Monday, December 6, 2021

You Can't Get The Staff

Let me rephrase that. You can get the staff but you shouldn't. Trust me, you really shouldn't.

I'll tell you why. It turns out there's a very simple explanation for that little problem I was having in EverQuest II's new expansion, Visions of Vetrovia. The one where every mob was hitting my Berserker for billions of points of damage, something that even EQII's runaway stat inflation was never designed to handle. 

I say "explanation". I don't think we quite have one of those yet. An explanation would tell us the mechanisms involved, the how as well as the why. What we do have is a reason, a proximate cause: the Abysmal Sea Staff of Stratagem.

It's one of the free weapons you can pick up from the Tishan's Lockbox on the landing dock in Svarni Expanse, your arrival point for the start of the expansion. It's not the only weapon in the box. There are several others you could choose - an axe, a dagger, a couple of maces. 

There's even another two-hander, a great axe called the Abysmal Sea Greataxe of Insight. You're very well catered for when it comes to implements of mayhem, murder and carnage. Pick any of them you like and you'll be fine. Any of them except the staff. Don't take the staff or you'll be sorry.

I took the staff. Or, I should say, my Berserker did. It was more my choice than his, I think. I like a staff, as I'm about to explain.

Once upon a time, many years ago, he favored a sword and shield. Much of a Berserker's offensive power rests in an alternate ability (Aka AA.) called "Reversal", which does exactly what you'd expect. Every time the Berserker parries, ripostes, blocks or defends, Reversal procs a massive retaliatory strike. 

Since all those actions are autonomic in EQII, Reversal effectively provides continual, passive DPS, not dissimilar to a damage shield. Once you've spent enough points to max the AA, the difference in combat is very noticeable or at least it used to be.  

And for years you had to have a shield equipped for it to work, so naturally most Berserkers went sword-and-board. Or axe and board. Or mace and board. The board was the key factor is what I'm saying. You used a shield. I think I'm making my point clear.

I'll have that staff, thank you.
Of course, there were dissenters. I remember many debates over the alternatives. Things could become quite heated and emotional, dual wield and two-handers both being seen by many as far more appropriate to the whole "Berserker" ethos than namby-pamby, goodie-two-shoes sword and shield combos that made you look like some god-bothering Paladin. 

I wasn't all that bothered either way, especially when our characters got the option to overwrite what they were actually using with whatever they wished they were, first by way of the Appearance system and later the even more flexible Wardrobe. I forget now what order the changes came but at some point the requirement to have a shield equipped was stripped from the Reversal AA and at that point I moved over to using a two-hander, probably because one slot is easier to manage than two but also possibly because I happened to get a very nice two-hand weapon as a drop.

However it came about, my Berserker's been waving a massive axe or a sword bigger than he is for the longest time now. I barely even look at single-handed weapons any more so when it came time to swap to something from the box there were only two choices - the staff or the greataxe. 

I like staffs. I've always liked them since I was lucky enough to win Cros Treewind's during an event in EverQuest some time back in the early 2000s. For a long time that staff was my most prized virtual possession. It wasn't very powerful but it was very rare. You had to be the person who killed Cros Treewind during the event (Or at least the person who looted his corpse. I'm pretty sure I didn't kill him but I sure as hell prized that stick from his stiffening, leather-gloved hands.) and the event itself , like all the great mmorpg events, ran for a short time only and was never repeated.

For a few years that staff was something worth linking in groups or general chat but time passes and eventually few people even remembered Cros Treewind's name. It was just a low-level staff with crappy stats and no-one cared. I still have it somewhere. I never throw anything away. I might go look for it later.

It got me hot for staffs, though. I've always liked them, ever since. It helps that I've played a staff elementalist in Guild Wars 2 pretty much since launch, after a brief dalliance with playing a ranger for a few months. 

Here's the thing about staffs in mmorpgs - they're big enough to see. Staffs, greatswords, greataxes and shields are about the only weapons large enough to justify the fuss people make over cosmetics. One-handers and offhand weapons, especially symbols and similar hand-held fetishes, often look amazing in a dressing room display but once you put them on your character you can barely make out what they're meant to be. Give me six feet of timber any day.

Even with all that background, I'm still not clear on why I gave my Berserker this particular staff. I do like a greataxe on a Berserker. It's very much in keeping with the job description. A staff, on the other hand, brings to mind either a priest or a mage.

It might have been because the Abysmal Sea greataxe doesn't look like an axe. I have a particular dislike of weapons that call themselves one thing but appear as another. What it in fact looks like is a greatsword that's split at the pointy end so you can carry eggs in it. It's not so bad I'd never use it at all but I certainly don't like the look of the thing.

The Abysmal Sea staff looks fine. Nothing special but perfectly acceptable and it has a nice particle effect. I'm a complete sucker for sparkles. I don't think that's why I picked it over the greataxe, though. I think I was just in a hurry and grabbed the staff pretty much on the flip of a coin. As I said, in EQII we have not one but two very good systems for replacing the look of any displayed item with the appearance of any other so I could have made the axe into anything I fancied.

Had I chosen something else, my Vetrovian experience so far would have been completely different. I'd have had no problems taking the blows dealt by the local wildlife, no frustrating, multiple deaths,  no repair bills, no sessions spent removing and re-allocating hundreds of AA points. 

I'd have continued as I began, playing my Berserker, levelling to 125 in both Adventuring and Crafting, going through the two Signature questlines together, just as I usually do. I'd have played the 'zerker exclusively until I'd either finished most of the solo content in the expansion or reached a point where it was too hard for him, which sometimes happens in the instances.

Only then would I have turned to my Bruiser/Alchemist, run him through the tradeskill line so he could level up and make upgrades for all the Berserker's combat arts. Then it would be back to the Berserker to carry on until everythng was done.

The rest of my half dozen erstwhile max-level characters would have had to wait their turn and when
that turn came preference would go to those with a useful craft. The Sage and the Jeweller would do their five levels and as much of the crafting questline as I felt they needed for practical purposes. Only then would the other adventure classes get a chance, by which time I'd almost certainly be feeling the pull from some other game.

That's why, even though I've wanted to shift focus to my Necromancer for several years now, it never seems to happen. This year, in Visions of Vetrovia, for the first time ever, my Necromancer was the first to hit the new level cap. And what's more, my Sage, just this afternoon, became the first character in the team not only to cap out as a crafter but to complete the tradeskill Signature questline as well. (The rewards for which are excellent, by the way.)

None of that would have happened had I not picked that cursed staff out of Tishan's Lockbox. Without the Berserker being benched by a bug, any good intentions I'd had of doing things differently this time would have been just that - intentions.

I'm not going to go as far as to say I'm glad the bug exists. It was a pain when it was happening and it would be incredibly unfortunate for anyone who only had one high-level character and couldn't swap to play someone else instead. I'm very happy the general problem has been identified and even happier there's such a very simple and painless workaround, namely don't use the damned staff. 

I'm sure it won't be too long before a fix appears, although by then I'd bet my Berserker will be well past the point where the staff is anything he'd want to use anyway. Upgrades in EQII come thick and fast as winter snow and I will be levelling him quickly to 125 - it only takes a couple of hours, if that.

Thanks to the enforced hiatus, however, he won't be resuming his customary position as team leader quite yet. I've very much appreciated the opportunity to get to know some of my other characters a little better and I intend to keep at it for a while. 

I think the Necromancer might be better suited to clearing instanced content than the Berserker ever was and I definitely want to have max-level crafters who can make things the team needs before I think about someone that makes weapons no-one really wants, although with Niami Denmother at the helm, I don't imagine any crafting class is going to feel useless for long.

On that note I'll wrap this up, not least because I'm in the very priveliged position right now of having a new expansion to an mmorpg that I'm thoroughly enjoying and I want to get back to it. I've enjoyed just about all the EQII expansions there have ever been, so that's not unexpected but this one feels particularly solid. 

I wouldn't call it ambitious or original but so far it feels more coherent and cogent than we've become used to in the past few years. There seem to be no major, new systems to get to grips with, just good, thoughtful use of the ones we already have. I like learning new things but there's a lot to be said for working with what you already have, especially when what you have works better.

If the day-one database problem and the staff bug end up being the biggest issues at launch (And I can't see much sign of anything else blowing up in game or on the forums right now.) then I think we can count this expansion a win. I'm certainly having a great time so far.

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