Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chipping Away At The Foundations : EQ2

I haven't logged into EQ2's Beta Server yet but I have been browsing the forums, where the tone is markedly different from the grinding negativity of Live. Similarly, the /Test chat channel, which I've been in for a decade and more following my five year residency on Test as my main server, has been buzzing with positivity as the stalwarts there take a run at the next Holiday on the rank, Hero's Festival.

The EverQuest games have always benefited from a strong culture of dedicated service among a subset of players, those who have always understood that MMORPGs are a collaborative hobby as much as a commercial enterprise. From the Guide program, through well-established, permanent Test servers to an extensive and well-organized beta process with a full supporting incentive and reward structure, determined, invested players and developers have co-operated to build the best games possible.

The latest iteration of this worthy and welcome process is the Daybreak Insider program. I haven't signed up yet but only because I'm not sure I can offer the time and commitment just now. It looks like a good way to become involved in the future direction of the MMOs we play and enjoy, not to mention getting some insider gossip and advance knowledge. I wonder if there's an NDA?

Stats! We love 'em!
The reason I was on the Beta forums this morning was to see what people were saying about crafting. While I have four Level 100 adventurers ready to go and an instant Level 100 token in the bank, I only have two max level crafters.

The Collector's and Premium Editions of Planes of Prophecy both come with the first ever Tradeskill Boost but I didn't buy either of those and I'm not going to upgrade. In any case, it's not getting to the starting line that concerns me - it's getting to the finish.

The last few expansions all came with fully fleshed-out crafting questlines that matched the adventure version in depth and complexity. Well, almost. They were substantial and satisfying, anyway, and for every expansion since Velious the crafting line has been the one I completed first.

That was when we still had Domino. Now that she's gone back to Canada things are different. I'm not even sure EQ2 has a dedicated Tradeskill dev any more and we already know there won't even be a Signature Tradeskill Questline when PoP launches. It's scheduled to be added in an update at an as-yet unspecified later date.

Nevertheless, we'll be getting ten more levels on November 28th. With no questline to bump up the xp, my Weaponsmith and Sage are both going to have to settle down at workstations and grind writs.

According to the Beta forums, at the moment that's a mountain to climb. There was a brief period when crafting xp flowed like water but that was because of a beta buff. Once that was switched off the complaints began to pour in.

There was good reason for the change. It wasn't just to slow testers down or make it harder for them to get the promised reward for hitting max level in Beta. As Caith, one of the EQ2 devs, put it on Discord:

"The reason we turned off the beta bonus xp is so that we can get an accurate picture of how it would be on live, and adjust as required".

Very sound. Unfortunately, not all of the necessary pieces are yet in place to give an accurate reading. The invaluable and indefatigable Niami Denmother explains it thus:

"You need to do level 100 or higher rush orders or work orders. (Only level 100+ have the new xp rewards on completion) *Currently* they're using Maldura recipes for the level 100 ones and not everyone bothered to get those recipes. This is temporary. They've cobbled together a leveling path for all the eager testers while they're still working on the real writs, and some other crafting goodness for us. We've got a month - they ARE making progress, we're just trying to progress faster than they can keep up."

Isn't it always the way? Players burn through content so much faster than developers can churn it out - even in Beta.

Sparkles are good
Meanwhile I'm working on my harvesting skills. It's all very well getting an instant Level 100 crafter
but unless you plan on buying all your mats from the broker (very expensive) you're going to need at least one maxed-out harvester to go and get the stuff.

Or maybe not. These days anyone can gather or mine or lumber or fish. The minimum skill levels were removed a while back. All that happens now, when you harvest a node well above your skill level, is that you fail a lot. Which is fine, because you also get a skill-up on most attempts, successful or otherwise.

So, you can go out and gather the mats you need if you have the patience and skill up while you're doing it. It's a monumentally slow process though. And you don't get any rares at all until your skill passes the former threshold.

I spent an hour this morning harvesting in Sinking Sands with my Level 100 Inquisitor who is also a Level 50 Carpenter. She was boosted from nothing to 100 and has never done much field work. With a cap of 500 based on her Adventure level most of her skills were in the 20s. After an hour they're all around 100 and she has enough mats to do a few levels on Rush Orders.

Too lazy even to get off the horse.

I could find out what the relevant trade questline is for her level and go do that. If there is one. I'm not sure there is. It depends who the tradeskill lead was when the game was going through the fifities. If it was Behn there'll be nothing.

If I did, though, she still wouldn't have the harvesting skills because most craft quests provide their own mats or don't use any. There's a whole separate Harvesting questline - several in fact - that I could do to catch up. I've written about that before. It's very good. Maybe I'll do that.

Only, harvesting is really relaxing. And fun. And satisfying. It is in most MMOs but especially so in EQ2. What's more, if you're catching up on a level 100 in older zones, everything's gone grey. The wildlife wanders past you and leaves you alone. You can drift.

That's the one I want!
Even in level-appropriate zones at 100, geared up from the last expansion, topped out with panda hand-me-downs and guarded by an equally well-turned-out mercenary, there are precious few interruptions to the zen-like calm brought by knocking chips off rocks.

I took my Berserker around Phantom Sea and Obulos Frontier for a couple of hours on Saturday, buffed up with an old potion I dug out of the bank that came from when I was still religiously doing my Crafting Apprentice quests every day.

With maxed skills, harvesting AAs and items and the boost my Berserker/Weaponsmith has a 27% chance per strike of getting a "Bountiful Harvest" (more stuff) and a 9% bonus to his chance of finding a Rare. It was Rares I was after, looking to supply my Warlock/Sage so he could upgrade his, the Necro's and the Inquisitor's 90s spells to Expert before the expansion lands.

I have no idea what to do with this but it sells for 84k Plat...
It was a very successful run. I came back with eighteen rares. Naturally, only two of them were the specific rares I needed but if necessary I can sell the wrong ones and buy the right ones with the proceeds. I won't though. I'll end up using them all.

I also bagged some rares I didn't know what to do with and after investigating them I realized I barely even understand EQ2's spell progression any more. Or the augment system. Or the various upgrading options for gear. It's so ferociously overwrought after fourteen years of continual development I'd be amazed if anyone knows what's going on.

And that's the fun of it. Come the new expansion it'll be all change again. I'm going to try and catch up then, in theory if not in practice. I can hardly wait!

All of which means this probably isn't the best time to be revisiting old systems and trying to remember how they work. I think I'll just go and hit some rocks. That, at least, never seems to change.

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