Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Once More, With Feeling

As must be obvious to everyone by now, I'm playing EverQuest II again. Not that I ever stopped. I just hadn't been playing much of anything for a while and EQII had dropped out of what minimal rotation remained. Now it seems, without even trying, I'm very much back on the mmorpg horse and I have EQII to thank, if thanks is the appropriate response. 

To be strictly accurate, I ought to be offering up my gratitude to whomever decided it was time to merge Kaladim and Antonia Bayle. The thought of being stuffed unceremoniously into AB made my skin itch and since there was a timer counting down I couldn't just grunt and ignore it. 

Once I was back, I soon found plenty to do. I just needed a change of emphasis.

Back in January or February I'd stalled on the signature adventure questline from the current expansion but I'd never made all that much progress with it, mostly because I've found it awkward to commit to instances involving long and/or challenging boss fights ever since we got Beryl the dog. She mostly ignores what happens on screens but when it comes to dungeons, she has an almost supernatural ability to wake up and demand attention at precisely the worst moment, when I'm either trying desperately to stay alive or figure out what I need to do to get the boss down.

I think it might be the change of intensity in the audio output that triggers her attention. Boss fights are noisy and I always play with in-game sound on and turned up fairly loud. She doesn't twitch during normal gameplay but prolonged battles are a different matter. 

That, of course, only explains what might be waking her up when she's asleep in the armchair behind me. What causes her to come bounding downstairs to paw at my arm and bark just as I've gotten the boss down to ten percent is less clear. Maybe she thinks I'm battling with an intruder - not that she'd be much use if I was.

After several such incidents, I began avoiding anything I couldn't easily pause at a moment's notice. It wasn't just in EQII. I'm way behind on the main storyline in Noah's Heart for the same reason. Still, I can't in good faith offer Beryl as an excuse for backing out of more challenging content there without also acknowledging that I never much liked it anyway. If there's one thing you don't want to play Noah's Heart for, it's the combat.

I could easily organize things so I'd be able to count on an uninterrupted run at the instances but I was happy to take the opportunity to drop out of anything involving lengthy scraps in either - or indeed any - game. I'm really not much interested in that side of mmorpgs any more.

There's another factor at play, too. In both games, as in most mmorpgs, patience makes things easier. More levels and better gear turn fights that were slugfests into walkovers. So long as the game offers more than one way to make your character stronger, you can always just defer the fights you don't want to do until you're overgeared, overleveled or both.

All of that explains both why I stopped and why I started again but not why I kept on playing once I'd gone back. The main reason, I think, was the break. 

Yesterday, Syp posted a list of "6 ways to fall back in love with MMOs again", all of which were sound advice. #3 on the list was "MMOs are a game, not a marriage", under which rubric he wrote "Give your regular MMO a break from time to time". I wouldn't even say I had a single "regular MMO" these days but even so taking a break really refreshed my enthusiasm.

The other significant factor in getting me back and playing EQII daily was the unplanned reintroduction of low-level gameplay to the mix. I've always said I prefer the low to mid levels in mmorpgs but the increasing willingness of developers to blur the boundaries between low and high, whether by introducing zone scaling or offering catch-up mechanics to bring everyone to endgame, has meant that for some years, without even meaning to, I've found myself mostly at the cap in the games I've been playing. 

Mitsu (nee Lana) on Kaladim was Level 26 when I logged her in to move her to her new home. The level cap in EQII is now 125. If I made a fresh character on a standard-ruleset server, those first 26 levels would pass in a session or two but because I'd done them on Kaladim back when it launched, they'd taken me weeks. 

I just checked and I have three and a half days played on Mitsu, about 85 hours. That represents maybe thirty or forty sessions, which is a considerable investment of time. She and I have history; she feels like a real character.

It was a connection I felt as soon as I began playing her again, which is why I fell so easily into a familiar pattern of sorting out somewhere for her to live, upgrading her gear, getting her a suitable mercenary and all the other things that make playing EQII such an absorbing and entertaining experience. 

Since she re-located to the Isle of Refuge server I've been playing her for an hour or two every day. She's now Level 44 but her real progress has been as a crafter. Her Jewelcrafting stands at Level 56 but she's also made great improvements in her ancillary and secondary tradeskills - Adorning, Transmuting and Tinkering. I've been doing the daily quests for each of them diligently and she's now better at all of them than many of my max-level crafters.

What's more, she's been pursuing the infamous Gathering Obsession timeline offered by the much-reviled Qho, a child who wants to obtain samples of gathered materials from every part of the world so he can compare them. This, he's compelled to do from the comfort of the lake in which he insists, for reasons never made clear, on standing, since his Mom won't let him go adventuring, almost certainly because she suspects any party that allowed him to join would murder him within the day. He's really quite annoying.

I've done this quest several times before. It takes many, many hours and can be very frustrating. People do it because the rewards are great and it's an effective way to raise all of your gathering skills but the idea of doing it for fun might be a bit out there for most.

And yet I've been loving it. I'd forgotten just how relaxing gathering in EQII can be. I know some mmorpg players prefer active gathering, where you have to complete some kind of mini-game to pick leaves from a bush or chop up a log but I much prefer the zen calm of clicking a node and watching a progress bar fill.

As well as working on Mitsu's skills, I've been keeping up with my gathering dailies on my first maxed crafter on Skyfire. I only do one round of those most days now but a while ago I was taking the trouble to pick them up two or three times a day as the cooldowns refreshed.

Another thing I've been doing with Mitsu has been building up her portfolio of Overseer agents. Since she's alone on her server she needs to do everything herself. She can't just rely on whichever of the team happened to be around when a feature was added to provide that service for everyone, as happens on the server where I normally play.

Yesterday's patch brought Game Update 122: Empire of Antiquity to the live servers and along with it Overseer Season 5. Every character receives a boost to open up the new Overseer content but Mitsu can still access previous seasons by way of the Charged quests handed out on request by Stanley Parnem on the West Freeport dockside.

She'll have to take a back seat from now on, though. The Account's pool of Overseer missions is shared across servers and since Overseer remains one of the best ways to obtain at-cap solo gear without having to kill bosses or run instances, my max levels will demand preference. I'm now looking at a few weeks of grinding Season 5 missions until I have enough, followed by daily re-applications until everyone has more gear than they know what to do with, by which time the Panda quests will be back and most of what I got from Overseer will be out of date again. So it goes.

One thing's for sure. I'll run out of interest long before I run out of things to do. This post represents just a snapshot of the vast range that's available. When things start to feel stale, which they inevitably will, eventually, I'll take another break so I can come back and start doing it all over again.

I thought of calling this post "Stockholm Syndrome" but really it's all my own choice. Then again, I would think that, wouldn't I?

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