Saturday, February 8, 2020

On A Mission For Love: EQII

February sees the beginning of a flurry of holiday events in EverQuest II. We took a full month's break following the end of Frostfell in early January but this week saw the start of  Erollisi Day, Norrath's version of Valentine's Day.

When it comes to Norrathian holidays, a "Day" usually lasts at least a week. The Errolisi celebrations go on for twelve days. There's a short break and then very soon we'll all be seeing double during the equally misleadingly named Brewday, a two-week bender built around the earthly "holiday" of St. Patrick's Day (not really a thing where I come from). That runs directly into the Chronoportal event, for which our Earth can offer no equivalent.

No sooner (literally) than the Chronoportals vanish, Bristlebane, Norrath's Lord of Misrule appears. Trickster that he is, he somehow manages to persuade us all to celebrate his "Day" for a full two weeks around April 1st. The moment he disappears, out pop the Beasts for Beast'r, a relatively new and short holiday celebrating, yes, you guessed it, the Norathian version of Easter.

While all this is happening the regular, monthly City Festival and lunar-cycle Moonlight Enchantment events carry on as usual. It's a full calendar, to say the least. I'm sure we'll all be relieved to take May off before it all kicks off again in early June with the successive and lengthy elemental celebrations of Oceansfull and Scorched Sky.

All of these events are packed with quests, collections and achievements, some them looking fit to burst after fifteen years of stuffing. There was a time when I'd go all out on each holiday as it arrived, trying to do everything, often on several characters across different accounts but these days I'm a lot more selective.

There are still people who go all in on every holiday. You can occasionally hear their cries of distress on the forums as they bewail the unfairness of not being able to do everything on everyone. And each year it gets harder for completionists as the dev team strives to add something new to every festive occasion.

As Bart Simpson once said, they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. Some people find the sheer volume of things to do stressful but any holiday that comes and goes with no new content at all is held up as evidence that the game is dying.

Not that many anniversaries pass by unchanged. There's always something new, even if it's just something small and unremarkable. For this year's Errolisi Day we get the usual extra achievement (Over the Moon) and a selection of new things to make and buy, but the centerpiece is something much more substantial, not to say original: a series of five quests for the new Overseer system.

That seems quite significant. Potentially, it's game-changing. Prior to this, it hadn't occured to me that the Overseer feature could be meaningfully integrated into the metagame but on the evidence presented here it most definitely can. Indeed, it has been.

To get the quest you have to visit an NPC called Sister Marinah Highgleam in New Halas. She's standing there with a feather over her head just like any other questgiver and when you speak to her she has a backstory like any other, too.

Some pirate kidnapped her, then released her on condition she help him win the love of "a tall troll woman known as Deadly Rhedd". It's the traditional set-up that would normally have you agreeing to run all over Norrath collecting objects and killing monsters, which is precisely what needs to be done, only not by you. The modern adventurer has people to do that kind of thing for her.

Taking the quest doesn't write anything in your Journal. Instead it adds a new Overseer Mission "Thralg's Bejeweled Cutlass" to your list. The mission takes just half an hour. When it finishes it's immediately replaced by another, "Thralg's Mad Grobb Grog", then "Thralg's Trained Monkey" and so on. Each has a little story. All Overseer missions do. The conceit that these are quests which really take place inside the game is dutifully maintained at all times.

I'm currently on the fourth of five, "Thralg's Blessed Cologne". I'm doing them as I write this post because "doing them" entails nothing more than tabbing back into the game after thirty minutes has passed, picking up my rewards and clicking on the next one.

It would all just be a bit of fun (and it is that, too) if it wasn't for the fact that the rewards are potentially comparable to, or even better than, anything I can get for going out and fighting things. My Shadowed crafting book, by far the most valuable drop I've had in the expansion so far, came from an Overseer Mission and every day I get a few items comparable to those I get from solo quest rewards. Granted, the quest rewards are usually better, but only by a slim margin. And I have had some upgrades.

Now we have proof of concept that quest chains with narrative can be handled via the Overseer interface. That subverts the core gameplay loop. We're in a brave new world where we, the players, talk to NPCs via our characters then send those characters out to adventure at the NPCs' behest - and our characters then delegate the work to their own sub-contractors! By the time anyone gets a sword upside the head there are several degrees of metaphysical separation between the sword-wielder and the aggrieved party.

The way this all affects gameplay goes even further than that. As I type this I have a character camped at one of the graveyards in The Commonlands, waiting for the Errollisi Day Public Quest to begin. I've done it once already in the middle of writing this post. It's the quest I wrote about in detail last year, when I did it on two characters so I could get the Carina Cuddleblaze familiar.

At the time I was happy just to get a cute little dragon that would follow me about. This year I'm doing it because Carina Cuddleblaze is a Fabled quality familiar, which means she's extremely useful for reducing the Mishap chance on Overseer missions.

I'm also doing the "Familiars Wild" daily quest on the only three characters that can get it (my account is bugged, as I suspected, although my Berserker has inexplicably unbugged himself somehow so I remain hopeful for the rest). That's so I can build up a stable of familiars purely for Overseer purposes.

Next on my list of things to do is to hunt down or buy better Mercenaries and pay for them to be hireable anywhere, once again so I can use them to increase my chances of a bonus chest on Overseer Missions. There are changes to the system already up on the Test server which will give players access to all of the Missions they have unlocked, rather than having to take whatever the server gives them, and that will make the system even more central to gameplay.

I'm finding all this quite strange. It doesn't just add a resource management mini-game to EQII, as I imagined it would. It opens up a whole new channel for character progression and now the dev team has thrown narrative possibilities into the mix.

Perhaps the oddest thing is how much I like it. It seems to run counter to the kind of things I say I want in my MMORPGS but then we all know how that goes. MMORPG players rarely play the way they say they wish they could, even when the opportunity arises. All too often they do the exact opposite, then complain bout it. 

In this case, I can see why I'm becoming increasingly drawn into using the Overseer system. For many years, solo endgame play in EQII has meant running instances repeatedly for the daily and weekly rewards. That takes too long and becomes too repetitive for my tastes. It's too much like hard work. The Overseer system is turning into a way to get much the same result, only with the tedium removed (or at least shunted offline, which is much the same thing).

At the moment the rewards aren't generally as good or as reliable as you'd get from instances but as my portfolio of Missions and Agents builds and I get full control over which missions I run each day, that could easily change.

I've just started the final Mission in Sister Marinah's questline. It will reward me with a pirate illusion and a title as well as a standard Overseer Mission crate. I've already received a new Agent, a plushie for my house, a vanity pet and four crates.

If Overseer Mission Questlines like this were to become a standard addition to holiday events I'd be very happy indeed. You wouldn't hear me complaining even if we started to get them outside of the holidays as general content updates, although I'm pretty sure that would cause some stirs of dissent.

There will always be those who rail against change but that's why we have Kaladim. It's not as though we don't have a choice. Somewhat to my own surprise, I come down heavily on the Retail side of the argument, to put things in terms a WoW fan would understand.

Oh, god. I've been corrupted, haven't I? Where did I put my principles? I'm sure I saw them a while ago...



    1. I'd play that! Oh, wait, maybe I already do...

  2. While it sounds like the EQ2 devs have definitely managed to put their own spin on the thing, your descriptions remind me a lot of similar systems in other MMOs (e.g. WoW Garrisons), so I'm surprised you're quite so engrossed. Have you never encountered anything like it or do you think the EQ2 system is really that different from the way other games have done similar things?

    1. No, I've never seen one of these systems in operation before, although I've read about them often enough. I don't think any game I've played has them. I suppose, technically, since I own Legion, my WoW account has access to Garrisons but I've never attempted to use the feature there.

      I think what's surprised me so much is how very different the reality is from what I imagined. I don't recall anyone ever mentioning that these systems had any kind of supporting narrative, far less that they could be integrated into the same quest structure we treat as genuine interaction in the genre. I imagined something far more... spreadsheety. I also didn't foresee the feature affecting, even replacing, adventuring gameplay to this degree. Everything I read about Garrisons, for example, seemed to focus on how much money you could make with them.

      The really big surprise, though, is how enjoyable the system is. I didn't expect to use it at all but I'm finding it more to my taste than actually going out and killing things. I'm sure the novelty will wear off but I'm very curious to see how fully the system can be developed before everyone, developers included, loses interest and moves on to the next new toy.

  3. Do these mission grant adventuring XP? I haven't noticed as my character for managing them is capped already. Might it, in future, offer a timeline for alternate levelling of alts?

    1. No, they don't give any kind of xp - just loot. That said, the Agents and Missions all follow the quality ladder - Treasured/Legendary/Fabled etc - so there's potential for a progression path there. And I guess they could be tied into xp, although I can't imagine that happening. Leveling is so incredibly easy and fast now, anyway, that I don't think many players would be very excited by another way of doing it.


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