Thursday, August 12, 2021

Hubble Bubble...

This morning I thought I'd post something about EverQuest II's Toil and Trouble update, which dropped yesterday afternoon, my time. As usual, I'd forgotten it was coming. I only realised it had arrived when I went to log in to do my Overseer dailies and spotted the announcement on the login screen.

A word about EQII's scheduling and the way new content is announced: it's exemplary. It wasn't always that way but over the past couple of years or so the timeliness and accuracy of the information handed out by what must be a very small PR team has gotten better and better. We hear about updates in good time, with a drip feed of detail that allows some anticipatory interest to build, and then the updates themselves land exactly when they should.

For Toil and Trouble we not only got  a lore-rich narrative in classic Norrathian purple prose but someone even took the trouble to shoot a short video. It's not the most scintillating viewing but for a game of EQII's age and stature it's more a case of the dog walking on its hind legs - it doesn't need to be done well to impress. Judge for yourself.

Reading through the details, I felt fairly sure I wouldn't be getting all that far in the tunnels of the Vasty Deep. As usual, there are Solo, Heroic I and II and Raid versions, so in theory, as a reasonably well-appointed soloist, I ought to be confident of making some progress but the note at the end reads "Level predicated for players 120+". 

That's a little ominous in that there are no players "120+" only the flat 120 itself, that being the cap. I don't believe it means the instances wil remain relevant once we get the next round of level increases (which should be with the upcoming expansion) because that literally never happens. If you want to see all the content at leisure, all you ever have to do in EQII is wait a few months and it will conveniently trivialize itself to suit your needs.

If you want to take it straight out of the box, though, it's a different matter. The solo instance boasts six bosses and I guessed I'd be lucky to down the first of them. In the event I was overating my ability.

To begin with I had to find the way in, which wasn't difficult. It's in the promo piece and the patch notes ("A new portal added to Somborn in Loping Plains will provide dungeon access") and you get mail in game, too. 

I popped up the Instant Travel map, ported over to the Loping Plains druid ring, flew over the werewolves and undead to the doomed village of Somborn. There I found a crowd of people clustered around Dr. Arcana, who was loitering next to something that looked uncannily like a giant, green jelly fruit.

Dr. Arcana. Now there's a name. Just who is he? I have absolutely no idea. When did he first appear? Search me. What's his agenda? Damned if I know. He's always there, though, isn't he? Ushering us into strange instances, asking odd questions then handing out gifts. Do you trust him? I don't.

I took the solo daily and weekly from him anyway, with no real expectation of completing either. I was mostly curious to see how long I'd survive. I won't attempt to build up the suspense. I got as far as the first boss, who was at the back of the first room. 

Honestly, I felt pretty pleased with myself for getting that far. All the mobs were level 127. Some were linked in pairs and each of the pairs had pets. There were also some mimics disguised as crates, one of which I bumped into unawares on the ramp down from the entrance just as a roaming werewolf was walking up to meet me.I fought a lot of mobs and although it came close a few times I never dropped.

Before I went in there'd been a conversation in map chat where someone asked plaintively what they were doing wrong in the Heroic I instance. They and their static group had gone in and taken an hour to kill the first mob, after which, unsurprisingly, they'd given up.

In the discussion that followed, to which I contributed because apparently I still haven't learned to keep my mouth shut even when I don't know what I'm talking about, details of several key stats were requested and provided, paricularly Potency and Crit Bonus. I was pleased to find that mine were very much better than those of the hapless, would-be Hero. As several people pointed out, you'd be crazy to set foot in a Heroic instance with stats like that.

Even I know that much but it's a key factor in why EQII is perhaps the most at-risk of all the games EG7 picked up with their purchase of Daybreak Games. Tipa posted a fascinating analysis of Google Trends for mmorpgs the other day and EQII barely registered a blip. Even among the Daybreak titles she tracked (DCUO, EverQuest, EQII, LotRO and DDO), EQII came flat last.

EverQuest II is a fantastic game but it's also so fantastically convoluted after fifteen years that even regular players don't really understand it any more. Most mmorpgs are resistant to new and returning players but for EQII the barriers to entry block out the sky. Someone as experienced and determined as Stargrace can, with considerable effort, force open the battleship steel doors and begin to make progress but most just bounce. Hard.

Post the EG7 purchase we've seen encouraging signs, not just of life but of fresh enthusiasm, in most of the Daybreak games. New things are being tried, some of which might even result in new players. For EQII to follow suit I feel there needs to be a more wide-ranging re-invention. 

This is a game that could appeal to a broad, casual audience if only it would play to its strengths - the best housing in the genre and very probably the best collectibles too, a deep and satisfying crafting system, a huge, well-realised open world filled with whimsy, some great holidays... all the kinds of things to appeal to a more casual, less combat-focused demographic.

Unfortunately, the installed base the game has consists primarily of jaded combat veterans whose main demands are more raids, harder dungeons and longer grinds. And it's not as though pandering to that group pays dividends. They're some of the grumpiest, least-satisfied customers out there.

That said, the current team has done wonders at making all content accessible to all abilities. As I said earlier, almost everything ends up being soloable in the end and now there are solo versions from the outset. They're just too hard to solo! 

That's a little exaggerated. I was trying the new dungeon on its first day and I did get the first boss to half health on my first (and only) attempt. I know she one-shotted me with some ability she announced before she cast it because I read it back in the combat window while I was waiting for my rez sickness to wear off. 

I also know that if there was a guide or a walkthrough to follow, where someone explained what each boss did and how to counter it, I'd be able to get further, maybe all the way through to the final boss. I could, of course, knuckle down and learn those strats from first principles but I don't want to. It's not fun for me to do that.

It's a worrying sign that as yet there's no such walkthrough available. Not too long ago I would have expected one would be ready on opening day, always assuming the content had been on the Test server beforehand. Not any more.

I'll wait a while before I try Toil and Trouble again. If someone writes it up I'll see how far I get with the instructions to hand. Otherwise I'll come back and blitz it when I'm overlevelled or overgeared, which will be as soon as the expansion drops, if not when Yun Zi opens his coffers again this autumn.

That's one of the great things about EQII. It always waits until you're ready for it. I just wish it could find a way to make more people comfortable enough to hang around long enough to find that out.


  1. I am sure that I have made this comment before but my biggest problem with EQ2 over the last few years is how hard they have made it to make the jump from solo to heroic content. It used to be an average geared solo player could jump in a heroic group, contribute, and hopefully get some better gear. Now a solo player needs to grind endlessly to get their stats up to jumping in to a heroic group.

    So what is the answer to being able to finish the harder solo content? Go do some heroic content and get better gear. Or wait until it is older content like you suggested.

    1. That's absolutely true. It was the kernel of what was being talked about in map chat last night and sadly the advice even from well-meaning veterans (and it was a polite and helpful discussion, by and large) was indeed to get on and grind through all the relevant solo content from the last expansion, doing ALL the collections and timed quests and then repeatedly running the solo instances until every slot was as good as it could be. This, unfortunately, is what regular EQII players now see as reasonable preparation.
      Of course, for a solo player, there's not really any need to bother. The Heroic dungeons are just the same as the solo ones, only with vastly tougher versions of the same mobs and bosses with harder mechanics. You don't actually miss anything I'd call "content" by not seeing them. The people who really suffer are those who like to group but don't have the time to commit to the huge investment it requires just to get started.


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