Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Puttering About In A Small Land : EQ2, GW2

The Signature tradeskill questline, Stitch in Time, which would normally have been part of the annual EQ2 expansion, finally arrived last week. Any concern there might have been over the extent or significance of the content was laid to rest with a glance at the details.

I already knew from reports coming back from the Test server that it came in a sequence of five parts, the first alone estimated to take three hours and needing to be completed in a single run. It was clearly going to require both commitment and a block of time but it wasn't until I decided to read the full walkthrough at EQ2Traders that I realised the full scale of the enterprise.

At this point it probably sounds as though I'm winding up to a post about how it went when I tried it for myself. Afraid not! It took me literally forty minutes just to read the walkthrough, after which I felt dazed with detail and a little bit intimidated. Added to that, there are a few known bugs awaiting a fix, which should come in today's weekly patch.

I've decided to wait and let things settle. This looks like a major undertaking and the last thing I want is to get hung up on some bug that then gets fixed a few days later. I have the first week of March off work so I'm penciling it in for then.

I had a couple of paragraphs about that orange wisp trail but it'll have to wait for another day.
Instead, I decided to knuckle down and take a second character from level 100 to the new cap of 110. I have several candidates.

There's my Warlock for one. He got boosted to 95 from somewhere in the 30s a while ago but I did play him through those last five levels so I at least have a vague idea what his spells do. He's also a Level 100 Sage so he's going to have to do both the adventure and the craft line at some point.

Then there's my Necromancer, who was somewhere in the teens when she got bumped all the way to 100 with a free boost. She's never really been played, but I did play a necro on Test for five years all the way to the then-cap of 90 and I have another properly leveled necro in the 70s on another account, so I'm pretty au fait with the class, if a little rusty.

Finally there's my Inquisitor. She also got boosted to 95 then leveled the last step the hard way. Soloing an Inquisitor is mindblowingly simple. It really is the Battle Mage every fourteen year old D&D player imagines they want to play. Plate armor, gigantic healing capacity, a huge range of nukes and best of all Verdict.

This guy was a pain to kill. Looked impressive though.

Verdict is the reason everyone wants an Inquisitor mercenary. With Verdict every fight is shorter. Depending on the rating of the opponent, Verdict delivers a giant judge's gavel to the head that one-shot kills weaker mobs at just under 60% health. and most things you'll be soloing at either just under 30% or just over 10%. Even Epics take a nosedive at 3% when the verdict hits and that can be absolutely crucial in a tight fight.

I decided to go with the Inquisitor because she's just fun to play. Verdict came in handy when I accidentally pulled a level 112 named monkey, out questing in Plane of Magic (me, not the monkey. Although who knows?). All the soloable nameds in Planes of Prophecy are level 112 one-up-arrow mobs and I know from my experiences with my Berserker that they don't start to become easy targets until you hit around 105 and have the upgraded quest gear that goes with the levels.

I've been avoiding them for that reason but since I'd aggroed the thing, and since I really don't like monkeys, I decided to give it a go. It was an instructive experience to say the least.

Here's a monkey that could solo Veeshan's Peak. Power creep, much?
The entire fight lasted more than twenty minutes. My Paladin mercenary ran out of power after about five and the monkey (his name is Tiny) was flat out of power not long after. I was chain casting every DD and debuff I have, which is plenty, but my power was holding up far better.

Even so, the fight went on so long and the monkey seemed to have so much health that it looked as if I might run out of power before the end too. I've had fights like that, where it comes down to everyone swinging on auto-atack and casting one spell every few minutes when the little blue bar creeps back over zero. It's not something you want to be doing for entertainment.

Although Tiny appeared to have somewhere north of ten trillion hit points (probably an exaggeration but with EQ2's current insane stat bloat not necessarily) he hit like a wet blancmange. I couldn't even see my health bar dip. I had to open the combat log to check he was actually fighting back. He was, but my passive heals were easily outpacing any damage he could do to me.

Around the time he hit 20% health I had to start managing my mana and by the time I was finally able to verdict the little pest I had 4% left. Without Verdict in the bank it would have gone down to a no-magic slugfest and no-one wants that. Well, I don't.

Don't get excited, Vaynca. There's nothing in there for either of us.

Naturally he dropped something my Inquisitor couldn't use. Isn't it always the way? It was a fun fight - kind of - but I won't be pulling any more nameds in Plane of Magic for a couple more levels at least.

Thanks to the tri-partite faction system in PoP I've managed to reach 103 without duplicating any of the content my Berserker did back before Christmas. This time I went with the Sphinxes, who are an interesting bunch.

Their quest dialog is hilariously overwritten, most likely by someone whose wan't originally employed as a writer. There are some glaring grammatical errors here and there and the tone veers all over the place. I find it quite endearing but I'm not sure everyone would.

Most veterans probably just click through without reading anyway and there are places where it does seem the writer has that in mind. What strength there is comes in the characterization. The Sphinxes all have markedly different personalities and their little humanoid pals, the Aluxob, are hilarious.

Excuse me while I finish your sentence for you.

I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between my character and Grodney, an aluxob who speaks...very...slowly for no reason that's ever explained. I can't help wondering if it's an in-joke about someone in the DBG offices. The way my Inquisitor tried to chivvy him along so she can get on with her quest made me laugh even though the dialog had her expressing herself in a way I'd never imagined she'd speak. Later, when time really is of the essence, she won't let him talk at all, just nod or shake his head. It may not be great literature - or even high-quality quest dialog - but it works for me.

A couple of hours of questing in Plane of Magic is about as much as I want in one session. It's a lovely zone, very varied, attractive to look at and filled with ambient sounds and pleasant music but you can only do so many small tasks and kill so much wildlife before you feel like making a coffee and checking Feedly.

I did appreciate being sent to do some tasks underwater for a change of pace. I don't remember any of that when I took my Berserker through. It struck me as I was killing eels that there's such a ridiculous contrast between the way EQ2 and GW2 use their underwater areas.

Would it have killed you to put down a couple of rocks and some seaweed?

GW2 has the most gorgeous underwater landscapes I've ever seen. ANet went to all the trouble of creating special breathing masks with their own equipment slot to make sure all classes could breathe as easily underwater as on land. They created underwater weapons and skills for every class. They even added a great visual splash effect across the screen when you enter or leave the water. Then sometime soon after launch they seemed to decide that everyone hated all of it. They began to act as though deep water no longer existed.

EQ2, on the other hand, has some of the blandest, dullest underwater real estate you can imagine. Everyone needs special equipment or spells or items to breathe underwater and you can quite easily drown if you aren't paying attention. Fighting below the surface is exactly the same as above except you can't see or hear properly. The whole experience is minimal and minimally entertaining yet the developers never hesitate to make use of it.

Like a lot of things in EQ2, it's an acquired taste but it's one I acquired long ago. There's really not much about EQ2 that I don't like these days but I'm aware that there's a whole lot of "well I grew up here so it seems normal to me" going on. What's worrying is that I tend to benchmark most other MMOs against EQ2 these days and they all come up short.

I may have Stockholm Syndrome.


  1. GW2’s ignoring of underwater scapes and combat is truly tragic - my mind kept being blown every time I wandered underwater, from little freshwater pools and rivers with aquatic weed hiding secret cave entrances, to plunging underwater in Lion’s Arch and Mount Maelstrom to see old historical ruins and especially bits of Mount Maelstrom and Frostgorge Sound which went super-deep and had different fauna living in different layers... and the colors, like a rainbow everywhere, showing off the possible realistic variation of underwaterscapes, mixed with a touch of fantasy.

    What’s needed is to speed up the movement slightly, to make swimming feel less molasses, and add more new weapons and skills, and it would be great, imo.

    1. I never even found the underwater movement sluggish. Seems the same speed as on land to me. The skills do need a sanity pass - they vary wildly. Have they ever included underwater skills in a major balance patch?

      I would love an expansion that took place mostly underwater but it would be the end of the game. Even one new map in Living Story with major underwater content would create a riot. I don't really understand why so many people hate it but they do.

      (And I miss the big lake in Alpine Borderlands with the Quaggan and their weather machine too)

    2. Aye. But unfortunately it would really require a lot of work.

      I mean, i just have to look at the difference of my characters. On some, both underwater weapons fit to the stats my regular weapons want, the abilities find of fit and the setup still somehow works.

      For other classes, my underwater weapons suddenly are all condition damage, while my setup is power based (or vice versa), most of my normal abilities don't work under water and my traits do nothing any more.

      Prime examples would be my Revenant and Engineer. The revenant has two slots of underwater weapons, but only one type of underwater weapon exists for this class. Of all the legends i have, only two can actually be used in water, and of course those two i don't like to use.

      For my Engineer, it's all set up around using kits, but only one of the kits actually works under water, and that one doesn't even trigger the traits which keep my engineer alive. As a "bonus", most healing options of the Engineer also don't work in water.

      And that's just two examples, you could bring many more. There's just way too many "doesn't work in water" abilities all over all classes and too few underwater weapon choices. Getting all of that into working shape would be a massive undertaking. Considering how long it took them to even get some landbased abilities to useable shape, i wouldn't expect that to happen.

      It took over four years for the Guardian shield to get useable. After another year now, the spirit weapons finally were reworked in a way that i don't feel the urge to facepalm any more when i see a Guardian with one, but can at least hope that he knows what he's doing and might have a setup which makes them a halfway acceptable choice. This list can be continued freely and easily by anybody playing actively. There's still enough to be done on the regular land-based gamepay, which Anet focuses upon, so i guess getting underwater combat into good shape still will be "a little wait". :D

  2. "I would love an expansion that took place mostly underwater but it would be the end of the game. Even one new map in Living Story with major underwater content would create a riot. I don't really understand why so many people hate it but they do."

    As you wrote that while i was writing my comment, i'd like to answer that seperately, although it basically is included in my previous posting: Imagine you have a setup which handles everything outside of water perfectly fine, you can fight elites, veterans and champions and usually win. Then the game throws you into water, where even regular mobs suddenly take a while to defeat and take a chunk out of your health, with anything above that being a deadly threat.

    Of course, the first idea is to adapt. Now look at the Revenat as primary example: you only have one underwater weapon. So switching that one is not an option. You could change your legends... except, uh... most of them are not available when you are in water.

    So the moment your character enters water, the game gives you a very limited toolset, doesn't allow you to adopt, effectively often also disabling your traits, eliminating a lot of your survivability. All the same while the power level of content is balanced around working setups, which only a few classes actually have in water. So if you don't play one of the "lucky" classes, frustration is guaranteed.

    I know both sides of the coin. My Guardian, built around power, with a slightly uncommon but generally working setup, is lucky that the weapons work with the chosen attributes and all my selected abilities are useable in water. So it can handle monsters of equal difficulty on land and in water. But some others of my characters, while some of them feeling more powerful than my Guardian on land, struggle in water even the most simple mobs.

    Now imagine those people, who play one class exclusively or main one class, which got the badly short end of the stick here. They them entering water most of the time means nothing else than swimming to their death.

    In GW2 the mere selection of your class during character creation force you into a terrible setup, where every even so simply fight feels like an uhill battle and harder fights feel terribly unfair. Thus at least for me it's quite obvious, why players of the "wrong" classes hate anything with water in the game.

    1. Or they could completely scrap the whole "different weapons and skills" idea and just use exactly the same weapons and skills for each class in each environment. We don't all get different skills and weapons to use in the jungle or the desert, after all. Why make a special case for underwater? Then the only significant difference between overland and underwater combat would be the extra use of the z-axis and that would be entirely down to player skill.

      Too late now. They made the entire game more complicated than either it needed to be or than they were capable of managing and now they - and we - are stuck with it.

    2. It's not that easy.

      One small problem would be some kind of "realism". My engineer preferably uses the flamethrower, my warrior uses the torch and relies a lot on fire damage. An underwater flamethrower is strongly stretching the barrier of disbelieve, no matter how often you say "magic", some people won't buy it.

      But the real problem is the third axis. A lot of weapons and abilities are ground targeted. Activate the ability, you move your target pointer, you click. Your mouse moves on two axes, you can move the target pointer on two axes, the ground defines the third axis.

      Now put that in water. You activate the ability. You move your pointer up or down. Does that now mean that you want the target area to be closer or futher away, or do you want it further up or down?

      That's the real obstacle they can't really tackle, as long as we play with keyboard and mouse. Sure they can come up with some crutch, but it wouldn't be comfortable gameplay.

      Ground based AoE effects could be changed into spheres, but ground targeted abilities would have to be eliminated and replaced. Unfortunately they also are often called "skillshots", so you can imagine how the community would react, if those would be removed from the game.

      So unfortunately it's by far not as easy as it might seem.

    3. The practical issues with targeting - fair enough. Just give everyone the same weapons and the same skills that are simple to balance and have done with it. Say we all use a spear under water and that's the end of it!

      As for "Realism", there we are, swimming around unencumbered in plate armor! It's hardly realistic now! For that matter, how do we glide or ride a mount or even walk not just in full plate armor but carrying six backpacks that could be full of another six suits of plate armor and two thousand chunks of iron ore? GW2, like most MMOs, has never been at home to Mr Realism.

      As for the flamethrower, if your armor is on fire on land it stays on fire underwater and as an Ele I get a full bar of fire spells underwater the same as on land. Also a dead issue since launch.

      None of these are problems that couldn't be solved and while players would complain, players already do complain - about everything. The point is that ANet have no interest in fixing the underwater content - they would rather just pretend none of it was there at all. When it comes to GW3 they probably won't have any water deeper than a paddling pool.

    4. It's not without reason, that i considered the targeting thing the main point. The rest can be discussed. You already noticed that there's many violations of "realism" in the game.

      And on giving everybody the very same toolset, no matter which class: yea. That might work, if you also supply a predefined set of underwater-perks and simplify stats for underwater. (So no matter if you run a power or condition based setup, your stats would be similar. The only difference might be between more health or more offense... )

      But please also consider how it would feel: you remove basically 16 underwater weapons (more if you also consider Engineers kits), to replace it with one or two. The same happens with abilities. No matter which class a character is, under water it's the "underwater combat class".

      It does take some flavour out of the game. It is a cheap fix and will have a terribly smell of lazyness all around it. People won't really be happy.

      So maybe it's even better to have the broken system, and the faint hope that at some time they find the time to take a look at it and fix it, than to replace it with a cheap bland "everybody is the same" setup.

  3. I really like the way EQ2 handles underwater with the visual and sounds. I have had to deal with it differently with different characters but I found that realism really nice to deal with, in comparison with what I am used to.

    1. I'm used to the muffled sound now but it used to make me think my computer wasn't working properly. I could do without the poor visibility though. Have you tried all the various underwater utility spells like the one that gives fish vision or the one that makes you walk along the bottom as though you were on land? Most of them make things harder rather than easier, I always found.

    2. I stopped at the start of the tradeskill line myself only yesterday when I realised it seems to follow on from the end of the adventure timeline - spoilerific. Since I stalled before Christmas on that, I guess I need to go adventure first. Have been too busy in GW2 and ESO for the slower pace of this expansion but I will give it another go.

      As for underwater content I do enjoy it in all the games I've seen it in. Such a shame GW2 didn't maximise on the polished presentation they have. Swimming around the large pool in the Kormir Sanctum earlier was another reminder of this missed potential.

      I wonder if underwater content would be better received in other games if it were less friendly an environment? In GW2 there's no chance of drowning and next to no chance in WoW's larger experiments with such content. Maybe it's not different enough from land questing anymore (minus the Z-axis in combat)?


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