Friday, January 10, 2020

Maybe We Could Go Back To The Basics: EQII

I've had it in mind for a week or so to post something about crafting and tradeskills in Blood of Luclin. The expansion's been out for a month or so. You might think I'd be in a reasonable position to come up with something by now.

After all, I've completed the tradeskill signature line on my Weaponsmith. My Alchemist is more than half way through it, too. And they're both level 120 crafters. I ought to have a decent overview of the state of the tradeskill game. You'd think, right?

I ought to. But I don't. I have no clue what's going on and neither, as far as I can tell, does anyone else.

I didn't notice last expansion but the icon
for CAs has changed to be the same as the one for Spells.
Why would that happen?
Over the last fifteen years, crafting in EverQuest II has had its ups and downs. I loathed the version we endured for the first few months after launch, with its extreme co-dependency between disciplines and its multi-stage construction processes. I chose to level a Provisioner back then, even though food and drink was ignored by most players at the time, almost entirely. I chose it because it was the only self-sufficient tradeskill.

That odious iteration was replaced by an improved version that reduced passive-aggressive behavior among the playerbase. Then Domino arrived. Over several years she turned crafting into a complete, standalone game in its own right. Even gathering got full questlines and a story.

She left, then came back, then left again but her vision persisted, more or less, even while the underlying mechanics changed often, as all things in MMORPGs must. Anyone who didn't play the game back then is just going to have to take my word for it. I don't propose to summarize a decade and a half of iterative growth in a paragraph or two of a blog post. That way madness lies.

The point is, at no time did I ever feel I didn't understand what was happening. There were numerous occasions when I didn't like what I saw but I always understood what it was.

Well, not any more. I've looked at the information available in the game itself. I've read what  EQ2Traders and the wiki have to say. I've browsed the forums. I do know more than I did when I started but that's really not saying much.

I should mention at this point that the miasma of mystery doesn't seem to extend to some of the more physical trades. As far as I can tell, Carpentry isn't much different than it ever was. Making weapons and armor seems quite close to how it has always been, although there are issues with the final products in that they seem to be universally inferior to quest rewards from solo content in the expansion, making them functionally worthless. Alchemy and Jewelcraft, while they have some quirks, are very recognizably the same crafts they always were, at least as far as making potions and jewellery goes.

The more powerful the spell,
the less skill you need to craft it.
That makes sense...
The real issues arise from those crafts that produce spells and combat arts. This used to be quite straightforward: Sages made Caster and Priest spells, Alchemists made combat arts for Fighters and Jewellers supplied the Scouts. You bought your Essential recipe books from NPCs and mobs dropped the Advanced books.

It began as an elegant, simple progression. Apprentice abilities were auto-granted to adventurers. Crafters made the first upgrade, regular mobs dropped the next, crafters made the one after that and Bosses dropped the final tier.

It hasn't worked that way for a long time. More tiers were added, more means of acquiring both the recipes and the abilities found their way into the game, the lines separating which classes made what upgrades blurred. And yet things remained coherent and comprehensible. More complex, yes, and confusing to the uninitiated, but within a reasonable timeframe and with a moderate amount of background reading, anyone could find their feet.

Good luck with that now! The path to acquiring upgraded abilities in Blood of Luclin is fraught with confusion and barricaded by obstacles. Some of those barriers may be unintentional, the result of mistakes made in the rushed conclusion of the development of the expansion. Others are almost certainly bugs waiting to be squashed.But some of this is almost certainly a change in direction, the introduction of new concepts with which we players have yet to come to terms.

Here, for my own benefit as much as anyone who might be reading this, are some of the salient points I think I understand. At least I know they exist.

  • These are the Quality Tiers I can remember: Apprentice, Journeyman, Adept, Expert, Master, Grandmaster, Mythical, Celestial. The last two may be in the wrong order. I may have missed one. Ancient comes in there somewhere, maybe?
  • The traditional trade classes can make Journeyman and Expert spells, like they always could. They can now also make Adepts, which until now were only ever dropped by mobs or given as quest rewards.
  • Any crafter can make Grandmasters, the recipes for which are found in books for which the only requirement is that you be an Artisan, which is what you become when you speak to the crafting trainer and ask to become a non-denominational tradesperson, before you decide what you want to do with your life at Level 10.
  • Artisans (that's everyone with Level 2 in any tradeskill) can also make Journeyman and Expert spells for the four Ascension classes. They can even make Mythical spells and abilities for any class, at least as far as I can tell from the recipe books being sold for millions of platinum on the Broker.

That's a muddle but it's not impossible to untangle. Let's add in Shadowcrafting.

As part of the Blood of Luclin tradeskill signature questline you receive a Shadowed Staff of Luclin. This allows you to "see seeping shadows" and handle the resources they provide. Stripped of the lore, what this does is let you see different gathering nodes which contain new "shadow" materials. These are required to make Expert spells and CAs.

Staying in my backpack for the foreseeable future.
I'll skip over the current major issues with this mechanic, which have already led to a kludged "fix" in the latest update and which will almost certainly result in further tweaking. If it doesn't, the whole thing is borked.

Sticking with the underlying concept rather than the botched implementation, we now have an entirely new means of acquiring the rare mats needed to make Experts. As for the recipe books for that tier, they too have a new distribution system because the old version, which still exists, now gets you the ability to craft Adepts - something players have never been able to do.

Confused yet? Just imagine how I feel! I'm actually trying to do this stuff!

I spent a couple of hours this morning on my Alchemist, buying the Essential books from the crafting trainer then making Journeyman CAs for my Bruiser and Berserker. That was easy enough, although working out exactly what was an upgrade certainly wasn't.

A Journeyman spell will, of course, always be better than an Apprentice spell from the same tier but whether it will upgrade an Adept from the tier before that, or a Master from two Tiers back... well, the only way to be sure is to get both full descriptions up and compare.

The complexity is compounded by the fact that many abilities in EQII do several different things. I found numerous examples where the max-level Journeyman ability I was considering upgraded one aspect of a higher quality, lower tier CA but was weaker on another.

And so it goes. The sense is very much of a runaway train, picking up speed as it careers downhill. Whether anyone knows where the brakes are or how to apply them is uncertain. There are voices on the forum claiming the sky is falling. But then, when weren't there?

There's a conspiracy theory that says all of this has been planned meticulously to drive players into the waiting grasp of the cash shop. You can side-step all of the issues I've mentioned by simply opening your wallet and paying for time reduction on the automatic process that lets any character upgrade any skill to any quality via the UI. It would cost many thousands of dollars to bring all of a characters skills to the highest level overnight but we all know there are people out there who would do that.
Note greyed-out "Buy" button. Because I don't have that kind of cash. But a lot of players do.

I'm sure there's some of that thinking behind it all. I'm more inclined to go with the other conspiracy theory, though: there's no dedicated tradeskill developer on board right now and whoever drew the short straw to finish up crafting for Blood of Luclin made a hash of it. That accounts for the shadowcrafting fiasco. The rest of it is down to the usual attritional overwriting of old systems by new without any real attempt at coherency, bacuase tying up the loose ends takes too long and anyway, who knows what you might break by trying to be tidy?

And, truth be told, I really don't mind. As Wilhelm observed the other day, figuring out how things work is part of the entertainment around here. Indeed, I'd go further and say it's part of the gameplay.

Things are undeniably a bit of a mess right now when it comes to crafting but I don't believe it's the kind of extinction event claimed by some of the Chicken Littles running around the forums. I see plenty of requests in chat for crafters to make Experts and I'm not seeing the same people ask repeatedly, which suggest they're getting replies. There are also plenty of Experts starting to appear on the Broker, albeit for eye-watering sums. But then, everything in EQII costs a fortune these days, what with the hyper-inflation we've been having. I may not have figured it out yet but someone clearly has.

And those Adepts that crafters can now make with the same facility they used to make Experts? They solve a problem that's been dogging the game for a couple of years, since drop rates were nerfed into the ground. In the last two expansions, at this stage, Adepts on the broker ran in the high six figures. Today, just a month in, I can see plenty on for low fives.

You need two of those to make an Adept. Adepts are selling for around 40-50k at the low end. Decent mark-up.
As a solo player, this is actually an improvement in many ways. The recipe books to make the Adepts are reasonably priced on the Broker. Some of them, at least. I've bought several already. Adepts use the normal rares, so I don't need to bother with the shadow stuff until and unless they fix it. And as a solo player, a mix of last-tier Masters and current tier Adepts will be more than adequate.

Is it ideal? No it bloody isn't! "Ideal" was how it worked ten years ago. But we had Domino then. Nothing's ever going to be that good again. I'd say we didn't know how lucky we were but in fact we did, most of us. So, no, it's not ideal but it'll do until everything changes yet again. I'm enjoying myself and that's about all I can hope for, isn't it?

And anyway, who's to say we won't look back in a few years time and reminisce about the sunny uplands of Blood of Luclin crafting? Things can always get worse!


  1. Heh, I am wrapping up my post for Monday, which is all about crafting as well, though not a lot of overlap because I kind of sum up my experience to the point of BoL. I think you'll find bits of it amusing.

    As for crafting in BoL, you are ahead of me. While I now have two level 120 crafters, they are an armorer and a woodworker. I need to get my alchemist and a jeweler up there for skill upgrades.

    1. I was a bit apprehensive about pre-empting your post on crafting, which you mentioned you were planning, so I'm glad we won't overlap too much. Although as I was writing it was painfully obvious there's enough material here for several posts. I actually started to summarize the history of EQII crafting in that paragraph where I say I'm not going to do it and then realized it would be a 5,000 word essay.

      I need to get my Sage from 110 to 120 and Carpenter all the way from from 100 next. Then, across the rest of the year, I might try and get one of every crafting class to the cap. I used to rely on Mrs Bhagpuss for that but now she doesn't play any more i guess I'd better just shift for myself.


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