Friday, December 8, 2023

W.H.O.O.'s On First?

At time of writing, a little over a week after launch, I have four max-level crafters in EverQuest II: Weaponsmith, Alchemist, Sage and Carpenter. Once I had the rhythm down, the five new levels took me around an hour, at least half of which was taken up with gathering.

There are two gathering quests in the sequence, the first about twice the length of the second. My Weaponsmith, having also been my "main" for years, was at the previous cap for all gathering skills. He had gear that gives bonuses to gathering, along with all the gathering AAs.

Most importantly, he'd done all the significant gathering questlines including, crucially,  the one to convert the Gathering Goblin into a Mercenary. That's the one that also gives the maximum, permanent, passive speed boost to all gathering skills. 

The Weaponsmith's a gathering machine but all of his advantages were somewhat negated by his having to go through the questline first. All the time he made up on the gathering sections, he more than lost having to look up where to go and what to do. He also had to buy all the fuels, which he then put in the shared bank for everyone else to use when he'd finished. He was trailblazing for the rest of them and he paid the price in time.

The Alchemist went next. By dint of having been my main for one recent expansion, when I mistakenly thought a Bruiser might get through the combat sections faster than a Berserker, his skills were also pretty close to being maxed. He hadn't swapped his Goblin over but it turned out he had done all of the pre-requisites to get the quests. Following a walkthrough, it only took a few minutes to run through the questline, after which he was able to pick stuff up off the ground very nearly as efficiently as the Weaponsmith.

The Sage went third. He's never done much adventuring but there have been times when I thought he might so he was at the previous level cap in his martial class, Warlock. That turned out to be quite significant.

I'm going to back-track a little now. 

One of the most obvious changes to the game since the arrival of Naimi Denmother as crafting dev has been the care and attention shown to high-level crafters, who may not also be high-level adventurers. It's not just reinstating something that's lapsed a little since Domino left, it's also addressing an attitude that's sometimes seemed present among some of the Darkpaw design team, who haven't always appeared to look kindly on crafters getting a helping hand.

There have been intimations in the past that crafters who don't also keep up with their adventuring may have been having too easy a ride; that it might do them some good to have to scuttle a bit, dodge the odd deep-red con mob, maybe even die a few times, just to keep them honest. One thing Naimi Denmother has done since she arrived is to take the cap off that particular jar of worms by making it very clear in her commentary when dark forces have been working against her in her attempts to secure safe passage for nervous crafters as they attempt to pick their way through high-level adventure content.

Judging from what I've seen in Ballads of Zimora so far, Naimi has been winning a few battles of her own. Not only is the crafting Signature quest much shorter than the Adventure one, crafters get to visit three of the four new zones long before Adventurers do and what's more they get to fly in them all, too. For once, I could see where pure adventurers might feel they had cause to be snippy.

That, however, is by no means all she's done to help high-level crafters whio don't relish the adrenaline rush of being jumped from behind by mobs eighty levels higher than them. A goodly portion of the Signature crafting questline revolves around the manufacture of something called the W.H.O.O.

The W.H.O.O. is a ghostly, blue hand about the size of a large dog. It's a device you can summon to let you harvest in complete safety. In game mechanics, it's an Elemental that you "possess". You craft a spell that goes in your spell-book and when you use it you're given thirty seconds to click on and effectively become the W.H.O.O.

As a disembodied, blue hand you're neutral to absolutely everything, meaning nothing pays you the least attention. You can zip around, gathering ansd mining and even fishing in the most dangerous areas at no personal risk whatsoever. The effect lasts indefinitely, until you opt to return to your true form.

It sounds great and for low-level adventurers trying to gather in the new expansion zones (Those being the only place the W.H.O.O. can be summoned.) I'm sure it is. It does, however, come with some significant disadvantages, chief of which is that certain crafting buffs don't work, including that speedy goblin one. It's safer, sure, but if you're able to handle the mobs it's also slower. Seems like a fair trade-off.

Since all my high-level crafters on my main server, Skyfire, are also high-level adventurers, even though I had to make several versions of the W.H.O.O for the questline (There's a different one for each zone.) I didn't actually use any of them until a few minutes ago, when I logged in to summon one for a screenshot. I found it much easier and more efficient just to kill anything that had the nerve to interrupt me while I was out gathering.

That in itself led to some interesting discoveries. With all four characters, I began by following the Quartermaster's guide to gearing up for the expansion, so everyone was dressed in the same gear and using the same Familiar, Mount and Mercenary. The big difference between them should have been how well-upgraded their spells and abilities were but it turned out not to be quite that simple.

The Weaponsmith is a Berserker when he's adventuring and he's by far my most rigourously maintained character. He had no trouble with any mobs and his time-to-kill was a handful of seconds. The Alchemist is a Bruiser and his short stint as combat lead left him not too far behind the Berserker. He also had no trouble defending himself but his TTK was noticeably longer. Still only a few seconds but a few more seconds.

The Sage, as I said, is also a Warlock but he hasn't done a lot of adventuring. I've used the time-gated upgrade system to keep a few of his spells at Master or above but I didn't even touch his spellbook in the last expansion, so even though he's the one who makes the upgrades for casters, most of his spells were either the lowest grade (Apprentice) from the previous cap or higher grades fthe cap before that. 

On the plus side, he did at least have the goblin-granted gathering speed buff,  proving he was at least paying attention during Kunark Ascending back in 2016.

In theory, he should have been the one to struggle but apparently no-one told him that. Far from having difficulty dispatching anything that looked at him funny, he was one-shotting some stuff and taking no more than two casts on the rest. If he attacked from range to clear a path, mobs died from the dot effects before they got to him. If he used an AE, everything just fell over. 

I shudder to think how easy he'd find it all if he'd bothered to upgrade his own spells. I'm going to have to have a word with him about that. Also, I might have to try and figure out what most of his spells do. I'm pretty sure he'd be even more bad-ass if I knew.

That just leaves the Carpenter. Her adventure class is Inquisitor, which makes her pretty much bomb-proof, especially with an Inquisitor mercenary as well, so I was surprised to find she was the one who had the most trouble. She didn't have the gathering buff or much in the way of gathering gear and she doesn't appear to have set foot in the KA expansion zones. I did take her over to see if she could get the quest but as soon as she got discovery XP for entering the area I knew it was hopeless. 

Not wanting to spend longer doing the pre-quests than it would take me to do the entire BoZ crafting timeline, I abandoned that idea and cracked on. Even with the slower gathering she still took the shortest time getting to the level cap. The 60% XP bonus from the three who went before more than made up the difference.

What slowed her down more than anything was her TTK. I know she's a cleric and you can't expect frontline DPS numbers but Inquisitors are basically battle-wizards in EQII and I've not had much problem with her ability to knock things down fast in the past. Once again, she's suffering from lack of attention over the past few expansions. I really need to pull my finger out and bring everyone's spell-books up to date.

And that is where I'm headed. Having maxed both the spell-makers, I'm covered for levels and the acquisition system for Advanced recipe books in BoZ is a straightforward, time-gated, NPC-driven process. According to Niami Denmother, it should take about ten days research to get each book, a wait you can halve by doing the relevant dailies. 

That should leave plenty of time to get the necessary Rare materials, even though it will be a lot. Some high-level Expert recipes have been using two rares for a while and even if it only takes one, there are dozens of spells and combat abilities to upgrade.

It very much looks like there's going to be a lot of gathering in my future. And in the Weaponsmith/Berserker's future because he's going to be the one doing most of it. That's what you get for being the best at something - you get to do all the work for everyone else.

Doesn't really seem fair, does it?

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