Monday, July 25, 2022

Return To Kurns!

I read Jenn Chan's latest Producer's Letter for EverQuest II a few days ago but for once I wasn't planning on mentioning it here. Although I do appear to have fallen into the habit of posting about them as they appear, this particular example didn't seem to have an awful lot in it that merited comment let alone analysis.

Even so, I found myself thinking about it. The fact that it didn't say much felt strangely interesting in itself. Was it because of a lack of upcoming content in the game? Were we about to enter a period of stagnation after what had seemed like a whirlwind of activity?

This morning, I went back and re-read the Letter, along with the forum thread that follows (Always a risk.) It made me realize I might have missed a few things first time around. Or maybe not "missed", exactly. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I might have, unconsciously, allowed the tone and tenor of the announcement to mislead me.

Since she took over as Head of Studio for Darkpaw following Holly "Windstalker" Longdale's sudden departure for supposedly better things at Blizzard (Better-paid, at least, I'm sure, although given the timing of the move she may well feel that's about all.) I've been very impressed with Jenn Chan's approach. She comes across as friendly, self-aware, competent and clear-sighted, all of which, from time to time, have been qualities embarassingly absent in some of her predecessors other than Holly.

If Chann has an obvious flaw it might be diffidence. Coming, as I believe she does, from a more technical background than some previous holders of the post, her style, while affable and confident, tends a little toward the practical.  

Kurn's Tower as seen in game, all spooky purple filters and fog.

She's very good at laying out what's going to happen, complete with roadmaps and bullet points, then reviewing progress as it's made but she tends not to go in for the kind of "Hey!! Look at us!! Aren't we great!?!" self-aggrandizement that marked (Or marred.) the mid-late SoE era. It was an always uncomfortable, occasionally odious attitude that reached its nadir in the cringe-inducing EQNext years, when certain public faces of the company appeared more interested in furthering their potential careers as stand-up comedians or drive-time DJs than in telling the paying customers anything worth knowing.

I find the current, low-key, informative pitch hugely more accessible, especially for an aging, niche title like EQII but as I found this time around, that can lead to a slight sense of disengagement, which probably isn't exactly what the PR department was hoping for. The news that next month's mid-year game update will include not one but two Fabled dungeons, for example, slips by almost unnoticed in a single paragraph buried in the middle of the Letter.

Fabled dungeons are remakes of existing instances, re-imagined and most importantly re-itemised for current max-level players. It sounds like a cut-price way of adding new content but in practice it's far from that, sometimes involving a new questline and new encounters as well as offering multi-tiered access where previously there was none.

August's Game Update 120, Myths and Monoliths, doesn't just come with two Fabled dungeons, either. They're two absolute classics.  

Veeshan's Peak, once the be-all and end-all of raid challenges in EverQuest, was introduced to EQII as the climax of what many still regard as the game's finest expansion, Rise of Kunark. At the time it was a X4 raid, meaning it required four full groups, meaning most people playing back then probably never set foot inside the dragons' den. 

And as it looks with the filters off. You can see why the filters got added. RoK may have a stellar rep as an expansion but it wasn't for the way it looked, that's for sure.

The Producer's Letter makes no specific mention of the intended difficulty rating for the Fabled version, leading me to believe it may well once again be intended for raiders. Such is the formidable reputation of VP, just the suggestion of converting it to an adventure fit for mere groups or - surely unthinkable - allowing people to solo the mighty dragons that live there would be more than enough to cause apoplexy among the more conservative veterans of the game, which is to say most of them.

The other upcoming Fabled dungeon, however, is almost as well-remembered and comes with no such caveats. Kurn's Tower was once one of the key dungeons in both iterations of EverQuest, for solos, duos and groups. A massive, multi-storey edifice teeming with undead, it offered hours of satisfying dungeoneering to all-comers for several years before the ever-moving level-cap rendered it irrelevant.

The Fabled version arrives in three flavors: "heroic, solo and x2". I believe that X2, in the jargon, means meant for a two-group raid rather than a duo, something which would be described, I think, as "Advanced Solo". It's hard to keep up, sometimes.

The focus from my point of view is the solo version. I would love to do Kurn's again at level although I suspect that it'll be tough. As a relatively grubby casual, it's always touch and go whether I can do new solo dungeon content on launch day and Fabled dungeons tend to be overtuned until a couple of patches later.

There's an open beta for GU120 beginning tomorrow but my days of beta-testing content I'm going to play "live" in a matter of weeks are long gone. I will keep an eye on the beta forums, though, just to see how it's all going. It's not as if I'm in a tearing hurry for new-to-me content in EQII anyway; I've yet to set foot in the big dungeon from GU119, Coffers and Coffins. I really should get on with that first, now I've finally finished the Visions of Vetrovia Signature questline that gives access to it.

Probably explains why it's so dark inside, too. I'm looking forward to seeing the revamp - the tools the art team has to work with are so much better these days.

The rest of the Producer's Letter is mostly concerned with Good Works, including a $5k pledge to the San Diego LGBT Community Center as part of Daybreak's commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and November's Extra Life event, about which we'll be told more nearer the time. It is a bit early - it's only July!

There's also mention of the next expansion, which is apparently set in "some fantastic new lands and some that have been re-imagined", which doesn't give an awful lot away since that could describe pretty much 90% of all EQII expansions. On the subject of where we might be going, Jenn Chan does close with one of her frequent (And frequently terrible.) puns - "Be sure you have all your ducks in a Ro.". A return trip to the setting of the first-ever EQII expansion, Desert of Flames? I hope so. That was a good one.

Finally, there seems to have been a little confusion over the Panda, Panda, Panda event. A player named Chienne-Guk notes in the forum thread that although the event itself is still included, the line about new quests has disappeared. Caith, a well-known dev name, pops into the thread later to clarify: "Yun Zi may be out of Quests, but will still probably offer "perilous opportunities for personal growth and reflection". Not sure exactly what that might mean but the "probably" qualifier rings alarms.

I don't know, though. Maybe it is about time Yun Zi settled back to enjoy the notoriety he's achieved among his fellow pandas as a result of all of our efforts these past few years. What with a new Overseer season and two Game Updates between expansions these days, all offering catch-up gear to casuals and returnees, plus the now-obligatory box of starter gear that comes with the expansions themselves, it's hard to see where the once-essential panda gear fits into the program. Last year I don't think I even equipped most of it before VoV made it irrelevant.

Perhaps someone's had a better idea for this year. I guess we'll find out come September. Until then, here's looking forward to my Return to Kurns! 

I can't believe they didn't call the update that.


  1. Rise of Kunark went live during my Everquest II heyday, and I was lucky enough to clear Veeshan's Peak with my guild.
    I wouldn't want to go back to raiding...I think...but it was pretty epic at the time.

    1. I have no idea what raiding is like in EQII these days but I suspect its a lot different to the RoK era. It goes through phases I vaguely hear about but that's about it.

  2. I also was raiding EQ2 at the time and cleared it at least twice with my guild. Good memories. Not quite to EQ1 VP levels, as that wasn't instanced and you couldn't leave until you finished it...

    "Sky High" is one of my favorite movies. It's about a high school for children of super heroes. In it, two Kids In the Hall are watching as the kids play a round of "Save the Citizen". If you save the citizen, you win. If you don't, the citizen (a mannequin) gets chewed up horribly in a giant spinning woodchipper. One KitH turns to the other and says, "Remember when they used to use real citizens?"

    In EQ2, they used a mannequin. In EQ1, they used real citizens.

    1. I've never even heard of Sky High, which is a little surprising, given the subject matter. It's available on Disney+ so if I ever get around to subbing there I'll give it a go.

      Yeah, I dropped a mention of the EQ Veeshan's Peak into the post just because, even as a non-raider, I was always aware of its legendary status. I remember reading someone's account of a raid there back in the day and being amazed anyone would put themselves through all that. I needed a long lie down after one Sunday afternoon in Kedge Keep, it was so claustrophobic. To be trapped in a dragon's lair, unable to leave until they were all dead sounds like a nightmare.

    2. Since it was a shared dungeon -- no instances back then -- you were also racing other guilds. A very different time. We did have an official raid rotation for guilds on Erollisi Marr, until the guild Cries of Insurrection decided to break the rotation and after that things were chaos until instancing happened in, I think, Gates of Discord.


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