Monday, January 28, 2019

What I Want

For all the effort I put in a couple of weeks back, organizing and updating the many, many MMOs I thought I ought to be playing, right now I find myself sticking firmly to some very well-established favorites. Most days I move between Guild Wars 2 and EverQuest II with scarcely a glance at anything else.

What's more, even within those two familiar worlds, most of what I'm doing is stuff I've done before. Often. Maybe it's the time of year (January is statistically proven to be the most depressing month, if by "statistically proven" you mean "paid to say so by a travel company") but nothing seems quite so appealing at the moment as settling down for a session of tick-box questing while leveling up a new character against a familiar backdrop.

Either that or holiday events. GW2, which has taken six years to develop something vaguely resembling a balanced Holiday calendar, comes out of Wintersday into Lunar New Year with scarcely a breath.

I like Lunar New Year although, like all Tyrian celebrations, it's thin on content when compared to the holidays on offer in other MMORPGs. ANet have at least rowed back a touch from their stated intent to keep all holidays the same forever because that's what people want. I exaggerate but not by much.

The concessions to novelty these days generally come from two sources: a new racetrack or another version of an event that already exists. This time we got the latter, a timed "adventure" to set light to a new set of firecrackers around Divinity's Reach. I tried it once and it looked like a lot of effort so I stopped. So far I haven't bothered to try again.

This is from last year's festival, Year of the Dog. This time it's the Boar's turn. Otherwise not much has changed.

I also haven't been strict about the festival dailies, I do them if I'm in the mood. I love the race, so if it happens to start when I'm there, I'm in. Since I have characters from four accounts parked in Divinty's Reach, ready to buy the permitted sixteen Lucky Envelopes every day and the race starts every twenty minutes, that happens quite a lot.

The Lucky Envelopes are my favorite part of Lunar New Year. They are lockboxes that cost a gold apiece. You can only buy sixteen, per account, per day from an NP but they're tradeable, so if you want more you can buy from other players via the Trading Post. Currently they're trading for almost 50% more than the NPC cost, so it's a very good way to make a few gold.

I open all mine. It makes less money but it's a lot more fun. Magic Find affects these envelopes so I make an effort to get mine as high as possible before slitting the seal. The highest I've managed so far is 598%. If it makes any difference I can't see it.

It was the envelopes that got me to log in my rarely-played free account yesterday. I wanted to see if F2P players can buy them (they can) and sell them (they can't). Since my sum total of wealth on that account was 17g it's probably going to be a one-off experiment.

Oh, I don't know though. Maybe I'll gamble my only F2P character into destitution for the hell of it. That's what lockboxes are for, right?

She oughtn't to complain if I did. She had the best runaround she's had for months yesterday, courtesy of the holiday celebrations. She opened envelopes, ran the race on a rented raptor, lost two rounds of Dragonball, badly, and set fire to the requisite ten strings of firecrackers.

You can tell I was having a good time. This is literally the only screenshot I took in four hours.

That got her more Achievement Points than she's seen in a very long while. I was enjoying playing her so much I carried on to the regular dailies, which put the two gold she'd lost on the envelopes back in her bags.

Speaking of bags, I noticed she was still using a four-slot dropped bag in her third and last bag slot. Bag slots are very restricted for free accounts, unless you buy more for Gems, but you can put any bag you can find in the slots you have. There's no excuse for a four-slotter.

That led me to try to farm leather from animals, like I did in beta seven years ago, so she could make an eight slot bag with her minimal leatherworking skills. Farming animals for leather doesn't work. It probably never did. I'd forgotten.

Lack of drops led me to doing a bit of research online, which in turn led to me first to hunting centaurs for the bags they drop, which often contain scraps to salvage into leather, then to deciding to change crafting profession altogether, because you can mine copper for Bronze strongboxes with orders of magnitude more efficiency than you can farm leather for bags.

While I was doing that in Queensdale, the local World Boss, The Shadow Behemoth, spawned so I did that, which started me thinking about how you can gear up a low level quite nicely from World Boss chests, which in turn took me to Wayfarer Foothills for the Maw event...

I ended up doing map completion in Wayfarer Foothills. I played my free account for over four hours, did three levels and eventually even made that eight-slot bag.

It was all to no purpose whatsoever, other than that I was having fun. I already have three perfectly good accounts and three is probably already one more than the ideal. I definitely don't need to be working on a fourth, but as I've discovered many times in the past, low level play can be both pure pleasure and highly addictive.

Dragon afterlife: sit in the same place all day, every day; hand out quests, when asked. It's a living. Or not.

What's more, the restrictions companies impose to make "free" a less attractive option than paying money, frequently work in reverse where my psychology is concerned. I like being restricted to just three bags and two character slots. I like not being able to sell most of my stuff to other players. I like not being able to do certain things until I reach a certain level.

Or, more accurately, I like the way these arbitrary restrictions foster an ersatz impression of playing the game as it was almost seven years ago, when money was so hard to come by I took a screenshot of my inventory when I got my first gold coin. Crafting mattered then; you could make better gear than you were wearing without it feeling like an artificial grind (looking at you, Ascended and Legendary). But drops mattered just as much because that's where most of your upgrades came from.

Yesterday felt like that. So did the forty levels, sixty to a hundred, I've put on my EQII Bruiser in recent weeks. Yet, it doesn't explain why I took him through almost all of the Vesspyr Isles timeline and much of Kunark Ascending, even though neither gave him much xp or any gear he could use.

I did those because I was enjoying the questlines. Even though I'd already done them on my Berserker. I was enjoying the writing, some classic EQ2 questing, a particular flavor not replicated anywhere in MMOs that I've found and, no doubt, something of an acquired taste, but I was also enjoying the extreme ease of the entire experience.

The first time I worked through both of those narratives it was satisfying and entertaining but it was also quite slow and... well, I won't say "difficult" but it certainly wasn't a gimme. This time I was gleefully one-shotting most things and two-shotting the rest. Far from trivializing the experience, it enhanced it.

You wouldn't believe the trouble I had getting in to see this guy. What is it with Necromancers and towers?

I wouldn't re-do these storylines at the same pace I did them first time round. The very prospect makes me shiver. Doing them at a brisk canter, though? That's entertainment. Even the last ten levels from 100 to 110, where changes in game design mean there's no longer any real choice about where to level up, (it's Plane of Magic or go home, basically) are made not just palatable but tasty by the immense decrease in difficulty that comes with EQII's relentless power creep.

My Bruiser's sitting at two-thirds of the way through Level 107. He'll be 110 in no time. Meanwhile, my Berserker, the only one actively working through current solo endgame content from last November's Chaos Descending expansion, still has three instanced dungeons and the finale to go.

I took him through an instance last Friday. It took about two hours and had to be completed in one sitting or progress would be lost. It was fun but I wouldn't call it relaxing. He'll get there in the end. With another expansion announced for this year he'll need to be ready.

Chances are, unless some Live events raise the power levels yet again, he'll be the only one who is. The rest of my max levels - and there will be at least four of them, maybe as many as six, will be waiting for the bar to be lowered yet again. Once through at original difficulty is enough.

I suppose all of this is what some people call "comfort gaming". I don't really think of it as "comfort" so much as "satisfaction". It's much the same feeling I get when a fresh game clicks and playing a brand new MMORPG is rarely "comfortable". You start out with nothing, knowing even less. For a while, sometimes a long while, everything is a struggle. Then only some things. Then hardly anything at all.

That upward slope is where the comfort lies, if comfort's what it is. Whatever it is I'm looking for, I'm not likely to find it resting on the plateau at the top but on the journey up, climbing the path to get there. And it's not the repetition and the familiarity that bring comfort, or not only that; it's the certain knowledge that things can only get better.

Who wouldn't find that comforting?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Life In The Old Dog Yet : EQII

In the comments to the previous post, Topauz said it was interesting to see a Producer's Letter for EverQuest but nothing for EverQuest II. For a moment there it looked like fair grounds for speculation. But only for a moment.

Yesterday, when I took a quick trawl of Feedly, between finishing my breakfast (muesli and a cinnamon and raisin bagel, thanks for asking)  and getting ready to go to work, the first thing I saw was this welcome headline from The Ancient Gaming Noob. I clicked through the link to the full text of the letter on the official EQII website, dashed off a quick comment at TAGN and then I had to go.

It was a pity I had to work. I was burning to post my thoughts on this very welcome, somewhat unexpected development. The official confirmation that there will be an expansion for EQII this year puts paid to a prediction in last summer's leak, which claimed both EverQuest games would go into what you might describe as "active maintenance" in 2019, continuing to receive new live events but no more actual expansions. I note we haven't had confirmation that EverQuest will get one, though.

That doesn't necessarily invalidate the information underlying the original prophecy. A lot can change in nine months. Ask any mother. Or Trion, or Jagex, or CCP. We have to work with what we have, though, or we're all just scooping soup through a strainer.

Holly "Windstalker" Longdale's Producer's Letter for EQII is immensely intriguing for longtime Daybreak-watchers. There's so much subtext. Some of it's so foregrounded you might as well just call it "text".

The penultimate couple of paragraphs are tantamount to an acknowledgment that speculation on the future of the Everquest franchise has reached a dangerous pitch. There's something close to a tacit admission that focus at DBG may have drifted away from what many paying customers still hold to be the heart and soul of the company - Norrath.

"I promise you that our dedication to you and this game is unwavering. Every moment we share here is focused on bringing this Norrathian fantasy to life every day, year after year. And we aren’t stopping – not by a long bowshot. The world of EverQuest has a bright future".
That's a Mission Statement. Yes, they're easy to make and hard to keep but companies tend not to make them with the explicit intention of breaking them. That comes down to circumstances or, as Harold MacMillan didn't put it, "Events, dear boy. Events".

At least we know that, barring hidden rocks or sudden squalls, EverQuest's current captain intends to keep the ship sailing in the same general direction for the foreseeable future. That's about as much security as you could expect, in this genre, in these times.

The line I found, paradoxically, both most re-assuring and most worrying comes in the following paragraph:

"This game, and our livelihoods, have lasted these many years because of our players and fans."

Coupled with some very personal comments in the EverQuest Producer's Letter (Windstalker being, apparently, producer of both EQ titles) it's abundantly clear that Holly Longdale recognizes that her own livelihood and that of her colleagues is intimately bound up with the health of the EverQuest franchise.

All these protestations of love for the games may read like typical PR puff to some but they represent a significant change of tone. Yes, EQ Producers have always pulled hard on the community chain to get a response but both late-period SOE and Daybreak have often seemed at best to take the older EverQuest games for granted and occasionally to view them as something of an embarrassment. No more of that.

Moving on from subtext to substance, EQII players have plenty to look forward to in 2019. There's "unique in-game content in the Plane of Mischief " coming in March as a tie-in with the twentieth anniversary of the elder game. "Unique" is an interesting choice of descriptor and as far as I'm aware there is currently no Plane of Mischief in EQII, nor ever has been, so that's going to be fun.

We're also getting another progression server, ruleset to be announced. I'm dubious about that. I'm not sure Prog servers have been quite the hit in EQII they have been in EverQuest and I wonder whether there's really the stomach for another so soon after the last one died. It will all depend on the ruleset. I hope it's something short and sharp with a definite endpoint.

Then there's the confirmation of a sixteenth expansion, set in "a whole new unexplored location of lore and legend", a description that has me stumped even though apparently it's "a terrible hint" and some as-yet unspecified "15th anniversary plans for November". Best leave those until we have some solid detail.

The other big news is the return of PvP. PvP in Norrath has, at best, a checkered history. I'm by no means as negative about it as Wilhelm - I remember the Zek servers in original EverQuest as being pretty lively and popular for quite a few years before interest faded - but it's certainly true that PvP in EverQuest has always been a minority interest.

The main concern from PvE players, who make up the overwhelming majority of the population, has always been twofold: diversion of limited resources and compromise over game mechanics. PvP players also tend to be very vocal and hard to ignore, both by other players and by developers, so there's sometimes the sense of a rowdy gang of hooligans crashing a sedate, suburban party. No wonder people get nervous.

If nothing else, a new PvP server will bring some ex-players back, although how long they'll stay is another matter entirely. It's not at all unusual to hear a returning player in-game asking where to go for PvP and being outraged when they get told there is none, so at least it should put a stop to that.

Or it will if it gets the green light. Evidently Daybreak share the general concerns about PvP's long-term viabilty in EQII because all they're actually promising is that they'll "look to launching" a Live PvP server "if it gets a good following" in the beta that's due to start very soon. That's a nuanced promise if ever I saw one.

Beyond that, only time will tell whether Holly's bold assertion that "The world of EverQuest has a bright future" is true or not. I hope she's right and I believe she hopes so, too. Can't ask for much more than that, although, naturally, many will.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Twenty Years : EverQuest

2019 sees both the twentieth Anniversary of EverQuest and the fifteenth of EverQuest II. Anniversaries, especially when they end in zero or five, offer a significant opportunity for aging games to grab some much-needed publicity. Daybreak has a big opportunity in the year ahead.

For most companies, such opportunities are extremely limited. Just surviving isn't enough. Not anymore. According to the Wikipedia list (by no means exhaustive), close to a hundred still-active MMOs have been around for more then a decade. How many of those had tenth anniversaries that you heard about?

What's more, there are dozens more coming up right behind them. According to that Wikipedia list, 2019 will see ten anniversaries for games that debuted in 2009, including a few names you might recognize: Champions Online, Fallen Earth, Spiral Knights, Hello Kitty Online...

2019 isn't the best year to come of age - any age. World of Warcraft turns fifteen and the sound of those celebrations would have been likely to drown out everything else even had Blizzard not caved on Classic.

In EverQuest, DBG does at least have a name that retains some traction. It may not mean much outside the genre, but as we saw at both the dawn and demise of EQNext, invoking the EverQuest name can still get you headlines - and death threats.

Timing is also on Daybreak's side for once. Blizzard will suck all the oxygen out of the publicity ecosystem over the summer but EQ turns twenty in the spring. Just enough of a window to let in some publicity sunlight before the Azeroth Deathstar blots out the MMO news sky for months on end.

This view is from 2006. I doubt it's changed much. Or at all.

EQII, celebrating its fifteenth birthday in November, might  also, just conceivably, escape WoW's slipstream, which could be fading by then. Fifteen isn't twenty, though, and EQII isn't EverQuest, so I wouldn't count on it.

It's a very big year for Norrath in more than just numbers. Last year's much-discussed (at least by Wilhelm and myself) insider leak suggested 2019 will see the end of content-driven development for both the EverQuest titles.

The next couple of months should theoretically set the seal on that, one way or the other. I'm on the alert for any implications as the publicity rollout begins although I'm certain DBG will attempt to keep the bad news under wraps for as long as they can possibly get away with it.

This week saw the opening salvo. Executive Producer Holly "Windstalker" Longdale released a Producer's Letter setting out the stall for EverQuest's celebrations. As is always the way with these things it's a top-level overview without a great deal of hard detail but there was plenty to catch the interest of players both current and past.

Our anniversary events in game in March include a brand new land, raids, and rares with a story about preserving our past, and it’s free. 

That's mostly for the hardcore, I'd guess. And EQ has a substantial hardcore following, still. By some dark measures it's reckoned to be one of the company's best-populated titles, even now.

We’re working on pulling together an EQ fan event so we can hang out with you, our honored guests. Timing for that event is likely to be summer, but I’m hoping to announce more details on timing/location in March for those who want to plan ahead with your own family, guildies, and friends and join us!

Also for the committed but potentially quite significant. Cancelling the annual Fan Faire (later known as SOE Live) celebrations was one of the most unpopular decisions DBG made when they took over from Sony Online Entertainment. This may be a one-off but if it happens it will be interesting to see how well-received - and indeed how well-attended - it is.

If I was submitting a 15 second clip I might prefer it to be of someone who was actually there twenty years ago.
Well, nineteen anyway...

In keeping with previous anniversaries there's also a big focus on how EQ has touched players' lives outside of the game. The media, even the non-gaming media, has repeatedly been proven willing to fall for stories of gamer love matches, births, deaths and marriages, not necessarily in that order. With the big two-zero incoming, there's naturally a hearty push against that half-open door.

We’ve heard so many amazing stories of EQ bringing people together in love, marriage, and even into the joys of parenthood. We’ve also experienced the power of our game community during the hard times, softening the pain of illness and tragic deaths by participating with EQ families. We all have an EverQuest story to tell. 

We're looking for player stories to help us commemorate this crazy occasion. Please send us a 20-second or less video of how EQ changed YOUR life... You can also submit a 15-second clips featuring your main character on your most played server to become a part of our EQ 20th Yearbook album that will come to life on Facebook later this year.
I'm quite tempted, although I'm not sure just how much of a change-of-life tale I could cram into twenty seconds. I most likely will submit a fifteen-second video of someone. I wonder if they'll actually check that it's your "main character on your most played server". Or, indeed, how?

The part of the letter that interested me most, though, was this:

We are aiming at two new progression servers with two approaches – one hardcore and one ultra-casual. Rules will be coming soon as we sort them out over the coming weeks with both new servers launching around the anniversary on March 16.

There has been plenty of speculation over whether DBG would ever launch another Progression Server. The novelty has long worn off and there's more than a suspicion the nostalgia-well that fed this highly successful income stream in the past might have finally run dry.

It seems not, or at least it seems DBG think there could be a few drops left in the pipe. And I think they could be right. While these servers do inevitably split the existing playerbase and cause problems for active guilds on both regular ruleset and pre-existing prog servers, they do still cause a buzz that makes the game feel more alive - for a while.

From the first Fabled event, all the way back in 2004.

The coming of WoW Classic means that the MMO zeitgeist this year should be particularly sensitive to this kind of trigger and in "hardcore" and "ultra casual" DBG may just have found the buzz-words they need.

Before this Producer's Letter appeared I would have said I'd completely lost interest in re-starting on an EQ progression server ever again. I played on the first and on several subsequent versions and much though I love the early levels I might have sated that particular appetite by now.

But... ultra-casual. Hmmm.... That sounds very appealing. I would want to see the small print, but a Progression server with accelerated leveling rates, relaxed penalties and fast unlocking of expansions, now that could be interesting. If it meant a server that could take you to current cap in no more than a couple of years then I'd very much be on board for that.

Whatever Daybreak's plans for the future might be - and as we saw with Trion last year, it all comes down to money in the end, not just the strength of your games or the loyalty of your fans - this is going to be a gala year.

March is so close, too. It's going to be upon before we know. I hope we're ready for it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Room At The Inn : Elder Scrolls Online

When I re-organized my HDD, one of my vague plans was to take another look at both Black Desert and Elder Scrolls Online. They each have settings that I find visually appealing and to some extent I enjoyed the relatively brief times I spent exploring their worlds.

Of the two, I liked BDO a lot more. The lore may be considerably less developed and the mechanics significantly more gamelike but it always felt much more like a "real" place to me. The various NPCs seemed, somehow, to be "there" in a way they don't in ESO.

It was very easy to imagine life going on in without me in Calpheon or Valencia, whereas in Glenumbra or Betnikh I felt more as if I was walking around a historical re-enactment. It was as though the NPCs were all actors, who'd heave a sigh of relief when I logged out because it meant  they could slip back into their everyday clothes and go home.

The overriding reason I enjoyed BDO more, though, was the mechanics. Both games use a form of mouse-locked, reticule-aimed action combat but in Black Desert that results in a wild, freewheeling romp whereas in ESO it's a jarring, discordant lurch.

Now, this is the kind of place I was thinking of...
Black Desert also benefitted strongly from having excellent personal housing. Property there is plentiful, inexpensive and appealing. The way you can open the windows of your home to look out and see other players passing by, even though your house is instanced, seems more magical than the actual magic in the game.

As I posted, when I'd patched up BDO and recovered my login details, the first thing I did was go back to my house in the hills. I was surprised to find I immediately remembered the way and delighted that everything there was exactly as I'd left it. When I think about persistence in MMORPGs I suppose this is the kind of thing I have in mind.

I'm not quite in Syp's class in believing that all MMOs should have personal housing but I do believe it acts as a very powerful incentive to retention. For that reason alone I find it strange that any developer would resist having it in their game, the way both Blizzard and ArenaNet seem determined to do.

When I briefly played ESO it didn't have housing but it wasn't long before ZeniMax added it to their increasingly impressive offer. I'd read a few things about it that made it sound a bit insipid but I wanted to take a look for myself. Once I'd got the game running and my account working - no short process - I logged in and went to look for somewehere to live.

Sounds interesting.
Okay, that's not strictly accurate. What I really did was log sraight out again and go searching for Add Ons.

I'm the kind of player that generally doesn't bother with third-party programmes for MMOs. I prefer to use the default UI, wherever possible. In ESO it's not. If you stuck with the defaults you'd never know where you were going, what you  were doing or how you were meant to do it. You most likely wouldn't even know what it was that you'd done after you'd done it.

Even with Add Ons giving me a mini-map, an on-screen quest journal, visible hot bars and an inventory with visual iconography I still didn't really know what I was doing. I managed almost two levels and an entire solo dungeon using only auto-attack because I had no idea where any of my weapon skills were or, indeed, if I was meant to have any.

Eventually I got that sorted out, which made killing things about two orders of magnitude faster and easier, at which point, naturally, I decided to stop the slaughter to go look for a house. I'd picked up a quest somewhere that wanted me to go to Daggerfall and speak to someone about an Inn room. I was already in Daggerfall so that seemed like the place to start.

You're really not selling it, Felande.
Whoever wrote the quest dialog for "Room to Spare" must have had their tongue stuck in their cheek so hard it probably left a permanent mark.  The whole thing's so arch you could run a railway over it.

The conceit is that having an adventurer staying at the Inn confers such status it's worth letting the room out for free. The landlady, Felande Demarie, somehow manages to smirk and wink her way through the entire catalog of things you, the player character, can and can't do in your room, including setting up crafting stations, displaying your trophies, housing your assistants and even stabling your mounts, without ever quite breaking the fourth wall.

It sounded like an awful lot to be going on in any Inn room but, when she finally let me see the room she was offering, I began to doubt her sanity. It was, without any question whatsoever, the smallest in-game accomodation I have ever seen. If it was any smaller you'd have to call it a cell. It's so tiny it makes the original single-room accomodation in 2004's EverQuest II look like a penthouse suite!

It also comes with no furnishings at all. None. Nada. Unless you count a single, guttering candle on the floor, which I do not. I stood there, gawping at my new home in dumbfounded amazement. I couldn't even get enough distance to take a screenshot that showed more than one corner at a time. Felande had made a point of telling me the room was too small to permit dueling. She's not kidding! You couldn't swing a rat in there, let alone a greatsword.

Monastic, I believe the term is.
All the same, it's dry and indoors, which puts it two places above anywhere my Khajit Dragonknight has spent the night so far. If he could just lay his hands on a bed...

You would think a bed would come as standard in an Inn room. I mean, I've stayed in all kinds of places, from five-star hotels to the box rooms of private houses, but never have I paid money to stay anywhere that didn't come with some kind of bed. Not in MMOland. There you get neither bed nor breakfast unless you bring your own.

So off I went to do some research on furniture. It seems you can buy the basics - the very basics - from NPC vendors, one of whom plies her trade out of the very same Rosy Lion Inn where I'm now living. You can also quest for a few things and you can either take up carpentry and make furniture or buy it from those who did.

It's motivating. I like furnishing rooms. I certainly like it a lot more than I like following ESO's so far unengaging main storyline or enrolling in the seemingly endless series of dour, downbeat, depressing side-quests and regional narratives that pepper the otherwise charming cities, towns, villages and farmland.

Triple-A Housing
ESO has received some considerable praise for its quest writing. I quickly worked out why back when I was playing before: the people who praise it like it because it's just like the stuff you find in all those endless, by-the-yard, multi-volume fantasy epics. I think of the authors who churn them out as the literary equivalent of the kind of prog rock band that makes a living playing in the middle of the afternoon on the second stage on Sundays at festivals all over Europe, when everyone's either too stoned, too exhausted or too hungover to pay attention.

I remembered that from last time but I hadn't really remembered just how stultifyingly bland the voice acting is. It's not that it's bad, per se. It's not like the astonishingly crass and inept voicework that EQ2 foisted on us a decade and a half ago, when that game promoted itself as the "first fully-voiced MMORPG". It's just flat, inert, lifeless and dull.

It's so bleached of human feeling, in fact, that I found myself wondering whether whoever was directing the recording sessions actively forbade the voice actors to express an emotion. Any emotion. Given that these are clearly professionals, who understand the lines, it's very hard to imagine them throttling back so consistently unless their paycheck depended on it.

After a few minutes I started skipping the spoken dialog. I can read the text in about a quarter of the time it takes the audio to play through so questing began to ressemble listening to FM radio while driving through a series of tunnels. Next time I think I'll switch the dialog off altogether, assuming there's an option for that.

There will be a next time, though. ESO's is a huge world and it seems one very well worth exploring. What's more, I have a home base now, and a prospectus of other places I could hang my hat. If I had a hat. Or a hat stand.

Things are looking up. One of these days, maybe I'll even get myself a bed.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

All Or Nothing - Post Mortem And Review: GW2

Following Jeremai's advice in the comments on my earlier post on Guild Wars 2's latest Living World episode, All or Nothing, I'm going to say a few things about what I saw there. If anyone hasn't played through the storyline yet but intends to, I'd look away now...


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Same Old Song : Astellia

As Mailvatar noted in the comments to the previous post, I do have a lot of MMOs on my desktop right now. Can you ever have enough MMORPGs, though? That's the question. There's always room for one more, isn't there?

A couple of days ago, MassivelyOP reported on a new one to me. I probably should have remembered it - they first featured it back in 2016 - but I didn't. It's yet another Eastern import, coming to us in here the West, this time, from South Korea. It's called Astellia, which is a perfectly functional, -if rather bland - name for what looks to be a standard Eastern take on Western fantasy.

It also just happens to be the name chosen by "a leading provider of network and subscriber intelligence", whose website currently leads the Google search race. If the new MMORPG succeeds in emulating the success of another fairly recent import, Black Desert Online, those rankings could easily change.

On the topic of BDO, while we're talking about it, I patched the game up the other day. I already had a full installation from a few months after the Western launch but to bring it up to date I had to download another 36GB. BDO has had a lot of "expansions" since I've been away. It is, by most reports, thriving.

When I was finally able to log in I found my characters all still where I left them. I'd forgotten I had three. Multiple characters in a particular game is usually a sign that I'm enjoying myself. I did indeed find Black Desert quite compelling for a while.

There's a non-trivial chance I'd find it so again but unfortunately my current installation appears to have a bug that's close to game-breaking: my keyboard doesn't work. When I got into the game I couldn't move or do anything. I stood there by the side of the road and watched horses and carriages pound past me. A giant airship cruised by overhead. I don't remember those being in the game when I last played.

That thing's going to frighten the sheep.

Some fiddling about via the Escape menu eventually got my WASD keys working but that was about it. I can run about and talk to NPCs but not much else. I remembered the way to my cliffside cottage, another indication that I'd been fairly invested in the game at one time. I made my way there and found it exactly as I'd left it.

By this point I was quite keen to carry on playing so I did some research on the bug and tried a number of suggested fixes. None of them worked. If all else fails I can try a full re-install but I can't say I'm looking forward to it so chances are I'll let BDO lie fallow for a while longer.

Anyway, right now I'm patching up Elder Scrolls Online, so I don't have the bandwidth. The ESO patcher doesn't tell me the full size of the download but I'm guessing it's huge because I've been at it for several hours and there's no sign of it stopping. Maybe it'll be ready for the weekend.

I did succeed in getting Dragon Nest installed and patched. It seems to have changed hands yet again. I've lost count of how many different owners and publishers it's had. None of my several previous login IDs worked so I made a new account with the oddly-named Cherry Credits and started over from scratch, yet again. I think that's the fourth time - no, the fifth if I count the mobile version.

Cherry Credits appears to be some kind of Singaporean portal for any number of games. Why I now have to go via Singapore to play a game called Dragon Nest EU beats me but Dragon Nest is worth any amount of hoop-jumping. I think it's probably fair to say it's one of my favorite MMORPGs of all time, now. Maybe one day I'll actually manage to get far enough to find out what's going on in the demented storyline.

Dora Dora Dorah!

With all that re-installing and re-investing going on I probably don't need to be looking to new games to satisfy my craving for "novelty" but I am anyway. What caught my attention about Astellia was the producers' insistence that it's going to be "a Classical MMORPG striving to return the genre to its roots". 

Doubling down on that bold claim, in an interview with MOP, Astellia's Western publisher, Barunson (no, me neither...) goes on to predict that "Astellia is positioned to appeal to players who have enjoyed EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, and other content based MMORPGs". 

The game uses the modern version of the Holy Trinity (Tank, Healer, DPS) and has an old-school PvE/PvP split, with solo and group dungeons, instanced battlegrounds and large-scale, three faction realm versus realm PvPvE. That's quite a list of things I like, if only they're done the way I like them to be done.

What's been somewhat harder to establish is how the controls work. Combat is tab-target but I have yet to ascertain for certain whether it's also hotbar-enabled in what we've learned to call "WoW Style". It doesn't necessarily follow but from this video it certainly looks as though there's a free mouse pointer in play. 

So far, so good, from my perspective, at least. Also, the world looks visually attractive and the characters and animations seem smooth enough. I did a bit more digging and found some comments from people who have played the Korean version. For example: 

"I played a healer (it has defined roles) but found it really mediocre - its not horrible, but its also not anything groundbreaking or amazing. The questing is boring, its hub based - the game just feels like something that belongs in 2005."

"The questing was really bad - kill stuff, pick plants - and always have to run back to the quest guy - no remote turn in - just a bunch of time wasted. The first mount comes in early - I think at level 7 or 8, but even with the mount I felt like I was moving really.... slow... back from one NPC to another to do these mindless quests. The game does have sort of an old-school feel to it but it's nowhere near as good as old school MMORPGs." 

Which is... kind of what I wanted to hear. Not the part about it being not as good as the games it professes to model itself on, obviously, but that it does, in fact, ressemble them to a significant degree.

Something I found significantly more intriguing was this interview. It seems to have been Google-translated, which makes it for a highly, if unintentionally, amusing read but there are also some quite surprising revelations concerning the thoughts and intentions behind the game.
"Q. The composition of the content looks like a game that requires patience, which should last a long time. I wonder how you look at the age group playing this game.
Chung Hyun-tae, CEO: It aims to make sure that a game is convinced, and it is aimed internally and at the 30th and 40th user groups. Of course, it is said that the age group is the same for all ages."

Borrowed from the official website
What this means (it's clarified later in the interview) is that the demographic targeted by the Korean developers is players in their thirties and forties but younger players might enjoy it anyway. The character visuals do play a little younger than the setting suggests but targeting an older audience makes quite a lot of sense when you consider the retro gameplay.

Chung Hyun-tae goes on to say "I want to point out that if you were targeting users of 3:40, you are not focusing heavily on a niche market", by which I interpret him to mean that there are a lot of MMORPG players in that age bracket. And I think that's right. You just don't often hear MMORPG designers admit that their core audience is aging.

Al this and I haven't even mentioned the title's USP, which is the eponymous "Astell Companion System", which consists of  "Dozens of Astels to acquire, level, and build effective support teams that can combo directly with your character based on classes and skills". It's a collectible card game inside an MMORPG, essentially. I remain to be convinced how well that will work but it'll be something different to play around with and learn, which is always fun.

All things considered, I'm not expecting much of Astellia. It's going to be a very odd duck, something of a hybrid throwback, combining WoW-clone era gameplay and design with relatively recent Eastern visuals. It's also likely to have a Buy-to-Play business model. They promise no "Pay to Win" and a relatively inocuous cash shop but we'll see.

I'll probably buy it. I'm not so sure about the "play" part.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

If I Can't See It, It's Not There

Above is a screenshot of my desktop. Some of my desktop. I cropped four columns - forty icons - from the left-hand side.

Apart from a handful of single-player games - in fact, all the single-player games I currently own - everything that remains is either an MMO, an MMO platform or an application related in some way to playing MMOs.

The background is a screenshot from Guild Wars 2. All my desktop backgrounds in living memory have been shots from MMOs. I have tens of thousands of them so there's plenty of choice.

Obsession is such an ugly word. Then again, so is breezeblock.

As I mentioned in some post or other a while back, I got a 2TB HDD for my birthday but I only got around to installing it after Christmas. That gave me three internal HDDs and four terabytes of onboard storage in total.

This morning I hooked up an external HDD via a USB caddy and moved a bunch of MMOs across. Then I went through all three drives and made sure the icons for all those MMOs were present on the desktop.

Well, I say I went through them. I mostly opened folders in a haphazard fashion and pulled out any launchers or executables that I happened to spot. I am no more organized in filing or ordering my games than I am in playing them. Still, I think I got most of what there was.

This means I currently have thirty-eight MMOs, MMORPGs or limited tests for MMOs immediately available from the screen. Having an active icon on my desktop significantly increases the chances I will actually play any one of these. If I have to go find the game on an external disc, or even go digging around in the files on an internal drive, chances are I'll get distracted and end up doing something else entirely.

That said, not all of those thirty-eight MMOs are playable right now. The icon for Valiance, for example, one of the numerous would-be successors to City of Heroes, used to go to some kind of tech demo or sneak peak. I don't think that's running any more. Hang on, I'll find out... no. it's not.

As for Minions of Mirth, it used to be an MMO but now it's not. I'd forgotten all about until it got a mention on MassivelyOP a while back. The server hosting the MMO died but the offline single-player version still works. I patched it up today, made a new account and logged in to check. I never got very far in MoM the first (or second, or third) time around and I certainly don't plan on trying to get any further in single-player mode but I've confirmed it's there if I want it.

Dino Storm I did used to enjoy playing. I might very well fancy another go. Is that one still running? It didn't work when I tried it a few minutes ago. I thought maybe it had finally died but nope! As it turns out, it's just not on Bigpoint any more. Not that I 'd remembered it was.

Bigpoint decided to get out of the cowboy dinosaur business back in September last year but the game continues under the banner of Splitscreen Games. I just downloaded the new launcher from their website. It let me log in with my old username and my character was waiting for me just as I left him, what must now be several years ago.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many MMOs there are and how long they last. Also how devotedly they retain our data even when we don't seem to have any more interest in using it. Dino Storm was fairly busy when last I played but there seemed to no-one but me around this time.

Auteria, an MMO in comparison with which Dino Storm is World of Warcraft, is also still plugging away. I just logged in and there it was. Why, and for whom? No idea.

Speaking of obscure MMOs that no-one ever talks about, let alone plays, one that's not on the desktop screenshot above is The Hammers End. Actually, it is on the desktop now but I added it after I took the screenshot. I remembered it as I was writing this post si I went to see if it was still around. It is.

The website has been smartened up somewhat. Not only that but the ludicrous payment model I balked at has been replaced with a straightforward F2P/Premium system. I downloaded the game and, yes, my old login still works and my character is still there.

What's more, THE seems to have received some significant quality of life attention, possibly as part of the F2P conversion. If I can find a spare hour or two I'll have a run around, see what's changed and maybe do an update post. It's an interesting little game that deserves more attention that it gets. Well, it would be hard for it to deserve less since it gets approximately none...

The main reason I started all of this wasn't to dig up obscure old titles and see how they're doing. It was to dig up big, successful titles I keep reading about and see how they're doing. The two I specifically would like to look at again are Elder Scrolls Online and Black Desert Online.

There's always seem to be plenty of people willing to bang on about how no-one makes proper AAA MMORPGs any more and how the entire genre is doomed and yet there's these two, seemingly doing great business, both popular and successful. Not to mention Warframe. And FFXIV. Just off the top of my head.

I don't think Warframe's ever going to be my sort of thing, mainly because the suits your character has to wear are so unremittingly hideous. I have never seen one single screenshot of the game where the player-character didn't look repulsive. I thought it might be different in the game itself but if anything it was worse.

If Warframe's off the table for reasons of fashion, FFXIV certainly isn't. Characters there are a pleasure to look at. I might play some more of that, some day, seeing as how Square were kind enough to offer the first thirty or so levels for free.

What I really want to do, though, is to visit my old house in BDO. The housing there doesn't get much of a mention but i thought it was pretty spiffy. and maybe see how much ESO has changed.

I might also, finally, get back to Dragon Nest. That turned out to be another icon that didn't work. Dragon Nest has a convoluted history of ownership/publishing/regionalization that I could never keep straight but it seems whatever version I had installed isn't around any more.

Dragon Nest Europe is still available via Steam, though, and I'm patching that up as I type. (Ed. It didn't work. Now I'm downloading it direct from the website). I also have the mobile version on Android. Supposedly it's cross-plattform now. If I could find my old log-in details I'd test that but I have a horrible feeling I might have to start again from scratch.

Anyway, enough of this. I'm just hoping that having all these titles directly to hand, ready to fire up on a whim, might lead to me playing a wider variety of MMOs again. Of late I've been in something of a comfortable rut, doing dailies in GW2 and pottering about in EverQuest II. Very enjoyable it's been, too, but it wouldn't do me any harm to branch out a little.

I am very definitely not going to follow the blogging trend and start setting myself goals or targets, let alone producing some kind of schedule. Heaven forfend! I am hoping, though, that merely seeing the icons in front of me each time I sit down at the keyboard might lead to a little meander across the MMO map.

After all, there's so much out there I haven't seen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing : GW2

Yesterday, sometime around five in the evening, "All or Nothing", the fifth episode in Guild Wars 2's fourth season of The Living World, went live. At the time I was playing EverQuest II. Later, I stopped to have tea. Then Mrs Bhagpuss and I watched something on iPlayer.

It wasn't until around eight in the evening that I logged into GW2 to start the new chapter. By a quarter past eleven I'd finished it.

I was still thinking about it when I went to bed. I dreamed about it in the night. I woke up thinking about it this morning. Mostly about the way it ended.

There's not much I can say that isn't a spoiler. Nothing, really. I took plenty of screenshots, some of them excellent, but I can't use any of those either, especially not the best ones.

I guess I can talk about the new map, Thunderhead Peaks. I haven't really explored it yet, other than the parts that I needed to visit for the storyline. It's a very large, multi-layered area that sits above Desert Highlands. I think it's technically part of a region known as Deldrimor Front, which may or may not be part of The Shiverpeaks. It's a moot point. As yet it doesn't connect to anything else.

Visually, Thunderhead Peaks is stunning. I found it difficult to resist running off in all directions to poke around the ruins, caves, tombs, mines and mountains. As I was working through the storyline there, banners flashed across my screen, announcing various stages of what I took to be the meta event chain.

I declined to join in. Too busy. Too focused. Word on the meta isn't very positive, anyway, but I only found that out later. I'll reserve judgment until I've tried it for myself.

The other big ticket item in the update is a new Fractal along with a lot of tweaks to that game mode. I don't do Fractals so I have nothing to say on that. There's also a new Epic weapon, something else I have no interest in, a new mount mastery that sounds marginally useful at best and an "Upgradeable Weapon Set" about which I know absolutely nothing.

None of which matters in the least, not after that story episode. Which I really can't talk about.

I suppose I could comment on how very, very short it is. That's not really a spoiler. Even by the long-established standards the Living World, this is blink-and-you'll-miss-it short.

It took me barely three hours on a first run, when I had no idea what I was doing. Those three hours included at least thirty minutes of dithering and probably another ten or fifteen taking screenshots and generally gawking. Plus I spoke to every NPC that would talk back.

Added to that, I do the Living World on my heal-specced Druid, who wishes he had the DPS of a limp dish-rag. I'd estimate that a second run, on a character with decent DPS, knowing where to go and what to do, would take no more than a couple of hours.

And yet, I'm not complaining. One of the reasons All or Nothing is so short is that, finally and thankfully, almost all of the really pointless, timewasting filler has been removed. It's true that there is still a certain amount of repetition but the barefaced padding isn't quite as obvious as it used to be.

The big fights were... ok, I guess. They didn't last forever. I was able to use my normal class abilities. Nothing made me want to throw my monitor out of the window. It's an improvement. I'll take it.

The story, though. The story and the ending. That ending...

So, now what? We wait three months for Episode Six? Or was that the finale of Season Four? Do we go all the way to late Summer, early Autumn and a third expansion that hasn't been officially announced or even unofficially hinted at? Which might not even exist?

We're supposed to just carry on? As though nothing happened?

Anyway, I can't discuss it so I'm going to shut up. And you know what? By the time it's all common knowledge and fair game for analysis and dissection and speculation we'll all have moved on and it will be too late. No-one will want to know. So I'll never get to discuss it.

This is what I will say: it's the kind of thing that, the moment you've finished it, you want spend a whole evening talking about. Preferably in a bar, loudly, with hand gestures. And you know someone's going to cry and if someone else says the wrong thing then, friendships could end over it.

Where does that leave us? Well, that's what we'd talk about, isn't it? We'd have to. We couldn't not.

But we can't. So let's leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Do I Do Now? : EQ2

This is the post I planned to write yesterday, until my plans went awry and I ended up posting about how I don't plan ahead. You can see why.

Leveling up my Bruiser in EverQuest II these past couple of weeks has been a journey. Actually, several journeys. At around level 60 he started in Tenebrous Tangle, the beginner zone from 2006's Kingdom of Sky expansion. From there he moved on to Kylong Plains, the opening zone of 2007's Rise of Kunark. In doing so, he skipped an expansion entirely, Echoes of Faydwer. That too, almost unbelievably, also launched in 2006.

I often refer to the glory days, when EverQuest routinely released two full, boxed expansions per calendar year. EQ2 never quite matched that astonishing production rate but between September 2005 and November 2007 the game received four boxed expansions, any of which was easily large enough by modern standards to merit release as a standalone MMORPG.

For a while my Bruiser diligently followed the solo path the RoK designers intended. He scooped up all the quests at the dock - there are many - and finished them all. These opened quest hubs elsewhere in the zone. Some he happily cleared; others he began, then left hanging.

He visited the zone's main city, Teren's Grasp and got his Sokokar mount, a big moment back in the day when we didn't all have flying mounts of our own. He ventured into the opening dungeon, Karnor's Castle, where he found someone else already soloing the heroic mobs once meant only for full groups.

Didn't think to take any screenshots until much later. Here's one of the Bruiser posing in his fancy new raid gear.

By the time he'd made it to RoK's sophomore zone, Fens of Nathsar, and completed the opening faction quests, everything was once again turning green. In search of that sweet xp spot that comes from questing just ahead of the expected curve, he moved on to 2010's Sentinel's Fate expansion.

There he abandoned any pretense of following the plot. He flew around on his Patchwork Pegasus (a mount from a holiday event that allows anyone to fly long, long before the original level restriction of 86), swooping down to pick off named mobs as he saw them, cherry-picking a few, short quest chains I remembered with affection.

When he'd had enough of that he moved on to 2011's Destiny of Velious expansion, passing over the opening zone to start in Eastern Wastes. He jumped straight into the quest chain involving the Ry'Gorr orcs and by the time he'd wrapped that up it was time to move on.

At this point my Bruiser was at the very end of his eighties. Throughout the few brief sessions it had taken to get him there, experience had been coming so fast he'd barely scratched the surface of any of the expansions, which flicked past like the turning pages of a calendar in a 1940s movie.

At around this point I paused for a rethink. While everything continued to be very easy, it was clear that the Mercenary was doing all of the heavy lifting. Since it looked very much as though the Bruiser was going to promote himself into the front ranks of regularly-played characters, I thought he should sort himself out.

Cobalt Scar has spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

I checked the broker for upgrades. To my surprise there were plenty of Masters in the right level range on sale at very reasonable prices. I bought all of them. Then I filled out the few gaps with Adepts. For a few hundred platinum his spellbook was suddenly up to date.

Next I spent a while sorting out his AAs. I thought they'd been auto-allocating but they hadn't. He had around sixty unspent. That made a significant difference.

Finally I took him to the bank. As a counterpoint to levelling I'd been taking my max-level berserker around some old raid dungeons; Fabled gear had been raining down on him and all of it was Heirloom tagged, meaning anyone on the account could use it.

About half of it was Level 90, the rest 95. As soon as he hit 90 he slipped into his shiny raid gear and took the Griffon to Withered Lands.

He'd already popped over in the late 80s, only to find that the minimum level to get quests was 90. Withered Lands is the Velious zone that was added between expansions to take characters from 90 to 92. It was an irritating period, when SoE decided to slow leveling to a crawl, so that doing one level took as long as five.

Whatever code underpinned that design evidently persists. Xp did indeed slow down to a crawl. A relative crawl, that is. I remember completing Withering Lands when it was new. It has a long and meandering storyline and what feels like hundreds of quests.

By "intrusion" Malra means "altrusitic response to our duplicitous pleas for help". And by "proper guest", Allura means "someone who can't resist our coercive mind-controlling powers".

It took Mrs Bhagpuss and I, mostly duoing, several weeks to complete it all. My Bruiser knocked off a good chunk in a couple of days, taking him to 92. There was still plenty more to do there but at 92 he'd picked up the breadcrumb quest for what I believe to be one of the best zones in the game, Cobalt Scar, so off he went.

Cobalt Scar, gorgeous to look at, fascinating to explore, has a long, involving and very nearly coherent storyline. My Bruiser did all of it. It was both a pleasure and a revelation. Not only was the storyline as entertaining as I'd remembered but there turned out not only to be some parts that I'd forgotten but even some that I'd missed.

At the conclusion of the zone storyline there's a segue into a Signature quest involving the long-running Ages End prophecy that underpins a number of expansions. I'd started that with my Berserker, back when Cobalt Scar was current content, but never finished it.

When I started to hit content and cut scenes I was sure I'd never seen before, I had to log my Berserker in and check his completed quest log to try and figure out why. It transpires that he'd stopped at the point when the questline moves into an Advanced Solo dungeon. It had been simply too tough for him. He'd shelved it for later, then never gone back.

Ongoing power creep has made deep, structural changes to the game. It's highly significant that my Bruiser didn't falter at the point my Berserker balked. The boss fights were harder in the instances toward the end, it's true. He did have to Feign Death and wait for me to look up strategies on the wiki once or twice. In the end, though, he finished the whole thing at the first attempt.

Bildi! This is an important meeting for important people! Go away!

Over the years, the many, many years, EQ2's deep storyline involving Gods, Dragons, Mad Scientists, Vampires and Elemental Forces has seeped into my subconscious. I know so much without knowing what I know. The effect is that the appearance of certain characters or references to certain events triggers an emotional response even if I'm not entirely sure why.

The Ages End storyline, though I barely understand it and couldn't summarize even the main plot points if my life depended on it, always manages to wring some kind of reaction from me as it unfolds. The final movement of the Cobalt Scar sequence was no exception. I'm going to have to finish it now on my Berserker so I can see it from Freeport's perspective, my Bruiser being a quiche-eating Qeynosian.

All of that put my Bruiser into the mid-90s (not unlike that quiche reference). I scratched my head a bit on where to go next but as it happened the game had its own ideas. On my way to visit Queen Antonia Bayle for a de-briefing session, no fewer than three NPCs stopped me in the streets of Qeynos to offer me lead-ins to  Signature questlines I'd missed.

That led to a confusing few minutes, where I visited Antonia three times in quick succession to talk about important events, some of which were already over even though they hadn't happened yet. MMORPGs are like that. It was nice to see her Palace from the inside, anyway. And of course I took a selfie next to the Queen!

On his sporadic returns to EQ2, Wilhelm often expresses some confusion about where to level next. It can be a problem. Because of the way EQ2 has grown over a decade and a half, with expansions often overlapping in level range and between-expansion updates filling in the gaps, there's a huge variety of options available at most level ranges.

Alas, poor Yelinak.

Not only is there no specific place you should be at most levels, the aforementioned power creep means that if you just play normally you stand little to no chance of completing a whole zone before you outlevel it.

EQ2 has some excellent tools to fix that particular issue if it's a problem for you. It's never been a problem for me, not being any kind of completionist. There's an XP/AA slider, for example, or Chronomentoring, but if you did decide to use those to do all the zones in order you'd probably be Level 100 before you got as far as Kunark - or possibly Faydwer. (Hmm... that could be an interesting project...)

The options don't really narrow very much until you hit 100, at which point they suddenly coalesce to a single point. That can feel like hitting a brick wall if you don't know what's happening.

A couple of expansions back, Daybreak finally lost patience with one of the partiularly egregious, inured habits of bitter veterans. A cadre of players would spend the first few days of each expansion cycle grinding to the new level cap by soloing old dungeons, complaining bitterly all the while about how bored they were and how SoE (later DBG) made them do it.

DBG fixed that by upping the experience needed for the ten levels from 101 to 110 by orders of magnitude, then attaching that xp to the quests in the new zones. From 101 onwards you can solo the old stuff for hour after hour and never see your xp bar move a nanometer.

Say what you like about sirens; they do know how to decorate a grotto.

My Bruiser is currently sitting in the middle of level 98. He cleaned up a few old quests, mainly for status, then he went to Tranquil Sea and did all the quests in the Isle of Refuge starting area.

I already have another character running those at 100, though, so rather than burn myself out, repeating the same content, I took him to some dungeons where the mobs were green and blue. The xp there is okay but the draw once again is that this is stuff I have never seen before, even if I thought I had.

It seems I never really explored The Hole, for example. There are a lot of dungeon instances in the Sentinel's Fate expansion and I thought that over the years I'd been through all of them. I was wrong.

It is a shame to think that as we move forward we probably won't see this kind of diversity any more. Both the new design aesthetic and DBG's reduced resources mean that there's likely to be only one road ahead from now on. That's assuming there's a road at all. I think it's odds on that EQ2's seen its last expansion.

If this extremely enjoyable last couple of weeks, running through old content, has taught me anything, though, it's that there's always something fresh to discover. EQ2 is just unfeasibly huge. If someone can manage to keep a server up I plan to keep playing forever.

Then again, what did I say about making plans?
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