Saturday, January 4, 2020

Overseer Overture: EQII

I sat down at the keyboard this morning with a clear plan. I was going to write a post on the new Overseer system that came to EverQuest II with the game's sixteenth expansion, Blood of Luclin.

As I started to think about what I was going to say I realized I had a problem: I don't actually know very much about how Overseeing works. A brief glance at this thread on the forums made that all too plain.

Still, I never let not knowing what I was talking about stop me before. Let's see. What do I know?

Well, I know how to get the ball rolling, at least. And it's not as obvious as it might be, either. Very little in EQII ever is. First, you have to open your Claim window and find the Overseer Starter Pack. Also not as simple as you might imagine. Originally, the pack was where you'd expect: in the Blood of Luclin section. For some reason it was moved after the first couple of days to the Promotions tab.

Once you've worked that out it's all quite straightforward. You find the bundle in your inventory (it looks like a little wooden crate) and open it. That gets you your first Agent, Sgt. Marcus Carpenter, veteran of the Gnoll Wars, ex of the Qeynos Guard.

Oh yes, there's backstory for your agents, although absolutely no lore explanation as to why they report to you or how you got into the mission-running business to begin with.

You add him to your collection. Can't go far wrong with that, although if you have an inventory like mine it might take you a while to work out where the little wooden crate went.

Then you have to open the interface that allows you to send your agents on missions. You do that through the main menu. As far as I can remember you don't get a prompt in game to tell you that but it's pretty standard practice. Anyone who paid money for the expansion ought to be able to figure it out. You'd hope...

If not, you can always watch Niami Denmother's excellent YouTube video like I did.

If you'd rather read me basically repeating everything in the video, you're in luck! Because I can do that. In fact I've already started.

In the Overseer window you'll see you have a starter mission to Become an Overseer. I have to say the role of "Overseer" would seem to come with cultural baggage you might have thought best avoided but I guess the good taste boat sailed a while ago when it comes to MMORPGs. Assuming you're willing to take on the title, you drag your agent into the only place he could possibly go, click Start Quest and in a second or two it's done. A Reward window pops up with a smart, blueish treasure chest in it. Open that and you get a second Agent to add to your Agent Collection.

And that's the point at which things begin to diverge. If you bought the basic expansion package like I did, two agents is all you're getting right now. If you paid more, you get more. Also, if you were one of those people who has to try everything right away and started playing around with the system from the moment the servers came up on launch day, I believe you got all the Agents you were entitled to right away, instead of getting them doled out to you over time as intended.

But don't quote me on that. As I said, I really don't know much about the fine details. Or the details. Or some of the basics.

Getting back to the Tutorial (because that's what it is), the second mission shows you how to use two Agents at once. Drag them into two boxes and press Start. Am I going to fast for you?

The second tutorial mission takes ten seconds. Watch them count down. That's always fun. Another Reward window pops and this time you get an extra Mission to add to your list of options.

You also get an Achievement, which gives you a nice dopamine hit if you're that way inclined and a very decent chunk of Status. Even if you never planned on using the Overseer system (which would be nuts because it gives you free stuff for doing pretty much nothing) it would be worth running through the Tutorial on every character just for the Status. When I did mine there was a Double Status event running and I made enough to ding my one-person guild. Level 64!

Once you've got that out of the way the new Overseer system is all yours. Or you're all its. Almost unnoticed, EQII has drifted from being a game where you log in and go on adventures to one where you log in and check timers.

There are a multiplicity of offline training systems, all of which are vitally important to maintaining a viable character build. Every day, on any character you intend to play with serious intent, you need to check progress on your Mercenary, your Mount and your current spell or combat art upgrade, all of which you can do via the UI.

You should also do something about your Familiar although that does require some actual gameplay, which is why I never remember to do it. If you're a crafter you probably also have a pot plant to check for harvests and a pack pony/goblin/snail/bug to unload. There are a bunch more things you could do as well but those are the essentials. My essentials, anyway.

When I saw that the New Gameplay Feature for Blood of Luclin was one of those "send NPCs to do missions" affairs I was unimpressed. Every expansion has to have a Special Feature. Some of them, like Mercenaries, are game-changers that fundamentally and irrevocably affect your entire perception of the game. Others, like gear for mounts and mercenaries, have less impact.

I fully expected the Overseer system to be one of those things I played about with for a day or two and then forgot existed. I didn't expect it to be kind of fun and kind of rewarding. But it is both those things.

It's also far from perfect. Reading the "Overseer Quest Issues" forum thread linked above it's apparent the system has, well, issues. It needs tweaking and refining, for sure, but hat's only to be expected of something this fresh. More importantly, the basic structure seems sound and the system feels like a solid addition to gameplay.

It has utility for a start in the form of rewards. These scale with the "difficulty" (read: length) of the Missions and I only have access to some one and two hour missions so my potential rewards right now are limited. I've had gear that no-one is going to use because it's worse than the free stuff in the box at the beginning of the expansion and a bunch of 20% chance infusers, which no-one cares about. Even so, I've already had some decent rewards: a couple of Advanced tradeskill recipe books for the new level range, a few collectibles, some rare crafting materials.

It has progression, too. You can acquire more agents by way of... erm.. something... I think you can get them as quest rewards or drops from bosses? You can also get more, better, longer Missions from... erm... the same? I dunno! Don't look at me! You can get them - somehow - alright?

It has variety. The missions can go wrong ("Mishap") or better than expected ("Bonus"). You can fiddle with the chances of either of those things happening by means of difficulty settings. Even Mishaps can be good news if they lead to rescue missions (I think - I had it happen once but I didn't have enough Agents to send on a rescue and it timed out).

Agents also have characteristics like "Wise" or "Sly" which you can match up with requirements on the Missions. There are Missions that need more than one agent so you can form teams according to ability. Not that I have enough agents to do that yet...

The feature also includes a lot of confusion. I could be polite and call it complexity, which might be no more than fair, since I suspect the confusion I'm experiencing comes mostly from my ignorance, the depth of which must be painfully obvious by now.

Every character gets their own version of the system and the rewards for each Mission are proper to the character who initiated it (although all the rewards I've had are either Heirloom or Tradeable). Every Agent and quest has a cooldown but the timers on the quests seem to belong to the Account while those on the Agents live with the character who runs them. There's also some kind of overall limit to how many Missions an account can run per day.

I'm sure min-maxers are having a field day trying to work all that out. I just take whatever Missions are available with whatever agents are up on whichever character I happen to be playing. And I really enjoy it.

That's the big surprise. I imagined it being a slightly irritating chore as I've found similar systems in other games but the way it's set up makes it quick, easy and entertaining. The rewards I'm getting aren't great but they aren't worthless, either. I'm very aware that much better rewards accrue from higher difficulty Missions, which motivates me to try to get access to those as well.

I wouldn't say the Overseer system is up there with the best Expansion Features I've seen but it's significantly more interesting than I was expecting. I suspect that when the next expansion pops Overseeing will end up being one of the many ancillary gameplay modes that gathers dust in a seldom-visited corner of the game's virtual attic but for the run of this year's expansion it should be fun.

I reserve the right to revise my opinion if and when I know what I'm talking about. For now, though, I give it a solid B+.

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