Wednesday, November 22, 2023

One For The Cheap Seats, Please!

A few weeks back, when Darkpaw announced pre-orders for the upcoming EverQuest II expansion, Ballads of Zimara, along with details of the various tiers and prices, I speculated that I might be up for buying the Collector's Edition, a snip at a cent under $70. 

It would have been the first time I'd bought anything other than the basic version but I've been in increasingly urgent need of a better Mercenary for a while now and the Collector's Edition includes a Legendary quality Mercenary, Familiar and Mount. It also throws in a new prestige home and a few other fripperies and honestly it's not a bad deal at all for a regular player. 

It is a bit Pay-to-Win but I think that ship sailed over the horizon years ago, not just in EQII but in pretty much every MMORPG I've played. I certainly don't have an issue with higher grades of Expansion Packs giving an initial advantage so long as the regular pack remains a viable baseline for normal play and I've never had a problem with that, so I'm good.

Usually I've been able to source the upgraded Mercenaries, Mounts and Familiars I want by way of in-game activities, whether from running regular instances or from special events or holidays. Over the last expansion cycle, though, I haven't really played as much as usual and also haven't always had the luck of the dice with RNG. I'm generally fine as far as mounts and familiars go but my merc is really starting to show his age.

As a result, I've been umming and aahing over whether to buy the Collector's Edition, without ever coming to a clear decision. The pre-order page cautiously confirms "expansion available before December 31 2023" so I hadn't been treating the problem with any kind of urgency until last week, when Senior Community Manager Angeliana confirmed on the forums the expansion would go live on 29 November.

That's only a week away now so I figured it was about time I made up my mind. A couple of hours ago, I ordered the base edition at $29.99. With my 10% All Access Member's discount and converted to Sterling, that meant I paid £22.61, which I consider a bargain. I generally get a bare minimum of a couple of month's play out of an EQII expansion, often a lot more, with the limiting factor almost always being how much I feel like playing EQII in general rather than any significant variation in the expansion content itself.

The main reason I went for the base edition in the end was simple. I just find it very, very hard to see any expansion to any MMORPG as worth more than £30-35, tops. 

For me, it doesn't really have anything to do with what you get for the money. It's all about functionality. It doesn't really matter how many extras the marketing department throws in - in the end I'm always going to be playing the game the same way I always have; dabbling, dipping, sampling and generally ambling through the available content, picking off the low-hanging fruit and feeling pretty good about it. Most of those extras I just won't need.

I know starting out with a full roster of current-expansion Legendary companions would have a material effect on the perceived difficulty of the new content but it's not like I find EQII expansions punitively hard. Sometimes there are a few speed bumps along the way but mostly it's a pleasant amble through attractive scenery as I follow the Signature questline to its conclusion.

It helps a lot that I'm never in a hurry to get there. We get one expansion a year and I'm very happy to take most of the twelve months getting to the point where I have nothing much left I want to do. Sometimes I find myself in more of an extended EQII mood and finish up the adventure and tradeskill questlines by the end of January but if I still haven't had enough by then I have half a dozen alts I can take through it all again.

Of course, for most people the questing is over in a few days at most. Then the serious business of chain-running instances and gearing up to chain-run them again at higher difficulty begins. Thanks but I'll pass.

Given all of that, you might wonder why I need to pre-order at all. I could just buy the expansion on the first day after launch, when I log in. To be honest, the main reason I pre-order is just to get it out of the way. It makes no material difference financially so "why wait?" is as valid a question as "why pre-order?"

The other reason is that, while we Standard Edition scrubs don't get much, we don't get nothing. The base edition comes with a boost to Level 125, something I don't really need, but also with a stat boost item I definitely do. 

There's one in every expansion. In the past it's been variously an illusion or a house item. Of late it's been a pet. Last time it was the aesthetically pleasing Takish`Hiz Peafowl. This time it's the less visually arresting Wroughtlands Smasher, some kind of elemental. 

I'm not all that bothered what it looks like, although I could do without the thunderous sound effects as the thing stamps about behind me. I'm more interested in how big an upgrade it is. This one comes with the usual, standard 10% bonus to every type of xp but there's around a 30% boost over the Peafowl to all base stats and better than that for Potency and Ability Mod, two of the real essentials.

That's a big help but I'm still going to need a new mercenary and the pack I've chosen won't do anything about that. The other reason I decided not to trade up, other than the cost, was a realisation that I already potentially have the means to solve that particular problem without getting out my credit card.

The cash shop sells bundles of Mercenary Crates (And Familiar Crates for that matter.) and I'm sitting on a pile of Daybreak Cash I don't know what to do with. It's true the crates are lootboxes - you don't know exactly what you're going to get and you might not get a "good" one at all - but you always get a merc of some description and my current merc is so far behind the curve, even the low-end mercs from the current season would be an upgrade.

As that suggests, the crates do come in "Seasons" and it's my understanding each season is an improvement on the last (Well, it would have to be, wouldn't it, or else no-one would buy new crates.) My tentative plan is to wait until the next season begins, then splurge some of my DBC horde on crates in the expectation that anything I get will be an upgrade.

It is actually a lot more complicated than that, what with Mercs having gear, levelling up and especially the fairly new "Mercenary Battalion" buff that accrues from a combination of all the mercs you own (I still don't really understand how that works.) but my main aim is to get a merc that can heal me more reliably than my current one, so we have fewer of the unnerving Hail Mary passes we had during the last expansion.

To give Zel credit, he's done a fantastic job up to now but the poor old lizard really needs a rest. I think it would be pushing it to take him into another expansion. Well, too far into it, at least. He'll probably still have to do the opening scenes of this one. 

I don't know when the next season's likely to start but I imagine it'll be a while before his replacement can take over.


  1. I will say, even if I am not playing, the EQII expansions tended to be well worth the price at the base level. I have so many little bits and adds from the old days that I am not always enamored of what you get in the up market packs, but the base expansion is always worth it is you're going to play. (And it will be half price next autumn if you're patient.)

    1. The game seems to have arrived at a weird equilibrium, where the hardcore, invested players grudgingly accept the pay-to-win elements of the process so they can carry on incrementally boosting stats to keep up with the ever-receding endgame, while everyone else just kicks back and drifts through the story content or decorates their houses at whatever pace suits them. I don't know how long it can keep working but I guess the devs can always change it around if stops. They seem to be pretty good at course correction when they have to be.


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