to the full cap, get groups, work towards full endgame dungeon play or even go for full raid viability?

He probably should have asked Kaozz, who, although she says she isn't playing much EQ these days, has certainly been playing it at a higher level and more recently than either Wilhelm or I. All the same, I do have some opinions on the matter, having already made and even played a level 85 Heroic character the last time they gave one away.

That was for the fifteenth anniversary in 2014. and at the time the level cap was exactly 100, so even then 85 was some way off an end game which has since drifted up to 105. Given the speed of leveling in EQ you might question the logic of luring former players back with the offer of a free high-level character only to strand them well short of the established active population. When EQ2 gives you a 95 that does put you, at least, in the current story arc.

EverQuest does have a very wide grouping range, though. A level 85 can certainly group with a level 105 and gain experience. There's also a truly insane amount of content available for a level 85 character to enjoy solo and I guess there's a good chance that, during this two-week window of opportunity (the offer ends on the 31st of March), there will be plenty of fresh 85s around to make up groups at level.

My Magician who got the treatment last time.
She's 92, you know.
Last time around I made two characters, a Magician and a Necromancer. The necro, a brand-new
creation, has mostly lived in the Guild Lobby ever since. The Magician, who was a longstanding character with whom I had much history, who I bumped up from the 60s to 85 with the boost, has been played a lot. Indeed, she hit her target of Level 90 before other projects intervened. That was very satisfying.

I spent a good while back in 2014 looking into what would be the best option, bearing in mind I would almost certainly be soloing for most of the time. In the "good" old days there were limited options for genuinely enjoyable solo play in EQ but even then the Magician was among them.

As time has gone on and design attitudes and development priorities have changed, the Magician has arguably taken on the mantle of best solo class that used to belong squarely to the Necromancer. Of course, the invaluable addition of Mercenaries to the game with 2008's Seeds of Destruction expansion means that quite literally every class can now "solo" - or "molo" as the neologism has it - with good efficiency.

There's still a deal of difference in the speed and style in which classes can solo, even with a Merc alongside, though, and I would definitely recommend the Magician. The class has huge versatility, with massive single target and AE DPS, a vast range of utility options and the most powerful pets in the game.

The problem with the Mage used to be survivability and even now, if that's your top priority, there's nothing in the Magician's box of tricks to match the Necromancer's Feign Death reset button. With a cleric merc on standby, though, even the inevitable, occasional bad pull can be survived. And if not the Cleric can rez.

Back when I was trying to come to terms with the almost indescribable, overwhelming amount of new information that has to be processed and understood before a boosted player can begin to make use of the powerful character he or she has acquired, I found this thread to be of enormous help. I didn't follow all the recommendations but I found everything there to be both useful and accurate.

The one thing you really do need to do, whichever class you choose, is study all your AAs. There are hundreds of them and they make a huge, huge difference. Far more than your spells or abilities. Some of them are passives but many are Actives that need to be hot-keyed. Getting those right was probably the most thought-provoking and time-intensive part of the whole process.

Other than the Magician and the Necromancer, I'd say the Shaman would be a very solid choice. That's what I just made this morning. Speaking from experience, if you're thinking of taking up the offer of a free 85 this time round, the process isn't quite as straightforward as it could be.

The new shaman, before taking the blue pill.

 There are a couple of things to be aware of. For one, when you log into your account you won't see an option to make a free 85 at all. In typical SOE/DBG fashion there has to be a fiddly part. I had to check the forum before I started just to be sure I was doing it right.

The trick to it is this: you have to log into the world itself for the game to flag your account as eligible. Just going to character select won't do it. Once you have set foot on Norrath you can log back to character select and the option will appear - in very small letters, very easy to miss.

At this point you can either boost an existing character or create a new one. Whichever you do, when you log that character into the world for the first time after hitting the Upgrade Character button you will be greeted by an explosion of windows and a succession of "Rewards" to "choose". In fact the rewards are your gear and equipment and the choice is to take them. There is no other choice.

I can't remember exactly what we got three years ago but I think this time might be slightly more generous. I don't recall getting a Mercenary before. This morning I made a Vah`Shir shaman and she came with a Warrior merc. She also came with 15,000 platinum pieces pocket money, the annoying raptor mount that stands at an angle that makes you look like a prehistoric lone ranger and two 100% weight reducing, Giant capacity 24 slot bags, which for EQ is the equivalent of having a couple of pack mules trailing along behind you.

I still get excited over bag space
So, there we have it. Free 85s for everyone who ever played EQ. Also for anyone who has an All Access account for any other DBG game but never played EQ, which I guess means non-EQ playing EQ2, DCUO and Planetside 2 players. Is there anything else on AA any more? I don't think so.

After eighteen years EverQuest remains a wonderful MMORPG. I'm not absolutely sure that jumping in cold at level 85 is the best way to experience it but what I would heartily recommend for anyone thinking of giving the old warhorse (another) run around the field is to make the Heroic character first and then, if it's all too overwhelming to decode, make a normal character and play that for a bit.

Having the Heroic on the account gives you options for lower characters you would never otherwise have. It's like having a rich uncle or aunt without the pipe-smoking and sloppy kisses. Even if you don't imagine you'd call on them for help it's good to know they're there.

All that remains is for me to play the character I just made. I suspect that her role will be limited to standing in the Guild lobby and buffing my Magician. Shamans make the best buff bots.

EverQuest's 18th isn't just about free 85s either. There is new content to explore for the 18th anniversary. The Anniversary quest Tsaph's Day Off sounds good. Going to do that one. There are other quests too but I imagine they will be for real endgamers not noddy nineties like me.

I was also amazed to see the following in the patch notes (my highlighting).

I can only assume this incredibly overdue and eminently sensible change has finally made it in because of the upcoming Progression Server that was announced in Holly Longdale's latest Producer's Letter. The new server, Agnarr, will progress as far as the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion and lock there for good.

This makes it, effectively, the permanent "Classic" EQ server people have been asking for for years. There will be no end of argument, I'm sure, over what "Classic" means and DBG have very wisely chosen not to use the word at all, describing it only as the "Planes of Power" server, even though it goes a couple of stages beyond PoP.

Take it or leave it is still a choice.
For my money, the period they have chosen for the lock is the absolute peak EQ experience. They could not have judged it better. Much though I loved the original release, Kunark, Velious and, yes, Luclin, my own, personal Golden Age of EQ was the six months when Lost Dungeons of Norrath was the newest content. I learned more about playing MMORPGs in that half-year than at any time before or since. And I had more fun.

When Agnarr begins I will certainly make a character there but experience suggests I won't play him or her for long. Whether I'll find or make time to play there more regularly when the unlocks reach LDoN  - well, we will find that out when the time comes, I guess.

I wouldn't bet on it. There is just so much to do, all the time. Chronoportals landed in EQ2 this week and they only hang around until next Thursday. There's a new house item, the Ancient Melodic Gnomophone, that I have got to have and I don't say that very often about anything in any MMO.

It looks like I'll be spending more time than I expected in Norrath this weekend. Middle Earth, which was where I was thinking of heading, may have to wait a little longer.

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