Friday, April 14, 2023

Room For One More Inside?

For some reason, I don't seem to have paid as much attention to the new Game Update for EverQuest II as I usually would. EQII's GUs are a big deal, substantial content drops that some games might try to pass off as full expansions and the latest, Empire of Antiquity, looks like one of the biggest for a while. It's not like me to pass one up.

And the feature list is impressive. The highlights include

Overseer Season 05
Massive Contested Dungeon    
Buried Takish'Hiz: Emergence from Stone [Raid]
Sultan's Mahala: Daggers Drawn [Raid]
4 new red shiny collections
New Guildhall
40+ New Adventure quests  
25 new house items, illusions, and pets

That's by no means all of it. The official announcement has full details. It's a lot.

And yet, I haven't really been all that excited to dig in and see it all for myself. Well, not all, obviously. Not the raids. But most of the rest ought to be of interest to me. Jenn Chan's producer's letter did promise there'd be "content for all playstyles" and looking at that list there most definitely should be.

I think my lack of engagement stems from the fact that, for the first time in years, I hadn't finished the Signature Adventure questline from the most recent expansion before the spring update landed. I explained the dog-related reasons behind my tardiness in a post a couple of days ago but it's also true that these days I'm just a bit tired of boss fights with mechanics that need much attention paying to them. I never liked fancy fights all that much and now I just don't have the patience even to grind them out just to get past.

Anyone we know, Zel?
For that reason alone, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of Empire of Antiquity's center-piece, the "Massive Contested Dungeon"that is Buried Takish`Hiz. I now realize that was churlish of me. And shortsighted. 

"Contested" in this context, for those who aren't up on EQII jargon, means "non-instanced" or, in other words, what we used to call "a dungeon". I wonder how many other mmorpgs still have those, let alone would think about adding new ones in 2023. I just checked to see if World of Warcraft has any and found this list but those are what I'd describe as elite areas, mini-dungeons or even open-world dungeons, none of which is the same thing at all. 

Even before WoW arrived and turned the entire genre over to instancing, EverQuest had begun to move in that direction. 2003's Lost Dungeons of Norrath introduced the concept to the game and it was an immediate success. 

When EQII launched a year later it came with a mix of contested and instanced dungeons, a trend that carried on for much of the life of the game. For a long time, every expansion had to include at least one contested dungeon or players would revolt. 

Eventually, though, that tradition ended. According to the wiki, prior to this update the last contested dungeon to be added was Kralet Penumbra in 2015's Terrors of Thalumbra. I'm not at all convinced that's accurate and there have certainly been some contested raid dungeons since then, but as this reply by EQII dev Gninja, to a forum thread back in 2017 asking why no new contested dungeons, explains

 "...based on our numbers of how many players use them and how many versions of the zone spin up they are VERY underused compared to any of the instances... Even the less popular ones"

He goes on to confirm the devs like contested dungeons and would like to keep making them but with the resources at their disposal it just doesn't make economic sense. Which means, I guess, that we can take the appearance of an absolutely gigantic contested dungeon in 2023 as evidence of that increased EG7 investment in the game we've been reading about.

Whatever the reason, contested dungeons are back - big time. And to my very considerable surprise, this one does indeed contain the promised something for everyone.

I just happened to be in Takish Badlands this morning, working on the tradeskill signature questline with my Berserker, who's also a max-level weaponsmith, when I spotted a large, interactive structure I hadn't seen before. On further investigation it proved to be the portal to Buried Takish`Hiz and since I was there...

I was expecting to stand motionless inside the zone-in, con the nearest mob, see it was ridiculously out of my weight class, take a screenshot or two and leave. I ended up spending two hours there and I'd probably be in there still if it hadn't stopped raining outside, forcing me log out to take Beryl for a much-needed walk.

Far from being a sprawling, old-school contested dungeon along the lines of Sebilis or Karnor's Castle, Buried Takish`Hiz is a set of instances based around a hub but the instances themselves are indeed "Contested" and being underground certainly means they'd be referred to as "dungeons" by most players, so I think the description in the press release holds. 

The way things are set-up reminds me of Myrist Library and the four Elemental kingdoms accessible from there by portal. Those, I believe, were generally thought of as zones rather than dungeons, since they're open to the sky, but it's splitting hairs. If more than one group of players can enter an instance and get in each others' way then it's "contested", while "dungeon" is what every game calls any instance with a few bosses waiting inside.

Speaking of bosses, Buried Takish'Hiz has thirty-three. Sebilis, considered a pretty big dungeon in its day, has twenty-five. What's even better, some of them, like Wilhelm the Elm up there, are soloable. Not that I've proved it. Yet.

Yes, most amusing.
Now tell me where to find them.

In the lobby I grabbed a quest to kill eight each of three types of invasive species from an NPC who complained bitterly about all the adventurers stomping around his heritage site, looking for loot. I guess if there are bulls in your china shop you may as well bribe them to smash up the things you don't want.

The game also auto-granted me three other quests, to kill  regular mobs, Heroic mobs and Heroic I mobs. I didn't actually notice I'd been given the tasks until later, when notifications started pinging. 

I was, of course, only killing the regular mobs, which was in itself a miracle - there were regular mobs! For years, to save on duplicated development costs, the way Darkpaw has been able to offer solo players access to equivalent content to group players has been by slapping on a massive buff when you enter a solo version of a Heroic instance. That way, all playstyles get to use the same assets and much money, presumably, is saved.

I take the appearance of genuine non-heroic mobs in this contested space as another sign of purse-strings being loosened. I can't say as yet how many areas in the new dungeon complex have dedicated areas for solo players - access to each wing has to be earned somehow, presumably by doing the questlines - but the one at the start, The Elddar Exchange, certainly does.

That's also where Gnorbert, the D.I.R.T.Y. gnome asked me to go to pick up some artifacts for him. He remembered me from our work together back in the Tranquil Sea, many years ago. If you play an mmorpg for long enough, your name does get around - with NPCs, anyway, if not with other players.

And that's where I'm going to stop for now. I wrote a very long post yesterday and if I don't watch myself this is going to turn into another. Such length wouldn't be justified because as yet about all I've done is step inside the dungeon and knock out a couple of introductory quests. In doing so, however, I've demonstrated to myself that there is something in this update for me beyond the new Overseer season and a few collections. It feels good.

I'll hold off on any further reports about Buried Takish`Hiz until I've seen more of it. Also until someone's had a chance to write up a guide and post it to the wiki because I'm already stuck on a quest. I'm supposed to be gathering and repairing a dozen Elddar artifacts but so far I haven't been able to find a single one.

If only there was someone else in the dungeon I could ask. Oh, wait a moment...


  1. OK, that's pretty cool that they've brought back a shared dungeon space. I think the last game I knew of which featured those extensively (that I also played) was Asheron's Call, and that was just how all dungeons were.

    Although I do remember them in EQ1 as well. Although there the shared dungeons seemed less of a place to progress through, and more of a 'This group has claimed this spot and will camp here until such time that we decide not to anymore'.

    Things like this do occasionally get me to want to retry EQ2, but any time I've actually tried, it has been... less than successful. I just don't have the same strength of attachment to the series as I do with AC.

    1. The crew I ran with for a year or two in EverQuest liked dungeon crawls but it was relatively unusual behavior a tthe time. Fighting in, clearing a room and then camping it was definitely the norm. I did a lot of that, too, and it has it's own satisfactions but crawls are more fun - until something goes wrong and you're up til 4am trying to get your corpse back.

      As for returning to EQ2, I don't recommend it unless you either have a group of active players to join or *really* enjoy research. People who do come back complain a lot about how complicated everything is and they are not wrong. Worse, the information available on how to navigate the complexities is either incomplete or out-of-date. It's all doable but just to play casually takes an extraordinary amount of effort just to work out what you should be doing, let alone actually doing it. I think all older mmorpgs are like that but EQ2's consistent content and update cadence actually works against it when it comes to onboarding newcomers and returnees.


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