Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Go-Go-Go-Go, Go Rocket Roll-Roll-Roll-Roll: GW2

When ArenaNet added the sixth mount, the Roller Beetle, to Guild Wars 2's increasingly bizarre stable, I described it as like riding "a souped-up, ride-on mower". I also praised the collection required to add it to your account as "enjoyable, well-paced and satisfying".

I imagined the reason the thing was in the game at all was mostly to add some short-term bridging content between major releases. I thought it would hang around with the rest of  the Side Story stuff, providing background content for newer players, when they trickle in. It also had the benefits of being both a nostalgic nod to the original Guild Wars and handy peg on which to hang yet more Gem Store skin sales.

What I didn't imagine, even in my most feverish dreams, was that the ridiculous creature would come to be the centerpiece of one of the game's bigest marketing pushes in a long while. Today's patch added Roller Beetle Race Courses to six maps, together with a slew of Achievements and in-game rewards, supported by a month-long sweepstake featuring prizes worth thousands of dollars.

As I've mentioned before, I love races. As I've also mentioned, I hate GW2's mounts. Paradox! Conundrum! Impasse!

Well, not really. My major objection to mounts is the damper they put on Mrs Bhagpuss's gameplay. She can't use them at all. I don't like them but I can deal with them when I have to. If it's a choice between mounting up and racing or standing glumly on the sidelines watching, I'll get my saddle.

In the course of a couple of hours I've tried the races in Diessa Plateau, Snowden Drifts, Gendarran Fields and Mount Maelstrom, as well as the training run in Kessex Hills. Just Brisban Wildlands to go. They vary enormously in length and difficulty, the two factors not necessarily being connected.

The main feature is competitive racing, on a schedule I have yet to work out. I've done three of those. The first timed out before I finished because I started late. I still got a reward, which was unexpected. I managed to finish the other two within the time allowed but about fifty people got there ahead of me.

I suspect it's going to have to be a slow day, say midweek, around 3am Pacific, with a major event going on somewhere in the game, before I place for points. First day of Wintersday or a Living Story episode might be a plan.

As well as actual races, every course has a time trial you can start at will and repeat as often as you like, although you only get rewarded for the first time you hit the benchmark times. They use the familiar Race/Adventure UI and offer Bronze, Silver and Gold rewards. As yet, the six time trials are not even close in terms of challenge. Whether the easy ones will be toughened up or, more likely, the harder ones toned down we'll find out soon enough but so far I've racked up two Silvers and two Golds.

The Golds came in the training run, which is as simple as you'd expect, and in Gendarran Fields, a long course that I found very straightforward. I got Gold on my second try.

The first Silver came from Diessa, which was also the first time trial I tried. It's another longish course; a little harder.  I got Bronze on my second run out but it took three or four more goes to get Silver. I didn't attempt Gold but it looked possible.

The second was in Snowden, which is vicious. It took me more than a dozen attempts just to get Bronze and I almost left it at that. It's a very short course but the hairpin turns are ferociously hard to handle on the inertia-driven beetle. I found myself missing gates on every run, sometimes launching myself into space and landing so far away I couldn't even find the track.

Because it's so short, there's no time to correct mistakes and you can't afford to take it slowly. It was the busiest track by far and map chat was filled with cursing and complaints the whole time I was there. I did eventually manage to scrape a Silver but I wouldn't even contemplate going for Gold. I would bet that the Gold target time, currently 32 seconds, gets pushed back to 35 seconds in a hot-fix soon. I'll wait for that and even then I'm not sure I'll do it.

Mount Maelstrom is both very long and very tough. I have yet to get Bronze on a time trial although I have successfully completed the three lap race within the time limit. I've heard that Brisban is harder still. I can't say I'm looking forward to finding out.

Given that this is optional content - it's included under Side Stories, after all - you might imagine people who don't enjoy it would just skip it. Most won't. They'll do it and hate it because it has Achievements attached and a significant number of Achievement Points to go with them. Also titles and a Racing Scarf. This sort of thing matters.

Even for those who aren't AP junkies, there's a vendor selling Endless Tonics including Fancy Cats and Dogs as well as other desirable bits and pieces. GW2 players live for this kind of thing. The prices are on the steep side - 350 Racing Medallions each for the tonics, for example. I have 89 medallions for my efforts so far, the bulk of which came from completing Achievements. Once those are all done it's down to the repeatables and the competitive racing.

At the risk of repeating myself, I like racing. I can imagine running enough races to get 350 tokens - once. I may well need to do it again for Mrs Bhagpuss, if there's something she wants. The races are permanent content, so there's no rush and if they were foot races, like Sanctum Sprint, I could easily see myself whiling away many hours on a weekend, doing laps and racking up the rewards.

The Roller Beetle isn't helping, though. It's annoying enough to make more than a few runs feel like hard work. I wonder if it checks what mount you're using? If you just want to finish, the Griffin or the Raptor would be a lot easier on those tight turns.

I suspect this is going to be one of the very many additions to GW2 that I quickly forget exists at all. There's a long list of those and it includes plenty of things I really liked when they were introduced, like the Cadalbolg Collections, for example.

I'll try to keep at it at least for the next month. I'll have a go at doing a race or two on every account. I could do with a new car. Or a new PC. Or $8000.

Let's be honest: I'd be happy enough if I won a new mousepad.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Brand New Bag : EQ2

Yesterday's post kind of got away from me. It's amazing just how often that happens. I sat down to write about how much I was enjoying EverQuest 2's new Chaos Descending expansion. Instead I ended up rehashing the whole "wither DBG?" debate from months back.

I was meaning to talk about the way the new progression mechanics actively encourage the kind of louche, relaxed gameplay I relish as an explorer archetype, while still retaining sufficient structure to keep me from wandering off and getting lost altogether. I was planning on pointing up how having four open world zones instead of the usual one or two has allowed the Mission system to expand into something more organic and natural than we're used to seeing.

I also had praise in mind for the astonishingly vibrant visuals, particularly the spectacular spell effects, which these days not only rival but often outdo Guild Wars 2's infamous fireworks, even when the only player-character on the screen is my own. I had things to say about the stunning landscapes, from the densely populated wasp hives of Doomfire to the ziggurat in Vegarison, possibly the largest single structure I've ever seen in an MMORPG.

I love the way you can pick out my Familiar's Santa hat and my inquisitor Merc's Gavel as it delivers her Verdict, but of my actual character or whatever he's fighting there's nothing to be seen.

To that end I'd already taken, prepared, cropped, named and saved a selection of screenshots, some of which I did end up using even though they weren't entirely appropriate. Yeah...nope. Knowing exactly what I want to write and doing all the prep for it is still apparently not enough to stop me freestyling on a Sunday morning.

At the risk of repeating myself (hard to avoid if you're trying to be emphatic) I'm loving this expansion. After I finished blogging yesterday I ripped quickly through my GW2 dailies, spent an hour or so on the frontlines defending the increasingly irrelevant Honor of the Yak in World vs World and then spent the rest of the day - some six or seven hours - playing EQ2.

For the first time since chaos descended a couple of weeks back, I decided to follow a detailed walkthrough on the wiki. Up until now I have been winging it, taking whatever quests appear, doing missions and generally concentrating on exploring the new zones and gearing up my Berserker to meet whatever challenges lie ahead of him.

As far as the main Signature questline goes, I'm guessing I'm maybe halfway. I still haven't checked that timeline. I've opened all four of the overland zones and completed an instanced version of each of them. Next up is the Plane of Water, Awuidor, which doesn't have an open world version.

Boss fights in instances are generally too intense for snapshots. I think this might be one but then again it might be an overland boss. Hard to tell with nothing but honey for a backdrop.

I might take that on today. All the instanced solo dungeons required for the main storyline in EQ2 use the same template: there's something you want and either the last Named (aka Boss) in the dungeon has it or he's standing between you and where you can find it.

You can't just skip straight to him. Every dungeon has a specific set of steps to complete to open successive areas and no matter what other variations are in play it always involves killing every Named in the instance.

Instances are persistent for up to three days. Mobs don't respawn and your progress is saved. You don't have to do it al in one session but I find I always want to finish what I've started so I try not to open a storyline instance unless I have about two hours for uninterrupted play. On average it takes me about ninety minutes to clear one using a wiki; longer if I have to figure out mechanics for myself.

So far I haven't had to follow a walkthrough for any of the dungeons. They've been relatively straightforward. I did look up the mechanics on a boss or two as I got to them, mainly because I wanted to avoid that annoying situation where the mob has a massive power drain and I end up flat out of mana and taking half an hour to kill him using auto-attack.

A nervous moment...

The wiki entry I consulted yesterday was something entirely diferent. Somehow, I found myself doing the Signature tradeskill timeline, which as you'd expect involves a huge amount of crafting. Crafting takes some preparation. You can't just wade in there and set off all your AEs at once, my Berserker's go-to tactic. There's nothing more annoying than making your way to some far-flung outpost with your bags full of mats, only to find you can't do the combine because it needs candles or incense not coal and the nearest fuel vendor is several loading screens away.

If you've ever wondered why people sell fuel on the Broker for ten times what it costs to buy it from an NPC - that's the reason. One of the benefits of Membership in EQ2 is being able to use the Broker anywhere in the game by way of a drop-down menu. Your purchases are magically delivered straight into your bags. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay the inflated mark-up rather than trudge all the way back to town.

Well, I wanted to avoid doing that. Okay, I wanted to avoid doing it again...hence the wiki. The walkthrough  tells you exactly what mats you need for each step and more importantly what fuel and how much. And it's not like there's that really a plot to spoil. This year's crafting timeline is solid, entertaining and very rewarding but you can tell Domino's not writing the scenarios any more.

The reason I started doing the tradeskill line yesterday was because I'd picked it up a few days ago and still had one of the steps in my quest tracker. I thought I'd just get that out of the way before I went adventuring. Well, one thing led to another, the way they do, and five hours later...

Crafting Crew. Same as Adventuring Crew, except for the pony.

Crafting is very relaxing so it was a good fit for a lazy Sunday. Still, I might not have done it had it not been for the rewards. One step, early in the chain, gets you an 88-slot bag. Eighty-eight slots! That's literally twice the size of most of my bags. It's bigger than the 66-slot Naylie's Nebulous Newsbag that has players dropping everything to grab the quest whenever a Guide broadcasts.

152 slices of heaven!
In a serendipitous co-incidence, an earlier step in the sequence had me making boots for a snail (don't ask...) which required me to use a tailoring station. My berserker isn't a tailor but, just as these days all adventurers are Wizards, so all high-end crafting revolves around everyone being an Artisan.

He was in his Mara Prestige home, which is where I keep all the Personal Storage bins for the account, and although I only have a Forge and an Engraved Desk installed to service my max level Scholar and Weaponsmith, the berserker can summon temporary versions of any crafting station.

They last ten-minutes but it only took thirty seconds to make the snail shoes. I hate to waste a good summoning so I had him thumbing through the recipes to see if there was anything else he could stitch together, when I spotted the recipe for the 64-slot Rallic Pack.

It turned out the Berserker had all the mats on him except for a strand of Crystalline Spider Silk, which he grabbed from the broker for a couple of hundred plat. A few moments later, voila! Rallic Pack!

All of which meant that in half an hour I added more than sixty slots to my inventory and found myself all fired up to see what else the crafters had to offer. One thing leads to another and that's how I spent my day - gathering mats, handing out cheese sandwiches, polishing statues and eventually re-organizing my banks all over again, because if you gain storage space you have to fill it. You just have to.

Among the many rewards from the crafting line so far were a couple of pieces of Horse Armor. Armor for mounts is a feature of this expansion that, until I did the crafting timeline, I'd all but forgotten about. I spent a while pondering the options available from the Archivist's Tradeskill Tack but even after googling for help I didn't feel I had enough information to make an intelligent choice so I left it in my bag, unopened. And the next one, too.

I have no idea...
As a result of fiddling about with that, I did at least discover that you can now train your mounts in exactly the same way you train your Mercenaries. I set mine going, a couple of weeks late but at least it's started. Now I need to go through everyone on the account and set the timer running on whatever beast they ride.

I also took my Inquisitor to Myrist to check the free gear in the box by the Registration Desk, which led to a trip to Qeynos to see her class trainer, who sells (for one copper piece) the absolutely essential unlimited use Adornment Remover that was once a major reward for finsihing the Signature timeline in another expansion.

Swapping adornments and changing out gear for the Inquisitor took the best part of an hour but the end rseult was another max level character with nearly 40m hit points and 37k potency. Next comes the Necromancer and after her I need to decide who gets to use the Level 110 boost that came with the expansion.

Maybe my Warlock, who's a max-level crafter but only a level 100 adventurer. Or I might spend some of my DBG Cash on another character slot and give myself a max-level Shadowknight. SK's are a lot of fun.

From which descent into me chuntering on to myself, making plans and cackling, you can surmise that so is Chaos Descending. Fun, I mean. And so is EQ2. At the moment, every time I sit down at the desk it's the game I want to play. It feels like there's a huge amount to do and very little in the way of my doing it.

Can't ask for more than that.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Maybe Someday : Daybreak Games, EQ2, EverQuest

Earlier this year, Wilhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob, following on from a report on MassivelyOP, examined a Reddit post by someone who claimed to be an employee of Daybreak Games. The supposed ex-DBGer laid out a series of fairly specific predictions for several Daybreak titles, including both EverQuests. 

The provenance of the leaked information was heavily disputed at the time. The substance of the original post was quickly deleted, although it can still be read in full in a comment further down the thread, which itself is now archived and unavailable for further discussion.

Since the post went up some of the events predicted have come to pass. Both H1Z1 and Planetside2 received new maps. Just Survive closed down. While that's quite a convincing tally, the two new maps were both announced fairly soon after the leak and the death of Just Survive was widely seen as inevitable.

Still, it gives pause for thought. The predictions for EverQuest and EverQuest2 were something of a mixed blessing. The suggestion that 2018 would see the final expansions for both is particularly depressing in the light of the very high quality of Chaos Descending, which I have been playing the heck out of since it launched earlier this month and thoroughly enjoying.

On the other hand, the imagined plans for next year, EQ's 20th Anniversary, which include "a series of nostalgic raids that tie into complex quests [that] grant alternate characters powerful scaling weapons" for both games suggests not only an intent to continue supporting and servicing the two existing EverQuest titles but also a framework by which to do so.

Add to that the prospect of "Everquest 3... back in development... rebuilt from the ground up" and aiming "to compete with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen" and the future for the franchise looks fairly rosy. Or at least a lot rosier than it could have been, given the roller-coaster ride of the last few years.

If Chaos Descending does turn out to be the last expansion EQ2 gets, at least it will be going out on a high. Well, I think it will... I'm loving it, anyway.

As a regular but somewhat casual player, I find it surprisingly hard to judge where the game is at most the of the time because much of the activity at end game is hidden in instances. Even the Public Quests, which used to bring hordes of players together in lower-level open zones, have of late been siphoned off to specific areas accessed from endgame hubs.

It's not much easier to tell how busy the game is by looking at those hubs themselves. People pass through but they tend not to hang around. Neither is there much to indicate activity at the traditional gathering places in cities; the banks, brokers and crafting stations. Those stopped mattering to most players long ago.

For most of its fourteen years, EQ2 has had a guild culture centered on extremely well-appointed Guild Halls, offering every imaginable convenience and acting as the meeting place and social center of the game for many players. Over time the options available to individuals have grown to rival those of guilds, so even players in smaller guilds or those too independent of spirit to join a guild at all can easily furnish their own instanced housing with every facility required.

Consequently there are no obvious gathering places in EQ2 where a curious observer can take a rough census of the population. EQ has Guild Halls and instanced housing but it also has the Plane of Knowledge, the Guild Lobby and The Bazaar, three non-combat zones which offer essential facilities available nowhere else in the game. You can do a headcount in those three and get a rough sense of the health of the server you're on and of the game in general.

Chaos Descending brings a small part of the Plane of Knowledge to EQ2 for the first time. Myrist, The Great Library is all that's left of PoK. It's a beautiful place and a great nostalgia trip but it makes no attempt to replicate the original's essential importance as the beating heart of the game. These last two weeks I've seen many players flitting about the halls and stacks but no-one stops to hang out and just be there the way we did al those years ago.

No, these days about the only way to judge the health of the game is by the number of iterations each new zone spins up to deal with demand and by the ratings on the Daybreak Server Status page. I'm somewhat handicapped by being fast asleep all through U.S. Primetime, so I never see the figures at their peak, but late on Saturday night on a holiday weekend yesterday there were multiple instances of every zone I ran and all the regular Live servers were at Medium or High.

These days, many MMORPG players seem almost obsessed with population figures and what they say about the supposed health of the games they play. With the genre no longer of great interest to the wider gaming public and sunsets seeming more common than launches, it's not surprising people are wary of any sign their particular favorites might be struggling.

I wonder, though, whether, we're looking at all this in quite the right light. As committed devotees of the MMORPG format, is continual growth really what we seek? And are MMORPGs really the sharks of gaming? Do they have to keep moving or die?

Take expansions. I love expansions. I love huge content drops that fundamentally alter the boundaries and baselines of the game. I'm more than happy to take a reset once a year. Heck, I cut my teeth on SOE's cycle of a genuine full expansion every six months - twelve months often seems like a long time to wait.

But is it really the best thing for the long-term health of the game itself? Expansion do have the huge benefit of attracting coverage in the gaming press for games that go ignored the rest of the time and they do create marketing opportunities to bring back ex-players. They also allow for the milking of the wallets of the people already in and playing.

Commercially, expansions make a lot of sense but to put out the puff pieces and bring in the pre-orders they have to include significant upgrades either to power or convenience: more levels, better gear, bigger numbers, faster access. Expansion that just offer "more of the same" don't get headlines and they give current players an easy out to skip a year until something more substantial comes along.

The result is creep; two flavors of it: feature and power. The former is what leads to players no longer needing to interact with each other in public spaces, as facilities that were once held in common are parcelled up and handed out as perks to individuals or guilds. The latter is why huge tracts of the world become player wastelands as the entire population crams itself into the handful of newest zones.

Over time, this in turn leads to all the increasingly half-baked solutions we've seen introduced to aging games: mentoring, mercenaries, stat-crunches, catch-up gear, welfare epics, instant Max-Level boosts and all the rest. In order to convince new players that other people really do play this game and to get returning ex-veterans into the real action with their erstwhile friends before they give up in disgust and unsubscribe, means have to be created to allow latecomers to join the critical mass of regulars at the top as fast as humanly possible.

None of which was the original vision for EverQuest or, probably, EverQuest 2. The first was certainly intended to be some kind of Virtual World, where players could live out a vicarious fantasy life in a realm of magic and mayhem. The younger game built on those foundations, offering not just an exterior landscape to explore but interior life of substance: an actual home for your surrogate to call their own, free to expand and decorate and enjoy in peace and tranquility, alone or with friends. Both of those are visions of sustainability as much as of growth.

Were Chaos Descending to prove, as predicted, to be EQ2's final expansion I'd be disappointed. I'd miss next year's. A lot. Moreover, it would be very hard, if not impossible, to see the end of expansions as anything other than the beginning of the end for the game as a commercially viable product. At some point, surely, attrition caused by lack of new content would lead to a drift down to population numbers that would no longer generate an income stream adequate to justify the maintenance costs.

But that point could be a long way off, even then. With a thoughtful approach and a well-implemented plan, the older EverQuest titles could transition gracefully into a lengthy, secure and settled retirement. If the Reddit leaks turn out to be accurate then it does seem that Daybreak at least have preparations for such an outcome well in hand.

We'll find out soon enough. The EverQuest 20th Anniversary is in March 2019. If there are announcements in the New Year telling us about nostalgic raids, complex quests and scaling weapons then we can call it a done deal. If that does happen - roll on EQ3!

Otherwise I guess it will be business as usual for another year. Everyone meet back here next  November for another ten levels.

Either way, on we go.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In My Experience... : EQ2

I was happily sorting my bags in EverQuest 2 yesterday (three hours and the job barely started) when I happened to spot someone in chat talking about double XP. I hadn't heard anything about it but I moused over my xp bar and sure enough, there it was: Server Bonus 100%.

Well, I say moused over but it wasn't quite that simple. These days, EQ2 XP comes in (at least) five flavors: Adventure, Tradeskill, Alternative Advancement, Tithe and Ascension. When you're leveling up, the default is Adventure but at max level that swaps to Ascension, since the entire endgame is now balanced around those four classes. What happens when you max that out I don't know - and I'm a long way from finding out.

When I heard about the possible bonus XP, I was playing my max-level Berserker, so the bar in front of me showed Ascension, which is unaffected by bonuses. It didn't used to be, at least I don't think it did, but one of the unheralded changes that came in with the Chaos Descending expansion was a complete revamp of the way Ascension works.
Someone doesn't get out much.

All four Ascension classes received five more levels; that was advertised. The old "Ascension Vitality" mechanic, which limited the amount you could earn per day and involved a complicated and annoying process of visiting NPCs to top it up, was removed; that wasn't mentioned anywhere I saw. Also, all Ascension XP earned by killing mobs vanished, too.

The only way to level Ascension classes now is by completing quests or using specific items, mostly those granted by quests. Quest XP goes directly to Ascension. Sometimes you might get an item that gives a whole Ascension Level or even several. I haven't had one in the new expansion zones yet but as far as I know, they're still attached to the quests that used to give them in Planes of Prophecy and in panda Yun Zi's catch-up questline.

That reminded me of something Wilhelm said about Lord of the Rings Online:

"I remember back when LOTRO was working up towards launch that the idea of quest experience being so heavily weighted on your progression path as somewhat controversial. Of course, any minor change of formula can be said to have been controversial to some degree. Still, we went from EverQuest, which was “Quest experience? You have to have quests for that!” to WoW, where killing the mobs tended to be, on balance, worth as much as the quests themselves, to LOTRO, which pretty much required that you do the quests to level up."

For a long time after that EQ2 offered a meaningful choice between grinding mobs and questing but the current orthodoxy is squarely in favor of quests. In fact, in a year when the expansion cycle doesn't include a level cap increase, XP, however acquired, can begin to seem a tad irrelevant to most of the installed customer base, which does make you wonder just who Bonus XP events could be aimed at. Perhaps that's why no-one bothered to tell us about this one. 

It did get me thinking, though. The change in the way XP gets handed out at higher levels is a reflection of the degree to which the last ten levels, including the solo "casual" version, are now both separate and different from how everything works for the first hundred. It's much more than just the XP, too; from 100 onwards you might as well be playing a different game entirely.

For a hundred levels you really can just wander around, wearing whatever gear you happen to find, killing whichever mobs you chance to run into, doing quests for anyone with a feather over their head. Yes, there are optimum paths and yes, if you stick with the game long-term, you'll have to backtrack to fill out the significant parts you ignored, but if your goal is simply to entertain yourself and get to three figures then you don't need much of a plan - or a clue.

Kill named mobs for fun and profit and, if you have the Weekly, XP.

From 100 onwards, though, you need to pay increasingly close attention to any number of abstruse and often unfamiliar systems. Even that most basic of constants, Adventure XP, changes radically, and not just as outlined above.

In order to make sure players spent time on the newest content, thereby concentrating populations in a small number of zones, the amount of XP required for each level was increased by orders of magnitude. You can still do older content if you insist but it won't do you any good at all, even if you mentor down for it. You will still get XP but it will be infinitesimal compared to what you need.

Going from Level 99 to Level 100 takes 1.66m xp, up from 1.5m the level before. Getting from 100 to 101 requires 140m. You can see that grinding in Sebilis isn't going to make much of a dent in that.

Killing mobs in current content gives more XP than killing mobs in older contet but not by all that much. It won't begin to make a dent in what you're being asked to earn. If you want to level from 100 to 110 you have to do quests in the latest level-appropriate zones, which means no later than last year's expansion. A single quest there will give you a decent chunk of the level: with full vitality and a server bonus you might get half-way from one level to the next on a single hand-in.

The alternative to grinding levels used to be grinding AAs. It's not called Alternative Advancement for nothing. AAs, aren't what they were. They stop at 350 and by the time most people hit max level they'll already have capped out. AAs are still essential, especially if you spend them correctly, but once you've got them and set them you can forget them.

Gratuitous picture of a snail. In no way intended to symbolize leveling speed.

The attention that used to go to AAs has, for a couple of years now, been replaced by the focus on Ascension. Ascended skills are extremely powerful. Among other things, they deliver nukes and dots that visibly impact the health of Level 118 named mobs, which your class skills definitely won't.

I am only just beginning to get a clear idea of how important Ascension is. I can see now why committed veterans have been grumbling about everyone turnng into Wizards. On the plus side, it certainly must make the small EQ2 dev team's job a lot easier; balancing four Ascension classes has to be a lot more manageable than balancing the full twenty-six.

Once you have your levels and your AAs you have to think -among other things - about your spells and/or combat arts. I'm still trying to figure that out. My Berserker is mostly using the highest-but-one level versions he has access to because he's upgraded them all to Master quality via the time-gated system.

Vet bonus 60%? Hmm, I guess 110 crafter must count now.
As you level to 110 you still get the lowest level Apprentice version of each new spell or CA gifted to you automatically, but to upgrade a Master of the previous version you need to reach Expert in the next. At lower levels you'd just have bought the Adepts off the broker or crafted the Experts yourself. That's still possible from 101st onwards but it becomes ferociously expensive. The drop rate on Adept spells is many orders of magnitude lower than you've been trained to expect. If I see one Adept drop in a session I'm amazed. The chances of getting one you need is too small to contemplate.

As for crafting Experts, I have a max-level sage who can do it for my casters but the number of rares required per spell and the cost of buying those rares makes it so off putting I haven't yet started. I'm also short a max-level Alchemist to make CAs for my Berserker. I used to rely on Mrs Bhagpuss for that.

All of which just gets you to Expert, at which point you can begin using the time-gated process to upgrade to Master, something that takes about six weeks. Per spell. Which itself is just the beginning. Next comes Grandmaster, Ancient and - I think but I'm not sure - Mythical. 

Even basic information on how all this works can be hard to find. Daybreak themselves recognized the potential for confusion a while back, when they added this very helpful guide to changes for returning players. I would absolutely advise anyone coming back to EQ2 after a lay-off to read through it carefully. It was written in May 2018 and it seems reasonably current but I fear some of the detail on Ascension may already be outdated.

Some of us love double XP!
Once you've gotten your head around the fact that your Adventuring class is no longer your prime concern and that your means of acquiring both XP and spell/CA upgrades have changed almost out of recognition , you can start looking at your gear. Unless you were a frenzied min-maxer you probably never bothered to pay attention to Infusing, let alone Reforging as you were leveling up. Well, you're going to have to start.

I still don't understand Reforging and I'm not sure how important it is in the scheme of things but I have come to terms with - and very much learned to value - Infusing. Infusing means boosting the stats on individual pieces of gear. It uses the Deity system (itself radically revamped recently and another entire system you need to learn) and runs either on Infusers you get as boss drops and quest rewards or on Platinum.

Pumping money into this slot machine is essential if you want to boost your character's effectiveness. I banged several thousand plat through it yesterday to add more than a million hit points to my Berserker's health pool, as well as pushing his Potency over 40k. You must repeat this process every time you change a piece of armor, too, because, unlike Augments, you can't take the upgrades out and re-use them.

Augmenting - that's another vital mechanic that just can't be ignored any more when you hit 100 although at least the way they work doesn't change - much. Keeping your gear as close to fully augmented as possible is another essential aspect of being max level. So is leveling up and gearing your Mercenary. So is keeping your Familiar maxed. And as of Chaos Descending we have levels and gear for our mounts, too. And I haven't even mentioned Fervor and Resolve...

On it goes. And on and on. If you play solo it's maybe not utterly impossible to ignore most of this and bumble along as if the old ways still applied but whether you can do that and still have fun, I'm not so sure. If you adapt and change then the newer content becomes as easy and genuinely "casual" as the lower but if you don't then it can feel like running face-first into a brick wall.

Don't worry about me. I'll just sit this one out.

As I said, if you want, you could familiarize yourself  with many of these processes and mechanisms as you level up. You probably should, since there's one hell of a lot to take in all at once if you leave it until you have no choice. Given that every expansion now comes with a Level Boost token, however, plenty of people are going to find themselves starting cold on a new character, even assuming they're current players who know the ropes.

How appealing a prospect this is will depend. It must be very tough on genuine new players and returning prodigals alike, but some people are going to love the complexity. There's a demographic that plays games mainly to learn the systems. They should be in clover.

For people who just want to log in and kill stuff, though, I'm not sure I could recommend starting at the top by buying the expansion and triggering the boost. It's attractive to be where the crowd is and you might well feel you're missing out down in the lonely lower levels, but if its the traditional MMORPG experience you're looking for, that's where you'll find it. EQ2's endgame, even the solo, supposedly casual endgame, is something else entirely.

All of which brings me back to the question: just who is a Double XP event that only applies to leveling modes really aimed at? And, perhaps even more puzzlingly, if you're going to have a Double XP event, why not tell people about it? I can't see any sign of an announcement either on the EQ2 Community News page or on the Launcher. Even google can't find a single mention. If that one person hadn't spoken up in chat I'd never have known.

It does potentially change my plans. I might concentrate on leveling a couple of my 100s to 110. Or I might wake up some lower levels, just to watch them knock off a dozen levels in a session. That's always fun.

How long this mysterious event is going to last I have no idea. I don't even know when it started. There's a patch today - there's a patch every Tuesday - so it might be gone when the servers come up. Or it might be with us through the coming holiday weekend. I suppose it might even be permanent...

Get it while it lasts, that's my advice. Unless your on your Level 110, in which case don't bother!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pictures On My Wall: OWW

Occupy White Walls is open for business at last. It took a while. Demand so outran expectations the servers were "on fire" according to the Steam page. Not literally, I hope, although I did see that happen in an office where I worked, once.

Also open for business is my Gallery. I flung wide the doors (metaphorically - it doesn't actually have any doors yet) despite it currently looking disturbingly like the cloakroom facility in an upmarket hotel circa 1978. It's also hanging in a void but then they all do that.

It's a deeply inappropriate setting for the kind of artworks I seem compelled to purchase. The abstract expressionists don't look too out of place but the bleak scenes of rural ruin, the bright and blurry post-impressionists and the endless winter landscapes really need something warmer behind them than yards of shiny black marble.

It's a moot point at the moment, since I ran out of money after about ten minutes, having only managed to buy four artworks. For the record, they are

Silent Dawn  by Walter Launt Palmer (1919)
January: Cernay near Rambouillet  by Leon-Germain Pelouse (undated, mid-late 19c)
Rushing Brook  by John Singer Sargent (1904-1911)
Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version) by Paul Klee (1925)

All of those links go to the website of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose archive is one of OWW's many sources. Copyright is always a contentious issue but according to Stanford University's guide on Copyright and Fair Use

"All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years"
 I guess that means I'm safe to include one of the actual paintings. The Singer Sargent is the cheeriest.

I did once have a small brush with artistic copyright, when I was working in the marketing department of an insurance company back in the mid-80s. There was a period when the company I worked for was so out-of-touch with reality they let me write the copy and choose the artwork for advertisements in national magazines and I was so young and green that I chose to use a glorious Graham Sutherland painting (it might have been this one but he did a lot of vertiginous tunnels through trees) as the butt of some idiotic pun.

I've managed to wipe the details from my mind but I do remember how difficult it was to get the rights to use the image -and how expensive. Just as well the people I had to deal with didn't also want to know what the ad was about. That would have put the tin lid on it!

I noticed during my interactions with DAISY, the A.I. in charge of acquisitions, in OWW's alpha/beta that almost every picture I chose fell into a period bracketing roughly a century and a half, from the mid-19th to the late 20th. The sweet spot seemed to be around 1890 to 1930.

If for nothing else, I would recommend playing around with OWW to let DAISY illuminate your own latent aesthetic taste. You might not think you have strong preferences but she will show you that you do. And that they may not be what you expect.

On the basis of my short visit today, the current Free to Play version of Occupy White Walls has a lot more going for it than its indisputable educational value. The building aspect, as I've mentioned every time I've written about it, is every bit as compulsive as you could expect.

My main point of comparison is Landmark, compared with which OWW is very much easy mode. It's snap-together parts rather than making your bricks out of mud but that suits me very well. My issues with Landmark were never with knowing what to build; they were always with how to get the tools to behave. OWW's toolset has its eccentricities but it's orders of magnitude simpler than even the final, "simplified" version of the astonishingly abstruse controls the SOE team deemed appropriate for popular use.

In a n notable change fom alpha, the Early Release version of OWW makes a concerted effort to give the whole thing some credence as a "game". To that end there are now levels, which you get by adding to your stock of artworks. At Level 2 my character (or "Avatar" as the jargon of the game has it) needs to buy six more paintings to level up. Is that P2W? Who cares?

Gaining levels gives you access to different collections. Judging by what seems to be a reduced choice of building materials on offer I am guessing that applies to utilities as well as art. Either that or the design and construction aspect of the game has been neutered since alpha. That seems unlikely.

As well as leveling up you also now need to pay serious attention to earning money. In alpha I never came close to running out of cash but today I was down to my last $500 in minutes. You start with $10,000, which goes nowhere.

Fortunately there's an income stream you can access almost immediately. The tutorial explains that you need to open your Gallery to the public so they can come in and leave you tips. I would add "if they like what they see" but I'm not sure it matters. They were piling money on my desk before I even had the walls in, let alone any art for them to look at.

Players visiting other players' galleries, another thing the tutorial has you doing, is intended to be a big part of the game but to make money it's NPC visitors you need. They wander around, occasionally nodding sagely or clapping their hands, then they drop a few blue blocks on your desk and leave.

The blue blocks represent their donations. You pick them up, whereupon they turn into dollars in the bank. Your Gallery stays open for half an hour, after which you have to manually re-open it, so you can't just leave it open while you go to real-life work or sleep. Other players, however, can open it for you when they visit, which allows both for social networking and random acts of altruism.

As I said, so far I can't tell whether the amount of money donated relates to what you have on display but there's clearly room for some granularity there. I can imagine some involving gameplay relating to maximizing your income as well as some interesting moral conundrums over how far to compromise your artistic principles in favor of commercial success.

Most of OWW seems very well thought out and consistent but there's one design decision I can't fathom. When the imaginary visitors arrive and leave they fling paint all over your pristine walls.

It's part of a mechanic whereby each visitor teleports in, appearing as a multicolred globule, which then explodes. They do the same when they leave. It's dramatic, for sure, and visually arresting, but the connotations of visitors effectively vandalizing the installations make it seem ill-judged, to say the least.

That's just one minor flaw in a very promising project. For a free to play MMO in early access OWW has an enormous amount to offer. Looking forward I'd hope to see a great deal more customization for your avatar - clothes would be a start - as well the introduction of some of the plastic arts to the collections and more terrain options in the building files. It would be fantastic to have outdoor areas to landscape for a sculpture park, for example, or to be able to lay art trails through a forest.

And in the time it's taken me to write this post, my finances have recovered to the point where I have over $6,000 in the bank. Time to go spend my way to the next level.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Some Things Never Change: EQ2

Chaos Descending, the new EverQuest 2 expansion, is turning out familiar yet different. An odd feeling; new and old at the same time.

For several years, all EQ2 expansions have followed the same pattern. A hub zone with services, an open zone, occasionally two. The main storyline progresses through solo quests and exploration.

At nodal points in the narrative there's access to instanced zones. They come in solo and group versions. You complete either to forward the story, then you farm whichever you prefer for gear upgrades, collections and similar forms of character progression.

On top come Raid instances, Duos and several other flavors of difficulty and reward, plus Public Quests, a separate and detailed Crafting questline and a new feature or two. This time it's gear for your mount.

My practice, going back to when I returned after a longish break to play catch-up through several expansions I'd missed, has been to open the Wiki from the start and follow the Signature Timeline to the end. EQ2 has a very well-maintained, authoritative and accurate wiki so playing with it open leads to a thoroughly smooth and streamlined journey through what feels like heavily curated content.

That has suited me very well. For the last few expansions I've been playing EQ2 mostly at the end of the evening, dropping in for an hour or two after I've finished in Guild Wars 2. I've been very happy to follow the guides, see the content, enjoy the story, gear up as I go.

This year, just by chance, EQ2 happened to drop its expansion in a week when I was at home with more time to play than usual. I also just happen to be on maintenance mode with GW2, popping in to do my dailies and then mostly popping out again. At the same time the EQ2 team also decided, for reasons unexplained, to give us the most open zones we've had since 2007's Rise of Kunark.

With plenty of time on my hands and sucked in as I was by the best introduction to an expansion in many years, somehow I found myself playing in the way I used to play a decade ago. After putting in something like ten hours I have yet to consult the Wiki on anything at all, let alone to follow the intended storyline in logical order.

Instead I've taken whatever quests I've happened across, which includes a significant number that open up from items dropped by mobs. Many - perhaps most - of those would seem to be side-quests or one-offs that have little or nothing to do with the main narrative.

For example, I spent nearly three hours ingratiating myself with an Iksar in the Great Library. His questline, which appears to have little to do with anything else, sent me to Detroxxulous, The Plaguelands. It counts as one of the four "new" zones athough it's actually a re-skinned version of a  zone from the last expansion. It's entirely new in content and feels very different, so I'm happy to give Daybreak a pass on including it in the count.

The Planes of Earth, Air and Fire are properly new. I've partially explored all of them after quests suggested I should. In each case I've rapidly wandered off-piste, sidelining my supposed purpose in favor of completing missions for the ubiquitous Dr. Arcana or just flying around, taking screenshots and battling Named monsters.

I haven't really played brand-new content in EQ2 this way since 2011's Destiny of Velious. I'm not sure there's any reason I couldn't have approached subsequent expansions in such a cavalier fashion. I just haven't, until now.

I'm not yet sure whether Chaos Descending is objectively larger in scope than recent expansion or whether it feels that way because of how I'm playing. Whichever it is, I like it. After several lengthy sessions I have yet to reach the point where the narrative moves into instanced, solo dungeons and I'm quite happy to leave that point some way off in the future.

EQ2's solo dungeons are very good, on the whole. They tend to be graphically gorgeous, thematically intriguing and mechanically sound. I usually find the difficulty level just on the right side of challenging; I can't always complete them first time through and I sometimes have to adjust tactics or gear to succeed. In the end, though, I have never run into one I couldn't finish.

That said, I prefer open zone play. For the bosses and sub-bosses, the solo dungeons incorporate variants of the kind of scripted behavior that has dominated group and raid play for a decade and more. It tends to involve a lot of gimmicks and/or dance moves and I can live without that quite happily.

I'm a tank&spank player at heart, or a kiter. I'll root-rot or nuke and run. If you can sum it up in a phrase, I'll do it. Just don't make me learn dance moves or break codes. It makes me glad I've not rushed down the storyline when I see Kaozz saying:

"The bosses take forever to kill on solo mode and there are mechanics you have to pay attention to or you'll end up dead, swarmed or out of mana, not terrible but the slow pace of killing a boss is really excruciating"
The solo Fabled dungeons are like that. I haven'tf inished some of those, although mostly because I couldn't be bothered, not because I found them unmanageable.

Storyline is a greater incentive than loot so I'm confident I'll be able to step up when I need to but I'll get there soon enough, no need to hurry. For now I'm enjoying the much looser, slower pace, exploring the beautiful new zones (well, Eryslai, the Kingdom of Wind is beautiful - the others are more like imposing or terrifying...), picking up bits and pieces of the story as I go.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Clothes, Friends, Photos: OWW, OLN

You know how it is. One day you're bemoaning the lack of non-combat MMOs then next thing two come along at once.

It would have been easy to miss them both. There's a lot going on this week. I'm struggling to stay on top of it all, EverQuest 2's Chaos Descending expansion and the big Rune and Sigil revamp in Guild Wars 2, which I still haven't had time to explore in any depth. I've already had to pass on Lord of the Rings Online's Legendary server. At least I don't have to worry about Fallout 76...

I'm even keeping a watchful eye on EverQuest for the pre-expansion "Fall Fun Bonuses". The first couple of weeks was double rare spawns and double faction bonuses. Pass. That round ended yesterday, though. As I write the next set hasn't been announced. If it's double xp then I'll have to make time somehow. Magician needs new shoes. Spells. Levels. All of that.

And then StikiPixels had to choose yesterday to commit. Art curation MMO Occupy White Walls has been hanging around outside Steam Early Access for weeks and now it's going in. I was more than willing to make time but as the screenshhot up top suggests, so was everyone else. So far I haven't managed to log in.

I only have myself to blame for getting caught in the stampede when the doors opened. I had a Steam Beta key for this one a weeks ago (alpha tester's privelige) but I couldn't work out how to redeem it.

Not that I tried all that hard. I already had my hands full of testing with the Unnamed Alpha. If that one was Live and had true persistence I'd be playing the skin off it right now. Anyway, I figured the open release for OWW would be just around the corner so I stood down from Early Acess to Early Access and here we are.

OWW is a very interesting MMO. I'm not sure whether it's an MMORPG. You certainly could use it as a venue or a vehicle for roleplaying. I'm sure many will. RP is entirely optional, though.

I'm not even sure it's a game. It didn't have many gamelike elements in alpha, not that I noticed. More a kind of mash-up of Landmark, Second Life and that one time my Director of Studies took us all round the Fitzwilliam Museum to explain how paintings work.

I think it has huge potential. As I said, only yesterday I was moaning about the lack of non-combat MMOs that don't revolve around farming and/or survival. Well, here's one. It has the look of something that could break out of its niche to find a larger audience, too. An audience composed at least in part of people who wouldn't self-identify as "gamers".

As a particularly brilliant comment on Steam put it, "If all those Lo-Fi Hip-Hop 24/7 Radios would be a game, this would be it". Yeah... no. Really.

If anyone's jonesing for Landmark I'd definitely recommend OWW as more than a palliative. I'd also draw the game to the attention of anyone who used to enjoy decorating in Rift or WildStar and is now, understandably or unavoidably, casting around for somewhere more stable.

Even if you don't feel you have the decorating chops, I'd still say give OWW a look. All you need is a passing interest in art and especially art history. It's accessible, involving, educational and slightly crazed.

I'd give it a few days, though. According to the forums "We're currently testing out a new patch to see if our fix works. But we are working hard on fixing it!" I've been trying to log in the whole time I've been writing this post and so far the only picture I've seen is the one on the loading screen. Which could be better, given it's an art game and all. That is theshop window, kinda. Or the lobby, at least. Just sayin'...

With some free time on my hands - time I would have spent on OWW - and with Steam already running, I thought I might as well take a quick glance at Otherland Next. That's how we're meant to call it now, the Tad Williams-inspired MMO that's spent much of its time on life support. Try to keep a straight face.

OLN, as I'm sure no-one is calling it, got a major patch - they're labelling it an expansion - this week and along with the new name comes a new game mode. It's described, enticingly, on the character creation screen as something suitable for people who like the social aspect of MMOs but who don't like the gameplay.

And on the face of it, that's not a bad idea. There's a sizeable demographic out there, people who use popular MMOs as a kind of glorified chatroom and if ever an I.P. was made for doing just that it has to be Otherland. That's literally why the characters in the original novel were online before things went horribly wrong and they found themselves "adventuring".

The problem Otherland has is this: if you want to socialize you need people to socialize with. Good luck finding them in OLN. I made a new character, took the Social option, spawned into Lambda Mall and spent fifteen minutes running around without seeing another player.

Which was probably just as well. The new mode skips the tutorial, and the tutorial is where you get your gear. I made a female character and when I logged her in she appeared in the middle of a shopping mall in her underwear. We've all had that dream, right?

I did check her inventory to see if she'd stashed a vest in there for emergencies. No luck. I decided I'd roleplay the whole thing as a tendency towarss exhuberant exhibitionism so she ran around taking selfies in front of suggestive signage for a while. You have to make your own entertainment when you're barred from questing and adventuring, especially when you're running around in your skimpies and there's not even anyone watching.

I may take my adventuring character (male, clothed) to look at the new content. We'll see. For now, though, I think it's back to the Elemental Planes.

Non-combat content's all very well but after a while you really feel like pulling the wings off a few mephins.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Best-Laid Schemes Of Rats And Gods: EQ2

I'm pleased to report that, from everything I've seen so far, Chaos Descending continues to meet the high standards it set in its opening stages. That may, of course, be because the opening stages are still all I have seen.

My plan was to spend much of today playing Everquest 2's new expansion. I thought I'd make sufficient progress on the Signature questline and see enough of the new zones and instances that I'd be able to post something approximating an authoritative "First Impressions" piece. This did not happen.

It's four in the afternoon and so far I've managed just over a couple of hours, almost all of which I spent running around Myrist, The Great Library. I sat down to play right after breakfast but at around eleven I made the cardinal error of logging out to do a couple of chores.

I won't rehash the tedious details of what happened next. Let's just say that what I expected to take me thirty minutes took more like three hours and leave it at that. On the plus side, at least we have a working kitchen sink again.

By then, I really needed my lunch. Then Mrs Bhagpuss got home and we went for a walk in the glorious late-Autumn sunshine. That took me to four o'clock, where we came in. I should be logging in right now, but it's the day after launch, so wouldn't you know it, there's an emergency patch. The servers are due up in an hour or so, which is why I'm here blogging about EQ2 instead of playing it.

A rat can look at a God, as they say.

The two hours I did manage this morning firmly consolidated the positive impression the expansion made on me last night. Myrist isn't just a great library, it's a big one, with a lot going on. And so far very little of it has involved killing anything.

In what must be more than three hours of questing so far I've killed half a dozen mobs in total. I can even remember what they all were - a gardening book, a couple of bookworms and three guards in the jails of the Plane of Justice.

Most of the quests have asked me to find things, fix things, meditate or chat. It's been extraordinarily civilized. I love it. It's so EQ2.

Honestly, I would love to see some imaginative developers make a full-on MMORPG with this sort of core gameplay. I'm positive it would be both possible and, if done well, sustainable. There must be plenty of people out there, looking for a solid, entertaining, largely non-combat MMO with a lot more story and structure than"grow your own cotton, craft your own socks, chat up the miller's daughter".

Oh, no! Not you again!
Speaking of story, so far the narrative throughline in this expansion is rather compelling. For once it manages to be both immediate and understandable. It's true that, yet again, it's all about the affairs of Gods, Demigods and Mortals but the writer has done a great job of working the player-character convincingly into the weave. 

And I can't deny it: my Berserker has been instrumental in changing the path of destiny. He does know gods personally and they do remember who he is - and should. I used to sniff at this sort of thing but the surprising truth is that I don't, not any more.

I've been playing EverQuest and EQ2 for so long now that I'm marinated in the lore like a pickled walnut. I take it seriously, for a given value of seriousness. I feel my characters have paid their dues. They deserve to have the gods take them seriously, too.

I think this must be how those Guild Wars vets feel when ANet drops anchor in the deep oceans of nostalgia as they so frequently do these days. When I find myself talking to Maelin Starpyre the name does more than ring a bell and when conversation turns to Zebuxoruk and his troubles in The Plane of Time I have a fair-to-middling idea of how that turned out. As for that Dark Elf in the cell I still can't unlock, oh yes, I know her alright...

The Scrivener. Someone missed a trick by not calling him Bartleby.
It makes a difference. It makes a big difference, frankly. It's not so much immersion as investment. I've put in so many hours over so many years that this history is my history. And in Chaos Descending it's history curated by custodians who care.

I suspect that most EQ2 vets these days care more about the numbers on thier character sheets than the characters in the story but the same certainly can't be said for the developers, at least not from what I've seen so far, this time around. There's been some sloppy writing in a few of of the more recent holiday and pre-event questlines but standards appear to have been fully raised for the expansion.

I've seen very few solecisms so far and no jarring contemporary slang. Even the usual inappropriate attempts at humor have, thankfully, failed to make their traditional, leaden appearance. If the prose is a tad on the starchy side, well I'll take that and gratefully, too.

Don't you hate people who turn straight to the end to see how it turns out?

Given that the action, such as it is, happens entirely in a library, I'm also happy to confirm the presence of some lengthy and fascinating in-game books. For many years, long before Player Studio and with a lot less administrative fuss, players have been able not only to craft books but to trade them and place them in houses. Much better than that, we've been able to write in them as well.

Someone at DBG has used that facility to author a number of works for the Great Library that are longer than we usually get. I spent a fair while this morning, reading several volumes that ran to more than twenty pages of closely typed text. They were good reads. I hope to find many more.

On the subject of crafting, it looks as though the Signature Tradeskill questline made it in for launch this time. Last year, when the crafters; Sig had to be delayed until a few months after launch, it seemd like a sign that the wheels, if they weren't yet coming off, might at least have a few loose nuts. This time I hadn't heard anything about it but I ran into it for myself while exploring the various Galleries and Wings.

Another feather in Chaos Descending's cap is my complete lack, so far, of any need to look things up. I haven't had even a momentary, fleeting thought to open the Wiki or google anything whatsoever. I haven't even updated EQ2Maps to open up Points of Interest because, for the first time in fourteen years, I'm adding my own POIs to my own map!

Working on my Junior Cartographer badge.
How I've never thought to do this in almost decade and a half is beyond me. Okay, we didn't have EQ2Maps right at the start but I must have been using the add-on for a decade at least and yet it has literally never occured to me to annotate it for myself. When I think of how much time that could have saved me I feel faint. Plus it's fun!

The whole thing is fun. That's my takeaway so far. I get the strong impression that each of the last four expansions has moved significantly further in the direction of "fun" than it's predecessor and we may just be about to reach the sweet spot.

Certainly I have yet to feel roadblocked or even speed-controlled by anything in Chaos Descending. I already have the account keys and quest unlocks for several of the instances and open zones, all of which have popped up merrily as I pottered through the bread and butter quests in Myrist. Maybe that will change when I get to the Elemental Planes proper. I hope not.

I think I'll just go see if the servers are back up. Pardon me if I don't come back right away...
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