Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Call Me Mister Fixit : EQ2

For an adventurer in EQ2 the path from the sunny uplands of level 90 to the still sunnier pinnacle, the current maximum level of 95, can seem a long and arduous one. All the more so should you choose to travel it alone. What seems like several lifetimes ago Mrs Bhagpuss and I, often accompanied by sundry stalwarts from our small but still intermittently active guild (rising level 42 at time of writing) trudged uphill both ways through the yellow dust of Withered Lands, then the newest and highest-level overland zone, completing the first leg of that journey.

The cap at the time was 92 and it was from there that my Berserker picked up the trail last October, this time unaccompanied, unless you count his trusty mechanical mercenary, Dok-Tok, who only appears at times of dire emergency because of the unfortunate (some might say unreasonable, seeing he's a machine) demands he makes for an equal share of all xp earned. The best part of four months later he's completed the entire main solo timeline from the Chains of Eternity expansion plus all of the equivalent in Cobalt Scar save for the Siren's Grotto instance. He also spent much of the last double XP weekend, potioned up to the gills, running round Chelsith, Chardok and Sebilis. And he's still just under half a level short of 95.

A couple of evenings ago he was browsing through his quest journal looking for crumbs anything in Cobalt Scar he might still not have finished when he came across something called "Adding A Little Something". The notes he'd jotted down said something about gathering cobalt chiori from blue roots and as luck would have it there were some growing (and glowing, in that handy way quest items have nowadays) right by his feet.

That's how he came to be leveling his crafting, finishing four full levels in two sessions of about four or five hours in total, on his way to becoming a top-level weaponsmith. The chiori quest was the beginning of a series that had him bucking up Acting Supply Master Grant, recent recipient of a battlefield promotion that left him suffering a crisis of confidence. That in turn led to a non-combat version of a large segment of the Adventure timeline, in which he solved in thirty minutes the Mystery of the Undead Otters that had taken his adventurer alter-ego several hours to unravel.

On it went. Up in the stockaded camp on the cliffs he took a look at what everyone was doing and showed them how they could do it better. He fixed ballistas, discovered a saboteur and set a trap for him, painted protectives on tents and devised a short-term force-field to defend against attacks from the air. In the course of his busybodying selfless devotion to the cause he discovered and exposed the drunken incompetence of Quartermaster Fahris, last seen demoted to Blacksmith 3rd class and about as happy about it as you might expect.

It's a really enjoyable series of quests, smartly written with a lot of humor and a few surprises. Taking place in a very dangerous zone and encompassing a good deal of traveling, the entire sequence could be completed by a cautious high-level crafter who'd scarcely adventured at all (although the sequence in the otter camp, under constant attack by undead as it is, might present something of a challenge to anyone likely to be one-shotted by a glancing blow from a mob in the high 90s).

Cobalt Scar has quickly become one of my favorite EQ2 zones. It doesn't come across all that well in screenshots but in game it looks quite beautiful, especially around the cliffs. Both the crafting and adventure quests make excellent use of the z-axis, as indeed does most fresh EQ2 content nowadays. Flying around soaring crags, swooping down to land on vertiginous ledges to gather enchanted ice or teleport fallen soldiers back to base, can be positively exhilarating.

Questing in EQ2 since my return as a part-timer has been most enjoyable and in terms of quality of player experience there's little to choose between the equally involving, entertaining and satisfying  adventure and tradeskill timelines. For the character, however, the difference in Experience with a capital X is stark and immense. Each completed crafting quest stage gives a huge chunk of xp, often as much for one five-minute quest as an adventurer might receive in a session lasting a couple of hours or more. Moreover, all the things you are required to make give great xp as you go along and most of the ingredients are given to you for free!

There was a time when crafting in EQ2 was very much a grind and at certain times it still can be. I personally dislike the changes that were made to remove discovery xp and replace it with increased xp from grinding writs, for example. When it come to doing the last five levels, however, there's just no comparison.

Would I want the adventure xp to roll in as fast? No, not really. Well, perhaps a little. As it stands, though, the contrast acts a tonic. Just when you're beginning to flag, when your steps are dragging and the end of the road just doesn't seem to be getting any closer, unbuckle your armor, slip on your apron, trade your sword in for a rolling pin and watch the Prestige Points rack up as those levels fly by.

Hmm. I wonder if they know what they're doing over in Vesspyr Isles? Maybe I'd better just go cast an eye over the workmanship there.  You just can't get the staff these days, y'know.

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