Thursday, June 20, 2019

I Belong To The Beak Generation: EQII

When I publicly announced yesterday that I was "almost exclusively" playing Riders of Icarus, I pretty much set the seal on an entire day of playing something completely different. I did try to log into RoI but the servers still weren't up after the update so I was forced to consider my options. They were many.

I rejected Guild Wars 2, which has now been relegated to the odd daily every few days. There's something in the offing that will bring me back for a while, about which I plan to post soon, but until then GW2 is largely out of contention.

Next I looked at Star Wars: The Old Republic, still very much in play. I had been planning to resubscribe when we got back from holiday but after I played a couple of sessions and looked at what subbing would get me I couldn't really see the point. Then Riders of Icarus cropped up out of nowhere and I thought I might use the hypothecated TOR sub money to buy Elluns, once I can figure out how to do it. For now the money's staying in my pocket.

I still very much plan on leveling to the cap in TOR and I did get as far as logging in yesterday but I stalled on Character Select as something else occured to me. My thoughts drifted to Holly Longdale's advice in her recent Producer's Letters.

Hello! What have we here?
I have six Level 110 characters in EverQuest II but not one of them has completed the solo Signature questline. Actually, now that I think about it, only two have even started it and the only one to have made any real progress is my Berserker.

As a Weaponsmith he's finished the Crafting Signature line. It opens a plethora of repeatable quests that give recipes but he's never bothered to do any of them. My Scholar has made some progress on the same questline but hasn't completed it.

On the Adventurer timeline the Berserker is very close to the end. He only stopped because I hit a very mildly annoying series of solo instances just before the grand finale.

I ran into two design issues I didn't much like. One is a recent fetish of the designers, the other a real throwback to old-school quest design I'd never imagined would make a comeback.

The first and by far the most annoying is the Massive Power Drain trick. In order to stop players simply overpowering bosses and ignoring all the mechanics, something even my relatively modestly geared Berserker can often readily do even at level now, many bosses get dots that drain all your power in a matter of seconds.

I have no idea why this shot looks so much sharper than the rest.

This means that, if you don't do something about it very promptly, you end up trying to kill a mob with trillions of hit points using only auto-attack. If that's even possible, it takes fifteen to twenty minutes in which all you can really do is watch. If your Mercenary also happens to have been on the wrong end of the power drain, your healing dries up and you will die long before boredom becomes an issue.

All the drains are curable and in theory your Merc should handle that. An average player-healer would have no problems. Mercs, however, tend to be slower on the draw when it comes to cures. Even with my merc's assists and attacks disabled, so that all they have to do is focus on their employer's health and safety, I always end up flat out of power sooner rather than later.

The first instance in the sequence of four features two Bosses that use this trick. When I first did the instance a few months ago I had a lot of trouble with both of them. There were deaths. All of them mine and the Mercs.

I did some research, visited the Broker, bought a whole lot of crafted Cures and Remedies, a stack of Clarity potins and some very expensive Overclocked Manastones. That allowed me to both shut off the drain as it happened and replenish some of the power I'd lost. In theory.

In practice I could rarely spot the mob's text emote or the tiny debuff icon in time to click the relevant hotkey and I often ended up out of power anyway. Still, it made enough difference that I won the fights eventually, which would have been fine and dandy if it wasn't for the other design issue.

Drop, damn you!
The quest asks you to find nineteen items to imbue an inert Rune that you have in your bags. The Rune then interacts with an object at the very end of the instance, whichyou can only reach by killing  all the Bosses. No problem until you see the wiki warning, in bold type and italics : "You may not receive all of the thermite briquettes needed for this quest on one run through the zone."

That's optimistic. In my experience you definitely won't. It means doing every instance twice. Back in January I balked at that and shelved the Signature Questline until I was in the mood to grind it out.

Turns out I was in that mood yesterday, because I finished my postponed second run through Doomfire and then went on to do the Eryslai instance twice in a row. Doomfire was, once again, very tough. I was rusty and I remembered that even when I'd completed it last time, after buying all the potions, it had been touch and go.

So I did a bit more research. I bought a couple of slightly different potions but I also learned something that came as a complete revelation to me, even though it has apparently been in the game since launch or thereabouts.

If you have the correct Cure potions in your bags all you need to do to use them is to click on the little debuff icon under your name in the group window. The game will then use the potion as though you'd clicked on a hot key for it. This means you don't have to worry about working out what type of debuff it is, then matching it against the relevant image of a flask that may be an entirely different color, which was what was making me too late every time to get the dot off me before the damage was already done.

Victory at last!

I knew you could get this functionality by using a custom UI but i had no idea it had always been a feature of the default. I tried it and it didn't work and I died but instead of abandoning it as a bad idea I did some more research and discovered I also needed to turn on "Click Through" on the window options. I always wondered what that was for...

Once I did, it worked like a dream. I moved my character window into center view, directly above my hot bars, so I could easily see the tiny icons as they appeared and didn't have to move my mouse more than an inch or two to click them. In that way I was able to remove the debuff before I lost much power and I managed to keep enough juice in my blue line to get the job done.

Doomfire was still a rough ride, even so, but once it was over I was feeling ready for more. Eryslai turned out to be a much easier proposition and a lot more entertaining.

The scenery was much more appealing, being part of the Plane of Air rather than Fire. The Bosses were all much more straighforward. None of them used massive power drains and although the wiki listed a number of mechanics for the fights, I found I was mostly able to tank and spank, which is just how I like it.

The absolute highlight was the first Boss, a small cockatrice who goes by the glorious name of Beaknik. Even better, his mechanics consist of demanding to be fed, which he does by emoting "Beaknik's hungry. Don't be such a drag!", and summoning his crew, The Beaknik Generation.

I found this almost infinitely amusing. It's completely out of context and inexcusably self-indulgent but it just played so perfectly to my own sense of humor and cultural preferences I instantly forgave the designer for their lack of self-control. I know if I was writing my seven hundred and sixty fourth quest I'd be coming up with stuff like this all the time just to keep my sanity.

The only downside of Eryslai, apart from a somewhat confusing layout, was my bad luck on the RNG for the required drops. With one Boss left to kill I was four short.

Using my tracking potions, an absolutely invaluable cash shop purchase, I cleared the entire zone of everything, regardless of whether it was flagged to drop the item or not. I still finished three short. I killed the Boss, who dropped one more. Then I portalled back to Myrist, The Great Library, reset the instance and went through it again.

Skipping all the avoidable trash and killing only Bosses and the mobs needed to activate the Rainbow Bridge gave me the missing ephemyral gusts in no time. The three run-throughs, one Doomfire and two Eryslai, took me all afternoon and into the early evening, although quite a lot of that was research. The instances themselves probably take about an hour on full drop mode and two-thirds of that just on bosses.

Asset reuse at its finest.
I have two more Planes to do and then it's the final instance. I'm confident of getting it done in a week or two, providing I don't run into any major roadblocks. Generally, though, the solo Signature questlines of recent expansions have been excellently tailored to be challenging but not frustrating - always provided you understand your available toolsets and how to use them effectively.

EverQuest II, like all mature MMORPGs, is not pick-up-and-play. Even a relatively junior example of the genre, like Riders of Icarus, positively requires players to do research both in and out of game.

The systems are far too complex to explain themselves by simple trial and error through normal gameplay. This is both the genre's greatest strength and its highest barrier to entry. After an initial burst of excitement and enthusiasm it must be so easy for players to become frustrated, confused and fed up. Tutorials can only do so much and can often be off-putting in themselves.

In essence, playing traditional MMORPGs is a hobby and hobbies always require dedication, study and practice. As pure games, MMORPGs struggle, which is why we have seen such a consistent move away from traditional mechanics towards ever more gamelike systems.

And yet, even those are complex and arcane, because RPGs always are. To get something that plays purely like a game you have to drop the suffix, leaving just the MMO, which is where Survival games and Battle Royales come in.

For anything that retains the RPG tag, you can streamline the storyline, simplify the combat and  squish the stats all you like but in the end you're still left with a whole lot of stuff that just has to be learned.

And that suits me just fine!

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