Thursday, September 14, 2023

A Shattering Experience In EQII

I've been neglecting EverQuest II of late. That's how I came to miss the opening of the new update, Shattered Overture. It arrived a couple of days ago, together with this year's pre-expansion event, Fractured Skies.  

Last summer we got the Myths and Monoliths update in August and the Secrets of the Sands expansion prequel in September. This year it's a two-for-one package.  Does it mean anything? 

Maybe. Ask me again when I've finished the whole thing. What with spending every available gaming minute in Dawnlands (Eighty hours played and still counting.) it was only this morning that I got around to taking a look at the update, trying to read the runes for the expansion. 

Before I logged in I scanned the sketchily-edited press release (Poor verb tense consistency in paragraph one; mismatched singular/plural in paragraph two. The whole thing reads like a first draft and a rushed one at that.) and watched the extremely short trailer. Twenty seconds. Now that's concise.

I only had it in mind to check out the pre-expansion event. I was going to get some screenshots and gather enough background for a post. In the end, I spent a couple of hours doing not just the whole of the Fractured Skies questline (It's short, as the pre-expansion stories always are.) but also the first of the two Shattered Overture solo dungeons, Shattered Unrest

I also took a ridiculous number of screenshots (Almost seventy!) documenting most of the quest dialog and all of the rewards and boss drops. I do this almost every time I play any new content in EQII in the mistaken belief that I'll use the pictures in whatever post I write. It's crazy behavior. Can you imagine this post with seventy screenshots, almost all of them showing nothing but item stats and NPC speech bubbles?


See what I mean? No-one wants that. Forget all that finnicky detail. Is any of it fun and/or worth doing? Also, does the prequel reveal anything about the setting or theme of the expansion?

Yes, yes and kinda. 

Fractured Skies is a classic EQII expansion prequel event but for my money it's a pretty decent one. They almost always follow the same pattern: your character gets a letter asking them to go see someone, somewhere about something. Sometimes a reference is made to your high standing in Norrath and your past history of saving the world from existential threat. Other times, as now, you're just some adventurer who might be at a loose end.

When you get to wherever it is, whatever crisis precipitated the call has already ended but there's a lot of mopping up to do. Either a Big Name In Norrath (Firiona Vie, The Duality...) or cabal of self-appointed busybodies (The Far Seas Trading Company, The Concordium...) wants you to investigate how the crisis arose and what ought to be done about it.

You spend anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours, wandering around the general area looking at stuff and talking to people about what happened. While you're doing it, creatures related to the mysterious event (Golems, Elementals, Undead...) attack you for no apparent reason. 

You report your findings to whomever and get sent somewhere else to do much the same again, probably several times. All of your research uncovers very little of substance but you get some kind of hint about where the crisis originated. Usually a very vague hint.

When you're done, whoever thinks they're in charge asks you to keep on looking at the same stuff you already looked at, collect the same things you already collected and kill the same things that keep on attacking you. These are your repeatable quests that hang around for as long as there is left to go before the expansion arrives.

If you're only an adventurer you do those until either you have enough faction to buy all the stuff in the prequel faction shop that interests you or you go mad from boredom, whichever comes first. If you're a crafter, you also get to make a bunch of stuff for the busybodies, who always seem to have run out of something because they failed to secure any kind of working supply chain before setting up their camp.

This year's event follows that pattern precisely but I found it considerably more interesting than the cut & paste format might suggest, partly because it's very well done of its kind but also because there are some evocative call-backs to the very start of the game.

In the prequel, chunks of debris come crashing down from space, bringing back memories of The Shattering, when the moon Luclin exploded.  We never got to see that event, which occured immediately prior to the launch of EQII but now we don't just get to hear the locals speak of it again, we also share some of their terrible experiences as the rocks literally crash down around us as we go about our investigations. 

As well as the scares, I also had to laugh when one the residents of Thundering Steppes couldn't remember the ridiculously pompous name this year's know-it-alls have chosen to go by. They're calling themselves the Sky Watcher Sodality. Is it any wonder people find it hard to remember?

The crisis this time causes considerably less damage than the Shattering, but there's still a tidal wave from the impacts in the Shattered Seas (Always lot of shattering and fracturing going on in Norrath...)  and a significant number of casualties. The rocks that hit the shoreline along Thundering Steppes leave a weird turquoise stain and stir up some powerful undead as collateral damage but they also seem to have brought some previously unknown "metallic creatures" with them. Could it be a clue?

During the investigation someone has a vision of bird-people doing something or other. They look like owls, which immediately puts everyone in mind of the Hooluk, a race of owl-like bird-folk who live on several of the sky islands from EQII's second expansion Kingdom of Sky. The suspicion, naturally, is that it's pieces of those islands that have crashed to earth. Muggins here gets sent to check it out.

Once again, I found it quite amusing that none of the Hooluks I spoke to had any idea what I was talking about because as far as they were concerned nothing had happened. I particularly enjoyed the fobbing-off I got from one of the owls, who was quite obviously ready to promise me anything just to make me go away and leave him in peace.

I had a good time doing the short series of quests, partly because they are short and to the point but mostly because I found them quite nostalgic. They're full of call-backs to Norrathian history, something that works well on me, since I've been there for almost all of it. 

I suspect players with little grounding in the lore and legend of the game might find the whole thing a bit dull but at this point there's little chance of anyone like that having to force their way through to the end. There surely can't be anyone left playing the game who isn't deeply invested in it.

I wouldn't call any of this fan service so much as the developers both knowing their audience and also having been at this as long as most of the players. EQII is a job for life, whichever side of the screen you're on.

As for what the prequel might tell us about the expansion... not a lot in my judgment. Something has blown up and crashed down but the obvious candidate seems to have been ruled out. The metal blobs don't remind me of anything I've seen before and I can't remember if I've encounterd Hooluks anywhere other than Kingdom of Sky. We're going to have to wait until someone with a better memory than me figures it out. 

So much for the prequel. What about the update? Well, curiously that seems to tie in with the same theme with similar metallic creatures appearing in both. That's something I really wasn't expecting. I guess it explains why the two launched together.

There's very little backstory for this one, so far anyway. Dr. Arcana has managed to bugger up one of his tomb-raiding expeditions and somehow managed to deconstruct the Estate of Unrest in doing it. I should confess at this point that I have absolutely no fricken' clue who Dr. Arcana is. He turns up at every Public Quest, handing out extremely powerful items for "artefacts" retrieved but why he wants them or what he does with them I have no idea.

Once more, there's a raised eyebrow and a subtle wink in the quest dialog as Arcana admits he hasn't been entirely forthcoming about his motives in the past. He isn't this time, either, but at least he's willing to have a proper conversation for once.

He sends us into the shattered (Oh yes, I said shattered!) estate, now scattered in fragments across some kind of peach-colored void. He wants us to retrieve his lost artifacts along with some strange crystals he spotted there, when he was busy wrecking the joint. Getting them involves riding flying discs from exploded room to exploded room and fighting five (I  think it was five...) boss mobs.

I was expecting this to be a slog; it was anything but. My Berserker is decently geared for solo instances at this stage of the expansion cycle but by no means as well set up as he could be. Usually new content like this is tuned slightly above his comfort level. This time the regular mobs turned out to be very easy to dispatch and the bosses, with one exception, fun to fight and fast to kill.

The trash mobs dropped so quickly I thought I'd risk the first boss without even looking to see if anyone had written a walkthrough yet. Usually I like a bit of a hint about the tricks bosses employ before I take them on but I was feeling lucky. 

It all went swimmingly. I tanked and spanked Ferroc, who appeared to be a bull made of iron. I think he sumoned some help at one point but I just kept AEing like a good berserker should and barely even noticed. After that I worked my way through Crogyn (Giant beetle.), The Gooey Gobdrop (Exactly as it sounds.), Gildilisk (A drake, I think...) and finally The Bonecleaver (Looked like a robot to me.)

Every one of them I tanked and spanked. There were messages about each of them doing something but I just ignored it and kept on thumping. Nothing untoward happened until The Bonecleaver and even then I didn't change tactics. It just took ten times as long.

Old boney has a buff called Level The Playing Field that he gives himself at about 80% health. It almost completely protects him from all kinds of status effects, which are the source of the majority of damage players dish out. You can still hurt him but all your attacks do is their basic damage. I think he also does some kind of minor power drain too, just to be a pain.

The buff is dispellable so the idea is clearly that you take it off him every time he casts it. Unfortunately, Bereserkers don't get any form of Dispel Magic and I didn't have any items on me that could cast it either. I thought maybe my merc would handle it but either he doesn't have the spell or he was too dim to use it.

The upshot was that I had to grind the bastard down one lousy per cent at a time. It took me about twenty minutes. The upside was that I was never really in any danger. At one point I just left my Berserker and merc auto-attacking while I tabbed out to look the fight up in case there was something I was missing. No-one had written it up so I had to carry on as I was.

It was worth it. All the bosses in the instance drop Fabled gear that's a significant upgrade to anything I'm wearing. Everything is at least 425 Resolve with the best piece I got hiting 435. The portmanteau quest for doing the whole thing netted me a Fabled Prestige item rated 440.

Gear like that will give me a definite leg up but of course, it won't last long. We're on the ever-moving EQII gear train, where no item ever lasts more than a few months and anything you get at this time of year, at least as a solo player, is going to be replaced twice before Christmas. If that's not your bag then you're playing the wrong game.

Before I explore the second instance, the dramatically-named Imprinted Memory: Origin of the Fellfeather, I'll have to take all the Augments out of the pieces I'm replacing and put them in my new armor instead. I'm also going to have make up my mind whether to use the hatchet and dagger that dropped, switching from my two-hander to dual wield, or whether to go sword-and-board with the hachet and my new shield. Decisions, decisions.

And I'll have to remember to keep playing EQII. Every time I do, I have a good time so I'm  not sure why I keep forgetting to go back. At least when Panda Panda Panda starts up again I'll get a reminder once a week.

Oh, and while I remember, there's also a freebie floating around. As I logged in I got a pop-up offering me an EverQuest II 2023 Welcome Windstrider Crate. It was packed!

Inside I found a full set of Runed Windstrider appearance armor complete with staff, a Stormfury Trawler illusion that makes you look like a cyclops and a Trusted Guardian vanity pet that turns out to be another dog. That's my second EQII dog of the summer.

I wondered what had prompted such generosity so I looked it up. Apparently there was an event for Labor Day that I'd missed completely. Until September 25, every account, F2P included, is entitled to the crate I got (One per character) so don't miss out. 

Members are also supposed to get a one-per-account crate with a bunch more stuff including a Jumpa-Lope Windstrider mount that "flies with its ears". I'm a member and I didn't get one. I'm going to have to look into that.

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