Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Method In Miragul's Madness

What with Chimeraland, Lost Ark and now Guild Wars 2's End of Dragons, poor old EverQuest II has had to take something of a back seat these last few weeks. Visions of Vetrovia, EQII's eighteenth expansion, launched at the beginning of December and I had been trucking along quite nicely there until the New Year but once I fell off the wagon I found it surprisingly hard to clamber back on board.

Norrath being Norrath, of course, there's always something going on. I missed almost all of Erolisi Day back in February. I didn't do the Public Quest in Commonlands even once and it's one of my favorites. I think that might be the first year I've missed it completely since it began.

I only lasted a couple of sessions on Kael Drakkel, the new Lore and Legend server. It was kind of fun, being able to go anywhere and do anything, but even after I'd stopped and thought about it for a while, I really couldn't see the point. 

The whole idea revolves around being able to do all the quests and see all the content without having to worry about leveling up but it seems to me you can already do that far more easily simply by taking a high level character on a Live server back through all the old content that interests you, either mentored down or just letting everything go grey. If all you want is the lore and the story, I don't begin to understand the argument that you have to be "at level" or that it needs to be "challenging". Surely, it's far easier to pay attention and follow the plot when all the mobs are either non-agro or one-shot kills. 

As for the supposed L&L gear ladder, where all named mobs drop a chest with an upgrade and there are several tiers of that to work through, it seems exciting until you start to ask yourself why you even need better gear. You can already solo everything very comfortably in the gear they give you when you make a character. If upgrades don't open the door to new content, what are they for?

It's an interesting existential question that I might return to one day but for now I've put Kael Drakkel on indefite hiatus. I found a lot more purpose in the current Chronoportal event, along with a good deal more "challenge" than I was expecting.

In a busy gaming season like this has been, I'd normally have skipped the Chronoportal Phenomenon. It's a very good event with much to recommend it but I've done it all before, more than once. For some reason, though, I found myself looking at the official announcement, where I noticed Darkpaw had added something new for this year's EQ Anniversary celebration.

As well as the obligatory new vendor items, there was a new quest, Beyond the Shimmering Portal, and a new dungeon, Miragul's Madness. That was enough to tempt me back. I never miss a new holiday quest. They're usually light, fluffy, easy and fun. 

Since both the quest and the dungeon were attached to the Chronoportal event, I assumed by "dungeon" they meant one of the instances in which EQII players get to revisit great moments from the elder game's past. Those can be quite intense at level but mentored down they're relaxing holiday entertainment.

I logged in my Berserker, pretty much out of force of habit. He's been my main character for so long I'd forgotten he's no longer quite at the top of the tree. It's my Bruiser who's been doing most of the VoV content so far so he's the one with the best gear right now.

Still, that wasn't going to matter in what I fully expected to be a semi-humorous, light-hearted holiday romp. I took the instant travel option to Commonlands and stepped through the portal into the Chronoweave, the limbo dimension where all the time portals stand neatly beside one another for your time-travelling convenience.  

I spoke to the guy with the feather over his head and picked up the quest, which sent me, as expected, into the new dungeon. And that was about the last thing that did go the way I thought it would.

In retrospect, I suppose the fact that the new dungeon comes with both solo and heroic versions should have given me a clue. I don't think that's the case with the rest of the instances, all of which are technically Heroic content but which scale using the Mentor system, meaning they're eminently soloable for anyone a few levels above the nominal level of the zone.

Miragul's Madness is not one of those. It's a fully-fledged, current end-game dungeon. All the mobs are Heroic Level 127-128s and the solo version uses the same upscaling as the ones in the latest expansion. As EQ2i warns you, loudly, right at the top of the walkthrough, "Content in the SOLO zone is level 127 ^^^ heroic and extremely difficult, if not impossible, at level 120 wearing Visions of Vetrovia box gear. It cannot be accomplished wearing pre-VoV gear." 

Oh, well. In for a penny...

Having glanced at the wiki before I started, I was somewhat apprehensive on the first pull. My berserker was 125 with much of his gear upgraded from the free starting kit but the reason I'd swapped from him to the Bruiser was because the Berserker hadn't been having the easiest time of it in Vetrovia's instanced content.

Things went well enough in the first room. Plinking away with the bow, the pulls were manageable. My 'zerker and his trusty Shissar merc had no trouble chopping them down. As they killed, I looked around the room. Impressive. The colors were tasteful, the lighting subtle, the architecture coherent and cool. There were some nice little details and the general feeling was one of class. The screenshots don't really do it justice. 

It also became apparent early on that this dungeon was bigger than I'd expected. A lot bigger. I began by killing everything and waiting to see what happened. The format of most holiday instances is fairly predictable: kill a bunch of mobs then maybe a mini-boss to open a new area, rinse, repeat until finished. 

The main difference between those kinds of knockabout escapades and a proper dungeon is mostly the Bosses. In a holiday instance bosses are generally tank-and-spank pushovers with no real tricks. In a real dungeon every Boss comes with about a gazillion hit points and a bunch of really annoying scripts.

Miragul's Madness is a real dungeon. I had to read the walkthrough carefully before every Boss fight and even then I mostly got it wrong first time. How I would have managed on my own doesn't bear thinking about. 

There are a lot of bosses, too. Seven you have to do plus a bonus one you can ignore. Or, in my case, chase futilely across the entire dungeon in a humiliating slow-motion crawl as you discover your DPS is nowhere remotely close to what you'd need to stop a fleeing snail from making its O.J. Simpson-style getaway with the loot from the last boss, the one you actually did kill.

All of the bosses were hard work with the possible exception of Takaboom and Hakapow, a couple of flying monkeys.The walkthrough dismisses them, accurately enough, with a simple two word tactical briefing: "straight fight".It was, inevitably, my favorite, mostly because I didn't have to to think about anything, just keep hitting.

The rest of them required a lot more attention than that. For a holiday event, the sheer amount of effort, not to say risk, involved would be orders of magnitude out of proportion to the quest rewards, a choice of a couple of housing items. Fortunately, the drops from each Boss more than make up for it.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I opened the first chest to find a piece of 295 Resolve gear inside. While that's nothing special, it is on a par with what drops from Bosses in solo instances in the expansion and significantly better than Sig line quest rewards. When I got to the final Boss, something that took me two sessions over a couple of days, his drops were even better at 300 Resolve.

All in all I think I spent about four hours there. It was a significant effort but it felt worth it. Some of the bosses were more than a little annoying (Looking at you, Edrigen.) but most of them were fun in a mildly masochistic sort of way. I'd be telling a very different story if I hadn't had a walkthrough to follow but since I did I'm not complaining.

Although there's clearly some decent solo gear to be had in Miragul's Madness, I wouldn't go back for another run for a while. I enjoyed it but I don't want to do it again right now. 

What I'm not entirely clear about is whether I'll have the chance to come back later. If the dungeon is indeed tied to the Chronoportal event then it's only going to be sticking around for a couple of weeks. The event ends on 16 March.

Miragul's Madness is a very well-designed, fully fleshed-out dungeon. I thought it was better than some of the expansion instances. It does seem like an awful lot of work for something that's only going to be available for two weeks a year.

Maybe there are plans to keep it in play after the event goes away. I hope so. While I wouldn't want to go through it all while it's still fresh in my mind, I might very well fancy another trip in a few weeks with my Bruiser or my Necro. Whether it stays or goes, though, it's an impressive piece of content that bodes well for future updates.

The EQII Roadmap tells us to expect more new dungeons in Game Update 119, due next month. Let's hope this sets the benchmark.

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