Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I Think I'm Going Back : EQ2

It's ironic. Just as we're in danger of being swept away by a tidal wave of fresh content (expansions, events, holidays, alphas, betas, Steam releases, early access MMOs we never even imagined...) all eyes are focused on the past.

Yes, okay, not all eyes. Some eyes. But, as Soothsayer SynCaine says in his predictions for next year, "The big one... is going to be the release of WoW Classic in the summer". It seems we can't get enough of what we've already had, especially when it's re-packaged and sold back to us "as new".

I've been at it, too; drifting into the past, ceaselessly borne back by the weight of all that water under the bridge. Or, to get to the point (About time! Ed.) I've been futzing about in EverQuest II, soloing old raids and leveling a ratonga Bruiser through Kunark.

I never meant to do it. I was playing my max-level Berserker, trundling happily though the main story quest in the new expansion, when I happened to notice we had Double XP. (We still do. I still don't know why).

As Wilhelm says in the comments to another post on a similar topic, "I have been so conditioned by games over the years to consider advancement as a primary concern that it is hard for me to fight that notion.". Yes, well, me too.

I'm sorry, Firiona, you're just not my type. Actually, you're not even my species.

In fact, it niggles, knowing there's free xp and I'm not getting any. Of course, I could have played my Necromancer from 100 to 110, which would have been far more useful, but the current design ethos at EQII means there's only one way to do that and I've taken three characters through Plane of Magic in the last year already. I'm not ready yet for trip number four.

So I got on the Bruiser, checked his options, plumped for Kylong Plains and got on with it. I was imagining a level or two. So far I've done more than a dozen.

Even though I've leveled through the Rise of Kunark expansion many times, I always forget just how big it is. It's vast! It was the last time we got four overland zones until Chaos Descending arrived a month ago but, even though the CD zones feel substantial and open, you could probably fit all four of them into Kylong and still have room for Teren's Grasp.

As for the quests, there seem to be hundreds. Even when it was current content there were more than you needed to level but now, with my 60% bonus for having three max-level characters, the mysterious 100% server bonus, ten per cent from some item I'm not sure what it is and full vitality for yet another 100% I found myself outleveling the zone before I got to the third quest hub.

I'll hold your coat, Roehn.

I have been doing all the quests, though, which must be the first time for years. It's so easy now, which makes it so much more enjoyable. When my bruiser left the docks the lowest mobs were yellow to him, but I just hoovered up every quest and piled into the nearest drachnid.

Despite being dressed in a ragtag assortment of drops and quest gear, mostly twenty or thirty levels too low, and even with all his combat arts at apprentice, it was a breeze. The mobs barely touched him and his Dirge Mercenary one-shotted them, when she remembered to use a fighting song instead of buffing.

Every quest reward and every drop was an upgrade, which is a great feeling. Well, it is now. Ironically, when Kunark was new and Mrs Bhagpuss and I found every blue quest item upgrading our hard-won Legendary and Fabled gear, I was so annoyed I led us both back to EverQuest for six months in a fit of pique.

I was young and idealistic then, stiff-backed in the arrested adolescence of my forties. Now I've reverted all the way to my second childhood, I don't ride my horses so high, nor look them too closely in the mouth.

If the improved TTK makes the whole thing trot along in sprightly fashion, the addition of flying mounts turns a canter into a gallop. As I mentioned, these zones are massive. They're also sprawling, convoluted and densely populated.

If I liked The Waterboys I'd make some reference here to the Whole of the Moon. But I don't.

Worse, the quest design of the era seemed determined to have you criss-crossing the continent as often as possible. There's an awful lot of of going out and coming back. Often several times. There's also a delight in stationing questgivers atop towers that have to be climbed, or on cliffs or inside trees.

I remember the traveling getting us down. I don't think we even had mounts back then. I certainly don't recall what mine was if we did. Hang on, let's fact-check that...

Okay, the base game had horses and that was about all we had (other than the infamous "flying" carpets) until Echoes of Faydwer added Wargs. After that the variations multiplied but it wasn't until 2011that the whole system was revamped, adding Leaping, Gliding and Flying mounts and increasing the run speed of regular ground mounts from a barely-noticeable 65% to 130-150%.

In short, changes to the way the game's underlying systems works has turned Kunark from a killing ground into a playground. Which suits me very well. I'm sure that if you wanted to recreate the original experience you'd get pretty close by making a new account with no accrued benefits, leveling up to sixty and then setting out on foot across Kunark, alone, with no mercenary. And good luck to you. I'll be sure to wave as I fly past on my pegasus.

We goin' raidin', boss? Are we? Are we ?!
While it's often magical to go through tough and challenging content the first time round, it seems to me that the essence of repeatability isn't coming up with ways to keep it as hard as it was but in doing exactly the opposite. Tearing gaping holes in what once felt like armor plate but now rips like tinfoil is immensely satisfying. Well, it satisifies me.

There's also the enormous attraction of being able to handle with poise the things that once were flat-out impossible. To that end, rather than pushing on through the moderately challenging (very moderately, mostly) solo content of Chaos Descending, my Berserker has been testing himself against old Raid zones.

It started when I realised that, with over fifty million hit points and all his stats doubled or trebled since last time he tried, he might be able to finish the final quest from the Tears of Veeshan expansion. It's one of those annoying questline's that switches from solo to Raid at the final stage - the last time EQ2 pulled that trick, I think.

I've tried it several times and while I've been able to kill the mobs, there were some mechanics I couldn't quite get to grips with. This time it was a breeze, mainly because I was able to stand there and soak up the damage for long enough to read the tool-tips on the new abilities I'd been given so I could use them before I was dead.

Is it my imagination or are the pictures better in raids?

I'm glad I did it. Age's End is a spectacular conclusion, with Luclin remade and Kerafyrm banished. The strange part is that you, the character, end up a mere spectator as Roehn Theer, the Godslayer, battles the great world-ending dragon. It must have been even stranger when there were two dozen players standing about like a greek chorus with no lines.

Emboldened by that success I tried several more raids I'd not seen. The problem is always mechanics. Particularly instant death spells and incurable curses. If you're the only one there, there's not much you can do about those.

Still, I was amazed to find I could make progress even through some of the 24-person raids from Altar of Malice, the expansion that raised the cap to 100. The mobs there still con green or blue at 110 so it just shows how insane the power creep has been.

As we move into the holiday period I foresee more of this self-imposed retro-gaming. It's so relaxing. During my busiest work-period of the year a combination of holiday eventing (Frostfell and Wintersday), easy-mode leveling and beating up on the loot pinatas of yesteryear sounds just about perfect.


  1. There is something very relaxing about replaying content, letting it flow past while you pick up on details you missed or forgot about since the last pass. And everything goes by at a quicker pace as you don't have to tab out and look things up nearly as often. I was surprised at how fast I went through Evendim. That post you linked was just going to be about Tinnudir, but then I finished Annuminus as well and that was that.

    Part of the fun/hilarity of WoW Classic is going to be how quickly it is going to go. We've all been down that path before. We know the route. The only thing to slow us down will be all those other people stealing out mobs.

    1. One reason I enjoy it is that everything looks so much better when you go through it again, particularly when it's very easy. First tiem through I tend to be concentrating so much on where I'm going, what I'm supposed to be doing, not dying, learning new mechanics and all the rest of it that about all I notice are the landscapes and the loot. Going back for the third or fourth time I can actually appreciate everything from the style of furniture in the boss's room and what pictures he has on the wall to what the mobs look like, their armor and weapons, the animations... So much detail that never gets noticed first time round.

      Also, quest text. I diligently read all quest text in every MMO the first time through - and I listen to all the voice-acted dialog. It takes HOURS! I still read some of it on later runs but I feel free to skip all the dull bits and that really makes things zip along.

  2. With regards to the raid bosses when overlevelling them, out of curiosity would crafted potions or similar help with dispel mechanics?

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