Thursday, December 2, 2021

EverQuest II's Visions Of Vetrovia - Very First Impressions

By the time I logged into EverQuest II's latest expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, the unfortunate launch day issues were no more than a memory. The servers were up and running and I couldn't wait to get started. I couldn't but I should have. Waited, I mean.

Oh, not because of anything lacking in the expansion itself. So far I'm very impressed. I know I'm something of an easy sell for EQII expansions but even by my relaxed standards this one gets off to an exemplary start.

Well, after you've closed all the windows, that is. I'm sure this won't be everyone's experience but if you've been hoarding infusers for the last few years, the way I have, letting them pile up in multiple stacks in your bags and bank vaults rather than using them as they were meant to be used, your first act in EQII's eighteenth expansion is going to be clicking "Ok" a dozen or so times to get your screen back into a fit state to be seen.

They did not space themselves nicely like that. If only. I tidied them for the shot.
As we've come to expect, a new expansion is an opportunity to clear house. All mmorpgs collect systems and mechanics across the years and over time some of them go out of fashion or become problematic in one way or another. This year sees a bigger clean-up than most. 

Say goodbye to most of the infusion system and to the entire concept of reforging, both once key selling-points in expansions of their own but now outmoded, unwanted and unloved. As Wilhelm often says, any feature, however annoying, is certain to be someone's favorite but I can find remarkably little bleating about the removal of these two.

Personally, I always disliked reforging and rarely used it. It probably suited raiders and min-maxers, trying to squeeze the last drop of utility out of the game but I was happy enough to work with the stats my gear came with rather than fiddle about trying to shunt them around. I did quite like infusing for a while, if only for the "Spin the wheel and see where it lands" thrill factor but after a while I forgot all about it, hence the big stacks of unused infusers. 

I don't have any pictures of infused or reforged items. Fortunately.

Of course, devs never want to take something away without giving you something in return (Customer services would loosen the bolts in their twirly chairs if they tried.) so now I have stacks of temporary adornments instead. Luckily, I have plenty of space for those because this year's expansion is truly massive... for depots!

I love depots. Every mmorpg should have them. They're player-crafted furniture items into which you can throw all kinds of things - potions, crafting materials, lore and legend pieces, collection items, scrolls, ammo, food and drink... there's a full list in the extremely long and detailed patch notes if anyone's interested.

Big deal. So they're just storage boxes.

Nope. Not just storage boxes. They were always big but now they're huge. They're also sortable and searchable and anyone with the right house permissions can put things into them and take them out. I already had most of the available depots but you can only place one of each in any given house and some of mine were full.  I'd started another batch in a second house and I had two shared bank slots stuffed with things that still wouldn't fit.

Batik. It's going to be the next big thing. Trust me.

The super-generous size increases let me consolidate the whole lot into one set of depots in my main Mara home. It freed up a ton of bank space and I haven't even given the place a full-on tidy yet! I was very happy once I'd gotten all that lot sorted.

None of which happened until I'd died half a dozen times, decided I should probably take a deep breath, slowed down and tried to stop getting over-excited. It was one hundred per cent my own fault although in my defense I'd say it's not usually this easy to just run into a new EQII expansion and get started.

Usually there's some awkward preamble, where you have to do a pre-quest or a series of pre-quests or go talk to the Duality in his sanctum or answer a summons from Lucan or Antonia or go to some out-of-the way place like Neriak docks to click on some weird machine or, oh, I don't know, something

Not this time. There's a letter inviting you to come to the new continent but you don't even need that. It's right there on the World Bell. I couldn't believe it. I only clicked on the bell because I happened to have logged out almost next to it and it was there in front of me. I didn't expect it to work!

It was night-time when I arrived at the dock in Svarni Expanse because it's always night-time when I get to anywhere new. There's some kind of law, I think. Even at night it looked just beautiful. So far I've only seen some of the first zone but it's all gorgeous. The art team does a superlative job with what must be some very limited resources in a game engine this old. 

Everything looked so good I took nearly seventy screenshots in not much more than a couple of hours. It's a shame IntPiPoMo's over. Not that that's going to stop me. 

The old barrel raft! A Norrath classic!

Thematically, the opening areas just work. The lighting, the colors, the foliage - everything blends perfectly together. You might notice the re-use of assets but they're exactly the right assets and there's enough new stuff to give the whole place its own identity. 

The wildlife works so well, too. Most of the creatures are very familiar from other zones and continents - elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, hyenas - all the old favorites from Commonlands and Sinking Sands but again they're the animals that ought to be there. They look right. They feel right. 

It's like a wildlife documentary round here.
And then you see something like the wonderfully-animated storks, standing along the waters' edge in the tidal pools. If those have been used before I can't remember it.

Okay, there is the usual apex predator problem, common all over Norrath as it is in most mmorpgs. I'm not sure any prey population could support that many lions and tigers even assuming the cats didn't kill each other fighting over territory. We've all learned to live with idiosyncracies like that, though, or we'd have given up playing years ago.

Tigers, chasing a player who just vanished over the hill. Time to move.

I'm getting ahead of myself again. Getting back to the plot (Hah!) I arrived on the docks in the middle of the night, where the first thing I saw were a couple of people with feathers over their heads. Like the good Pavlovian player I am, next thing you know I was questing. Didn't even stop to think.

The first couple of quests didn't involve any combat at all and the one after had me killing crocodiles who seemed to be about as terrifying as week-old kittens. I actually stopped to check my combat log because I seemed to be taking so little damage. It turned out the crocs were hitting about as hard as the ones in Sinking Sands, a level thirty zone.

I'm still not sure if that was a feature - another very gentle introductory quest to get us setled in - or a bug. What I am sure of is that those crocodiles do not in any way represent the capabilty of the rest of the wildlife, all of which is ready to chew off most of your health in one bite. 

I don't know, maybe I'd better just stay in the village, where it's safe.

Let's put that into some kind of perspective. My Berserker, coming in, had over 850 million hit points. A lizard I recklessly attacked as I was running around exploring took three-quarters of that in one hit. 

I spent about twenty minutes poking my nose into places it wasn't wanted, aggrivating the local wildlife and paying the price. My death save kicked in most fights and though my Mercenary was quick on the rez (Something else that's been fixed with this expansion.) it was still fifty-fifty I could finish the fight before I died a second time.

For a while I thought he'd learned to rez only by forgetting how to heal. I checked the combat log and he seemed to be fine healing himself but not so hot on healing me so I swapped him for a more reliable, if lower-level, healer. She was worse.  

What exactly is it I'm paying you for, Zel?

And then it occured to me. In my rush to get out there and explore I'd completely forgotten the advice I'd given everyone else in a previous post: don't forget to pick up the free gear in the Tishan's box next to the first quest-giver.

Which is how I ended up back in Freeport, sorting my bags and banks and depots. I wanted to clear myself a nice, clean bag so nothing would go into some obscure slot where I couldn't find it, when I started grabbing everything out of the starter box, which is what usually happens.

I considered comparing every piece individually, checking all the adornments, making a thoughtful series of choices... and then I thought sod it, I'll just trust that whoever did the itemization knows their job. I had my Berserker strip completely naked (Don't worry - he has appearance gear and I didn't touch any of that. It was like getting changed under a beach towel.) and then I just put on everything from the box. 

Other mercenaries are available. Although not this one. He just told me to get lost.

His health dropped by around a hundred million points but his Potency absolutely skyrocketed along with his crit bonus. I also replaced all of the mercenary's Accolades (Don't ask.) with a dozen from the box. Then I took the pair of them out and started bullying animals.

Oh. My. God! The difference! What had been long, risky fights became slam-bang, five second scrims. The Berserker had fewer hit points but he took a lot less damage and his DPS was hugely increased. If I let the creature take the first whack, a huge chunk of  the 'zerker's health still dropped but nothing like the previous ninety per cent and anyway the fight was over before the mob got another go. And my Merc managed to land heals that actually made my health bar move.

After that I trotted around happily on my demon horse doing good deeds for anyone that asked, like we do. I also went exploring and got myself into all kinds of scrapes. I managed to make my way right to the top of the undead pygmy village before I accidentally attacked a named and had to jump off a cliff trying to run away. I was aiming at the ocean but I missed.

This guy respawns way too fast.

That was my first and only death after I changed my gear. I'd also dinged 121 and the difference that one level made was highly noticeable. Visions of Vetrovia only raises the level cap five levels (To 125.) so I had wondered whether we might be pulling back from the hyper-accelerated levelling pace of the last several expansions but no, it's just the same. With full vitality, each quest was giving me twenty or thirty per cent of the level. 

The quests, I ought to mention, are very good. If you like EQII quests, that is. They are quintessentially EQII in every way. I have no idea how the team manages it unless there's literally one person who's been writing every quest for the last decade and a half but every quest I did this afternoon had just that tone I've come to expect and appreciate. I realize it's not for everyone but it's like a comfy pair of slippers and a nice mug of tea for me. Exactly what I wanted. 

Ok, you still have a job. For now. But I'm warning you. You can be replaced.

As for the Signature Quest line, either of them, adventuring or tradeskill, I can't tell you much. I started them both but almost every quest I did was a side-quest. It's easy to tell because the sig line ones have a different iconography. At the moment I'm more than happy just to wander around, do a few small favors for the locals, get my name known and enjoy the delightful scenery. There'll be time to get on with the serious stuff later.

And now I'm going to get back to it. It's great to be somewhere new that also feels so comfortably familiar. That's what I pay my money for.


  1. Oh dear, I have so many infusers in my bank, because I always save them until "I really need them" and, of course, never hit the point when I do really need them.

    But I guess I can see why there might have been database issues yesterday!

    Still, it sounds like the foundations of the expansion are solid.

    1. The expansion, the small amount I've seen so far, seems very solid indeed. The only problem I'm having is that a lot of fights with basic run-of-the-mill mobs seem to be decided on first hit. The mobs seem to have very low hit points (comparatively) - my ascension spells one-shot almost everything in the early areas - but the mobs can also one-shot me if they get first hit. It's very weird. I've had to send the merc in to tank, even though he's a healer, just so I can be sure of getting my retaliation in first.

      That way, I've done a bunch of quests, seen more than half of the first zone and made two and a half levels out of the new five. On the other hand, I've died more times in the furst day than I probably did in the entirety of the last expansion. It's very odd and it reminds me weirdly of the very early days in Gates of Discord. I almost wonder if its some kind of joke.

      Of course, it might just be me. There are plenty of people on (Five instances of the first zone) and no-one seems to be complaining about what I'm seeing.


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