Monday, December 20, 2021

Still Having A Great Time. Wish You Could Have Been There.

My Vetrovian journey continues, although according to the invaluable timeline on EQ2i it's nearing the end. I'm on step eleven of thirteen, the moment when we finally step inside Castle Vacrul, the ominous floating hulk that hangs over the mountains and yet somehow can't be seen by anyone but me.

It's difficult for me to talk about the story and the writing with any kind of objectivity. I worry that by any external standard it would properly be judged a farrago of fantastical nonsense but then so would most mmorpg stories so I'm not sure that's much of a concern.

Stylistically, there are certain problems. Questgivers make long speeches filled with incomprehensible, unpronounceable names, referring to abstruse and arcane events from the past as though quoting holy writ, which is in fact pretty much what they are doing, since as usual almost everyone involved is either a God, a demi-god or a would-be candidate for godhood.

When I'm not trying to unpick paragraph after paragraph of infodump, I'm groaning at bad puns or shaking my head at yet another self-indulgent in-joke. Quests are either humorous and inconsequential or sombre and self-important. Tonally, you can frequently hear the gears grinding as you move from one questgiver to another. 

Six fantasy names in a single paragraph. Not even close to the record!


It should be easy enough to sum all of this up as by-the-yard fantasy crossed with self-indulgent fan-fic and yet I fricken' love it! It's writing that understands exactly who the audience is and exactly what they want. I should know. I am that audience and it's exactly what I want.

After more than two decades soaking in the EverQuest ether I know this world as well as I know any, including my own. And by "as well" I mean partially, selectively and subjectively. 

I pick up on references that remind me of things I've done or seen or been told about. I recognize most of the names, even if I can't always remember where I heard them before. When certain, familiar characters emerge from the shadows of the plot I gasp just like I should.

It's like watching a new season of a favorite TV show, something low culture and high camp. It could feel cheap and shameful but instead it feel joyous and uplifting. Like anything that hangs around for long enough, after more than twenty years Norrathian lore has acquired the patina that comes with age. It's very easy to mistake that for gravitas.

As I've read through post after post about Endwalker, happily cracking open the spoilers for a story I know I'll never follow, it's occurred to me how unlikely it is that anyone reading anything I write about Visions of Vetrovia would ever care if I spoiled anything about the plot. I know some regulars here play EverQuest II and at least three people have mentioned buying the latest expansion but if any of them care a hoot about the lore they've mostly kept it to themselves.

Nerds, eh?

Even so, I'd still go out of my way to avoid spoiling any major plot twists or reveals... if there were any. There might be. I couldn't say. 

It might seem strange but even at this late stage of the plot I'm not entirely clear what's going on. I know Mayong Mistmoore is up to something but then Mayong's always up to something. 

He's a busy fellow, always has been. He's "up to something" in Terror of Luclin, the latest expansion for EverQuest, where he's been seen on the moon. The suspicion there is that he may be trying to usurp a god, which I think is what he's doing in Vetrovia half a millenium later. 

To be fair, it's what he's always doing. The idée fixe is one of the less-celebrated vampire tropes. I wonder if the reason Mayong so aspires to godhood is that true immortality, rather than mere undeath, would free his mind from the shackles of habit. Gods play dice. Vampires play chess.

I fear he may have, once again, bitten off more than he can suck. He seems to have set in motion a chain of events that could lead to a return to full godhood for Anashti Sul

Usually I'd have fact-checked that last paragraph before committing it to print. For all I know she's already got her Godcard back, if indeed I'm right in thinking she ever lost it. 

Recovered memories are tight!


I'm not entirely up to speed with Anashti Sul's history, as must be obvious. I think she's the god of the undead but I have a feeling she was also a major god of healing at one point. I also seem to remember we fought her or helped her or freed her or imprisoned her in some previous storyline. I know that this time around a lot of people stand back and gasp when her name is mentioned so I did too, although I couldn't really tell you why. 

I'm not being twee about that, by the way. I was sitting down, so I didn't actually stand back, but the first time an NPC pointed out whose altar I'd just been messing with, I echoed the name out loud in a tone of exaggerated surprise.

It wasn't even the first time I'd exclaimed out loud at a reveal. It happened close to the start, when I correctly identified Tserrina Syl`Tor in the first instance before anyone said her name. I'm easily excited.

This is the kind of immersion you can't just buy. You can just buy the expansion, sure, but the immersion, that you have to bring with you. That's how serial fiction works and mmorpgs are serial fiction.

In standalone games, just as in novels or movies, it's possible to generate all the necessary emotions to lose yourself in the imagined lives of others in just one, concentrated experience. Long-running TV shows, like comics and series novels, rely on an accretive process for their success. So do mmorpgs.

Some genuinely fascinting implications for the game, should Mayong succeed. He won't, of course.

It's been very noticeable how many bloggers, writing about Endwalker, have referred to the expansion as the culmination of a decade of storytelling. For all that everyone praises the story as something that exemplifies the best of what the genre has so far been able to produce, no-one seems to be suggesting any new player should start there.

Without at least some knowledge of what has gone before, even the finest installment of an ongoing narrative can't hope to have the same emotional impact. No matter how detailed and comprehensive the "Previously on...", there's no substitute for having been there.

Even if you can barely remember what happened. Honestly, it doesn't matter if you can't. There's not going to be a test. All that counts is that you know enough to feel inside the story rather than outside. That's all immersion means, in the end.

For good or ill, I'm inside Norrath's story now. Any judgments I offer are going to be relative.

It's bloody good, though!


  1. We are on the same page with this expansion. I have enjoyed the storyline far more than the last two expansions even if I only half remember a lot of the references. I was just thrilled to see Mayong a major character again.

    1. It's always either one of the gods, Mayong or Meldrath. I like Meldrath, myself!


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