Sunday, May 22, 2016

I'll Be Back! : EQ2

Last night I finished the Signature questline for EQ2's Tears of Veeshan expansion. It's one of the best I can remember.

Every zone was stunning. As Wilhelm pointed out in the comments, EQ2 has always had some beautiful scenery, even back in 2004, when the game began. Dungeon design, particularly, has frequently been exemplary.

Until a few years ago, though, much of that was hard to appreciate behind the muddy textures and clunky rendering. That problem seems to have been resolved and the whole of the later game looks shiny and modern.

The plot almost made sense or, at least, I could just about follow it. For once the "You are the Hero who can Save the World" trope felt, somehow, just about right. This is EQ2, though. Before anyone saves anything we have to have a meeting. There will be minutes.

Quest structure and dialog in EQ2, as I mentioned before, tends to follow a very particular model. The language is often quite formal, there's a tendency to adopt an almost self-consciously high moral tone and no-one ever speaks in anything less than full paragraphs.

When EQ2 launched it's primary USP, now long forgotten, was that it was the world's first fully-voiced MMORPG. The pre-launch publicity centered as much around the involvement of Christopher Lee as Overlord Lucan D'Lere and Heather Graham as Queen Antonia Bayle as it did around any of the gameplay.

That idea got shelved at the first expansion and ever since EQ2 has been a real reader's game. If you don't like reading walls of text then EQ2 is really not going to be your thing...although I might ask, if you don't like reading walls of text, what are you doing here?

Christopher Lee and Heather Graham may be long gone but Lucan and Antonia remain. They both make appearances in the ToV storyline, along with other familiar names and faces. As a Norrathian veteran of extremely long standing I confess this really works for me. I may not remember much of the detail but there's strong name-recognition and I do get a palpable frisson when certain familiar faces appear.

I found it surprisingly affecting to hear The Duality, perhaps Norrath's most powerful mage, discussing magical theory with my ratongan Berserker as though they were equals. Even more so I appreciated going to call on The Overlord in his floating lair, uninvited, and having him take heed rather than having me summarily executed. Although, to be fair, that was his initial reaction, until I straightened him out and calmed him down.

When Firiona Vie made an appearance my ratonga went so far as to take a selfie standing by her side. It's not like he hasn't met her before. He saved her life once as I recall. But she was looking particularly spiffy in her classic costume.

The best part of all, though, was when The Duality sent him to steal something from Mayong Mistmoore. Not for the first time, I might add. The Duality has very louche morals when it comes to private property.

Mayong isn't merely Norrath's most powerful vampire. He has pretensions to godhood and in the past he's come close to making those pretensions a reality. He caught my little ratonga in the act of ransacking his private chambers and unleashed the full force of his vampiric will upon him with the intention of making him his thrall.

And my ratonga laughed in his face. And pointed out all the dragons and gods he'd met and bested. And wondered why a mere vampire thought he had a chance. It was not only ridiculously satisfying but it finally succeeded in contextualizing just why my character is treated as such a powerful opponent, a major threat, a genuine player in the big game. It's because he damn well is!

The fact that power creep has now made even a solo-geared character a one-rat raid goes a long way towards making this work in a way it never used to do. The Tears of Veeshan content is nominally aimed at level 95 to 100. Everything gives xp without the need to mentor down and many of the mobs are yellow cons. And yet they all fall like wheat before the blade.

Until the final movement, that is. The Signature solo questline pulls that annoying SOE/DBG bait and switch trick of turning into group content at the end. Worse, this time the final act is an Epic X2 raid, meaning it's tuned for two full groups.

I tried it anyway. The opening sequence I found genuinely stirring. Very dramatic. The music, the emotion, the sturm und drang. Kerafyrm beating his wings, Lucan barking orders, Antonia Bayle in her full plate battle gear...

For a while it looked as though I might make some impact. My Berserker and his trusty if psychotic orc mercenary Zhugris were managing to cleave through waves of four Epic X2 Awakened soldiers at a time. And then I started getting one-shotted and couldn't work out why.

In the end it turned out to be a Named general. I knew I'd have to fight him later on but right now he was flapping about above the battle and dropping what appeared to be targeted meteor strikes on my head. Zhugris and I gave it the old Freeport College try. He battle-rezzed me several times and eventually killed two EpicX2 mobs all on his own while I stayed down and watched but the General kept dropping his rocks and there seemed to be nothing either of us could do about that.

So the very final chapter is on hold until we get a level cap increase and power creep takes us to another order of magnitude. Then we'll see. I'm patient. I can wait.

In the meantime I think I might amuse myself by going round all the Heroic Dungeons and Raid instances that were, until recently, out of my league. There are quite a few. That's the glory of the classic level and gear progression MMO. All content comes to he who waits.

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