Monday, January 7, 2019

Making Plans

Every year, bloggers I follow post their plans. Things they want to do. Things they hope they'll do. Things they need to do. They set out a stall for a whole new approach to both gaming and blogging.

They lay down rules about the games they'll play, how often and for how long. They imagine the new adventures they'll have as they seek to change patterns or break habits or somehow turn themselves into better, more rounded, more complete gamers.

It's New Year, so naturally there's been a flurry of such posts but there are quite a few bloggers I can think of who share their detailed play-plans a lot more often than just once a year. Evidently, quite a lot of gamers like to have their days, weeks and months mapped out ahead of them.

I don't. My gameplay is a lot more whim-based than that. Which is not to say I don't have a few vague plans and some firm expectations.

I know, for example, that I'll be doing my GW2 dailies, every day, on three accounts. I have a mental list of MMORPGs I'm not playing but haven't abandoned, meaning I have a theoretical intention to play them again at some point. I know there are new games or events or expansions in the works that I'll want to take a look at when they appear.

It's not anything that I feel needs to be tabulated or timetabled, though. I just sit down of an evening or on my days off and let the mood of the moment drive my decisions. It's also pretty much how I write these posts, come to think of it.

Now, please pay attention, Bildi. We don't want any repetitions of last time, do we? I still haven't got the ichor out of my cloak.

I certainly had no pre-ordained plan to level a Bruiser in EverQuest II the old-fashioned way. Why would I want to do that? I have so many reasons not to:
  1. I already leveled a Bruiser the hard way, through the advancing level caps as they changed, expansion by expansion, capping out at 90 before I changed servers.
  2. I'm in the middle of working through the excellent current expansion, Chaos Descending, with my solo-endgame-capable Berserker. 
  3. I have two boosted, geared Level 100s waiting to be taken through the last ten levels. 
  4. I have an unused Instant Level 110 boost sitting in my /claim window.
And yet, that's what's been happening. All the time I've been posting about Atlas and Ashes of Creation I've really been spending most of my time in  EQ2, playing through old content and loving every minute.

I kind of know how it started. It began when I spotted that unexplained 100% server XP boost all the way back in November. It's still on now. I still don't know why. I knew at the time that I "ought" to use it to get my slacking Level 100s to the cap but that would have meant grinding through Plane of Magic twice more and I'm a tad burned out on that zone after a year of faction quests.

Anyway, xp boosts always feel more spectacular on lower-level characters, where you can fly through a level in a matter of minutes. I had a look at the roster and the most likely candidate seemed to be the Bruiser, then in the very low 60s.

Are you committing all this to memory like I asked you, Bildi? Because all I can hear is you humming that new song you wrote about treants. What is it with you and treants, anyway?

As of last night he's just a few bubbles short of 97. I've played him most days since before Christmas, sometimes for long sessions lasting several hours. When I first logged him in he was in Tenebrous Tangle, the opening zone in the twelve-year old Kingdom of Sky expansion. I did a few quests there, then I took him into The Sanctum of the Scaleborn, an old favorite for level-grinding.

For many years people would circumvent the unpleasant chore of playing through brand new content they'd never seen - and which they'd just paid for - by going to an old dungeon they'd already cleared a thousand times. They would then grind through that dungeon solo, over and over, while complaining how awful the game was and how empty and dull their lives had become.

You can't do that any more. Daybreak staged an intervention. Last year or the year before they fixed things so that, when they increase the level cap, you have to go to the new expansion zones to level. They didn't do anything to stop you speeding through old content before you hit the current ten-level cap cycle, though!

I don't think they could, really. Depending on how you look at it, the leveling game in EQ2 is either catastrophically broken or the best it's ever been. Having played since beta and experienced every variation, of which there have been many, I very much cleave to the latter interpretation.

Honestly, leveling solo in EQ2 now is a joy. It's pure pleasure from end to end. It still has considerable granularity; if you go it totally alone, without a mercenary, using only quested gear, you can have a smoother, less frustrating version of the original experience.

Yes, Bildi, I am sure we're "up to this". Just follow the plan and we'll be fine. No, it won't be like last time. Anyway, you got paid, didn't you?

If you employ a mercenary, however, your sessions will feel like the very best kind of powerleveling. For a pittance many orders of magnitude smaller than a paid powerleveling partner would have asked back in the day, when players offered such services, your Mercenary will begin by one-shotting anything you point them at.

What's more they'll keep at it for as long as you want, without complaining, patronising, chuntering on about their own problems, leaving you cowering in a corner while they take the dog for a walk or yelling at you for getting them killed when they overestimate their own abilities and pull the entire floor at once.

As you progress your Merc will become slightly less godlike but not by much. Even in the 90s my Bruiser's partner, a Troubador (one of EQ2's several Bard classes), does considerably more damage than he does.

It's not just about the Merc, though. There have been some general changes to both difficulty and rate of xp gain over the years that affect everything you do. These days there are account-based benefits, like the bonus to xp for every max level you have. I get a 60% bonus from that. And the Divine Stamina and Potency boosts that affect all characters on the account as soon as one character gets them.

Then there are item boosts from things like the pre-order illusions. And that mysterious server bonus. And Vitality, which can be refreshed once a week with one of the Veteran Rewards, the Orb of Concentrated Memories. Not to mention the multiplicity of xp potions that pop out of various anniversary bags.

So, your character is more powerful but also the mobs seem weaker. Many of them are. There have been several difficulty passes over the years, with mobs intended for groups being downgraded to solo status and whole zones and instances being re-assigned for solo or duo play.

It's just as well I'm not scared of heights. Drops, on the other hand...

It's not just intentional downgrading that's weakened the wildlife. Playing through the mid-to-high level zones as I have been, I would say it's really not so much what has been changed that affects current difficulty as what hasn't. Where your characters have benefitted from any number of boosts and buffs, the mobs haven't gained at all. 

When I began my current climb up the level ladder, my Bruiser was completely untwinked. All he'd really ever done was a few holiday events and some low-level dungeons for fun. When I picked him up again he was dressed in whatever quest rewards and drops he'd happened upon. Many of them were way below his level.

The mobs he was fighting, even the solo ones, all higher than him, should have been able to eat him alive but even when his Merc was engaged with another mob, the Bruiser was more than able to stand his ground. As levels flew by and better (level-approporiate) gear began to replace the old stuff, everything became easier still.

In the old days I would grind levels very pleasurably in Sanctum of the Scaleborn and other dungeons, either in a duo with Mrs Bhagpuss or solo but mentored down. It wouldn't have been feasible to do it alone and at level. It still might not always be practical, wholly solo, in level-appropriate gear, without a Merc, but only because it would be too slow. It certainly would be possible, as in you wouldn't die, over and over. That didn't used to be the case.

With the Merc it was a breeze. In a session I was high enough to think about where I'd like to go next. I opened the map and had a look at my options. In EQ2 they are many. Too many, some might say!

Why is it always night-time when I arrive in Kylong? Oh well, look on the bright least no-one can see what I'm riding. I really must look into getting a new mount.

After a couple of hours in the claustrophobic halls of an underground dungeon I thought my Bruiser would appreciate the wind in his whiskers (Ratonga, of course). He was perhaps a level or two shy of the recommended starting level for Kunark but I was sure he'd cope.

And that's how it came about that I've been playing mostly EQ2 over Christmas and the New Year. Inbetween, I had some fun in Atlas, scratched that new game itch. Looking ahead, while GW2 has been on the back burner, it should come to the boil tomorrow with the release of the next episode of the Living Story. My focus, though, has been on Norrath, yet again.

I wouldn't have expected to get such a fresh-feeling, new experience from a fifteen-year old MMORPG I've been playing for, well, for fifteen years. This is why I mostly don't plan my gaming and even when I do I often end up veering wildly off-course  No plans I could think up could match the kind of serendipity inherent in the wildness of the games themselves.

When I finish this post I'm going to go back and level up my Bruiser some more. It's the most fun thing I can think of to do in MMORPGs just now. So much so that I might move on to some other characters afterwards. I'm not sure if that counts as a plan.

And I'm going to write up some of my Bruiser's adventures here, because there's quite a lot more I have to say on that topic. I guess that's a plan, too.

In fact, I had planned to go into detail about just what he's been up to in this post this morning. I even had the screenshots prepared. I had a whole lot of pertinent observations to share and some wise conclusions to draw from the experience, too.

Well, I got sidetracked, didn't I? Sideswiped by serendipity or poor concentration skills. One or the other.

So much for making plans!


  1. Holy crap, that Orb of Concentrated Memories isn't a one-time consumable? I have it still sitting inside the claim-window on all characters because I thought what's the point? ^^

    Of course, Ratonga bruisers best bruisers!

    1. There are some really good things in those older Veteran packs. That Orb is one of the best of the lot, although the way I play tends to mean I usually have plenty of vitality. When I run out, though, it's a godsend.

  2. Ha, amazing!

    I really enjoyed levelling up until 50ish (i think, can't remember when I stopped) and then I became sidetracked and on to other things. I'll go have a look-see of course, now that you mention it again.

    I also never plan. I just play, whatever suits me at the moment. Typically stick to one at a time then move on when I am ready.

    1. The things that really surprised me this time were a) how much I enjoyed doing quest lines I'd done before but not for a while and b) how much stuff there still is that I have either never done or completely forgotten. EQ2 is unbelievably huge now. If this does turn out to be the year it stops growing I still have plenty to do there to keep me busy for a good few more years.

  3. Heh, this year I didn't even try to set goals in my annual MMO Outlook post, but rather just tried to predict what I might play. Whim has a lot to do with it.

    I also find myself pretty content when running through familiar content as I have been doing in LOTRO since the Legendary server came up. I have used it as a way to both relive old tales as well as pushing into corners I might have missed on past runs.

    1. It's really surprising how much there is still to find in an MMO you might very well think you have done to death. On this latest trip up the levels I came across several places I'd never seen before and did some quests I don't remember doing. At one point I was so taken aback by what I was seeing that I had to log my Berserker in and check his completed quest journal, only to find that he had indeed never done the quest sequence the Bruiser had just finished. If asked, I would have sworn I'd finished that zone completely but I hadn't! More on that in a future post, if my plans don't change, heheh!


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