Monday, May 15, 2017

A Familiar Story: EQ2

Last week saw the delayed arrival of EQ2's 103rd Game Update, "The Menagerie", named for the  new class of creature it brings to the game - Familiars. As you'd expect, these are pets that don't fight but do boost your stats.

I was quite keen to get my hands on one. It turned out to be both harder and easier than expected.

There are three paths to Familiarity: quest, drop or purchase. I've tried all of them but so far only my trusty Daybreak Cash Trust Fund has come up with the goods.

For reasons that seem more sentimental and nostalgic than anything else, I started off by trying to get one as a drop. In the olden days that would have been the only way and it would have taken weeks, possibly months of camping some Named or other.

It still does, in a way, only now you camp alongside forty or fifty of your new best friends. The Familiars, which come in Cages, have been added to the loot tables of the current Public Quests, which run in three of the four original Kunark zones, Fens of Nathsar, Jarsath Wastes and Kylong Plains, plus a quest-triggered PQ in the new Obulos Frontier.

I'm currently doing the Tequatl event in GW2 every day because I don't know why. This is exactly the same. There's a bit of a wait for the event to start then a frenzy of activity for ten minutes or so, at the end of which I get a bunch of stuff I don't need or want and someone links the thing I did want in chat. Then we all go somewhere else to twiddle our thumbs until next time.

It's fun or I wouldn't do it. I like the community spirit, the in-jokes, the bustle and fuss. It's not a particularly effective way of getting a specific item, though. RNG is unkind.

Questing is more reliable. If you can complete the quest you get the reward. Unfortunately the "quests" that reward Familiars aren't quite the quests you'd like. Okay, they technically aren't "quests" at all - they're "Missions".

The thing about Missions in EQ2 is that they don't give a specific reward. They end with a chest that might contain a whole load of things but usually has exactly what you got last time or the thing you were least interested in getting at all. RNG at play once more.

I haven't yet done a Mission since the Familiars arrived so I can't say how commonly they appear in the chests but I note that Naimi Denmother got hers from a boss chest in a Mission rather than the reward chest itself, which is good.

There seems to be just one full-fledged quest that guarantees a Familiar at the end. Unfortunately it requires you to complete a match in the new Proving Grounds.

The Proving Grounds is the other major addition to the game in GU103. It's not proving to be very popular, at least not according to the forum thread, which is almost entirely composed of bitter complaints and claims of accounts being cancelled.

EQ2 players often appear to use cancellation of their accounts the way your mother might raise one eyebrow and frown so I don't take that too seriously as an indicator of passion but it's undeniable that The Proving Grounds are a buggy mess.

There's already been one hotfix and a major patch is due tomorrow to try to wrestle the thing into some kind of shape. The forums blame all this on the dire state of DBG, the extreme lack of resources and the skeleton crew left working on the game. I wonder how many of them have played any other MMOs in the last few years.

GW2, which almost certainly has fifty times more devs working on ithas improved somewhat under Mike O'Brien's direct leadership (wasn't that supposed to be a temporary thing...?) but back in Colin Johansen's day we had update after update in which major elements didn't work properly or at all. Indeed, it became a truism that there was no point playing a LS episode the day it dropped because it would need four or five hot-fixes before you could even tell how it was supposed to work.

Despite the dire warnings on the boards I thought I'd go see for myself. The new Proving Grounds matches use the old Battlegrounds cross-servers lobby and log-in. I vaguely remembered where the zone-in was but I completely failed to work out how to queue for a match so I had to go and look that up (it's Alt-Z).

I could have called out in the /LFG channel to get a group the old-fashioned way. The lobby was full of people doing just that. I didn't, because I haven't done any serious grouping in EQ2 for about five years and since I was playing my new, boosted level 100 Necromancer I figured it would be best to keep a low profile. I only wanted to get a screenshot or two for the blog, anyway.

Things went better than expected, especially given the horror stories I'd read. We managed to kill the first boss without mishap. I haven't played a Necro for a long time but the class was my "Main" for several years and I could remember the basics, just about.

The first boss was standing about twenty feet from the zone-in. It was when we tried to move forward that the problems began. We ran along a ledge covered in roots and every root we stepped on spawned a beetle. A very tough beetle.

After we wiped someone said we shouldn't step on the roots. That was helpful. The group broke up and I left as well. After the obligatory five-minute penalty I queued again.

Optimal path. Allegedly.

This time I joined a party that had already killed the same boss and moved past the roots. I clambered along the wall to join them, thereby avoiding death by beetle, and we pulled and killed several trash mobs.

There was another partial wipe but we reformed and clambered back. We set ourselves up for Boss #2, a treant going by the great name of Galumph. Someone had done him before so we were warned about his huge knock-back.

We all stood with our backs to a rock, someone pulled him and we went at it like a swarm of hornets. Six DPS, no tank and no healer. There's a problem with the automatic group matchmaker. It's supposed to get fixed tomorrow.

Take a look at what you could have won.
We got Galumph to around 20% and then he did something and we all wiped. "He hits hard without a healer", said Captain Obvious and the group broke up again.

Contrary to the bleak reviews on the forum, I thought The Proving Grounds looked like they could be good fun. If they fix the most egregious of the bugs and if I was playing a class I felt confident to group with, this might be something I'd do, now and again.

The real problem is that DBG have chosen to add a number of Best In Slot items to the Proving Ground vendors, along with a lot of other very good gear. It means nothing to casual players like me but for regular players who want to remain fully competitive at endgame it makes this content anything but optional. That's probably not a great development plan.

Even though I waited until the match ended and I got the pop-up window to say I'd completed it, my quest didn't update. Not sure if that's a bug or if you actually need to win a match for it to count. Either way, I didn't get a Familiar.

So I bought one. It was that simple. I could have done it at the start and saved myself an hour or two of messing about but the messing about was pretty entertaining so it's all good, as our Commanders like to say when we lose the last tower on our home borderland and end up cowering in our Citadel.

A single Familiar Cage costs just 599DBC. With my member's 10% discount that's 539DBC, fractionally more than the monthly stipend that comes with membership. I have well over 10K DBC on the account I'm currently subbed with and maybe twice that on the one I used to pay for so money was not an issue.

I stumped up and opened the cage. Inside was a low-slung lizard that looks remarkably like my Magician's mount in EQ1. It has a gormless look I like. Apparently it's a Lowland Tuatara. I re-named it Totoro although I thought of another name I could have given it...

Don't ask me. I just got him.

And that was more or less that. Familiars, like Mercenaries and Mounts, are another thing to collect, which is good. I wouldn't be at all surprised if at some time in the future we get Familiar Gear and a Familiar Leveling System. That would also be good.

If I wasn't playing so many other games right now I would be quite happy to run Missions, do PQs and queue for Proving Grounds matches to fill out my Familiar Family as well as gear myself up. Whether the people who are playing all the time feel the same way I'm not so sure.

EQ2 has a very hardcore hardcore these days. They seem to be grumpy about just about everything that doesn't directly lead to Heroic Dungeons, Raids or Fabled revamps of older zones. I do wonder why DBG don't simply stop trying to innovate and go back to spoon-feeding these people what they want. It's not like there isn't enough already to keep the rest of us occupied.

Despite the grumbling and the slamming doors the game seems busy enough. I have faith it will rumble on for a year or two yet. I'd still like to know what Columbus Nova's long-term plan is, though. Assuming they have one.

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