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...


  1. I need to sit down and write a post about it also. It's very lovely, and I love the lore as well. I love that it's tied to the first game, it's so cohesive and interesting. I have always been a huge fan of the story, more so than any other game and it still really holds up well. Fantastic writing.

    I don't want to spoil what is ahead for you, so I'll not comment on how things go past where you are now. It's been fun seeing the planes done over in this game, also I do appreciate that they have more open overland zones this time around!

    1. Yes, I was surprised by the four overland zones too. Also the return of Legend and Lore quests and loose pages on the ground for book collections. I don't believe there were any L&Ls in PoP and it must be years since I saw the last ground spawne book collection. I've enjoyed all the DBG expansions but this one feels more of a throwback, in a good way, than the last few.

  2. I've only played an hour of this expansion so far and most of that time was messing with my equipment from the box in Myrist and swapping around adornments. I know I should not worry so much as I'm sure I'll find better equipment soon.

    I do love the look of the library but I was a little disappointed to see that it looks like another floating island. EQ2 has plenty of those.

    Looking forward to logging back in. I have not felt that in awhile.

    1. Wait...what? There's a gear box in Myrist?? Like the one in Plane of Magic last time around? I never even saw it! Not that I've been having the least problems in the gear I was wearing but I should at least have looked! Going to go and see if I can find it now.

    2. It was right next to the ledger that you signed into when you zoned in. I have quickly replaced most of them but they do have nice adornments on each item.

    3. I found it easily when I actually looked for it. There was a crowd of people at the desk when I first got there which is probably why I didn;t notice the little chest on the floor. None of the armor was any use but several of the augments were. One of them completed a set I wanted too! Thanks for the tip!


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