Thursday, October 10, 2019

Late Summer: EQII

What with all the excitement over WoW Classic these last few weeks it seems like an age since I logged into EverQuest II. I had a heap of things I wanted to do over there before the expansion arrives in... well, whenever it comes. It doesn't even have a name yet, let alone a release date.

The main thing I've let slip is the Days of Summer annual questline, also known as the panda quest after the NPC, Yun Zi, who sends you out exploring on his behalf. I did the first three as they appeared this year and then fell off the train. Logging in today I found I had four new ones to do, meaning it's been a full month since I last played. How time flies.

There are nine Days of Summer and we're currently on number seven. There's no real rush to do them because they don't expire when Summer ends. Still, I like to keep on top of things.

The fourth quest took me to Kunark, the fifth to Moors of Ykesha, the sixth to Velious and the current one, the seventh, to The Ethernere. I'd be exaggerating if I said it was a nostalgia trip. I've visited all these places many times this year alone.

I levelled a character through much of Kunark earlier in the year and I'm in and out of Moors every time I play. It's an extremely convenient one-stop shop for banking, brokerage, crafting and transport and until Daybreak added free instant map transport to the All Access membership perks it was my go-to spot for all of those things.

As for Velious, I was playing around with some old raids there just a few months back. It's been a while since I was last in The Ethernere though.

I found these four quests made for a fascinating little trip through the evolution of EQII graphics. Kunark looks very elderly now, all blocky textures and undefined details. Moors of Ykesha was never a visually appealing zone although it has endless hidden charms if you take the time to look for them.

Velious is the watershed. I place the turning point at the introduction of Cobalt Scar, the final zone that was added to Velious after launch. The earlier zones are some of the least visually attractive in the whole of EQII, all glaring, featureless white snow and glacial ice.

The lush pinewoods of Cobalt Scar.

Cobalt Scar is different altogether. The edge of a pine forest abuts a series of rocky beaches. There are scrubby grass-covered dunes, sheltered ravines lit by scattered winter sunlight and the colors range from deep woodland green to distant, misted blue.

It's a bit of a tone poem and it surprised the heck out of me when I first saw it. I had no idea the EQII engine was capable of such subtlety. From then onwards EQII's graphics took a great leap leap forward. Every new zone, each expansion since, has been sumptuous and rich to see.

Yun Zi's current obsession, The Ethernere, takes lushness to extremes. The Ethernere is one of the realms of the afterlife (a tricky proposition in Norrath at the best of times so I won't attempt to be more specific than that) and the artists pulled out all the stops to make it live up to the "ethereal" part of its name.

I don't visit it as often as I might and always forget just how gorgeous it is. When I came back to EQII after a significant break a few years ago and played through the two expansions set in the lands of the dead, Chains of Eternity and Tears of Veeshan, back to back, I found the relentless use of deep color washes and the dense foliage somewhat overwhelming. Now I love it.

Finding the souvenirs the panda wanted was easy enough. I used the invaluable guide at EQ2Traders to speed things up but really all the things you're looking for are right next to the locations given in the quest journal.

I did have one small issue in Cobalt Scar, when the statue I was looking for didn't want to show up. I suspect I glitched something by mistakenly going to the third location first. Each step has to be done in the order they appear in the journal. A quick relog soon fixed whatever it was and I was back on schedule.

All four weeks of quests took me about an hour to complete. It would have been quicker if I hadn't kept stopping to take screenshots. That was the easy part.

This is an easy one. It's clear that all the major stats on the "Bold Crusade" piece are direct upgrades. Not many of the comparisons were as simple to read as that.

I was more than another hour going through all the rewards available from Yun Zi's diminutive assistant. (All the new gear is named "Bold Crusade", making it easy to search for). EQII has an exemplary item comparison system, one of the best I've seen, and DBG have made a huge effort recently to simplify and consolidate stats but even so working out what's better than what requires some serious intellectual effort.

As a solo Berserker I run something of a split-level build. I use the offensive stance to maximize my damage output but I combine it with a focus on hit points and armor class for better survivability.

If I was to go full defensive, which would give me no fewer than three "stand straight back up after you died and carry on like nothing happened" get out of jail cards, the Berserker would be next to unkillable in solo content. I played that way for years but eventually I decided it was getting just too slow to kill stuff so I swapped and I haven't regretted it.

The problem - well, one of them - with assessing potential upgrades is working out what's going to happen to my health pool. The obvious contributors are Stamina and straight-up Health pluses but there are several other stats that affect your total number of hit points and none of them is obvious.

Even this extensive guide at EQ2 Library doesn't really explain how the stats interact. Fortunately panda gear is free and available in unlimited quantities for the asking so all I needed to do was take every available item and try it on.

With the aid of the absolutely essential unlimited adornment removal ability granted for completing Shattered Seas timeline from the Age of Malice expansion I was able to pop all my adornments off the old stuff and add them to the new. Then I reversed the process if it turned out the old was better after all.

In the event, even though quite a few of the new items seemed to me to be "worse" than what I was wearing, when they were equipped they all proved to be upgrades. Finally, I ran every new piece through a few hundred platinum's worth of Infusions. My Health went from around 65 million HPs to just under 72m and my Potency rose from 46k to 50k. There were similar increases for most of my other important stats, too, particularly Crit Bonus.

I was really surprised how much difference this year's panda gear made. I consider my Berserker to be decently geared for a solo character but this new baseline seems to be around 10% above where he was. Assuming that's the lowest possible gearing point for the upcoming expansion I'd recommend everyone not already in gear from last expansion's Heroic Dungeons or Raids to upgrade via the panda.

I'll be putting this gear onto all my max level characters. The Days of Summer quests are an absolute boon for anyone with lots of alts. It avoids having to repeat the previous expansion's content multiple times just to be ready to do the next one.

Still two weeks to go. That should replace the two biggest pieces, Chest and Legs, and also the Primary weapon, although there I do have something that's almost certainly better than anything Yun Zi has in his attic.

All of this has definitely put me in the mood to get back to EQII for some new adventures and another ten levels. Let's hope the pre-orders are coming soon.

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