Monday, March 19, 2018

Integrated Systems : EQ2

When I sat down at my PC yesterday morning, after a Sunday morning walk in the snow, I hadn't planned on writing about EverQuest's 19th anniversary. I was going to mention the new holiday events in the EQ2 Producer's Letter, then go on to use the soft reveal of this year's expansion to segue into a post about Planes of Prophecy.

EQ2 expansions have fallen into something of a pattern for me over the past few years. I pre-order the standard edition as soon as it becomes available then, when it launches, I take my Berserker through the solo Signature storyline. That usually lasts me two or three weeks, playing maybe a couple of hours some evenings and a few longer sessions at the weekend.

My Berserker is also a Weaponsmith so once the Adventure line is complete I turn to crafting. There's always a Signature tradeskill quest of roughly equal length although I tend to find that I can finish it in half the time or less. After that I usually take a little break and log in less often, although that's not really in my own best interests.

Over the years, Daybreak has become quite clever at including content with attractive rewards for logging in regularly. They are much more subtle about it than most developers. There's a perfunctory set of dailies that give Veteran rewards but mostly there are a whole lot of well-integrated, lore-appropriate tasks that increment every day or so, along with some that take days or weeks to mature.

Oh look, it's the ghost of Meldrath's hitherto-unknown twin brother! I think we must be in the Brazillian soap opera dimension!

Every day my Weaponsmith and my Sage get to harvest a bush they received at the end of the Signature tradeskill quest from the expansion before last. That gives them each a load of crafting materials including a guaranteed rare. Crafting rares in EQ2 are genuinely rare and genuinely valuable so a free one is not something you want to miss.

Each day every character can visit a trainer to get a scroll that goes towards leveling up their Ascension class. There are four of those classes and they currently go to Level 15. The abilities they provide are immensely powerful and there's an even bigger synergistic bonus for leveling them all.

Then there are the spell assistants from expansions deeper in the past. Both my high level crafters still visit the badgers living in their houses to check on the progress there, although these days those recipes probably aren't of all that much practical use or value.

Those are just the ones on my personal "to-do" list. I'm sure there are others. It's a big game and I don't by any means know all the ins and outs these days.

When the wiki tells you not to bother with Track Materials for this stage, ignore it. This stuff is hard to spot.

The really smart design here isn't just giving us so many plates to spin. It's the way all these activities draw you into the world. You can't just log in, grab the instant reward and log out, the way you can in so many MMOs. If you want the good stuff you have to go to a specific location and intereact with an NPC or an object. You could consider that an irritation and I'm sure many do but it also grounds the player in the game. You don't get much unless you play for it.

That said, there are some timegated activities that can be handled directly through the UI, wherever you happen to be. Training your Mercenary, for example. It's a simple process - just click on their training schedule then forget about it until the training is done.

Only, that can take several days and the clever part is that it doesn't automatically move on to the next level. You have to manually select the next step. It's fire and forget except you have to remember to reload. The system that allows you to upgrade your spells and abilities works the same way.

EQ2 nowadays has a ferocious depth and range of spells and spell-like powers. When the game started the upgrade path for each individual spell or combat art went Apprentice/Journeyman/Adept/Expert/Master. (Actually it was a lot more complicated than that but all the interim sub-levels were removed so let's just pretend they never existed).

Don't look at me, I didn't break it. Him. Them!

These days there are two additional grades - Grandmaster and Ancient. If you want the very, very best spells you'll need a raid drop but everyone can have all their abilities at Grandmaster...if they log in often enough. Taking the time and trouble to keep all your free spell upgrades ticking over on all your characters makes a very signifcant difference to their power levels and effectiveness. It also saves you a ton of money when compared to just buying upgrades from other players via the Broker or crafting them yourself.

A player who logs in regularly and attends to his or her background tasks will be richly rewarded  for doing so. It might sound like busywork but I find it engaging and entertaining and even those who don't will certainly find it a valid and justified use of their time.

Of course, if all you really want to do is solo or play with friends, none of this is essential. Those Signature lines gear a character up perfectly well for the content and of late the developers have taken to handing out catch-up kits for free so returnees or newcomers can keep up. Still, if you can maintain your routine it really helps.

When the Path of Prophecy expansion launched last year the signature tradeskill quest wasn't ready. It finally arrived in game a couple of weeks ago but I didn't get round to starting it until this last weekend. The walkthroughs were daunting. It's a five part quest, with each part reckoned to take a few hours.

Sure beats grinding writs.

I did part one on Saturday afternoon. It took me a couple of hours but a lot of that was cross-referencing back to the wiki or EQ2Traders to make sure I was doing it right. There was a lot of cut-and-pasting of locs, too, which always slows things down.

It was a lot of fun. All those times I harvested my bushes helped a lot. I had all the necessary materials ready. The combines didn't seem to be anything like as long and troublesome as I'd heard. The zones were easier to navigate than expected. The puzzles were straightforward. The unkillable mobs were easy to avoid. I did die twice but both times it was because I hadn't paid sufficient attention to the instructions.

My Weaponsmith had full vitality (100% bonus xp) when he began and the server was giving another 100% bonus for the weekend. I went from Level 100 to Level 105 just on part one alone. I'm very confident now of being able to take my Sage through without worrying about leveling his Adventure class to 110 first.

Getting his crafting up to speed is quite important. As a level 110 Sage, he'll be able to make Expert spells using the free rares from the bush. Having Expert spells scribed then allows him to upgrade straight to Masters using the free, time-gated system.

Oh, very amusing. An actual "time gate".
The whole thing fits together seamlessly. It's a very satisfying, elegant arrangement. The only problem is, I no longer have access to a max-level Alchemist to make the Expert combat arts for my Berserker. I used to rely on Mrs Bhagpuss's Alchemist for that, which worked fine even while she was no longer playing, so long as the level cap was stuck at 100. Not any more.

This is where that mildly controversial Level 100 Tradeskill Boost could come in handy. It's pricey at 3500 DBC but I have plenty of funny money saved up. The alternative would be to buy the expansion for Mrs Bhagpuss's account and level her Alchemist up but that would mean spending real money.

Or maybe I'll just level up the old-fashioned way. It's a grind but every writ gives status and status levels the guild. Another clever integrated system.

It's almost like someone knows what they're doing. Not me, obviously, but someone...


  1. I'm kind of lost here. On the one hand you list daily activities that increase your power meaningfully. On the other hand you say that there are catch-ups. So the question is what advantage does it give to do the dailies instead of just waiting for the next catch-up?

    1. The log-in dailies that require you to go do things, similar to the GW2 dailies, replaced the old Veteran Rewards you got annually at the anniversary of your account. You get tokens for doing them that you can use to buy all kinds of things from a special vendor. Some of those are one-offs with huge utility, others are consumables with general functionality. You can even just buy bags of platinum pieces.

      Most of the others I'm referring to were specific time-gated content from various expansions. When each of those expansions was current content they were very significant. Their current usefulness varies depending on how old the expansion is and which expansions you may have purchased. Not everyone playing is on the current content by any means.

      The catch-up thing is relatively new. They added it last summer with a series of very easy quests. Those let people who are either new or returning after a break get very reasonable solo gear so as to be viable in curent content. I think that was in the way of an experiment and it was very positively received. It then became almost immediately outdated for anyone who bought the latest expansion, which has its own "starter kit" of gear. Again, though, a lot of people play without the latest expansion and the summer quest catch-up gear is good for anyone doing Level 100 content, which was the cap for quite a while.

      If you're coming at it from the pure end-game ppoint of view, where all you care about is getting to the very top of the gear ladder, then a lot of this stuff is irrelevant. There's a whole separate gear ladder for that, going through Heroic then Raid content. I'm really only looking at it from the perspective of a solo player.

      As for what advantage it gives - well, it's a year between expansions - even assuming every one came with catch-up gear. You obviously could wait but you wouldn't be playing. And as I said, it's only really relevant if you solo - if you're doing Heroic (Group) content you will be getting better gear than the catch-up anyway. You might want the catch-up to get started on the Heroic, though, assuming you don't get given gear by friends/guild on your return. Without it you won't survive long enough to start upgrading.


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