Thursday, September 17, 2020

Touch Too Much?

"Made many improvements to the Overseer system to make it simpler to find Agents you need when you need them."

Everquest Game Update Notes September 16

The strapline in yesterday's patch notes made me nervous. There's a fine line between welcome assistance and unwanted interference. It's been a comedy staple since, well, since forever.

I've been keeping up with my Overseer quests in EverQuest religiously. Every morning I log in to set five of them, mainly the twelve hour ones. I try to get them up and running before ten in the morning so I'll have time to log in again in the evening, collect the rewards and set another five before I shut the PC down for the night.

When I mess the timing up, which happens a couple of times most weeks, I pay the very small fee in Daybreak Cash to finish ahead of time and get things back on track. Alternatively, I set some six hour quests for one cycle. That does the job.

It also has the benefit of reminding me there are a couple of mission types I still need to level up. I have most of them maxed now but I'm still nominally working on Plunder, Craft and Harvest.

After nine months plugging away, barely missing a session, I have almost all of the possible agents. As far as I can tell, the only ones I'm still missing are two elites, King Kazon Stormhammer and King Tearis Thex. Oh, and Fippy Darkpaw, the only agent that has to be bought for DBC.

Setting ten missions a day, every day, means I pretty much know which ones are good at what without having to mouseover their icons or consult the drop-down menus. If a quest asks for a fierce high elf paladin I know Joren Nobleheart is the man for the job. If a rugged, frivolous dwarf's what's called for I give the nod to Tumpy Irontoe.

Having acquired this knowledge I look forward to employing it. Even after spending the whole of the year setting these missions I still actively enjoy the process and the more I understand the strengths and weaknesses of my extensive stable of agents, the more satisfying that process becomes.

Knowing who to pick for which job is one thing. Getting them slotted, set and ready to go is another.

Every quest has a number of required agents. How many varies according to the level, quality and
difficulty of the quest. You have to fill those slots or the quest won't start but you can also slot a variable number of optional agents to enhance your chances of success.

This is where it can start to get tedious. Five quests might use seven agents each and even when you know who's good at what, finding and slotting thirty-five of the buggers takes a while. Also, counter-intuitively, once the important agents are in place it's their lower-ranked assistants who take the time to select. You're not going to have a plethora of rank five Artisans to choose from but you might well have four or five bold rank one Soldiers.

Not that it makes a difference which you use, but you don't want to be sending someone on a mission because she's Frivolous, only to find out on the next quest she was also the only Malicious Scholar you had left. You can cancel a mission after you've set it to regain use of the agents it uses but if you do that it still counts against your maximum ten a day, so you want to avoid it, if at all possible.

Much more annoying than shuffling through the drop-down menus for an exact match, though, is finding the agent's picture to put them into service. After all these months I know just about every agent by sight but scrolling down to pick the right ones from the line-up got old a while ago.

It seems I'm not the only one to feel this way. Yesterday's patch addresses a number of issues with the Overseer system but the best change is this one: 

"Modified how Available Agents are sorted in the Quests tab for non-conversion quests. They are now sorted by the total number of matching traits and jobs, then by job ranks, rarity, and finally name. This change will usually result in sorting Agents with the highest potential contribution ahead of the pack."

I was curious to see how well this might work. The answer is perfectly. In every quest I've set so far, the exact agent I would have chosen has been first in line.

Then there's this change:

"Agents who offer no benefit to a quest no longer appear in the Available Agents list in the Quests tab."

Well, you really can't argue with that, can you?

And finally:

"Optional quest party slots now display their required job rank."

I didn't even know optional agents had a required rank.

There are other changes too, some of them very welcome,  but those three are the ones that are going to save me ten or fifteen minutes a day. The first two sets I completed after the patch took me considerably less than five minutes each. I normally allow anything up to a quarter of an hour.

That's very welcome, especially given that, now I'm back at work for a couple of days a week, I'm having to fit some of these sessions into a tighter timeframe. And yet, welcome as it may be, it does still bring up the question of how much assistance is too much.

I'm always wary of games that play themselves. I don't mean idle games. Those are fine. It's a genre. It's when MMORPG developers begin to engineer out the boring parts that I start to get twitchy.

In this case I'm fine with the changes made. I still feel sufficiently involved in the process to get that spurious sense of satisfaction that makes playing video games so dangerously alluring. It wouldn't take all that much more "help", though, to turn that sense of satisfaction into a queasy awareness that what I'm doing could all too easily be reduced to a single click.

I'd hate to read the patch notes some day and see that some bright spark had come up with the clever idea of having the game itself allocate the best available agents automatically, as soon as the player selects the mission. Obviously now the game can sort those agents effectively it could just as easily slot them for you. 

And then what would be the point of me?

For now I'm happy. I like the changes. The new ease of use even feels like a reward for all the effort I've put in up 'til now. I'd prefer it stops there, though. I'd like to keep my illusions of usefulness a little longer.


  1. That system sounds like a lot of fun. Secret World Legends had a similar if much simpler) system that I quite liked. Unfortunately my highest character in EQ is still 56 or so. The last time I played I managed to work him into a corner where the only useful thing I have been able to figure out to advance him was to grind mobs in a very specific dungeon. That was probably more my ignorance at work that the game itself.

    1. It might depend a little on the class but with the introduction of mercenaries it's generally reckoned to be easy to solo to about the mid-70s these days. The routine ways are either to hunt in the hot zones as indicated by Franklin Teek or to go up through the Serpent's Spine expansion, which is structured to let you level from one to seventy-five.

      Almar has an excellent series of leveling guides here. here

  2. This reminded me of a question on Overseer in EQ2 that I've had for a while. What is the point of agents with no traits, other than to fill the first slot on a mission where you have no agents with matching traits for that mission's challenges? You have to slot at least one agent to send the mission off, but adding an agent with no traits (or no matching traits) does nothing to the mission percentages as far as I see. So agents with no traits quickly become worthless, unless I'm missing something?


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