Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I Don't Know What I Don't Know But At Least I Know It: EQII

There's a detailed post waiting to be written about EverQuest II's Agnostic Dungeons but I'm hardly qualified to be the one who writes it. I vaguely remember, when the feature was added some years ago, it was intended to be a way for players of widely varying levels to group together. I didn't entirely understand why we needed it since that was something I thought we could already do via the Mentoring system but I guessed there was more to it than I knew. There usually is.

For quite a while Agnostics, as they became known, seemed quite popular. I often saw people looking for groups for them or hanging around outside the portals in Freeport or Qeynos. I did one just to see what it was like. All I remember is that we went to The Library of Erudin, a dungeon I know quite well and like a lot, and it all went off pretty smoothly.

I was only playing EQII as a back-up game back then and even though I'd enjoyed the run I didn't repeat it. As the years wore on I forgot all about Agnostics. No-one seemed to be looking for groups for them any more and If I'd thought about it at all I'd have assumed the feature had passed into that limbo which awaits so many features in every MMORPG: still around but of interest to no-one.

As with so many untested assumptions, that would have been false. There may be no-one queing up to do Agnostics for the purpose for which they were intended but that doesn't mean they've fallen into disuse.

For whatever reason (and this is purely an anecdotal impression) the fifteenth anniversary and the subsequent release of the Blood of Luclin expansion seems to have brought more former players back into the fold than usual. For the past two or three months there's been a steady chorus of comments in general chat as people out themselves as born again newbies.

Some are looking for guilds, some for advice and some just want to reminisce. Until this weekend none of them had raised much of a ruckus. That all changed on Saturday with the arrival of a very voluble and persistent character who began by announcing they were back after seven years away and would anyone like to send them some plat?

With EQII's economy in a state of hyper-inflation, the kind of money that would seem like untold riches to a newbie is less than pocket change to even a casual-but-regular player so a few people chipped in with donations. Others offered practical suggestions on how to earn money in game.

Patience and generosity began to wear thin when the request was repeated on and off during the afternoon. There was some to and fro over the subject, then the would-be beggar began to ask if someone would like to powerlevel them.

That wouldn't have been out of place back when they last played. Powerlevelling used to be quite a thing in EQII. It really isn't any more. Leveling goes so fast and there are so many ways to make it easy and effortless that paying another player to tow you around on a string while they kill things would actually be one of the slower and more awkward ways I can think of to get xp.

EQII has a fairly cheerful and helpful community, on Skyfire anyway, even if almost everyone does tend to act as if it's open mic night at the comedy club now and again. Many people, myself included, attempted to explain why PLing wasn't a great idea. Several went on to make helpful suggestions and offer alternatives.

The returning player was having none of it. They countered every suggestion with a reason why it wouldn't work for them, few of which made any sense. They also countered the accusation that they were trying to get something for nothing by explaining that what they wanted to do was pay someone via PayPal for powerlevelling services rendered.

As you can see, the boots are yet to drop.
Needless to say no-one took them up on their generous offer as it was repeated several times over the course of the weekend. Eventually they fell silent, presumably either having decided to buckle down and level up like a normal person or having left the game in disgust at the outrageous selfishness of modern players, unwilling to give up a few hours of their time to do the job of an NPC mercenary for less than minimum wage.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been leveling a Fury. I have several Level 100 and 110 boosts I could use to skip most of the process but leveling in EQII is fast and fun and I wanted to get at least a vague idea of how the class works so I've been doing it the old-fashioned way.

These days the "old-fashioned" way isn't really all that different from powerlevelling. You just get a Mercenary and let them kill stuff. They never have to stop for a smoke break or to walk the dog and they charge about a thousandth of what players used to charge so it's both cheap and efficient.

I'd been wandering around almost at random in zones and dungeons I like or which I haven't done for a while, picking up quests as I travelled and not bothering to finish them before I moved on. That way I'd made it to the mid-sixties in a few sessions.

I'd never thought of doing Agnostics but a couple of people in chat had tried to explain to the recalcitrant returnee that they were the fastest way to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. They even suggested which ones were the best: Stygian Threshold and Crypt of Agony.

Oh, come on... He's not that big!

Stygian Threshold was a new one on me so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a surreal experience. I zoned in using the burning helmet portal outside the bank in West Freeport. All the mobs, as you'd expect, conned "Even". They were all triple-up arrow Heroics. I pulled the nearest, my Monk mercenary bopped it a couple of times and it fell over.

That was how things went for all the regular mobs. I explored the very attractive zone, entirely new to me, killing everything I saw, until I bumped into my first Named - or "Boss" for anyone not used to EQ jargon. I expected a little bit more of a fight so I held back and sent the Merc in - and the Named dropped dead. Instantly.

This turned out not to be a fluke. There are eight Nameds in Stygian Threshold and every one falls down in a dead faint - actually, make that just dead - on a single hit. I have no clue why this is. No matter how easy a zone is, I've never known one where bosses were even easier to kill than regular mobs.

It's quite a fiddly zone. Several of the Nameds need to be spawned in a particular fashion. I had a walkthrough up, so I knew some of the bosses had strats and behaviors but of course I never saw any of them in action because BLAT!

XP was very good. I made several levels. Loot was good, too. There's a specific gear set in Agnostics, all Legendary, which drops for your specific level and armor type. Every piece was an upgrade for my Fury. It also all matches and looks great.

I was very happy. It was going so I well I moved on to try Crypt of Agony, a dungeon I know and like. Everything carried on just the same. In addition I got a Master and my first ever Mythical. And it was a key Fury spell!

After I finished that one I thought I'd try another I'd never seen. I chose one from the Kunark Ascending expansion - Kralet something or other. I zoned in, pulled the first even-con mob and about half a dozen came. My Mercenary started to shake with fear and refused to fight. I managed to kill a couple of them on my own but then I ran out of mana. Since I was standing right at the entrance I clicked it and zoned out, so at least we didn't wipe.

Two more tries went the same way. I gave up and tried a couple of Velious-era dungeons instead. They went fine. I carried on until my Fury dinged 75 then I stopped for the night.

Next time I'll experiment some more. The whole system is shrouded in mystery and I evidently have a lot to learn but it certainly looks like a potentially painless, profitable and entertaining new-to-me way to level. I wouldn't want to take every new character through an unbroken sequence of dungeons but it makes for a very nice change of pace.

And it makes me wonder what else I might be missing...


  1. When the Terrors of Thalumbra expansion was released, they added a bunch of dungeons from that expansion as agnostic dungeons. And my goodness, they were HARD. I would often run full groups through there with my Berserker/Defiler duo. Trash would hit exceptionally hard and strategies had to be obeyed. The xp was also kind of ridiculous because you could gain multiple levels from a single trash kill. They changed that eventually. Something broke after that expansion, and the dungeons became somewhat de-scaled in difficulty by a factor of many. And now? Now it's just a joke that they can be soloed. Agnostics were a great way to learn your class in a group setting while leveling up. I still have my Level 94 Berserker ready to go again if they ever decide to breathe some life back in to this feature! ~ Akkurat

    1. Apologies for the extremely late reply. I still see people asking for groups for agnostics occasionally but mostly they seem to have become the new version of soling by mentoring down and running around Chardok or Sebilis, something Daybreak took great pains to put a stop to. Players will always find the easy path even if it bores them to tears, it seems.

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