Monday, July 5, 2021

Coming Up Slowly

Oh look! Another max level in EverQuest II. Whoop, and if you will pardon the expression, di-doo!

How many does that make? I forget. Give me a moment and I'll check... It's seven. Plus four max level tradeskillers. 

In theory it gets easier each time because you get a 20% xp bonus for each max level character on the account, up to a maximum 200%. Leveling a new character to the cap has to be completely trivial for an established player, right? I mean, let's look at all the boosts and benefits I had going for me when I started this latest journey. 

For a start, I skipped the first hundred levels. I had an old Level 100 token sitting around so I used that. I could have skipped to 110 or even straight to 120, I had tokens for all of them, but I was trying out a class I wasn't very familiar with, so I thought I'd use the twenty levels to practice. After all, how long could it take?

We'll get to that but I'll tell you now, it's longer than you think. And I don't just mean how many weeks and months it's taken me to get around to logging the character in and doing something about it, either. I'm talking about played time. 

My Vah Shir Swashbuckler has a played time of eighteen and a quarter hours. That's a tad short of an hour a level. 

There might be a little afk time in there but not very much. Mostly when I logged her in it was to level. There's definitely a lot of "looking stuff up" time but that definitely counts. If I hadn't looked things up as I went along I'd still be levelling now.


Eighteen hours! How could it possibly have taken that long? It's a fair question. There was 120% veteran XP and 100% experience potion running at all times. She had 100% vitality for at least half the time, maybe more. From about level 105 or 106 the server was giving another 100% for the Scorched Sky holiday. 

All of those are cumulative bonuses so I was levelling with a following wind that varied from 220% to 420%. And it still took me eighteen hours to do twenty levels. 

There's more. When the Blood of Luclin expansion raised the level cap from 110 to 120, Daybreak made a major change to the way levelling worked. Basic quests from that expansion give so much xp you frequently ding several times on a single hand-in. 

Yesterday, when I finally got to begin the BoL Signature questline, my Swashie went from 110 to 113 to 115 to 117 to 119 to cap without troubling any of the levels inbetween. It took maybe ninety minutes, much of which was me checking the map and trotting from spot to spot because you don't get to fly in Luclin until a lot later.

What that means is that it must have taken me about sixteen of those eighteen hours to get from one hundred to a hundred and ten. Which it did. Kinda.

Here's the problem. There's currently no viable route from 100 to 110 for a solo player other than to follow the Signature questline from 2017's Planes of Prophecy. Well, there may be but if there is I don't know what it is. If anyone knows of one please don't keep it to yourself.

There are other places you can go where the mobs and the quests will give you experience, quite a few of them, all the way back to 2013's Chains of Eternity, at least. The problem is, in order to discourage players from doing exactly that and to keep everyone in the same current, endgame content, Daybreak took to raising the experience required per level by orders of magnitude in each successive expansion. 

You can by all means go and do all of the storyline content and sidequests for every expansion you fancy. I'd encourage anyone who enjoys the game to do just that  because most of it is pretty fair entertainment. Just don't expect to see your xp bar move by so much as a pixel while you're doing it.

If you're leveling a character the old-fashioned way, starting from level one, none of this matters much for a good, long while. You can merrily move around within the vast reaches of past content at will, limited only by the same factors that always existed, namely whether you can kill stuff before it kills you. 

When you hit 100, though, you'll find yourself going to Plane of Magic same as I did, no matter what other plans you had. Or you will if you want to see the number next to your name change, ever again.


Plane of Magic is a really nice zone. In fact, the longer I play and the more characters I level, the more I begin to appreciate just how very good all of EQII's open world expansion zones are. There's scarcely a duffer among them. Perhaps the closest to a pass would be the underground cavern of 2015's Terrors of Thalumbra but really even that's not bad, just a little claustrophobic.

The problem with Plane of Magic, if there is one, is the tripartite faction. I liked it well enough at the time but I found it an odd choice: "I like a faction grind as much as the next twenty-year veteran but I wouldn't choose to start an expansion with one." Four years and three more expansions later it stands as an odd roadblock for anyone taking the scenic route to current content.

Still, it zips along speedily enough with the aforementioned buffs. I'm not so sure how it would be if you were a genuine newbie leveling a character for the first time but then again, if you were that and you'd made it to 100, you'd probably be having a great time smelling the daisies and not be in any mood to hurry.

If you're just trying to grab another max level to add to the squad, Plane of Magic could feel like something of a trial. I picked away at it through a number of shortish sessions, knocking out a level here, a level there, mostly late in the evening when I didn't have the energy for anything ambitious. 

It was just as well I wasn't in a rush because even with flying mounts, intra-zone teleports, EQII Maps and a walkthrough for every quest, there's still a lot of downtime. It's a big zone and the questgivers take an almost palpable delight in making you criss-cross every inch of it. 

The worst parts are those longeurs when you can't get any more storyline quests because of hard caps on faction. You have no choice other than to run some repeatables for faction and that wasn't much fun four years ago. Every time I ended up taking a break from the levelling ladder for a week or two it was because I'd hit one of those plateaus.

I got there eventually. When someone in game mentioned there was a 100% server bonus for a few days, something that had managed to pass me by until then, I figured it was now or... well, next time there was a server bonus. I knuckled down and knocked off the rest of the levels to 110, at which point I figured I'd be able to move on to Blood of Luclin and finish the next ten in an hour or two.

Honestly, you'd think I'd know better by now. For once, I had no problem getting to the expansion itself. Sometimes there are pre-requisites to get in but I just fired up the Fast Travel map and clicked my way straight to the Blinding. Trouble was, no-one there would talk to me.

I spent some time kitting myself out in the free gear from the box on the floor, then I went to look up what I needed to do. There was a lead-in quest I'd forgotten because of course there was. There almost always is.


When I'd dinged 110 I'd gotten a key in the mail that I knew would port me to the Duality, one of Norrath's movers and shakers who's taken on the role of showrunner for expansions nowadays. I went to see him and he gave me the quest. It involved clearing out an instance and getting an item from the final boss. I figured what with my new gear and all I wouldn't have too many problems.

After I died on the third boss I decided I probably ought to have a mercenary along, if only for the healing. I'd managed up 'til then without one but time was obviously starting to catch up on me. I spent a while looking at the options and decided I'd take Evania Val`Sera, the Elite Merc you unlock when you do the Yun`Zi (aka Panda) quests. I've worked with her several times and she's very reliable. 

I also knew where she was. She stands about next to the banker in the floating city of Nye`Caelona in Obulos Frontier. There's a Fast Travel option for the zone but apparently my Swashbuckler didn't meet the requirements. I still don't know why. I figured it would take longer to find out the reason than it would to go there the slow way.

It took me two tries before I remembered the overland route but I got there eventually. I was aware of another little problem ahead, in that the city guards have a nasty habit of banishing anyone they don't recognize. If they spot you, first they stun you then they port you into the next zone. I wasn't overly concerned about that. I felt confident I could avoid them for long enough to talk to Val`Sera and I was right. 

What I hadn't counted on was Val`Sera refusing to speak in any language but her native Cae`Dal, which my Swashbuckler didn't know. We stood there failing to communicate for a while before I gave up and flew off. 

Language learning in EQII has gone through several iterations. There have always been some books you could buy but mostly you'd need to kill creatures who spoke the language until you'd acquired sufficient notes or runes or whatever to pick up the basics. Later, most of those languages were also added to NPCs in the form of more books you could buy, which sped the whole thing up immeasurably.

That's not how you learn Cae`Dal. To learn Cae`Dal you have to complete a collection. I spent two sessions going up and down Giant's Walk and in and out of Warslik's Woods, picking up every shiny "?" I could find. To make it even tougher, all of the required items are flagged No Drop. Every blasted one! 


I got the final one but of course that didn't mean I could speak the language yet. First I had to find a Collector and swap my finds for the reward, in this case a flag against the character noting they could speak Cae`Dal. 

I should make it quite clear at this point that I'm not complaining about most of these arcane, abstruse and downright pernicketty systems and mechanics. It's this degree of quirky granularity that makes EQII feel real to me. There's a close correlation between awkwardness and immersion in my brain and EQII generally walks that line with aplomb.

What I am saying is that all of this takes a long-ass time. Geez, does it ever! I got my flag, I went back to Cae`Dal, I swooped down next to Val`Sera and before I could speak to her some bloody guard saw me, grabbed me by the scruff and threw me all the way to Kylong Plains! That'll teach me to rush things.

I was a lot more careful the third time. Val and I had our introductory interview, I paid the fee and she signed on for the duration. With her heals we made short work of the third boss and the fourth. Then the final boss turned out to have one of those infuriating power drain abilities. I didn't manage to call Val off in time, so she got drained too and we both ran flat out of power and died. 

Quite slowly. It was painful to watch. I'd have run but for the longest time it looked like we might win. Even after I died I thought Val might finish it on her own. She didn't.

I bought some Clarity potions from the Broker to help with that but not after I'd gone all the way to the bank. I had plenty there but it turned out all the ones I'd stashed had a minimum level of 120 so I couldn't use any of them. This is where the time goes...

With the power regen from the potions we had no more problems. We killed the final boss, got the item, took it to the Duality, followed him to Teren's Grasp. watched him configurate the Combine Spires to communicate with Luclin once more, then off we went to the Blinding - again!

This time all the questgivers could see me and soon I had plenty to do. I knocked off a few simple kill tens and travelled around learning something about the Recuso and their history and DING! Level 120.


As an experienced player who went through all of this content as it came into the game and who's done all of it at least one more time since then, some of it several times, I found this a highly instructive experience. 

We all know how difficult returning to an mmorpg you haven't played for a while can be, for any number of reasons. What's perhaps less well-recorded is how confusing it can be even for a current, active player, any time they step even a little way off the beaten path. 

Just about every mmorpg I have ever played suffers from this astonishing accretion of former systems and looping mechanics. Guild Wars 2 is absolutely rife with them. I hear people asking for advice on these kinds of legacy issues there almost every day. In World of Warcraft I found no end of similar problems as I tried to make my way to the top, both in and out of Chromie Time.

EQII is no worse than any of them but as one of the smaller of the supposedly AAA titles and especially as one that now has a new owner, with a new platform that might stand some measurable chance of attracting fresh blood, it could just be worth someone's time to take a look at whether some of the worst of the jagged edges could be sanded down some. I'd at least think about reducing the faction requirements in Plane of Magic and making the BoL quests available automatically on reaching 110.

Then again, anyone who doesn't like it can just use the max level boost that comes with every expansion as standard these days. I suppose I did bring it on myself by using that old 100 boost, anyway.

Hoarders never prosper. Is that a saying? Probably not but maybe it should be.


  1. You know -- I'm somewhat curious how long it would take to go from level 1 to maximum, without the benefit of boosts, veteran XP, or any other such shenanigans these days.

    I think the highest I ever got to in EQ2 myself was low-40s, and that was a gooood number of years ago. I've tried the odd time to get invested with the game again since, but never quite managed it.

    It seems to me that EQ2s style just simply hasn't aged as well as WoW which went for a more cartoony style has, but I'm not sure that's the sum total of the reason why.


    1. If you literally played as you would have back at launch, with no other xp boost than Vitality and without using a mercenary, it would feel pretty slow, I think. NOwhere near as slow as it did back then, though.

      If you played like a regular, new player, though, and used the boosts that come in game (you get a few presents just for being nice enough to choose EQII) and - especially - if you used a Mercenary as soon as the game allows (Level 20 I think it is - might be earlier) - then you'd get to 90 very quickly. If you take one of the tank Mercs they pretty much one-shot everything well into the 70s so all you have to do is try to keep up with them.

      From 90, though, it hits something of a wall. That was when SOE had the bright idea of making every 20% of a level act like a full level. Then they raised the cap by two or three levels at a time, thinking that would fool people into thinking they were getting the full 10 level deal they were used to. That's still buried in the xp curve somewhere so the 90s really grinds along. On the plus side there's more content than you'll ever get though at level so you never have to repeat anything just to get xp.

      Then you hit the Plane of Magic wall I discuss in the post. That's going to take you a while. Also, I glossed over the huge knowledge issue - there are very many things that make life easier that you are only going to know about if you were there when they were added, did your research or had someone on hand to explain them to you. Just things like knowing about the Panda quests, knowing how adornments work, knowing about the boxes of free gear from the expansions, knowing about upgrading your mercs' armor, using the right expansion buffs, some of which need to placed in your house, using the right potions and consumables etc etc etc. All mmorpgs get like this but EQII is one of the densest-packed I know for systems and mechanics.

      Of course, a new player who's having fun won't need or care about most of it. You can definitely get by with the basics. If you want to go faster, though, there's a lot to learn...

  2. This is why I stopped with three max level characters. I did not want to run through that expansion again. Maybe someday I will. I rarely play more than one character at all these days anyway. They made it too difficult to slog through getting enough resolve and potency with one character much less multiple characters (at least playing solo).


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