Monday, November 17, 2014

Sidetracked: EQ2

One thing I've noticed on my return to Norrath is that EQ2 players complain a lot. Listening to the General Chat, Auction or Crafting channels reminds me of overhearing conversations in a tea-room somewhere in the Cotswolds as gentlemen and ladies of a certain age and class bemoan the way the world has changed and how much better things were in their day.

Map chat in GW2 is more like being on a bus full of teenagers. There's an excitable buzz and twitter interspersed with lengthy discussions on the relative merits of various classes or builds. Occasionally interruptions, bursts of cod-roleplaying and attempts at humor, spark a mass outbreak of silliness then someone asks "Which is better? Mesmer or Ele?" and off we go again.

Yesterday in EQ2 a lot of the moaning revolved around the relative speed of leveling tradeskills and adventure professions in the new expansion. Crafters always like to present themselves as the poor cousins of adventurers, unloved and uncared for by devs, who none of them craft or understand tradeskills. That used to be a tenable position once upon a time. It did seem for a while as if the tradeskill hat would get plonked on the head of whichever dev didn't dodge fast enough. The crafting component of an expansion was often lackluster and occasionally it even seemed as though the dev unlucky enough to be lumbered with such a low-status job was taking his or her frustrations out on the crafters.

A ratonga called Skrit? Post-modernism will never go out of fashion.

Then came Domino, whose praises I have sung before. Domino crafts. In game and in real life.  She even blogs about it albeit not very often. Under Domino's thoughtful and intelligent stewardship both Housing and Tradeskills in EQ2 flourished and bloomed. She created a development environment in which crafters learned to expect treatment and respect on a par with what was accorded to adventurers. Not only did every expansion, update and holiday event bring a wealth of new recipes to discover but suddenly crafters had quests too.

And not just the odd quest scattered here and there either. Signature quests and sprawling questlines that spanned the entire level range. Meaty, involving, storyline-driven narrative quests that sometimes felt more like adventuring for pacifists than crafting. It was a golden age and although everyone carried on complaining much the same as they'd always done they were the comfortable, secure complaints of a safe home.

Even after Domino got promoted out of crafting, first to vanish into some nebulous associate producer role then leaving SOE altogether to go to work on Trion's Defiance, the ethos she'd established continued. Tradeskilling had successfully embedded itself as a viable alternative path to run alongside adventuring, not just a dull, if occasionally unavoidable and necessary, backwater.

I have the creepiest feeling I'm being watched...

And now Domino is back. Back at SoE, where she is doing something mysterious on EQNext, but also back drafting the crafting questline for Altar of Malice. My berserker, who  also came into AoM as a max level weaponsmith, stumbled across the start of that questline at the weekend and as a consequence has lost all interest in the work he was doing for Lucan. He might come to regret that.

In the Crafting channel there seemed to be a consensus that the crafter's signature questline was entertaining and enjoyable but far too short. If you start flat on 95, doing the whole thing gets you to just shy of 97. The grognards there were deep in debate over the number of Rush Writs required to bridge the gap to lvel 100, the percentages per writ as modified by the wide variety of experience-boosting buffs, potions and items and so on and so forth.

I wasn't thinking about any of that because I was enjoying it too much. It's nicely written and intriguingly plotted but best of all it's perfectly paced. Each small section takes just as long as you'd like, never outstaying its welcome. What's more the rewards of experience for each stage fill up a satisfying chunk of the pink progress bar.

Hang on! Is that it? I got another three levels to do!

That's probably just as well because, apart from it being too short, the other thing crafters have been muttering about is the lack of material rewards. A few house items or recipes might have been nice. Again, I was so wrapped up in the pleasure of doing the quests and seeing my xp turning over I didn't even think of that at the time but it's true that in other, similar, questlines we have had a few gewgaws along the way. I wouldn't be surprised to see some added at a later stage. That's happened before.

If there's a shortage of practical rewards for the AoM signature crafting line the same can't be said for the other lengthy crafting quest that was added with the update. This one isn't part of AoM at all; rather it's been added to the base game because...erm...I'm not sure. Although I have my suspicions.

Almost all EQ2 crafters will be familiar with Qho Augren the pest of Mara, Norrath's most annoying twelve-year old (a hard-won title given stiff competition from the likes of Nathan Ironforge). He's the instigator of not one but two extremely lengthy, repetitive and time-consuming quests, A Gathering Obsession  and Return of A Gathering Obsession, about which many crafters probably still have nightmares.

Plenty of people loathed both the whiny, demanding Qho and his seemingly endless series of tasks. When SoE (who, as I have remarked before, really do know what their customers will pay money for in a cash shop) added a Qho plushie to the Station store he was burned, tortured and imprisoned in countless instanced homes all over Norrath, including Mrs Bhagpuss's. Nevertheless, people still did his quests because they had rewards people really wanted - loads of money and two pack ponies that go foraging so you don't have to.

Twee? Check. Cute? Check? Polite? Check. Flattery? Check. Yep, that's all my buttons pressed.

Now we have another under-age questgiver with a never-ending sequence of gathering and crafting tasks. Luckily both he and his tasks are very different in tone, time taken and rewards given along the way than the cursed Qho.

It all begins when you receive a letter from the Harbormaster taking you to task over a bottle, found floating in the harbor, that he seems to believe, on very shaky evidence, might be yours. I won't spoil the plot, which I am about a third of the way through so far and am thoroughly enjoying, except to say that Raffik, the orphaned ratonga with a big book of quite amazing recipes, is everything Qho never was - endearing, amusing, funny, cute and generous.

Raffik was stuffed in a barrel by his parents when their ship sank and he is (or at least assumes he is) an orphan. Fortunately he has his parents formidable collection of recipes with which they hoped to make their fortune in Freeport (or possibly Qeynos if you're playing a good guy, I guess). All I can say from the recipes I've seen so far is that if they'd ever managed to get them to market they'd have been millionaires in a month.

C'mon! Would you leave an orphan here to fend for himself?

Globes you can carry in your packs that will teleport you to any major city, balms to increase your chances of foraging rares, buffs to make your mercenaries better fighters...any one would form the core of a major business. Perhaps it's just as well these didn't reach the open market though, because each of these consumable items requires raws literally by the thousand. What effect that might have on brokerage prices should every dwarf and gnome get their hands on them doesn't bear thinking about.

For the time being, then, adventuring is off the agenda. It's all about the crafting. And the gathering. One point on which I have some sympathy with the complainers is writs. I hate doing writs. Luckily I may not have to. I skipped the crafting quests in a couple of earlier expansions and while the xp may be diminished I did a couple in Kunark yesterday and it wasn't bad. It'll be a lot better in Moors of Ykesha and the Tears of Veeshan expansion, I bet.

I seem to be back, living in the world, not just "doing" the expansion. Long may it continue.


  1. EQII is the one MMO where I probably invested the most time crafting. I have a number of characters who were real crafting alts, who I leveled up into their 20s just to get some of the basic harvesting done, but who otherwise have just sit around in the crafting instances. I think nearly all of my characters have a tradeskill level higher than their adventure level. Thanks to the ability to have all the harvesting skills on a single character (and shared bank slots since day one) I have been able to harvest with one character for crafting on another. And even when I outgrew the ability to harvest beyond a certain level, the market has generally been pretty easy if you were in the right tier. Materials were often priced at 1c per. (Meanwhile, less well served tiers were a money making opportunity on the market.)

    Of course, I was never able to turn a profit on most of these characters. A lot of final product went to a vendor. But with woodworking, carpentry, alchemy, and... whatever food was called, it slips my mind at the moment... I was able to make money or at least break even.

    I was never able to finish off that mega harvest quest however. I was a couple tiers shy on adventure levels.

    1. I might do a post someday on my changing opinions on and relationship with crafting in MMOs. I started out feeling like it was an abomination that had no place in a fantasy roleplaying game and ended up believing that any MMO without a deep and fulfilling crafting system was an empty shell. I exaggerate for effect but I do find it hard these days to deal with MMOs that don't at least make a stab at both gathering and crafting.

      I think Vanguard is probably my favorite MMO crafting system to date but like you I have without question spent more time crafting in EQ2 than anywhere else. It isn't perfect by any means but it certainly works.

  2. In case you missed it, I did a twitch stream (with Windstalker's permission) about 2 weeks ago talking in general about how to make a quest in EQ2, and using the first of Raffik's quests as an example. You can find the saved highlight here:

    Thank you for a very flattering article! I adore Raffik and I am also glad the AoM quest line is enjoyed (and most of the rewards are intended to be on the faction merchant). :)

    Domino (aka @pentapod on twitter)

    1. Heh! Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. Just as well I was saying something nice :P

      I really enjoyed the whole Raffik storyline - well, I say "whole" - I'm up to the level 90 step in Velious. I guess there's a conclusion at 100 but I have three crafting levels to do before I see it..

      I'm not a great Twitch follower so I missed your stream there (although come to think of it I think I did see a link to it somewhere...). I'll be sure to catch up with it soon.

      I hope we see your influence strongly in EQNext but for now it's great to have you back in EQ2.


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