Thursday, August 11, 2022

Onward And Upward. Or At Least Onward...

EverQuest II's big mid-year update, Myths and Monoliths, went live earlier this week. I'm late reporting on it because I haven't been playing or paying attention to EQII lately. Truth be told, since Noah's Heart launched at the end of last month, I haven't played anything else at all. I might have logged into Chimeraland once...

It's not quite as bad as it sounds. It's summer and we're enjoying, if that's the right word, a protracted spell of very dry, very sunny, very hot weather. Early morning and late evening are the only times it gets cool enough to take Beryl the dog for a stroll and the rest of the day it's too hot for me to be comfortable sitiing in my upstairs, sun-facing study. 

I do anyway, of course, because it's Blaugust and these posts don't write themselves, unlike Tipa's. I really must get on with signing up for an Open AI API so I can get GPT-3 to write my posts for me when I don't have the time.

As several people have pointed out, Blaugust is, ironically, quite a poor time to be putting in a lot of effort. There are so many posts, no-one has time to read them all, far less comment. Especially on the long ones. 

It'd be better to stick to something short and pithy. Not really in my skill set, sadly. Only wish it was. 

One thing I do have going for me in trying to keep my coverage of the Myths and Magic update taut is I haven't been able to make much progress there, meaning nothing of note to report. I could do my usual trick of going through the press release line-by-line and offering commentary on everything last smidgeon of detail I can wring some sort of spurious interest out of, but does anyone have time for that? I don't.

The update does come with a very short, unimpressive video, if you'd like to see it. Of late the PR team have been doing a great job of selling a very old, graphically unimpressive game to a modern audience but there's only so much you can do with the material you're given and Kurn's Tower is basically a big, empty shaft with very poor lighting. Anyway, here it is, for what it's worth.

I did give it a look this morning, even though I knew perfectly well I wouldn't be able to down even the first boss. After I finished the Visions of Vetrovia storyline in July, I finally got around to trying the Merchant's Den instance that was added with the big Spring update. I couldn't kill the first boss in that one so the chances of me doing any better in the tougher follow-up have to be non-existent.

Over in EVE Online, all the talk right now seems to be about progression and how the lack of a clear upgrade path abrades motivation and engagement. I very much agree we need aspirational goals in mmorpgs to keep us coming back but progression in EQII these days seems to be on fast-forward. Even when I was playing regularly, I could barely keep up but take a few weeks off and everything seems to race ahead without me.

If you look at the pace, it's staggering. I'm only considering things from a soloist's perspective but I'm pretty sure the same curve is matched by the other progression paths - Heroic I and II and Raid. My best-equipped and upgraded character can now waltz through most of the solo content from the last expansion as though he's in a starter zone. The bosses in the instances struggle even to run their scripts before he has them down.

That expansion only came out eight months ago but it's already effectively outdated. As a solo player, my current upgrade path would be through the new summer holiday content and the two post-expansion content drops but given the imminent arrival of the next expansion in just four months, why would I even want to bother?

As for Overseer, one of the catch-up mechanics that's served me well in the past, that, too, has reached the limits of its usefulness for me. I might still do some missions for the rares and for gear to transmute for adorning mats but none of the gear is an upgrade any more and I have all the recipe books I want.

Even if I didn't, the M&M update added just about all the VoV advanced craft books to the Overseer vendor so I can just go buy them. I bought the handful I was missing this morning. It cost me about 200 platinum, which is the EQII equivalent of the invisible dust particles that cling to the lint that falls to the floor when you search your pockets for loose change.

There are some new collections, which is an excellent addition to the game, but I haven't done the old collections yet. That's one reason my characters aren't as powerful as they should be. Collections stopped being fluff years ago; now they're a significant upgrade path you really can't afford to ignore, along with mounts, mercs and familiars.

It's a lot of work just running to stay still but that is what veterans want. It's a tricky balance, trying to onboard returnees and new players without pissing off the regulars, many of whom howl at the thought of allocating valuable development time to anything that doesn't make them kill stuff faster.

The first hurdle to finding out just how weak I'd become was working out where the entrance was. Someone on the forums was bemoaning the way these new versions of old dungeons don't require the same access quests we had to do both ways in the snow back in the old days but luckily the devs just want everyone in there as fast as possible so there's no truck with all that nonsense. 

The entrance is a flashing, blue portal at Camp Naradasa in Svarni Expanse, the opening zone for VoV. It's the same camp where all the repeatable questgivers hang out so people are going to find it even if they're not looking. I made my way there, zoned in, looked around, saw what seemed to be the obvious way to go, took it and zoned straight out again.

Bleh! I'd forgotten it's a tower. Just like in the old days, when the mechanic was fairly new and still considered original, you have to climb up a huge, blank wall to get the first real room. The clue is all those scratch marks where others have scrambled up before you.

I was playing my Berserker, the character who used to be my "main" until my Bruiser somehow took over earlier in the year. He's still fairly up to speed for a soloist so I thought I'd let him have a try, mostly just to see what the gap was between him and his successor.

The first trash pull felt like a boss fight. The second was touch-and-go, too. We went slowly around the room, clearing each group of skeletons carefully, just like old times. I was pleasantly surprised how well he did.  

The Berserker was in DPS mode so he didn't have his full complement of death saves to rely on. The one he is allowed in that mode fired more than once so we were up to the wire and past it. When he accidentally pulled two encounters at once it was time for the merc to fumble through his book for a rez. 

Somehow, to my surprise, we made it all the way round the room. All the skeletons were dead(er) except the Named, who'd been wandering around the whole time, paying us no attention. Since we'd come all that way, I thought we might as well give it the old Freeport Militia try - shoot him in the back then run away if he looked like he might know what he was doing.

Again, it went better than I expected. Oh, there was not the remotest chance of us winning. God, no! At one point the boss dropped to 97% health but that was the best we could manage. He had a leech he kept casting which, for once, was clearly explained in game. My Berserker did manage to joust out of it each time so the boss couldn't steal his health but unfortunately his merc wasn't so smart. That's the problem with NPCs. They can be astoundingly dim-witted.

It was plain nothing was going change. We could have been there for hours, days even. The Berserker didn't die (Much.) or even look in a great deal of danger. No doubt some new one-shot mechanic would have kicked in at 75% or 50%, if we'd been able to get there, but in the nineties it was stalemate.

So we ran away. All the way round the room until we found the hole then down in a scramble and out the same way we came in. Turns out that false entry was a dry run after all. No experience is ever wasted.

I could have left it at that but after the stand-in's sturdy performance I wanted to find out how the main act would do. Badly, is how. 

I got the Bruiser over, took him in, pulled the first trash encounter and he promptly died. The merc rezzed him and he died again. I got the encounter down on the third attempt, pulled a second and died once more. 

Seems my best-geared character is weaker on this particular content than my second-best. It's a fair comparison, too; they're both tanks in DPS stance. Odd.

I withdrew to think it over. As things stand, with my interest focused on another game and a new expansion due in four months, I can't see doing the necessary research or making the appropriate effort to get either of them into a fit state to climb that tower. I do want to see it but I'll be happy to do it later, when the tides of general progression have lifted me comfortably over the breakwater.

If I'm honest, the only reason I logged in at all was to get some background for this post, which I felt I ought to write because I always do posts on EQII updates. I'd rather have been playing - and writing about - Noah's Heart.

As I said in response to Syp's post about the secret benefit of having a gaming blog, sometimes it's not so much a benefit as a curse. I'm not really complaining, of course. I needed to get back to EQII and having a post to write was the spur I needed. I've never wanted to be all about the One Game - it's just so easy to get obsessed with something new, especially if it's really shiny.

Speaking of which, there's this, too. Where does it all end?

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