Thursday, December 17, 2020

Skipping (Doors Lead To Other Doors)


As you might expect on the day after a new expansion dropped, yesterday I played a lot of EverQuest II. I didn't keep track of the time but I guess I must have put in five or six hours across the day. It was absorbing in that strange way large, fresh content drops can be. 

I almost said "only", then. I wonder if it's true? The sudden arrival of weeks' worth of content all in one go has a far greater chance of making a significant impression than a perpetual trickle of minor updates, even if in the end it all adds up to about the same in hours of play. It seems a lot more likely to lock players into a game for the duration, too. What that says about the way ArenaNet have chosen to approach content delivery for Guild Wars II these last eight and a half years scarcely bears thinking about.

As I've said many times, I strongly prefer a fast and frequent schedule of solid updates, even if those updates fall under the broad heading of "more of the same". I'd also rather have a full expansion that didn't feel completely finished or polished than have to wait longer for things to be deemed just right. As we all know, in online gaming nothing ever is "just right" so why wait?

On that basis I was excited to get my hands on Reign of Shadows even though, as I wrote the other day, I fully expected it to be buggy and incomplete. Only so far it isn't. Granted "so far" is not very far at all but as yet the only glitches I've encountered are ones I've fashioned for myself. More about that in a while.

Pollution Index for Echo Caverns today: Very High.

EQII has a loose pattern to its expansion cycle these days. We get a level increase every other year and thematically, expansions tend to come in pairs. Reign of Shadows is both the second in what we could call the Return to Luclin sequence and the one with no level increase. That could make it something of a filler but it doesn't feel that way to me.

I'm not a big fan of storylines in mmorpgs but I do like there to be some kind of overarching narrative against which I can contextualize the meandering progress of my characters. Of the primary games I've played over the last few years, Guild Wars 2 leans too far in the direction of a cinematic storyline while EQ2 pitches it just about right.

Reign of Shadows pulls the camera back a little further still. Usually there's a letter already waiting in the mail the first time you log in after an expansion begins but this time I didn't get the call from the Duality, Norrath's equivalent of the Watcher, until I'd been playing for several hours. When I did I found the enfolding plot intriguing. I'm keen to find out how it turns out and to do my part in making sure things go the way they should.

I'm sure this is going to come in handy for something
This expansion also introduces the first instanced dungeon much earlier than I've been used to. So early, in fact, I didn't notice I had the quest for it until I was checking something in my journal. By then I'd already ventured into the open world Echo Caverns on a couple of kill quests but it turned out I'd had a mission for an instanced EC-variant for a while.

I was curious about how that might go. When I'd ventured cautiously into the first new combat zone I'd been very pleasantly surprised at the difficulty level. I'm used to a rough session or two before the quest rewards start rolling in, even with the catch-up and prep gear we're given these days.

This time my Berserker felt there or thereabouts as powerful in the new content as he'd become used to feeling in the old. After a few careful pulls he was back to rounding up mobs in groups and AEing the heck out of them. 

As for his healer mercenary, about whom I'd read some very worrying things on the beta forums, if anything, he seemed noticeably more efficient than normal. One of the self-imposed glitches I mentioned earlier was my repeated mistake of catching guards in the crossfire. Since those guards were all Heroic level 130s that didn't end well but my merc was very much more on the ball with the rezzes than expected. 

The only way to find out how difficult the instances were likely to be was to try. I zoned in to find myself facing a bunch of orange con Heroic mobs, which was more or less what I expected. EQII uses a buff system for instanced solo content these days so that instead of having to repopulate the dungeons for the different difficulty settings the game merely re-calibrates the player's ability to handle what's already there, so everyone gets heroics, even soloists.

Even so, in last year's Blood of Luclin the first few solo instances were something of a grind. Yes, the buff meant my Berserker could handle the Heroic mobs but they took a long time to kill and there were a lot of them. In RoS the first instance went very differently.

Nice spot for a picnic
Progress in the instance mirrored my experience in the open world Echo Caverns almost exactly. I started off pulling cautious singles and ended up running in circles to round up groups to AE. Far from reminding me of my time in the first Sanctus Seru instance last year, this felt more like a quick romp through a daily back in the summer.

That's probably what led to my second and more serious self-imposed glitch. Instead of working my way steadily and carefully through the quarry I decided I'd skip the trash and climb up along the side. I was able to get to the wall dividing the quarry from the main part of the zone and jump down, thereby bypassing the locked gate that was the only legitimate exit. Then I spent half an hour exploring and killing without encountering any bosses or updating my quest. 

Don't put yourself out, will you?
After I'd cleared about half the zone it finally occurred to me that maybe by finding my own way past the locked gate at the start I'd failed to set some flag or other. A very long-standing mechanic in EQII instances is the requirement to kill one boss to make the next one spawn and so far I hadn't even seen a boss. 

To cut a long story short, in the first instance the idea is that you clear the trash at the start (as the quest tells you to do) to spawn their boss. Then you kill him to open the gate. After that you kill all the groups of mosquitoes to spawn the Needlite Queen before finding some dead guards on the path to where the little alien guys hang out. You kill enough of them and their Chief appears and so on and so on.

I got it sorted out in the end although I'd already killed so many of the little guys while I was exploring that as soon as I killed the Queen the Chief popped and then I couldn't kill him because I hadn't killed all of his pals and he gets a huge regen bonus for every one of them left alive.

Nothing I couldn't fix, at least once I'd found and read the walkthrough on the wiki to see what I was doing wrong. There were a couple more bosses after that but I hadn't gotten far enough into the zone the first time to affect them so that all went according to plan.

Fancy name, fancy title. All he does is open a gate.


As for difficulty, all the bosses were just about in the sweet spot between easy and challenging. None of them did that excruciating power drain that's been the mark of the desperate developer these last few years. None of the fights lasted more than a few minutes except for the Chief, who has an extremely annoying predilection for summoning defenders with more hit points than himself.

Each fight had a couple of fairly straightforward mechanics that I found easily manageable. Until I met the zone boss, Scyphodon, that is. He has a very irritating trick whereby he can't be targeted unless you have a buff up that's called something like "Magic Sugar". You get this by eating a sugar cane reed, plenty of which grow along the riverside near his haunt. So far, so simple.

The problem comes when Scyphodon yells something about eating anyione with sugar in their veins. At this point you have to cancel the buff before grabbing another to re-instate it so you can target him again. 

It shouldn't have been difficult. I'd read about in advance on the wiki and I'd even made a macro for the command to de-sugar myself. What I hadn't counted on was the sheer size of the creature. Scyphodon is so tall compared to my ratonga Berserker that no matter how far back I pulled the camera and pointed it towards the sky I couldn't see his damn speech bubble - assuming he even had one. 

And I'm telling you we can take him!


The wiki says he "emotes" his threat but if he does it didn't appear in my chat line. Then again, I habitually turn emotes off so I don't have to deal with idiots spamming bodily functions to alleviate their terminal boredom. 

Either way, when Scyphodon gave his tell I missed it as often as not. Since missing it meant instant death that would normally have been a major set-back. Not this time, thanks to Zel'Kriaz, mercenary extraordinaire. 

Over the years in EQII there have been many occasions when I've seethed behind the keyboard, watching my character face down in the dust while their healer mercenary tried to finish the fight. Many's the time I've yelled "You have the dps of an arthritic kitten! Do your real job and rez me ffs!" all to no avail.

Something seems to have changed. I died twice fighting Scyphodon and both times my merc was right in there with a rez. It made the fight a little jagged but it was a heck of a lot better than having to revive and start over. If this is the new Merc behavior beta testers were complaining about I beg to offer a contrary opinion. 

Told you it'd be worth it. And thanks for the rezzes. I'll buy you a beer when we get back to town.


I have the quest for the next instance already. We'll see if that's as much fun as the first. I'm looking forward to it, though, which is a very good sign. 

As for the quest rewards, that's a post of its own. So far I haven't equipped one of the half dozen items I've received because I can't work out whether or not they're upgrades. Experience tells me I'll get better gear later in the signature line and better yet in the later instances so as long as I'm not struggling I think I'll stick with what I'm using until I get something that's an unequivocal improvement.

If itemization that requires the player to make meaningful choices between stats is the worst Reign of Shadows has to throw at me I think I'll call it a resounding success. 

Yeah, okay. Probably a little early for that. It's a promising start, though.


  1. I have only played a little bit and most likely will not play much until after the holidays. I did go through that first solo zone and that Chief took me forever to beat. Guess I should have looked up where that regen was coming from too.

    Glad to see that you are enjoying the expansion so far.

    1. I'm through to the second open zone, Savage Weald, and everything's still going well. I'm very happy with what |I've seen so far.


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