Tuesday, April 17, 2018

To Be Continued : EQ2

Somehow, I managed to post about finishing the second chapter of EQ2's most recent tradeskill signature quest, A Stitch in Time, then look forward to doing the third and fourth parts to finish it up, all the while remaining blissfully unaware that it is, in point of fact, a five-part questline. Given that a) I read the walkthroughs for all five parts back when it released and b) I had the wiki page open in front of me as I was both doing the quest and writing the post, it suggests either an extreme lack of attention or the onset of some form of age-related mental impairment.

I didn't even realize my mistake as I was working through parts three and four this morning. It took me around three hours and the time positively flew. The quests are perfectly judged for non-combat, managing to retain interest and maintain tension throughout, offering plenty of variety, yet never requiring a crafter to behave out of character.

The dialog is sometimes a little peculiar. EQ2 quest writing has always had a particular tone that sits somewhere between polite formality and casual conversation, not always comfortably. Of late, that balance has tipped slightly towards the informal, as though the current writer is younger and possibly less well-versed in the conservative social etiquette of the 1950s, which has always seemed to me to be Norrath's spiritual touchstone.

No combat doesn't mean no action.

There was even a Facebook joke at one point, albeit indirect. That was unsettling. Mostly, though, the questline was able to pull off that exceptionally difficult sleight of hand whereby your character is able to converse with Gods on something close to equal terms without the whole thing descending into bathos or self-parody.

It's a very difficult trick to master. Most MMO writers struggle with it. I particularly notice the way it paramountly fails to work in GW2, where game design credits each character with every Living Story benchmark anyone on the account has ever hit. For someone who sees all the characters as indiiduals it's jarring to hear every one of them referred to as "Commander" or "Boss" or greeted as old friends by NPCs they're meeting for the first time.

Even though I'm no fan of the "Player Character as Hero" trope, in EQ2 I find the conceit a lot easier to swallow. Because I have played through every stage of the seemingly never-ending soap opera that passes for a narrative throughline on the same character it seems quite reasonable when people I worked with to stave off the apocalypse-before-last credit me with sufficent initiative to make myself useful saving the world one more time. And that they remember my name.

Just one of the Gods.

What's more, because I've been playing versions of EverQuest since the turn of the century, I remember a lot of their names, too. And who they are and why I should be fond or afraid of them. When the plot suggests I might have to bring Inoruuk, the God of Hate, back from whatever well-deserved deific hell his daughter Lanys T'Vyl sent him to in a previous instalment, I don't need Varig Ro to tell me what a bad idea it is. I already know.

In GW2, when Palawa Joko returns from wherever he's been, it doesn't have anything like the same effect. I don't have either the recognition or the feels to support the impact the writers expect. I played some original Guild Wars but not nearly enough for it to matter. Ironically, because I was there for her inception, lived through her rise, her reign of terror and her fall, just the mention of Scarlet Briar's name, let alone any slight hint that she might be coming back, pushes all my buttons.

I'm not a strong supporter of narrative or story for MMORPGs. I'm not opposed to it; it can have a place, but I tend to find it presents more problems than solutions. Lore, however, I believe to be absolutely crucial.

I confess I didn't quite follow this part. I did a lot of work to bring this Phoenix to life and then I just left without intereacting with it in any way. Maybe I missed something...

Where the boundary lies between them is uncertain. The tradeskill quest I'm doing does have a story but it's mostly fluff. Supposedly I'm crafting some device to prevent one of Meldrath's malfuctioning devices having some kind of apocalyptic effect on Norrath. I can't say I've been paying attention. I know it doesn't matter because nothing is going to happen to Norrath even if I never finish the quest.

What I have been paying full attention to is the way the quest elaborates on and opens up the relationships between various members of the Norrathian pantheon. To learn that Varrig Ro has carried a lifelong torch for Errollisi Marr, or that there's an even less desirable contender for the Throne of Hate, going by the even less pronounceable name of Ullkorruuk, adds far more to my appreciation for and understanding of the game than any plotline could hope to do.

I'm not alone in finding the lore far more appealing than the plot. Wilhelmina, the longsuffering European equivalent of Niami Denmother, who was once almost driven from the game by Smed's odious deal with PSS1 but who's now, thankfully, restored to her rightful domain, was sufficiently involved to record the entire dialog for the whole questline.

They also serve who only hide in corners until it's safe then run out and scrape up mephit vomit.

 Wilhelmina's website is in French but the dialogue is available in the English version at EQ2Traders and is well worth a read for anyone interested in the study of Norrathian comparative religion. Even for anyone who's done the questline itself, it's useful to be able to read it all back at lesiure. Some of those conversations took place in circumstances where it may not have been easy to concentrate on the nuance!

It was only as I approached the end of Part 4 that I began to wonder if I'd missed something. It was starting to feel very much like that moment near the end of a book when you realise what you're reading must not be a standalone novel after all but the first volume of a trilogy. Having constructed all my various devices, eavesdropped on the Mistresses of Hate, located Innoruuk's earthly vessel and prevailed on Varrig Ro to change his mind, it was apparent that  I was at least a chapter short of a denoument, and so it proved.

I had been hoping - expecting even - to finish the Stitch in Time questline today but three hours is about my outer limit these days. A closer reading of the wiki revealed that there was indeed a fifth chapter. What's more it looked substantial, as a climax should be. I decided to leave it for another day.

I'm looking forward to coming back to it later in the week, suitably refreshed. The rewards are fantastic but best of all, if the first four parts are anything to go by, it's going to be tremendous fun.


  1. I am looking forward to jumping into these quests. I just have not been able to find a block of time to do it. I usually just do some of the quicker faction or daily quests in the minimal gaming time I have these days. Was any of it timed or would I be able to camp in the zone and start up again later?

    1. Apart from one very small part wher eyou have to bring a block of ice back to the wyvern before it melts (for which the timer is five minutes but it actually takes about 90 seconds), I don't think there are any timers. I didn't try logging out and in again but since all the action happens in what are effectively personal instances I'm pretty sure they will follow the same rules as regular instances, which would mean they retain their state when you enter and leave and persist for a set period (I think it's usually three days).

      I hate timed content and I didn't feel under any pressure doing any of these so I think it should be fine.


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