Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dark Side Of The Moon

I was just about to power down the P.C. for the night when I spotted something new on Feedly. It was Wilhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob flagging up something I'd been waiting for, the official announcement of this year's EverQuest II expansion.

The EverQuest xpack, Claws of Veeshan, was announced a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if Darkpaw deliberately stagger the reveals so as to give each game a shot at maximum publicity? I guess that would make sense, although you have to wonder who might be interested other than people already playing, most of whom would presumably like to know the details as soon as possible. Maybe the EQII team is just further behind in the development race.

Anyway, we know now. Or we know about as much as we ever do before the beta begins. Because every expansion from every company has to have a beta these days. The era of exclusive in-house testing is long gone, if it ever existed. In fact, if I think about it, I seem to remember beta-testing the third EQII expansion, Echoes of Faydwer, back in 2006. Maybe expansions always had betas...

The beta for the latest, which we now know will be called Reign of Shadows, will begin sometime after the tenth of November, that being the date pre-orders open. I'll be placing my pre-order at the earliest opportunity, guaranteeing me a spot, which I have absolutely no intention of taking up. 

I don't want to spoil my own fun. I'm expecting to play the heck out of Reign of Shadows when it arrives. I've gotten good mileage out of every EQII expansion to date but last year's, Blood of Luclin, I found particularly enjoyable. I took one character all the way through the adventure signature questline, two to the end of the tradeskill questline and four more to somewhere around the mid-point of one, the other or both, by which time they'd reached the new level cap of one hundred and twenty.

After that I played through a good deal of the repeatable content well into the summer before I finally drifted away to other games. Even now I'm logging in every day to do something or other on the moon. 

It helped that I have a strong fund of nostalgia for Luclin, nostalgia which I'd never had a chance to indulge until now. More importantly, despite the expansion clearly feeling somewhat rushed and rough around the edges, I found the gameplay to be some of the most enjoyable for years.

My first and oldest Kerran. Born Dec 5th 2004. Original guild leader. Last seen in action 2005.


Nostalgia might be in short supply this time around. The sequel takes place on Luclin's dark side, a setting I've always had reservations about. Most of the original zones are dark, claustrophobic and visually unappealing. Also very dangerous. I remember travel being fraught with problems, not least because I could scarcely ever see where I was going. 

EverQuest II, I'm very pleased to say, doesn't really do dark, dingy, hard-to-see-your-axe-in-front-of-your-face zones. I'm very curious to see what the art team make of the five we know we're going to be getting, Echo Caverns, Shadeweaver's Thicket, Grimling Forest, Shar Vhal, and Vex Thal.

Echo Caverns I remember as being a fairly small cave with some trilobite-like creatures and a bunch of outlaws. Shadeweaver's Thicket was the Vah Shir (of whom more later) starting zone. I spent a  lot of time there but I can't remember it being much more than some crepuscular scrubland. I think it was too dark to see much in the way of detail.

Grimling Forest I remember all too clearly as a dark, confusing, deadly place filled with repulsive hyper-agressive, gibbering grimlings. I never had much fun there and even if I had been having any I wouldn't have been able to see what it was. 

Vex Thal was a raid zone. I honestly can't remember for sure if I've ever been there. As my characters in EverQuest have become godlike in comparison to old raid bosses (even the actual gods) I've visited most of the old raid zones just to explore but Vex Thal brings nothing to mind at all. Maybe I'll take my magician over to have a look sometime before RoS arrives, to see if I can refresh my memory.

Shar Vhal is the home city of the aforementioned Vah Shir. I'd like to say I know it well. I've certainly spent many hours there. Most of them I spent hopelessly lost. It's one of the most confusing fictional cities I've ever attempted to navigate. I sincerely hope the new version has fewer ramps and stairs and maybe about a tenth as many rooms.

The reason I spent so much time there is that for several years the character I played most often in EQ was a Vah Shir beastlord. Prior to the invention of the Heroic Character (aka boost to 85) she was my highest level, eventually making eighty-four the hard way.

My highest-level Kerran (at 36). Spent the last eight years posing as a ratonga at the New Halas bank.

The Vah Shir are one of two related races of cat people in the Everquest mythos, the other being the Kerrans. To cut a very long story short, the Vah Shir are Kerrans who got blown off-planet by the Erudites and crash-landed on the moon. 

Kerrans were in the original game from launch in 1999 in the form of an NPC race but when the third expansion, Shadows of Luclin, appeared less than three years later it brought with it the Vah Shir as a playable race. That choice then got flipped on its head with EQII in 2004, when Kerrans got the nod as the sequel's playable catfolk. 

It's hard to imagine anyone much cares by now (although I'm willing to bet someone does and they're going to let us all know how much on the forums) but at the time which cats were going to make it to the new game was quite a hot topic. A lot of people were emotionally invested in their Vah Shir characters so hearing the entire race had been wiped out in the destruction of Luclin didn't go down all that well. 

I recall many impassioned arguments being made along the lines of there having to have been at least some Vah Shir caught out on Norrath when the moon blew up but no, apparently they'd all gone home for the holidays or something. I don't believe any lore explanation for their complete disappearance was ever forthcoming.

Whatever, they're back now, or they will be when the expansion arrives. (No firm date for that yet, but there never is at this stage). Vah Shir become the twenty-second playable race and the first new addition to the roster for five years. In fact, I believe they're the first new race to become automatically available simply by owning the latest expansion since the Sarnak in 2007's Rise of Kunark. The Aerykin, who appared at the same time as 2014's Altar of Malice, had to be purchased separately in the cash shop. At least, that's how I remember it. Information available after the fact is conflicted.

As well as the new zones and a new race there's all the usual, expected stuff. What you'd call the content, I guess, including the adventure and tradeskill signature questlines and a bunch of solo, heroic and raid instances.

My third Kerran. Awake for a grand total of fifteen hours in fifteen years.


That would be plenty but rolled in with the expansion comes a major revamp of the Alternative Advancement (aka AA) system. Like World of Warcraft's recent level squish and associated levelling changes, the AA revamp is something all EQII players are going to get regardless of whether they buy the expansion or indeed subscribe. In that sense I wouldn't necessarily call it an expansion feature but that's splitting hair-balls.

AAs have lain fallow (some might say moribund) for a few years now, something about which there have been growing rumbles of discontent, since it was always a popular mechanic. When it was revealed, allegedly unitentionally, in one of this summer's Kander's Candor podcasts, the idea of a revamp was cautiously welcomed. I'd say most players would like one but everyone's anxious about how it might go.

Finally, slipping by almost unnoticed, there'a another revamp of sorts, this time to the guild structure, which now goes to 350 and receives an "all new content-driven guild leveling mechanism". I couldn't actually tell you what the current cap is. My guild is in the eighties somewhere. 

Since the beginning of the game guilds have levelled by means of Status, which has become a major currency over time. The proposed change to "content-driven" levelling reminds me very uncomfortably of the changes ArenaNet made to Guild Wars 2 guild progression, changes which comprehensively destroyed almost all the small guilds in the game.

I can easily imagine the guild changes turning out to be the PR disaster of this expansion. Let's hope they've thought it through. Fortunately I barely use any guild facilities or services these days so I should be safe to sit on the sidelines munching popcorn.

Other than that it all looks pretty good to me. I'm very much looking forward to visiting the dark side. And I'll definitely be making a Vah Shir. The only question being, which class?


  1. Not the only question. There is also, "Will they have their own starting zone on the moon?"

    1. Ooh! Good point! They have the original starting city and the original starting zone so it would seem pretty obvious but do Darkpaw want to add yet another "preferred" starting zone? And if they do, will they need to consolidate or de-prefer one or more of the older ones? Frankly, Timorous Deep and Gorowyn could quietly drop off the rcommended list and I doubt anyone would notice.

    2. True. I never bother with any place besides New Halas. But you can't just have your moon cats wandering around on Norrath proper either, can you? Think of the lore break.

    3. Timorous Deep is the ONLY place I'll start, but I'm pretty 'Sarnak for life'.

    4. How can you stand that hunched-over posture? Sarnaks spend the whole game looking at their feet!

    5. I'm in the Sarnak for life club too, though I do also like other races, my Shadowknight is my favourite character for the aesthetic/mood of it. I really like the Timorous Deep starting zone too, New Halas has a slight edge for me, but TD is my second favourite.

  2. "All that you touch
    And all that you see
    All that you taste
    All you feel

    And all that you love
    And all that you hate
    All you distrust
    All you save..."

    (Sing it with me now!)

    1. Wait a couple of days... the monthly music title post is incoming.

  3. From this point going forward, you have to think that new players will find having two slightly different races of cat people to choose from slightly confusing. Does EQ II get new players?

    1. Not enough that it would make much difference, I'd guess. It gets plenty of returning players, though, some of whom might conceivably return spefically because there were new cat-people.


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