Sunday, December 12, 2021

Visions Of Vetrovia: A Lot More Fun Than Gates Of Discord And You Can Quote Me On That.

I'd like to preface this post by making it clear I consider myself to be very much at the easily-satisfied end of the mmorpg-player spectrum. A long reading of this blog should support the proposition that I've rarely met an mmorpg I didn't like and that I can find something good to say about almost anything the genre throws my way.

With that caveat, my tentative early assessment of EverQuest II's Visions of Vetrovia is that it might be the game's best expansion for years. Of course, I have to immediately add another layer of qualification: I'm talking purely from the perspective of a solo player. What the heroic group or raid experience is like I have no idea and most likely never will. 

Down in the weeds with the rest of the scrubs, everything's looking peachy. The screenshots don't really do the graphics justice. There's an astonishing sense of space and air about the first two open zones, Svarni Expanse and Karuupa Jungle that can only really be appreciated and experienced by wheeling through them on a flying lizard or a winged horse.

The third zone, Mahngavi Wastes, is bleaker and emptier, as befits its name, but it, too, feels wide, wild and free in a way few, if any, of the zones in the last several expansions have. Although the whole storyline revolves around the undead, only the last zone, Forlorn Gist, has the perpetually darkened, foreboding, closed-in feeling you'd expect when werewolves and vampires are doing the decorating.

All of the zones feel substantially larger than we've come to expect, although I'm not sure a surveyor's report would bear that out. I suspect it has something to do with the way they're designed, They all make great use of dimension and even better use of contrast. 

In the past, designers have employed some well-worn tricks, convoluted twists and turns, various means of blocking line of sight, to make small spaces feel complex and confusing, thereby creating an impression of something larger than its visible bounds. Here, there are broad horizons and vast, vaulted forests. If there's one thing the EQII graphics engine excels at it's foliage and in Vetrovia it gets its best run-out since 2012's Chains of Eternity. I can't remember ever seeing so many leaves.

Gorgeous graphics make a great foundation but a strong expansion needs much more than pretty pictures. In the case of EQII, what that usually means is a strong central narrative and a seemingly never-ending gear ladder. 

Most mmorpgs rely heavily for incentive on hierarchical content that requires players to replace their gear at regular intervals but EQII has always taken that process to extremes. The expansion has only been out for a couple of weeks and so far I'm only on stage six of the thirteen part Signature quest sequence and yet I've already upgraded some slots no fewer than four times. 

What's more, I know from experience that by the time I get to the end of the questline, most of the items I'm so pleased with will have turned into usless kipple fit only to be transmuted into mats. And that's a good thing.

If upgrading gear was a struggle, such relentless progression would be stressful and frustrating but here it's the opposite. The joy of this expansion is that the first set of gear, the starter equipment in Tishan's lockbox, is more than good enough to get you started and every quest reward and drop after that just adds power to an already-powerful baseline.

The result is a highly satisfying sense of empowerment. Only a couple of weeks ago I was tentatively pulling singles as I edged my way across the platforms and rope bridges. Today I'm barrelling into piles of pygmies, sweeping them up into an angry mob, then unleashing an explosion of AEs that fell the lot of them outright. 

It's immensely enjoyable. What's the point of gearing up if it doesn't make you stronger? Of course, if it made everything utterly trivial I imagine that might get boring eventually, even for me (Although, if I'm honest, I'm not sure about that. It rarely has before.) but that's not what's happening at all.

As the regular open-world mobs cease to offer any kind of threat, more of the storyline moves into instances. I've completed two so far, Heart of Conflict and Dedraka's Descent. They each took me something like an hour and involved some deaths, a modicum of swearing and much reading and re-reading of walkthroughs.

Compared to many previous such instances I've done, I felt these were pitched just about right. Setting out, they appeared daunting. There were moments where I found myself wondering if I'd have the enregy to get through to the end but the difficulty was such that each time I anticipated failure, success came instead, albeit sometimes on the second attempt.

I was most impressed with the items that dropped from the bosses. In the past, two of the more annoying things about instance bosses have been the uselessness of the things they leave behind them when they die and the irritating mechanics involved in getting your hands on them.

There had been some kind of quasi-exploit some years back that necessitated the implementation of a convoluted system to make sure only the person who killed the mob in a solo instance got the reward. I forget the details, if indeed I ever knew them. 

Whatever it was, it seems to have passed, because this time the bosses just drop good, old-fashioned steel chests that you click on to loot like we did fifteen years ago. It's a much more organic method of looting a mob than having some UI frame open. You wouldn't think it would matter that much but it does.

What's in the boxes is what really matters, though. I was surprised and delighted to find that every last boss I killed (More than a dozen so far.) dropped at least two pieces of armor or weaponry. Some dropped three. 

The items weren't always things the character who got them could use, something players of "Mains" might not like, but my characters were forming a disorderly line behind the Bruiser, who unaccountably has ended up being the one I'm taking through the story first. Yes, I know I said it was going to be my Necromancer. I have no more idea why it's not than you do.

The final boss in one instance even droppped a familiar. I don't think I've seen a familiar drop from any boss in the last five years. I know they can. In my experience they just never do.

Whether that was just some fantastic luck or whether the loot table is much more generous this time around I guess I'll find out as I carry on through the rest of the story and its associated instances. I hope it does turn out to be a more common thing than it used to be - that familiar was a massive upgrade.

The tuning of the instances seemed fine enough that I found it worth my while pausing when any item my Bruiser could equip happened to drop, so he could swap it out for whatever he was wearing. I can't recall ever doing that before, possibly because hardly anything that useful has ever dropped during a run, let alone several times in the same instance.

I may very well be over-selling this. My memory of the last few years of expansions isn't that clear to begin with and I'm playing a different character this time. Even so, it feels different. The whole expansion does. Visions of Vetrovia feels as though it's had a better pass for playabilty than usual. It trucks along.

That said, I have a couple of warnings for anyone following along behind me. Warnings and advice.

Firstly, if you're playing an adventuring character who's also skilled enough in a tradeskill to do the Signature crafting questline - do the tradeskill Sig Line first. It's way, way shorter than the adventure line. It'll only take you two or three hours at most and at the end of it your character will be able to fly in the first three zones.

I'm quite a fan of the modern practice of withholding flight until a character's explored the whole of a new zone on foot. I would recommend doing that for fun anyway. The zones, as I said, are wonderful to be in, with all kinds of sights to see and EQII is blessed with relatively forgiving mob density in most areas.

For all the fun of exploring on foot, I have to say the Adventure questline goes better by air. There are a lot of long runs and long runs back and even with the mobs well spaced there can be a lot of extra-curricular killing before you get to the places you need to be. Being able to swoop through the skies and see the land laid out like a map beneath you makes the whole thing fly by, literally and figuratively.

Secondly, do read the timeline carefully before you proceed. I know, spoilers. And not everyone likes a walkthrough the first time. I don't. I try to do it on my own until I get stuck.

The thing is, there's at least one part where you can't really know you have to do a set of side quests before you do a section of the Signature line. Strictly speaking, you don't have to do it first. You'll just wish you had when you realize you didn't.

It's no biggie if you just bumble through like I did. All it means is you have to go back and do the subquest before you can carry on.. only then the subquest takes you into the same instance you just finished. Now you're going to have to do it again. 

If you'd known that in advance you could have prepared. Then, when you killed the fourth of five bosses as you went through the instance for the Sig line, you'd also have gotten a quest drop for the subquest. 

It does tell you that in the wiki. I saw it. I even did some of the subquest. I just didn't finish it. Now I have to do the whole instance again. Which is fine. Did it once, can do it twice. And more loot is always good. Still, would have been neater the other way.

Here's where things stand for me right now. I've taken three crafters all the way through the tradeskill questline. All three of them are doing the crafting dailies, which take about ten or fifteen minutes each. 

Those can reward Advanced crafting books, which would allow me to make upgrades for all my adventuring classes except the Swashbuckler (I still don't have a high-level jeweller.) Those books are rare, though. I've had one so far, an Armorsmith book. I put it on the broker for nine million platinum. If it sells I can buy one I need, when someone offers one. So far there are hardly any for sale but it's early days. There will be, once all the guild crafters have their recipes.

The Bruiser is doing very well in the instances so I'm carrying on with him for now. He's feeding all the gear he can't use back to the team so if he starts to falter, the next in line will already be somewhat geared to see if they can do better. I still think the Necro would be the most powerful but I'd rather have some of her spells upgraded before she tries to prove me right.

Everything is spinning along so nicely I feel confident I'll be playing mostly EQII through Christmas and into the New Year. The sense of progression is very satisfying and there are several clear paths to follow to keep that going. 

There's also more than enough variety to keep things feeling fresh and I have more ideas of things I want to be doing than time to do them all. It's always something like this at this stage of an expansion cycle but this time it feels even more like it than usual.

Naturally, I reserve the right to come back here in a day or a week or a month to rant about where it all fell apart and what a diabolical bait and switch the whole thing turned out to be. I am, after all, not even halfway through the questline yet. Plenty of time for things to go horribly wrong.

I can only report as I find, though, and so far I'm having a fine old time. Here's hoping it continues.


  1. I have been really enjoying this expansion also as a solo player. I am taking my time working through the adventure and tradeskill signature quest line at the same time. I have done a few of the instances a couple times. I enjoy the collections in the solo instances and I always get stuck on getting a few of the collections completed. Figured I could start on those earlier in this expansion.

    1. One thing I always miss out on is the collections. I pick up all the collects I can but over the life of the game my total completed collection tally is dismal. The wiki these days includes a "Collection Timeline" for every expansion and I believe it's taken as a core part of the upgrade process. I really should put some effort into it this time.


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