Monday, February 18, 2019

File It Under Fun From The Past : EverQuest, EQ2

Last night I was working on getting my EverQuest II Warlock to the level cap. He was a few bubbles into 108 when I finished Plane of Innovation, the first of the solo dungeons from 2017's Planes of Prophecy expansion. I exited into the lobby zone, Coliseum of Valor, and handed in my completed quest to the Goddess Druzzil Ro. Ding! 110.

It's a very positive indication of the quality of that expansion that I've now run four characters through all or most of the Signature questline and it still feels fresh and enjoyable. Counting the one character I bumped straight to 110 via the boost that came with last year's Chaos Descending, I now have five max level characters. It's the most I have ever had at one time in either EverQuest.

One of the benefits of having multiple characters at the cap in EQ2 is that the whole account gains a 20% xp boost for each, up to a maximum of 200%. My All Access account now has a "permanent" 100% xp bonus. That encourages me to carry on and level up even more characters. The faster and easier it gets, the more I enjoy it.

I put quotation marks around "permanent" just now because you get the bonus for having max level characters, not specifically level 110s. If and when the cap goes up the entire bonus will go away until I can level up all over again. Still, it's here now and for the rest of the year, at least, and I plan to make some use of it.

While I was dismantling clockworks and foiling Meldrath's schemes for the umpteenth time I was half following a conversation on the Test channel. For the longest time, one of the least-celebrated pleasures of playing Daybreak MMORPGs has been the wealth and depth of chat options available. Not only can you make custom channels, you can invite people to join them from any server and even from other games.

It's a great way to keep in touch with people you once played alongside, long after you may all have gone your separate ways. It's been many years since I played regularly on EverQuest II's Test server but all my accounts are registered with the Test channel and I regularly see and occasionally chat with familiar names from years ago.

This time they were talking about a new Public Quest that had just appeared for testing. In recent years, Public Quests - PQs as everyone calls them - have proliferated across Norrath. From their humble beginnings in Antonica and The Commonlands PQs have spread to Velious, Kunark and even The Planes. They feature increasingly heavily in recent expansions and public questing is becoming almost de rigeur for the holidays.

I've been running the new Erollisi Day PQ several times a day, most days, since it appeared a couple of weeks ago. I've hatched two eggs and the extraordinarlily cute familiars that popped out are bouncing along behind my Berserker and my Warlock in the least appropriate manner imaginable.

According to what I was hearing, the Test server was struggling to muster enough people to give the new PQ a good airing so I logged out and swapped accounts to throw one of my characters behind the team effort. The best I could do was either a Bruiser or a Necromancer at Level 90 but the PQ was supposed to be "for all levels" so I was hoping my lack of a maxed character on Test wouldn't matter.

It didn't, but my lack of the latest expansion on that account did. I asked where the PQ was and someone told me to go to Sinking Sands and use the portal there. That took me to an ethereal, unworldly lobby-zone where the portals for the Chronoportal event hung in space, drawn from all across Norrath.

I'm a bit vague on whether that's new for this year or I just missed it last time around. Later in the evening I found the portal to the Qeynos Hills instance next to the Antonican lighthouse, so you can still travel to the past from the specific locations as well. Although didn't that one used to be over by The Tower of the Oracles?

Whatever the story, I couldn't get in to see the new PQ, despite being in a raid group with the eight or nine people who could. I went to the Test board on the official forums and recounted my experience in case it might be considered a bug, then I wandered off to do some Chronoquesting on my own.

Fittingly, since all the quests celebrate events or tropes from the older game, EQ2 is once again planning on making some play of the Chronoportal "holiday" to help EverQuest celebrate its twentieth birthday. The event, which is always in March, dates back to 2011. I wrote about it the following year.

It's too early to say what the rewards might be. Usually there are some nostalgic paintings to hang on your wall. This year you get one of those just for logging in. Unfortunately the art assets haven't yet be linked so I can't reproduce or even describe it, only confirm that it's called Rise of Kunark.

What with yesterday's digression on casual play and last night's foray, I have been thinking - and researching - the current state of play on the Test servers for both EverQuest and EQ2.

It seems that, since last August, you have been able to create a Level 100 character on EQ2 Test for free. What's more, you can also bump a tradeskill to 100 for nothing. That's a very good deal. I do already have two Level 90s there, though, both of whom are also high-level crafters. Leveling through the 90s is good fun so I probably wouldn't bump them. I might add another class, though.

What's considerably more attractive is the deal available on EverQuest's Test server. I had completely forgotten that the long-running battle to keep Test free from copied characters was lost over a decade ago. 

Back when I played there was a strong feeling among many Test regulars that allowing characters to be cut and pasted across from Live would somehow damage the soul of the server. At the time I kind of agreed, but then again the practical advantages were so compelling it seemed churlishly selfish to insist on such a self-abnegating standard of purity.

Anyway, SOE enabled copying and it still pertains. This morning I copied my Level 93 Magician from Luclin/Stromm to Test and her clone is standing in the Guild Lobby, hoping for buffage, as I type this. To my considerable surprise there are forty other characters idling along with her, which is a Woodstock-sized turnout by Test standards.

There are major disadvantages to playing on Test but also some huge benefits, double xp all the time being the biggest. You can also re-copy characters as often as you want and all their gear and money comes with them so you have an endless money machine at your disposal. Which would be amazing if Test had an economy. Which it really doesn't.

How far any of this goes remains to be seen. I would love to hit three figures in EQ but I also know that it won't feel quite "real" on a copied character. Then again, since I swapped my All Access accounts around I haven't been playing the original mage much, anyway...

One way or another, all things Norrath seem to be heartily back on the agenda. I guess anniversaries do have weight. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the official celebrations bring but in the meantime maybe I'll light a few candles to my own past glories, such as they ever were, and take a few turns around the Test servers, where I once had some of the funnest times ever.

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