Friday, March 30, 2018

Learning Curve: EverQuest

If there's one thing you can be sure of when playing an MMORPG it's that you never know all there is to know. It doesn't matter if you have twenty max-level characters or you've been playing since beta. Never mind whether you lead a bleeding-edge raid guild or spend your free time writing guides and correcting the wiki, there's always, always going to be something you didn't know.

EverQuest is nineteen years old this year and I've been playing for eighteen of them. Over nearly two decades I've levelled more characters than I can remember (waaaay more...). I've played on servers that have merged into servers that have merged into servers until my character limits split at the seams.

I've started over so many times I have a method. I know where to go, what to do, what to buy, what to sell to bootstrap myself into comfort. I forget details but they soon comes back when I start playing again. Or so I've always believed...

As I mentioned in my last post, the Barter system forms a crucial element in any low-level EverQuest money-making plan. Bartering was introduced with the Dragons of Norrath expansion in 2005. DoN was the expansion that followed Omens of War, which was the expansion that followed the one that almost put EverQuest out of business, Gates of Discord.

The combination of a disastrous expansion (GoD), the launch of a sequel (EQ2) and the appearance of a ferocious competitor (WoW), all in the same year, was a body-blow that staggered EQ badly but there was no knock-out blow. Omens of War, which cleaned up GoD's mess, was much better received, EQ2 stumbled out of the gate and World of Warcraft managed to gain a reputation in EQ veteran circles as an easy game for kiddies, best ignored.

Swimming from across Lake Rathetear fro m Arena to South Karana. If there's a faster route I'd like to hear about it.

By the time I came back to EQ, Dragons of Norrath was old news. Everyone was anticipating the arrival of the new expansion, Depths of Darkhollow. As I check the wiki for the dates, the cadence of these expansions is breathtaking. Between October 2002 (Planes of Power) and November 2007 (Secrets of Faydwer) SOE produced and released eleven expansions, all of which (with the exception of the mini-expansion Legacy of Ykesha) dwarf just about anything released as "expansions" for most MMOs nowadays.

Some expansions added game-changing innovations: instant transport from a central hub with PoP's Plane of Knowledge; mercenaries in Seeds of Destruction;  the Task system in OOW; instanced dungeons in Lost Dungeons of Norrath. Others sought to shift the entire direction of the game - The Serpent's Spine in 2006 claimed to render the entire first 75 levels fully soloable as well as allowing all characters to regain mana and health quickly as soon as they were out of combat.

Not every new idea worked or was taken up with enthusiasm by the players. DoD's Monster Missions had their moment in the sun purely because of an exploit. Once that was fixed did anyone ever use them again? Prophecy of Ro, my nomination for EQ's weakest-ever expansion, offered player-set traps and "spheres of influence", neither of which have I used, seen anyone else use or even heard anyone mention. And then there was the "voice macro system" from OOW... no, me neither.

I don't remember them being called "Adult Elephants". I thought they were just "Elephants".

Of all the many great additions we've enjoyed over the years, quality of life changes that make modern EQ so very much more enjoyable and satisfying to play than "Classic" ever was, Barter comes close to the top of my list. It's been so useful that I've never minded the clunky, inconvenient implementation that requires not just a visit to The Bazaar but a fiddly trip through the maze-like corridors of the Blue halls to find the player-vendor with whom your character needs to interact.

A trip to the Bazaar to type /barter and bring up the search window to see what people are buying has been a rite of passage for all my new characters for years. Many a hunting session has ended with a Gate to PoK and a run to the Bazaar.

Then last night I discovered I'd been wasting my time. Not by using the barter system - that's as essential and rewarding as ever it was. No, it's just that I never needed to leave my hunting grounds to to cash in!

I'd have known sooner if I read my own blog or took my own advice. I've recommended Almar's Guides more than once but it seems I haven't been reading them closely enough.

I linked to Almar's Bazaar Guide in the last post to save myself having to explain The Bazaar. I checked first to be sure it was relevant but I trust Almar so I didn't do much more than a skim-read. Then last night something happened in game that made me go back and read it again, properly.

You can never kill too many aviaks.

I was in South Karana, down at the birdhouse, killing Aviaks for great xp and pretty good loot, when someone in General Chat asked a question about how to make some plat at low levels. Vox, the new (as in five years old) server where I'm currently playing has excellent General chat - lively, well-mannered, helpful. Answers and suggestions were offered.

Someone was explaining Barter and I was half following the conversation when I saw something that made me exclaim out loud in surprise and disbelief. They were saying that you could check barter from anywhere in the game and then sell straight from your bags where you stood!

Could that be true? Right there, mid-fight (my pet was doing the fighting and my merc was doing the healing so my involvement was optional) I typed /barter and the window opened. It was like a miracle. I grabbed the corner and stretched the window so I could see all of it and there, next to every listed item, was a blue "SELL" button.

I searched my bag for something I could sell. Anything. I didn't have anything anyone wanted. For the rest of the session I scanned my loot obsessively as it came in, looking for an item I could use as a test. Finally a Steel Ingot dropped. They're always in demand. Only not today.

Killing lions in the vain hope of getting the elusive High Quality Lion Skin, curently trading on /barter for 10,000 plat.
In 19 years I've seen one drop.

Eventually an Aviak Rook gave me some Sivril Ore. Someone on Barter wanted a few pieces for some arcane purpose. I clicked on the SELL button... and the ore vanished! A platinum piece clinked into my purse and the whole of Norrath changed in an instant.

Being able to search and sell remotely is game-changing. It allows me to find a spot where things people want to buy drop, then stay there to farm them without having to gate to clear my bags and sell. Given the time it takes to travel and get set up to hunt in Norrath, this is a Big Deal. Yes, it only applies to the small number of items that players want to buy, but now I can check every drop to see if there's a demand and if there is I can sell immediately and clear a bag slot  for more.

This wonderful change was a feature of the Rain of Fear expansion in 2012. You have to own that expansion to use it. I have it on my lapsed All Access account, which is the one I'm currently playing. I'm not sure if I have it on my current All Access one but if I don't then I'll be buying it (or rather I'll buy the latest expansion, which will give me all the previous ones) if I start playing a character over there.

I was particularly impressed to find I could use the function even though the account I was on isn't subbed. I already knew you could search the Bazaar remotely but I thought that was a perk of All Access. According to Almar "you can open the Bazaar tab anywhere in the world and buy items from anywhere in the world (Ownership of the Rain of Fear (RoF) expansion required). The same goes for using /barter. You can sell items immediately after picking them up from a monster and have the plat instantly placed in your inventory after you sell the wares!"

I often used to check the Bazaar remotely when I was playing my Magician, back when hers was the subbed account, but my memory was that, when I tried after my subscription lapsed, the option was no longer available. Well, either my memory is faulty (likely!) or things have changed. (Or, it just occurs to me, I am confusing the usage of EQ's Bazaar with that of EQ2's Broker...the "too many Norraths" problem). Anyway, I just tested it and a F2P (Silver) account can check the Bazaar remotely.

Not only that, there's a "BUY" button for /bazaar just like there's a "SELL" button for /barter. I found a cheap pair of gloves I needed so I could test it. I pressed BUY and another window popped up. Apparently you can pay via some kind of ticket to have the item delivered straight to your bags or pay a platinum fee to have it sent to a "Parcels" NPC.

Since I didn't have any of the tickets and didn't know where or how to get them, and since I was in Plane of Knoweledge, home of every service known to Norrath, I chose "Parcels". Then  I popped "Find" (another essential quality of life feature) and followed the glowing trail to the Small Bank, where a gnome by the name of Caden Zharik had my gloves ready and waiting.

Clearly I need to read up on all this. I feel like I've been playing with blinkers on these past few years. How much more is there that I don't know? How many awkward, time-consuming aspects - "that's just how it is in EQ" - are really artefacts of my own ignorance?

I don't know but I suspect a lot. It really is no wonder new players find it heavy going. You could say it should be better explained but it would need a manual the size of an encyclopedia and who would read it? Keep adding content for two decades and that's just what happens, I guess.

Always something new to learn, though. I'd call that a feature all of its own.


  1. The funniest thing is that even I know about that feature, even though I've spent only one boring evening in Norrath. I guess that's really what you get when you keep adding systems without ever refining the existing ones. There are other examples like WoW though, where whole experience was revamped so many times that it's getting harder to recognize basis of the game with each passing year.

    1. Yes, there's a significant chance that brand new players or vets returning after a very long break will take a lot more time and trouble to check things work, read guides, ask questions and generally behave as though they have things to learn than semi-regulars like me, who *think* they know what they're doing but actually don't play regularly enough to keep up with the inevitable, poerpetual refinements.

      I'm going to attempt to pay more attention in future but I know i'll just end up doing what I always do until I get my face rubbed in why I shouldn't!

  2. Wow. I've been back playing for a month now, and I had no idea you could open /bazaar anywhere. I've been logging into my "sells stuff" alt to check listings there.

    I did know you could /barter anywhere, but probably only because it wasn't a thing the last time I played so I read up on it a bit.

    1. It's even more useful than I realised. You can stand at a vendor, scan what's on sale, compare it with Barter, then buy anything that makes a profit and sell it, all without moving an inch! It's a whole new mini-game.


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