Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Ant And The Panda And Me

This week sees the conclusion of EverQuest II's "Panda Panda Panda" event. Every week I've meant to get back to it but somehow I never have. Today, I finally managed to drag myself away from New World for long enough to catch up. I still had two-thirds of the quests to do (six out of nine) but that didn't take too long. I knew where most of the locations were without having to look them up.

It's always a fun, no-pressure event.There's no particular urgency to do each week's quest as it drops because once they're in, all the Summer/Panda quests stick around forever. You can go back at any time and do them at your leisure. You also only need to do them once per account. All your characters get immediate access to the rewards as soon as you finish each stage.

Looked at from another perspective, though, the clock is ticking. Part of the reason these questlines were added to the game and why there's a new one every year is to allow slackers to catch up before the annual expansion, which should be with us in a matter of a very few weeks. If you're a casual and/or solo player and you plan on getting Visions of Vetrovia on release you probably want to makes sure whoever you plan on taking into the opening zone has the advantage of all the free panda gear.

I've always suspected as much.

Or do you? I'm not at all sure. Another modern EQII tradition is the "Tishan's Box" that sits on the ground somewhere close to the first questgiver in each new expansion. It's full of armor, weapons and adornments for every archetype and it usually upgrades whatever you just got a few weeks earlier from the pandas.

If I had the determination I'd run some kind of comparison on the two this year to see just how much better the Tishan's gear is and whether it upgrades everything or whether you need to mix and match for best effect. I've thought of doing it before but what always happens is that I'm too excited to get on with exploring the new content and by the time I've calmed down I'm already wearing a mish-mash of panda, Tishan and early quest rewards.

Another reason is that upgrading gear in EQII is ferociusly complicated. One of the reasons I've been putting off finishing the panda quests this year is that I've been dreading the moment when I have to go through every item and compare it with what I have on. 

That's a lot of slots.
It would be bad enough if it just meant checking my armor and my weapons but there are the adornments to look at, too. An EQII character doll has more than 20 equipable slots and each takes up to six adornments. 

Adornments are where most of your power and survivablity comes from so you can't just slam in anything and hope. They come in sets, too, with set bonuses that can be extremely powerful and they have numerous status effects and buffs, not all of which can be applied at the same time on the same character.

When I read, as happens most years, of returning EQII players being slaughtered by the low-level wildlife in the introductory zone of the new expansion, I know it's always due to lack of preparation, if not lack of understanding. 

For years, the game has been very soft indeed for solo players and casuals, even in brand-new content, provided those players understand the expectations that lie behind the design. They give you all the gear you need, for free. They do expect you to at least put it on.

As an illustration, when I did my due dilligence this afternoon and compared every piece of new Hua armor and jewellery with what my Berserker was wearing, I only ended up equipping a couple of rings, a necklace and a pair of boots. Even as a very casual solo player the great majority of the gear he had on was better than anything the panda had to offer.

That's quite significant. I haven't really done what a solo player is intended to do to make sure their gear is up to scratch. That would be to run solo instances until my eyes bleed in the hope of getting the rarer drops, to do all the Public Quests I can find for as long as the wider community is running them and to do all my dailies and weeklies until there's nothing left that would be an upgrade. Not to mention the summer ethereals, the collection questline and the mid-year Fabled dungeon update, all of which have solo content that gives upgrades.

If you do all of that you'll end up very nicely dressed. I didn't. I did a few bits and pieces now and then when the mood took me but other than that I just did Overseer quests for the first four or five months of the last expansion cycle and that got me to 235-240 resolve in some slots and 225 in the rest. I was lucky to get a 270 resolve two-hander and a 260 cloak as well. 

The Hua gear from this year's panda quests is 225 resolve, which means you can take that as the minimum baseline for solo and casual players. The devs are telling you that you should be at least this tall to ride by now. If you've been playing much at all, you probably already will be but if not then Panda Panda Panda!

It would have been easy to slap on those few obvious upgrades and call it a day but that would have been a serious error. Gear is important but adornments are crucial and even though my Berserker is a maxed adorner with a very good set of recipes, there are a whole bunch of non-craftable adorns that only appear each year with the questline.

I spent a good long while meticulously going through every one of the dozens of adornments the Berserker had studded into his armor, comparing them with what was available on the panda vendor and swapping out all the ones that looked like improvements. It wasn't just the quest-specific ones I needed, either. 

Even though I could have made a load of white adornments this year I hadn't. I was too stingy to use the mats I had and too mean to buy the ones I needed. I spotted a whole bunch of free upgrades on the vendor and bought them by the stack.

And then I had to fit them. Including everything, the whole process took me about two hours of which only thirty minutes was flying around the world doing the six quests I hadn't done. Most of it was spent taking adornments out of things and putting others in. 

The reason it took so long is that adornments are slot-specific in various ways that can't just be seen at a glance from their color but needs to be studied in detail. Some things will go in many slots, some in few, some in only one. If you don't concentrate you can end up putting something that could go in half a dozen places into a slot that you should have saved for another gem that only goes in one or two.

It's not a major issue if you mess up. There's a handy gadget you can get from your class trainer that allows you to take adorns out of items without losing them or damaging the armor but it takes time to do and it's annoying when you find yourself removing the adornment you only added five minutes ago because you didn't plan ahead.

All of this sounds very off-putting and it is - to returning ex-players or potential new starters. To the core EQII players, the people who pay the subscriptions and buy the expansions, I strongly suspect it's the exact opposite. EQII players love complexity. They love fiddly systems and mechanics that take up hours of their time. They like to think their game is more intellectually demanding than other mmorpgs, whether it's true or not.

Over the long years I'm sure I've seen far more complaints when the developers have tried to reduce the number of choices to make things simpler and easier than I've seen about any new system that takes a lot of figuring out. The more abstruse and arcane things become, the more people seem to appreciate it. It's that kind of game.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it this way, too. It's absorbing while I'm doing it and satisfying when I'm finished. There's nothing like going from 520k hit points to 650k just by standing in your house fiddling around in your bags. 

I learned a few things, too, like I really need a new mount. The one I'm using is a decent one and it's maxed but it's from the expansion before last. I hadn't realized I never got a new mount in the whole of Reign of Shadows. I also haven't been keeping up with the gear upgrades for my mercenaries. I have quite a lot of stuff they could be using but it's not doing much good in my bags and bank vaults. And don't talk to me about Familiars... 

There's a lot of work still to do and I confess I'm not sure if there's much point at this stage. Unless Visions of Vetrovia veers wildly off the path set by most previous expansions, anything that looks like an upgrade now is going to look like cast-offs in a month or two. So long as I'm sufficiently well-equipped to handle the signature questline I'm probably better off just turning up as I am and swapping stuff out as I go.

For anyone who isn't interested in setting themselves up for the expansion, I'd still recommend finishing up the panda quests anyway. There are quite a few nice non-combat treats in the slightly misleadingly named "Decoration Packs". 

I particularly like Antony, the ant mount. Like most EQII mounts he's nicely animated, presumably by the invaluable Ttobey, who Darkpaw are very lucky to have. He's very characterful and not nearly as creepy as he could be. Antony, that is, not Ttobey. 

It's a shame Antony can't fly but then flying ants don't have much of a record of airworthiness, so it's probably just as well.


  1. I just did the last panda quest, which was an easy one for me. I spent so much time out in the Sinking Sands when it was the new zone that I knew just where to go for each item. And they just announced that VoV will be launching Dec. 1st.

    That gear crate at the start of each expansion, that is clearly for me. I never quite know where the stat meta is when I come back to play.

    1. Ah! Hadn't seen the announcement re the date. That's on the early side, I think. I just went and had a look at the beta forums to see what the mood is and it's unusually positive - or at least unusually not negative. Several comments I read where people actually liked some of the more significant changes (Complete removal of the infusion system for example). Kind of goes against the point I was making in the post but I guess cleaning up and removing older mechanics is different from simplifying existing ones. Also, typically since I was just writing about them, there are some fairly significant changes to Adornments, too.

      Looking forward to seeing how it all works in December.

  2. This is how I feel about Neverwinter sometimes. Cryptic isn't as generous, probably because their business model relies heavily on high-end players spending money to improve their gear for the newest top-end content, but paddling around at the low end like I do, I'm often pleasantly surprised by the massive upgrades I get from whatever catch-up gear they decide to hand out every so often. Just claiming, equipping and modifying it on all my alts is always a huge task though.


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