Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Blue Sky Thinking : EQ2, GW2

I was hoping that the latest GW2 update would drop early today. I wanted to take a quick look and put together some sort of "first impressions" before it was time to go to bed. Well, it did arrive at a reasonable time for me - 5pm in fact - but  unfortunately it also came with a bug that causes disconnection from the server every few seconds

As I write this, nearly two and a half hours later, there's no fix in sight and the increasingly angry thread on the forum has reached six pages. First impressions are on hold until tomorrow. If I get in tonight I'm doing my dailies.

While I wait for my fix, I thought I might pop up a quick post featuring some screenshots I took last night in EQ2's Plane of Magic. Like pretty much every zone added to the game in the last five years or so it's very pretty.

It's no wonder Daybreak are so keen to shepherd newcomers into the newer zones at the earliest possible opportunity. Everything before Chains of Eternity, which arrived in 2012, looks dated but from that point on someone worked out how to use a combination of deep, rich colors and monumental scale to give zone design a facelift.

You still wouldn't mistake the results for modern-day graphics but there's a deliciously overblown, decadent feel to them, layered as they are with fin de siecle filigree and flounce. Everything tends to drip with lace or drift in haze, like a fever-dream or an opium-eater's vision.

That approach works especially well for somewhere like the Plane of Magic. It's a little more out of place, perhaps, in Brokenskull Bay, the byzantine, baroque lair of that drunken ne'er-do-well gang, the Brokenskull Pirates, but I'm prepared to make allowances for the sake of an aesthetic I enjoy.

I recently took my Sage through the crafting line to get him maxed so he can start making spell upgrades for himself, my Inquisitor (already at the cap) and my new Wizard. I was expecting to hit 110 well before the end of the questline but I was surprised when it happened even before the halfway mark. 

As a result, he's benched for now, although he needs to finish the full tradeskill sequence for the excellent rewards. I thought about having him put his pointy Warlock hat on and taking him through the adventure line (and eventually I will) but I was curious to see how well the Wizard performed using only the gear and spells gifted her by the latest free level 100 boost.

Very well indeed is the answer. Especially considering I have no better idea how to play a Wizard in EQ2 than to hit everything that isn't on cooldown until the mob dies or I do. Under the circumstances  it's going exceptionally well although I imagine I'll need to work out what my spells do eventually.

I always thought cloth casters were supposed to be fragile at high levels but apparently that's your grandma's gameplay. I started off using roots and snares or sending the Mercenary to tank (she's an Inquisitor so I didn't expect her to do a great job holding aggro) but it became apparent pretty quickly that such a cautious approach was entirely unnecessary. 

At level 100, every mob in Plane of Magic cons yellow and is at least six levels higher than the Wiz, but with a snare on, most of them die before they even get into melee range. Even so, I don't even bother snaring them any more. Even if they do hit her, she doesn't seem to take any damage.

What with her seemingly inexhaustible mana pool and her 11 million hitpoints, not to mention her own personal healer on tap, it seems she's perfectly capable of face-tanking any solo mob needed for the outdoor quests. To put that in perspective, when when my Berserker did Level 100 on the same mobs, wearing the free starting gear given out with the expansion itself, I believe he had somewhere around 2.5m hit points. He had a much slower time of it until he hit 101.

The Wizard is working on the third of the Plane of Magic factions so most of the content I'm seeing is new to me. It's very similar - kill ten of these, gather ten of those, oh my friend got lost down a hole can you get her out? and so on but at least the dialog is different. 

I need to max all three factions anyway. There's a very good reward for doing so plus an Achievement which flags your account to allow you to spend a currency at vendors who sell gear that's a direct upgrade to the stuff you get from the solo questline and dungeons.

It's all very well thought out. If I was playing EQ2 as my main MMORPG, as I did for a long time, this structure would give me things to do that I would consider worthwhile for a good part of the year. Comparing it to the soul-crushing "end game" of GW2, it's hugely more acessible, manageable and relatable. I'm not a great fan of incremental upgrade mechanics but you have to have some sort of progression to take you from one expansion to the next and EQ2's is sound.

As I play less and less GW2 - or rather as I play GW2 for fewer and fewer hours each week - I'm dotting around between a number of other games. I haven't settled on anything as a "primary secondary" but EQ2 gets a good deal of the available attention.

I already have two max level adventurers and two max level crafters. Given the likely arrival of the next (final?) expansion in November it seems not unlikely that by then I will have four adventure classes at the cap - Bereserker, Inquisitor, Wizard and Warlock. I don't believe that has happened since Guild Wars 2 launched six years ago.

There are three very specific reasons why this is happening now. Firstly, the free Level 100 boosts have jumped several characters directly into starting position. Secondly the ten extra levels that come with the current expansion are much, much easier - and faster - to complete than the previous decile from 90 to 100. Thirdly, the Plane of Magic content has more variety, and therefore replayability for second or third characters, than any expansion for a long time.

Returning to that second point, DBG seems quietly to have dropped SOE's utterly ridiculous practice of splitting levels into fifths by the use of  "Prestige Points". That nasty little ruse effectively turned every 20% into something that took at least as long as a full level to complete. If thay'd used levels in the normal fashion through that period we'd all probably be Level 150 by now.

The takeaway is that EQ2 feels to me to be in a very good place right now when it comes to balance and progression. Plenty of players would disagree I'm sure (it wouldn't be EQ2 if they didn't) but both in game and on the forums the general vibe in this expansion cycle has been noticeably less harsh and hostile than in other years.

It's ironic that the team seems at last to have found some solid ground on which to build at precisely the time the game is most likely entering its final stage. At least it will make maintenance mode as solid and replayable as it can be, if and when it comes.

Along with the similarly robust state of current EverQuest, it also bodes well for whatever new version of Norrath they're working on under wraps. If any. The Smed-led outfit may have had more strut and bluster but this bunch might just actually be able to come up with a finished product that works.

We'll see. Or we won't. If there really is an EQ3 in the works I just hope to live long enough to play it.

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