Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In My Experience... : EQ2

I was happily sorting my bags in EverQuest 2 yesterday (three hours and the job barely started) when I happened to spot someone in chat talking about double XP. I hadn't heard anything about it but I moused over my xp bar and sure enough, there it was: Server Bonus 100%.

Well, I say moused over but it wasn't quite that simple. These days, EQ2 XP comes in (at least) five flavors: Adventure, Tradeskill, Alternative Advancement, Tithe and Ascension. When you're leveling up, the default is Adventure but at max level that swaps to Ascension, since the entire endgame is now balanced around those four classes. What happens when you max that out I don't know - and I'm a long way from finding out.

When I heard about the possible bonus XP, I was playing my max-level Berserker, so the bar in front of me showed Ascension, which is unaffected by bonuses. It didn't used to be, at least I don't think it did, but one of the unheralded changes that came in with the Chaos Descending expansion was a complete revamp of the way Ascension works.
Someone doesn't get out much.

All four Ascension classes received five more levels; that was advertised. The old "Ascension Vitality" mechanic, which limited the amount you could earn per day and involved a complicated and annoying process of visiting NPCs to top it up, was removed; that wasn't mentioned anywhere I saw. Also, all Ascension XP earned by killing mobs vanished, too.

The only way to level Ascension classes now is by completing quests or using specific items, mostly those granted by quests. Quest XP goes directly to Ascension. Sometimes you might get an item that gives a whole Ascension Level or even several. I haven't had one in the new expansion zones yet but as far as I know, they're still attached to the quests that used to give them in Planes of Prophecy and in panda Yun Zi's catch-up questline.

That reminded me of something Wilhelm said about Lord of the Rings Online:

"I remember back when LOTRO was working up towards launch that the idea of quest experience being so heavily weighted on your progression path as somewhat controversial. Of course, any minor change of formula can be said to have been controversial to some degree. Still, we went from EverQuest, which was “Quest experience? You have to have quests for that!” to WoW, where killing the mobs tended to be, on balance, worth as much as the quests themselves, to LOTRO, which pretty much required that you do the quests to level up."

For a long time after that EQ2 offered a meaningful choice between grinding mobs and questing but the current orthodoxy is squarely in favor of quests. In fact, in a year when the expansion cycle doesn't include a level cap increase, XP, however acquired, can begin to seem a tad irrelevant to most of the installed customer base, which does make you wonder just who Bonus XP events could be aimed at. Perhaps that's why no-one bothered to tell us about this one. 

It did get me thinking, though. The change in the way XP gets handed out at higher levels is a reflection of the degree to which the last ten levels, including the solo "casual" version, are now both separate and different from how everything works for the first hundred. It's much more than just the XP, too; from 100 onwards you might as well be playing a different game entirely.

For a hundred levels you really can just wander around, wearing whatever gear you happen to find, killing whichever mobs you chance to run into, doing quests for anyone with a feather over their head. Yes, there are optimum paths and yes, if you stick with the game long-term, you'll have to backtrack to fill out the significant parts you ignored, but if your goal is simply to entertain yourself and get to three figures then you don't need much of a plan - or a clue.

Kill named mobs for fun and profit and, if you have the Weekly, XP.

From 100 onwards, though, you need to pay increasingly close attention to any number of abstruse and often unfamiliar systems. Even that most basic of constants, Adventure XP, changes radically, and not just as outlined above.

In order to make sure players spent time on the newest content, thereby concentrating populations in a small number of zones, the amount of XP required for each level was increased by orders of magnitude. You can still do older content if you insist but it won't do you any good at all, even if you mentor down for it. You will still get XP but it will be infinitesimal compared to what you need.

Going from Level 99 to Level 100 takes 1.66m xp, up from 1.5m the level before. Getting from 100 to 101 requires 140m. You can see that grinding in Sebilis isn't going to make much of a dent in that.

Killing mobs in current content gives more XP than killing mobs in older contet but not by all that much. It won't begin to make a dent in what you're being asked to earn. If you want to level from 100 to 110 you have to do quests in the latest level-appropriate zones, which means no later than last year's expansion. A single quest there will give you a decent chunk of the level: with full vitality and a server bonus you might get half-way from one level to the next on a single hand-in.

The alternative to grinding levels used to be grinding AAs. It's not called Alternative Advancement for nothing. AAs, aren't what they were. They stop at 350 and by the time most people hit max level they'll already have capped out. AAs are still essential, especially if you spend them correctly, but once you've got them and set them you can forget them.

Gratuitous picture of a snail. In no way intended to symbolize leveling speed.

The attention that used to go to AAs has, for a couple of years now, been replaced by the focus on Ascension. Ascended skills are extremely powerful. Among other things, they deliver nukes and dots that visibly impact the health of Level 118 named mobs, which your class skills definitely won't.

I am only just beginning to get a clear idea of how important Ascension is. I can see now why committed veterans have been grumbling about everyone turnng into Wizards. On the plus side, it certainly must make the small EQ2 dev team's job a lot easier; balancing four Ascension classes has to be a lot more manageable than balancing the full twenty-six.

Once you have your levels and your AAs you have to think -among other things - about your spells and/or combat arts. I'm still trying to figure that out. My Berserker is mostly using the highest-but-one level versions he has access to because he's upgraded them all to Master quality via the time-gated system.

Vet bonus 60%? Hmm, I guess 110 crafter must count now.
As you level to 110 you still get the lowest level Apprentice version of each new spell or CA gifted to you automatically, but to upgrade a Master of the previous version you need to reach Expert in the next. At lower levels you'd just have bought the Adepts off the broker or crafted the Experts yourself. That's still possible from 101st onwards but it becomes ferociously expensive. The drop rate on Adept spells is many orders of magnitude lower than you've been trained to expect. If I see one Adept drop in a session I'm amazed. The chances of getting one you need is too small to contemplate.

As for crafting Experts, I have a max-level sage who can do it for my casters but the number of rares required per spell and the cost of buying those rares makes it so off putting I haven't yet started. I'm also short a max-level Alchemist to make CAs for my Berserker. I used to rely on Mrs Bhagpuss for that.

All of which just gets you to Expert, at which point you can begin using the time-gated process to upgrade to Master, something that takes about six weeks. Per spell. Which itself is just the beginning. Next comes Grandmaster, Ancient and - I think but I'm not sure - Mythical. 

Even basic information on how all this works can be hard to find. Daybreak themselves recognized the potential for confusion a while back, when they added this very helpful guide to changes for returning players. I would absolutely advise anyone coming back to EQ2 after a lay-off to read through it carefully. It was written in May 2018 and it seems reasonably current but I fear some of the detail on Ascension may already be outdated.

Some of us love double XP!
Once you've gotten your head around the fact that your Adventuring class is no longer your prime concern and that your means of acquiring both XP and spell/CA upgrades have changed almost out of recognition , you can start looking at your gear. Unless you were a frenzied min-maxer you probably never bothered to pay attention to Infusing, let alone Reforging as you were leveling up. Well, you're going to have to start.

I still don't understand Reforging and I'm not sure how important it is in the scheme of things but I have come to terms with - and very much learned to value - Infusing. Infusing means boosting the stats on individual pieces of gear. It uses the Deity system (itself radically revamped recently and another entire system you need to learn) and runs either on Infusers you get as boss drops and quest rewards or on Platinum.

Pumping money into this slot machine is essential if you want to boost your character's effectiveness. I banged several thousand plat through it yesterday to add more than a million hit points to my Berserker's health pool, as well as pushing his Potency over 40k. You must repeat this process every time you change a piece of armor, too, because, unlike Augments, you can't take the upgrades out and re-use them.

Augmenting - that's another vital mechanic that just can't be ignored any more when you hit 100 although at least the way they work doesn't change - much. Keeping your gear as close to fully augmented as possible is another essential aspect of being max level. So is leveling up and gearing your Mercenary. So is keeping your Familiar maxed. And as of Chaos Descending we have levels and gear for our mounts, too. And I haven't even mentioned Fervor and Resolve...

On it goes. And on and on. If you play solo it's maybe not utterly impossible to ignore most of this and bumble along as if the old ways still applied but whether you can do that and still have fun, I'm not so sure. If you adapt and change then the newer content becomes as easy and genuinely "casual" as the lower but if you don't then it can feel like running face-first into a brick wall.

Don't worry about me. I'll just sit this one out.

As I said, if you want, you could familiarize yourself  with many of these processes and mechanisms as you level up. You probably should, since there's one hell of a lot to take in all at once if you leave it until you have no choice. Given that every expansion now comes with a Level Boost token, however, plenty of people are going to find themselves starting cold on a new character, even assuming they're current players who know the ropes.

How appealing a prospect this is will depend. It must be very tough on genuine new players and returning prodigals alike, but some people are going to love the complexity. There's a demographic that plays games mainly to learn the systems. They should be in clover.

For people who just want to log in and kill stuff, though, I'm not sure I could recommend starting at the top by buying the expansion and triggering the boost. It's attractive to be where the crowd is and you might well feel you're missing out down in the lonely lower levels, but if its the traditional MMORPG experience you're looking for, that's where you'll find it. EQ2's endgame, even the solo, supposedly casual endgame, is something else entirely.

All of which brings me back to the question: just who is a Double XP event that only applies to leveling modes really aimed at? And, perhaps even more puzzlingly, if you're going to have a Double XP event, why not tell people about it? I can't see any sign of an announcement either on the EQ2 Community News page or on the Launcher. Even google can't find a single mention. If that one person hadn't spoken up in chat I'd never have known.

It does potentially change my plans. I might concentrate on leveling a couple of my 100s to 110. Or I might wake up some lower levels, just to watch them knock off a dozen levels in a session. That's always fun.

How long this mysterious event is going to last I have no idea. I don't even know when it started. There's a patch today - there's a patch every Tuesday - so it might be gone when the servers come up. Or it might be with us through the coming holiday weekend. I suppose it might even be permanent...

Get it while it lasts, that's my advice. Unless your on your Level 110, in which case don't bother!

4 comments:

  1. I thought my xp bar was broken after I hit level 100 in EQII. I carried on in the same zone I was in and it just didn't move.

    Of course, now LOTRO Legendary has come along and stolen my attention, but I still my get to the curious series events that happened when I hit level 100. Since levels don't gate zones but still serve as the trigger to invite you to direct you towards content, I had multiple options show up.

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    1. I read your travails with each return to EQ2 and I think "if someone as experienced and knowledgeable about MMOs as Wilhelm has this much trouble every time he comes back after only a year or so away, what can most people be making of it?". Not much would be my guess. I am only barely managing to keep up and I probably play an average of five or six hours of EQ2 a week for at least half the year, most years. In fact, it's only this last few months, when I've made a semi-serious effort, that I realize just how little I knew about current endgame requirements.

      That said, I think the game is actually getting better in many respects. It could use a serious tidying up of legacy systems but many of the more recently-introduced mechanics are superior to what they're replacing. It seems a bit weird that the game is getting this much of an overhaul so late in life, thouugh. I'm almost certain the majority of the customers they have would rather have the inferior systems they're familiar with and I can't imagine DBG is hoping to attract many new players at this stage.

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    2. Well, one factor that always works against Daybreak is that I am very stubborn about trying to get my information about a game by first just playing the it and seeing what it tells me. I only tab out for the web when I feel like I am not getting anywhere. You can see how well that plan works out for EQII.

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    3. Late in life overhauls are definitely an interesting thing. Lotro actually did a major one I think 3 years ago where they "simplified" the game (i.e. dumbed it down).

      For example, Lotro used to have different damage types (which I think is an old school mechanic), and some mobs were resistant or vulnerable to them as the case may be. So you used to have to carry a few different weapons of different damage types in your bag, and know what mobs were vulnerable to what. Tanks even had "shield spikes", a crafted consumable, which you could attach to your shields to change their damage type (shield bash generated aggro). All that was removed (including using shield bash for aggro; threat became strictly dps based and thus easier to maintain).

      That was probably the least controversial of the changes. Classes were changed drastically, with all being simplified, and losing distinctive mechanics. Runekeeper lost its heal/dps building mechanic for stances I think; Warden, which required memorizing vast combos of moves to build attacks (a la Tekken), lost most of them; and so on.

      On one level, it may actually have been a wise decision financially. If you check the Steam forums for Lotro, it's full of newbies trying it for the first time, most without the oldschool MMO experience. And of course they are only there because it is Lotr. If the oldschool mechanics were still present they would have been an insurmountable barrier.

      Still, as I remember saying at the time, Lotro was different from other MMO's and had charm. Now it was just one among many.

      Also, in all the blog coverage of the new legacy server, I don't think I've seen much if any coverage of the these vast changes. If they were still an issue I suppose they would have been mentioned. Since they haven't been, perhaps it was the right choice.

      - Simon

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