Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Future And My Past Are Presently Disarranged

As Wilhelm explained yesterday, the Overseer system introduced to EverQuest II with the Blood of Luclin expansion is coming to EverQuest as part of the elder game's twenty-first anniversary celebrations. Holly "Windstalker" Longdale's Producer's Letter describes the new feature as "a passion project".

Really? I mean, I'm quite a fan of the Overseer mechanic but a passion project? When it comes to the EverQuest franchise that's a phrase I associate with the kind of half-baked, hand-waving, hit-it-and-hope mentality of the Smed/Smokejumper years. It's the sort of thinking that brought us EQEmote and, god save us, EQNext.

The Overseer system isn't anything like those "passion projects" at all. For one thing it works. Sure, it had a few teething problems but so do most new systems when they're first introduced. It's working beautifully now.

Unlike most of the innovations of SOE's later, dark years it's also useful. Arguably too useful. I've seen Overseer Missions compared, not always unfavorably, to World of Warcraft's Garrisons, a system that had its detractors but which seemed to be fairly well-used and accepted by the majority of players during its window of activity.

Never having used Garrisons myself, my only knowledge of them comes from what I've read in blog posts. I was under the impression it was a great way to make money but I'm uncertain whether it was a direct source of gear and upgrades, let alone a primary source.

The Overseer system is very much that. Almost all of my best gear has come from the ten hour Missions. So have all of my upscale crafting books, from which I've been able to make Expert spells and combat arts, top quality adornments and a good deal of money.

This is where I start to look slightly askance at the new feature. As a casual, solo player it has a very definite, positive impact on my characters' upgrade paths but it also takes them out of the normal progression loop almost entirely. I have, quite literally, not adventured with any of my max level characters for weeks, even though I play EQII for several hours every day.

Indeed, as I mentioned recently, EQII has now drifted so far from being an adventure-driven experience for me I've had to go looking for another MMORPG to scratch that itch. My typical gaming day during the working week now runs something like this:
  1. Get up
  2. Log into EQII on my Berserker
  3. Collect any completed Missions
  4. Set new missions
  5. Pick up and complete the Zone Gathering Mission in The Blinding
  6. Use my Shadow Staff to gather Shadow Materials
  7. Log in my Necromancer, repeat Steps 3 and 4 until I have no Missions left
  8. Log out, have breakfast, go to work.
  9. Get home, log into EQII, repeat Step 3, 5 and 6.
  10. Log out
  11. Log into Guild Wars 2
  12. Complete Dailies on two accounts
  13. Log out
  14. Log into Neverwinter and actually play a damn game for an hour or two!
The recent update to the Overseer system means we can now choose whichever Missions we want from all those we've collected. They are now also color-coded by quality. That means, inevitably, doing all the available purple ten hour missions every time they're off cooldown, then all the three hour yellow ones, followed by as many one and two hour blues as it takes to hit the daily cap of ten.

As my stable of Missionaries... er, sorry, Agents... grows and the range and mix of traits widens and deepens, the choice of who to send where becomes a little more complicated. There's also the issue of varying cooldowns to consider. I wouldn't call it difficult, not by any means, but it is time-consuming and, while I enjoy it, I would be very wary of doubling up on a whole new set of Missions and match-making in a second EQ game.

Fortunately, Darkpaw seem to be helping me out there with their determination to set 85 as the entrance level for new and returning players. When the Overseer system comes to EverQuest it will require a Level 85 character to initiate and use it. If you don't have one they'll give you one for free.

Sounds good, doesn't it? A free Heroic character. I'll take one. Why not?

Only, remind me again, what's the level cap in EQ these days? Oh yes, that's right - a hundred and fifteen! Having a Level 85 in EQ is about like having a Level 40 in WoW Classic. You might, charitably, think of it as half-way.

Probably not quite that far, to be realistic. With a Mercenary, the first sixty or seventy levels in EverQuest can be something of a romp these days. It starts to slow down somewhere around the mid-70s and by the time you hit that level 85 benchmark the brakes are most definitely on. Maybe that's why they picked it. Can't have people joyriding over the hard miles or those all-important dues won't have been paid when you hit the finishing tape.

Yes, well, maybe. Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it would take more resources to produce a complete set of new, free Level 100 or 105 gear and associated kit for all classes than Darkpaw has to spare. It might not be a lack of will so much as a lack of ability that keeps the Heroic needle pegged at 85.

Which brings us back to the Overseer system and why it might be a a "passion project" for the team. I wonder if that passion might be for a much simpler, faster process to bring new content into the game.

It has to be faster to write and code an Overseer Mission than a quest line, doesn't it? Maybe orders of magnitude quicker. Once the kinks and wrinkles have been hammered out of the underlying systems, which seems to have happened now, adding new Missions and agents and rewards has to be on a par with the Collection system, or so it would appear from the outside.

Collects are the one thing SOE/DBG/DP have always been able to add to every new holiday, each year, all year round. When there seem to be no resources for a new quest there's always time for a new Collection. And people like them, too.

And another thing, while I have my tin foil helmet fetchingly tipped at a rakish angle. Doesn't the Overseer system look absolutely perfect for a mobile app? Wouldn't it be great if I could do Steps 2, 3 and 4 (above) on the commute into work, in my lunch hour, on the way home?

The future is Mobile, as we all know. You do all have mobile phones, right? (Or cell phones, if anyone still calls them that).

SOE made a Mobile App for EQ once. It was so long ago mobile gaming wasn't even a thing. It was useful, too. I could log into it at work and talk to Mrs Bhagpuss in game at home. Then Smed lost interest in it because he seems to have the attention span of a sugared-up five year old. It broke and they never fixed it.

I trust Darkpaw not to do that. Over the last few years they've convinced me they can manage the game better than late SOE ever could. If only they could manage the expectations of their entrenched, entitled customerbase they'd be flying.

Unfortunately, I would expect any announcement of a mobile app to go down about as well with the faithful as Blizzard's hyping of Diablo: Immortal at Blizzcon 2018, at least with the EQII faithful. Strangely, the demographic that plays the older version of Norrath seems more amenable to modernity than their supposedly younger siblings. The EQ crowd might just wear it, so long as they can see something in it for them. They're more pragmatic.

All of which makes the introduction of the Overseer system to EverQuest something I'll be watching with interest. Holly Longdale hints at big plans for the future now she has her hands firmly on the controls of both iterations of Norrath and this could be a straw to tell us which way the wind might blow.

So I'll make my free Heroic 85 and play around with the new toy for a while. I very, very much doubt it will bring me back to EverQuest for any meaningful amount of time, not least because I seriously do not want to add another three or four steps of not actually playing another game to that daily routine.

Y'know, a mobile app really would help with that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Funny Ha Ha

The third topic I had in mind to post about today involves something that started in Neverwinter last night. I'd been trundling along quite contentedly, playing for an hour or two, taking whatever quests popped up and generally acclimatizing. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary.

At Level 17 my Warlock was still in an extended tutorial. It's rather well handled. She was out doing the usual, killing orcs and wererats, retrieving stolen jewellery and foiling nefarious plots as one does, yet all the time little taking sidetrips to learn about Enchanting or the how to use the cash shop. You know, the important stuff.

Yesterday evening she found herself involved somehow with an organization called Acquisitions Incorporated. She'd picked up a flyer to a recruitment fair and ended up setting some stuff on fire and killing some people. It all seemed to just happen, somehow.

From there things escalated alarmingly. Next thing I she knew she was interviewing for an intern position. The people running the company seemed odd to say the least, particularly the self-descriptively named Jim Darkmagic.

There was a ride on something that looked like a carnival float, a lot of fighting, many dead interns and a great deal of sarcasm and snark, a surprising amount of which was actually funny. The whole thing was voiced, as most things in Neverwinter seem to be, and the voice acting wasn't terrible.

I'm not convinced it was good enough for the main characters to get a cut scene introduction complete with the names of the voice actors, something I have never before seen in any game, ever, not even when the voice actors were a lot more famous than any of these people, but it wasn't terrible. Bits of it were quite good, even.

Some of the visual gags were pretty funny, too. Unfortunately, since I hadn't been expecting anything special, I hadn't fired up FRAPS before I started and Neverwinter's own screenshot function is abominable so I didn't get any pictures.

I ended up back in the AI offices  where my Warlock settled down on a nice sofa next to a roaring fire and logged out. I was under the impression I'd finished but when I logged in again this evening I noticed the quest was still in my Journal and the sparkly trail led back downstairs to the same portal.

It turned out I must have somehow jumped the rails about halfway down the tracks. Metaphorically, I mean, although there literally are rails runing through the instance. When my Warlock got back to where she thought it had all ended, Jim Darkmagic was still standing there, waiting to get on with the next part.

I had FRAPS running this time but photo opportunities failed to arise due to the second part of the adventure mostly involving being attacked by wererats, goblins, kobolds, fire elementals, fire scorpions and overconfident villains keen to monologue their evil plans.

I died once and nearly died several times. My Companion, who I've figured out how to summon, had to go and train twice, which was in fact why I died. Turns out he must have been healing after all.

Eventually I made it to the end, recovered Jim's giant statue, ported topside and camped out on the sofa once again. It was all very enjoyable. I did a bit of googling before starting this post and I'm quite disappointed to learn that the Acquisitions Incorporated Campaign is "the first and only campaign to involve a lot of humor".

Shame. It's quite rare for me to find humor in MMORPGs that I find even slightly funny. Usually it falls flat and at worst it's positively toe-curling. The best I usually hope for is some pleasant whimsy of the kind EverQuest II does very well. This actually made me laugh a couple of times.

On investigation, the reason for that is quite simple. It was written by people who do comedy for a living, namely Penny Arcade. I don't know all that much about Penny Arcade. I don't follow the strip and what I've seen of it hasn't always struck me as particularly amusing. Even so, the step up in comic skill was apparent.

The writing in Neverwinter is generally above par from what I've seen. I'm puzzled as to why I was so down on it when I played around launch. I can't imagine much of the low level text has been re-written. It's a pity there's not more funny stuff if this is the standard we could expect but it's probably just as well the in-house writers didn't go on to try and emulate Penny Arcade. That might have been awkward.

According to the wiki there's a new Acquisitions Incorporated questline every ten levels or so until Level 70. I can't imagine I'll get far enough to see many of them but who knows? I'm having a good time so far - a lot better than any of my previous runs, that's for sure.

Maybe the prospect of a good laugh every few levels will keep me plugging away. I've seen a lot worse incentives offered. I just hope the rest of the instalments are up to the standard set by the introduction. Not that it's a very high bar but still it'd be nice if they didn't trip over it.

Too Much Information

The last couple of weeks felt like something of a fallow period for the blog but this morning I woke up with enough ideas for several posts. I considered doing one of those portmanteu pieces with bullet points for unrelated topics but then I thought why not do several short pieces and  pad my post count for the month give each of the topics room to breathe?

Yesterday saw two of the most pointlessly overinflated sets of patch notes I have ever refused to read. Guild Wars 2 dropped its long-threatened "Competetive Content Update", Call To Glory, while EverQuest II unlocked the gates for the delayed opening of the Echoes of Faydwer expansion on the prgression server Kaladim.

The GW2 update brings a number of things to the game, including the long, long promised Swiss Tournaments for PvP and a new Reward track giving a skin for the Warclaw mount in WvW. Mostly what it does, though, is attempt a combat reset for both player vs player modes by way of draconian nerfs across the board to all classes.

The plan is to slow everything down, bringing fights back to the supposedly manageable level of a few years ago before Elite specifications from two expansions turned power creep into power sprint and fights degenerated into a competition to see who could hit their one shot skill macro fastest.

I can't say I'd really noticed. I play a Staff Elementalist in World vs World on all three accounts. I play that combo whether it's in fashion (like it was when Meteor Shower was buffed to one-shot whole zergs) or out (almost all the rest of the time). I might occasionally tweak a skill here or change a rune there but mostly I'm playing the same build on all three characters that I was playing before Heart of Thorns.

Consequently, even though I have getting on for twenty Level 80s covering all eight classes I only bothered to read the section on Elementalists, and then only the skills I use. Just as well. It's an opening paragraph and twenty-five detail entries. All the other classes get the same, often more.

The gist is "all your attacks do a lot less damage". They could have left it at that as far as I'm concerned. I went and soloed a Tier 1 camp this morning to see how bad it was (it was too busy last night - I literally couldn't take a camp without three people arriving out of nowhere to "help").

It was noticeably slower and I did have to back off and heal but I was still able to run into the middle, fire off everything as soon as it came off cooldown and clear the lot, so I'm happy. I wouldn't fancy trying it on an upgraded camp but even those should be fine if I go back to the old ways (aka playing properly) and actually pull stuff .

There was one change to Elementalist I really liked. ANet have buffed the heck out of the summoned pets. They now last two minutes on a forty second cooldown, meaning you can have one up most of the time if you want. It almost turns GW2's Elementalist into EQ's Magician, which works for me.

Even though I personally don't feel any need to read the nit-picking detail of every change to every ability of every class I play I can at least see the logic of tabulating them all out for everyone to study. Something will matter to someone in every case, I'm sure.

The same surely cannot be said about the torrent of detail unleashed in EQII's patch notes yesterday. Here's a sample:
  • Wind-Scoured Confessor's Bracelet: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 6, Stamina increased by 6, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, DPS increased by 1.8, Offensive Skills increased by 3, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Wind-Scoured Stalker's Bracelet: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 6, Stamina increased by 6, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, DPS increased by 1.8, Offensive Skills increased by 3, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Facet of the Silver Dragon: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 7, Stamina increased by 7, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, DPS increased by 2, Hate increased by 1.9, Mitigation Increase increased by 0.9, Defensive Skills increased by 2, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Earring of the Silver Dragon: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 7, Stamina increased by 7, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, Haste increased by 1.4, Offensive Skills increased by 2, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Earhoop of the Silver Dragon: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 7, Stamina increased by 7, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, DPS increased by 2, Offensive Skills increased by 2, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Hoop of the Silver Dragon: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 55, Primary Att increased by 7, Stamina increased by 7, Potency increased by 0.5, Crit Bonus increased by 0.2, Crit Chance increased by 0.5, Haste increased by 1.4, Offensive Skills increased by 2, Base Resists increased by 1.
  • Medallion of the Sky Warrior: Requires Echoes of Faydwer expansion, Equip level is now 60, Primary Att increased by 13, Stamina increased by 13, Potency increased by 1.3, Crit Bonus increased by 0.4, Crit Chance increased by 1, DPS increased by 3.8, Hate increased by 3.8, Block increased by 1, Defensive Skills increased by 6.
That is just a tiny fraction.  A tiny, tiny fraction. Seriously, it has to be seen to be disbelieved. It goes on and on and on like that for pages. It took me fifty seconds just to scroll through it at top speed using the mouse wheel! I am not exaggerating - I literally just timed it.

Who needs to know this stuff? I'm sure someone working at Darkpaw does but players? I mean, it's reassuring to know they've put that much effort into re-itemizing and balancing EoF for the Time Limited Expansion server.. I guess... but I would have taken their word for it. I didn't need to see every single change in full.

Imagine being the one who had to type all that out. Then imagine having to proofread it. I'm going to have nightmares.

I know, I know. I shouldn't complain. It's supposed to be vague patch notes we get all twisted about not over-detailed ones. But I like patch notes. I look forward to reading them. Getting something like that is like ordering a steak and the waiter bringing a whole live cow. Not that I'd do that, being a vegetarian. Alright, pescatarian, but that's such a made-up word.

It has at least made me consider playing on Kaladim again. I have a level thirtysomething I was playing there - a Dirge, I think she is -  and I'm very well aware that EoF is a major gear reset. I could do a couple of sessions with her, questing in Butcherblock, and probably replace everything she's wearing.

I'm not sure I want to, though. I take SynCaine's point on progression but sometimes it feels just a little bit too obvious to be enjoyable. Still, good to have the option and EoF was a decent expansion.

Also, if anyone was thinking of jumping onto Kaladim and making a character for a bit of prog server fun, now would be the best of times to do it. Faydwer comes with a complete new starting area, a new race and a full leveling path. There will be lots of people starting over, plenty of groups, a buzz in the air (literally, with all the bixies), all that good stuff.

I think I might just have talked myself into it...

A Glimpse Of The Past

I'll try to keep this short. Shouldn't be hard. I don't have a lot to say.

Past Fate is "an open world MMORPG game where the players freedom is the key element" or so the website tells us. Makes it sound like a sandbox, which it definitely isn't.

According to Massively:OP the game has the dubious distinction of having failed spectacularly to fund on Kickstarter, racking up just $1000 in pledges against an exceptionally low bar of $15 grand. Apparently undeterred, the Finnish studio, Icy North Games, is carrying on and the game went into Open Alpha this week.

One of the larger villages I found. All of them looked much alike.

Well, "Open Alpha" is what they're calling it. It's a single week, showcasing only one of the five classes, Warrior, (the others being Necromancer, Mage, Priest and Pirate) a level cap of 10 and a couple of the early areas complete with quests and basic crafting. 

Full details are here on the download page. The server should be up 24/7 for a few more days if anyone's interested in taking a look for themselves. 

It's probably not worth making a special effort even if it's the sort of thing you think you might like since there's a tentative plan to run an extended open alpha when and if there's a second Kickstarter. Project: Gorgon did that and it worked for them - eventually. They did have to take three bites at the Kickstarter cherry but they got there in the end.

Here I am, coming into the harbor of the very same village by way of a boat trip from the one where I logged in. Not sure what I expected to find but what I saw when I got there  looked pretty much like what I was looking at when I left.
The main reason I downloaded it was that from the screenshots it looked as though Past Fate might be a traditional tab target and hotbar game and I'm always on the lookout for a new one of those. Sadly, from my point of view, it's not. It's the now-standard center-screen targetting, mouse-combat action set-up as seen in Black Desert and many others.

There's not an enormous amount to see in the limited alpha. You can't make a personalized character since you can only be a human warrior and they all look exactly the same. (You do get to choose between male and female but I couldn't see a way to look at my character from the front so it's a bit of a moot point). Animations are clearly placeholders so there's not much to be gleaned about what your character might one day look like.

Scenery is pleasant if generic. I ran around a lot and it looked much the same everywhere - a lot of woodland, a few rocky hills, some water. Some of the forest looked wild, some like parkland. 

One of the more manicured parts of the forest. Also, that shot does the running animation no end of favors.
I came across several villages. All the houses were wood or wood and stone. They looked passably authentic for the environment although none you can enter have doors, something that always makes immersion harder for me. It's clearly a cold, northern land - why would they let all the heat escape from the places where they live?

There are quite a lot of quests as can be seen in the screenshots, since I couldn't find a way to switch the UI off - but then I didn't look very hard. I also didn't try to do any of the quests after I'd hoovered them up and for a reason I found quite surprising: having quests seemed out of kilter with the look and feel of the game.

The quests are very plainly typical MMORPG quests. Which is fair enough. As I said at the top, Past Fate is not a sandbox. It's also not a survival MMO and makes no claim to being one. But to me that's what it looks like. 

Not sure how standing around in a field in plain sight counts as "ambushing" but I suppose they know their business. Also, I see my health bar is empty. Maybe that's how I died...
Everything about it, from the very dark, ill-lit, sub-arctic setting to the tattered leather and hand-axe starting gear to the UI and controls just screams "survival" to me, not "theme park". That's my problem, I guess, but it certainly put me off buckling down and getting on with my designated questing. 

It did also make me wonder how well more traditional PvE content like this will integrate into Amazon's New World. That was an environment I found to be very immersive indeed. I'm not sure my immersion is going to be enhanced by a lot of NPCs wearing punctuation for hats.

Also, in a traditional theme park MMORPG starting area there would be plenty of weak mobs to kill but for Past Fate's alpha they seemed to be on smoko. It took me a lot of running and a short ocean voyage to find any and when I did they were Level Seven (I was still Level 1, as far as I could tell, not having done anything at all other than run about and take screen shots).

That house has doors. I take that to mean you can't go inside.

I attacked one with my trusty starter hatchet, mostly so I could see how Past Fate handles death, but the spooky black robed cultist just stood there and let me kill him. He dropped a few things including a better axe so I picked that up and killed one of his friends with it.

At this point I noticed I had taken some damage, albeit very little, so I guess the black monks were fighting back even if I couldn't see them moving. I was still at 90% health when I attacked the third, at which point the game twitched and I found myself back at the dock in the original starting area. 

I wasn't sure if I'd died and respawned and I wasn't sufficiently interested to find out. I exited the game and came here to write about it instead. 

I'm starting to formulate a theory about quasi-realistic "medieaval" graphics and questing. It would go some way to explaining why certain MMORPGs just don't seem

For an early alpha build I've seen plenty worse. It's playable. It didn't grab me enough to make me want to push further and see what the crafting was like or to try and "Discover the story behind Count Feros Blackfang to prepare yourself for Blackfang Keep in Alpha Test #2" but it didn't put me off having another look to see how things are coming along in a few months' time.

There will be another limited scope alpha, it seems, and maybe an extended suck-it-and-see period if there's a second Kickstarter. I'll leave Past Fate installed and take another look when any of that happens. Can't see it ever being my sort of game but it's not entirely without potential.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Neverwinter Redux

So I'm playing Neverwinter now. How did that happen?

A couple of reasons.  Firstly, it's a game that keeps cropping up in blog posts and comments. It never seems to be anyone's main MMORPG but everyone who mentions it seems to be having a reasonably good time. And it looks quite nice in screenshots.

I've played a little Neverwinter over the years. I tried it when it launched. I took a look at Tipa's re-creations  of classic EverQuest dungeons back when The Foundry was still a thing and I've dipped in and out a few times to check this and that.

I was aware the whole game had undergone something of a revamp not so long ago, particularly the new player experience. Two or three people wrote something about it with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I'd been curious for a while to take a look at what might have changed.

The second reason was that I'd been playing a lot of EverQuest II but almost none of my gameplay involved anything you'd call adventuring. Mostly what I do is send minions on missions, catch familiars, engage in asynchronous economic warfare via the Broker and gather crafting materials. I think I've done more gathering in the last two months than the last five years.

Then, in Guild Wars 2, although I log in every day, all I do is dailies and a bit of desultory World vs World. Again, nothing remotely close to adventuring other than that session or two every three months when the latest Living World instalment drops.

Sometimes it's hard to remember the reason I got into this thing in the first place was so I could have thrilling, vicarious adventures in richly-imagined worlds. I didn't imagine, two decades later, it would have turned into several hours a day, every day, spent filling virtual shopping lists.

I was ripe for something a bit more adventurous but the options seemed limited. I thought a return to Dark Age of Camelot might be compelling in the way going back to the good old days on EverQuest progression servers or World of Warcraft Classic had been but no such luck.

Low level gameplay in DAOC seems very old indeed. The game looks better than EQ but it plays much, much more ponderously. It always did. I remember now that we all commented back around launch on how slow combat was compared to EQ. I'd forgotten that.

More offputtingly, the zones don't seem to be very similar to how I remember them. Things aren't in the same place. Distances are different, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. I find the disparity between my memories and reality disorienting. I don't know if the game has changed or my memories are muddled or both.

I thought about trying something new but there aren't a lot of MMORPGs left that I both haven't tried and would like to. I considered Astellia, current holder of the allcomers "Eh, it's okay, I guess" title. Did I really want to pay £23.79 for competent mediocrity, though? Maybe if I'd known it was produced by the same people who gave us Bong Joon Ho's Parasite...

Astellia may still get a run. I don't usually wait on sales but I might make an exception. Nothing else really caught my eye (suggestions welcome) so I looked at the welter of icons idling on my desktop and out of the pack rose Neverwinter.

I just kind of fancied it. I remember it being a knockabout romp let down by a lot of very tedious running about in confusing zones and one of the most cluttered inventory systems outside of Lord of the Rings Online. It ought to be good for an hour or two until the ennui set in again.

Only it turned out to be a lot better than that. I understand that the big revamp hasn't pleased every regular player (when do they ever?) but if the intended result was a sharper, cleaner, clearer introduction to the game for the new player then Cryptic have hit the target square on.

My old log on details worked first time. Free players get just two character slots but you can tell my enthusiasm for the game until now by the fact that I still had one free. The other was filled by a Level 13 Cleric (formerly Devoted Cleric, now, like all the weirdly named classes, thankfully simplified to the traditional single word title).

I decided to take a leaf out of Syp's book and start over from scratch. That way I could assess the changes to the starter zones, the tutorial and the general introduction to the new gameplay. Looking at the races and classes available to a free player I went with Halfling Warlock.

Generally, I try to avoid Halflings. They're usually ugly to look at and involve a bunch of quasi-Tolkeinian tropes that I find the exact wrong kind of twee. Neverwinter halflings look quite dashing and their lore appears to be refreshingly free of the usual pie and pipe cliches. Not to mention that being a warlock seems to be about the least halfling thing imagineable, even before I discovered that my halfling gets her eldritch abilities by way of a pact with Belial, Lord of the Fourth Plane of the Nine Hells.

From the moment she stepped out into the tumultuous hub city of Everdeep, my new Warlock found herself having a much better time than her clerical predecessor ever did. For one thing she always knew exactly where to go. A sparkling trail led her from questgiver to instance to hand-in. It felt a little on rails, to be sure, but compared to the miserable hours I recall from previous visits, running round and round trying to find NPCs and doors and getting really quite cross, I'll take a bit of over-enthusaistic handholding any day.

I vaguely remembered the questline involving the peculiarly named "Nasher" gang. The story beats seemed much the same but the whole thing, which I remember as ponderous and fiddly, postively zipped along. Combat was fast and fun. About all I did was spam left mouse with occasional taps on right. Everything fell over and my warlock stayed upright so that was good. I seem to remember having a lot more trouble as a Cleric but whether that's due to the class or the revamp I can't say.

Even on named quest targets and bosses I could barely hit 1 to spawn my combat pet before it was all over. There were special attacks on other keys but I never needed to use them.

There was a nice flow of new gear but absolutely none of the annoying bag clutter I remembered. In fact, other than coin and a few orc tokens, not much dropped off anything other than bosses. Normally I like drops but this felt about right, given the pace.

My first session lasted under an hour and my warlock was Level 10 when I stopped. She could have been higher but there's a lot of reading to do in Neverwinter. Reading and listening. 

Most of the questgivers are very fond of the sound of their own voices. They all seem to feel they have to make a speech every time they ask you to do something. The voice acting, about which I was highly critical back in  2013, is competent, no better than that. I'm not sure if it's been redone or whether my standards have slipped. It still sounds very much like professional voice actors not being paricularly engaged with the work but I didn't hear any of the dodgy accents I was complaining about back then.

Speaking to Sergeant Knox, one of the prime questgivers in the early levels, it's very apparent that at least some new dialog has been added. It's very clearly a different voice actor and the effect is quite jarring. I wondered if that had happened during the recent revamp, when maybe new quests had been added to improve the flow.

There is also a library of lore to find. I clicked on every sparkle I spotted in the instances and most of them added entries to my journal, all of which I read. The writing seems more than decent for the genre. I'm not sure why I was down on it before, when I said "I've seen more leaden prose although fortunately not often". Reading it does slow things down in the middle of an instance run, though. It would probably be better to scoop the entries up and read everything at the end of the session.

I've played two more sessions since, an hour or two each time. My Warlock is now Level 17, flying past the old Cleric, who probably took twice as long to get to four levels below. She has a horse and supposedly a Companion, although after I'd bought my pocket healer I couldn't find her, so that might need some research.

And I'm enjoying myself. I'm not doing much more than following the main storyline but it feels enough like adventuring to scratch that itch. I don't think I'm likely to get drawn in much beyond the surface and no doubt I'll wander off again to some other game soon enough, but as far as a revamp goes I'd have to say this one looks pretty successful from where I'm standing.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

A couple of days ago, as I was making a desultory attempt to clear some of the accumulated detritus of thirty years living in the same house, I came across a large pile of CDs I'd forgotten I owned. Because I know all too well the dangers of looking closely at anything when you're trying to make space I stacked them neatly at the back of a freshly-cleared shelf without registering any of the titles or names of the bands.

Well, all bar one. I couldn't help catching sight of a CD by Broken Dog. I have no memory of buying or owning anything by anyone of that name. Not that theres's anything unusual about that. I own a myriad of things I don't remember buying.

For some reason, I had the name stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. That night in bed I typed "Broken Dog" into YouTube. Plus the word "band". I didn't want to think about what I might find myself watching otherwise. Top of the list came this, which I have to say wasn't what I was expecting:

I liked it a lot but it didn't ring any bells so I tried a few more. They were all good. I particularly enjoyed "Baby I'm Lost Without You" and Trails. Apparently they were a favorite of John Peel, albeit long after I'd stopped listening to him regularly.

I'm positive that's not how I came by the CD. I imagine I randomly bought it because I liked the band's name or the artwork on the cover. It's odd all the same because although I don't dislike dogs I'm very much more of a cat person. It's not like me to take notice of a band because they use the word "Dog" in their name. Although come to think of it Pavlov's Dog is one of my favorite bands of all time...

It got me to wondering how my preferences in companion animals might have affected my listening choices over the years. I wasn't about to go looking through my thousands of vinyl albums and singles and hundreds of CDs to tot up how many dogs make an appearance but I do have more than two thousand YouTube downloads in a 50GB file on my hard drive...

Before we see the results let's all remember one important thing: as Pony Up! explain in one of the most wonderful of their many magical numbers, The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Is That They Both Die).

It cuts off suddenly at the end which may or may not be a metaphor.

Back to the big match. And the score is... Dogs 11 - Cats 29. A conclusive win for cats.

If you include Puppies and Kittens, the revised score is...

Dogs and Puppies 12 - Cats and Kittens 36. An even more decisive win for Team Cat.

Even if you stretch a point still further and include all canines and felines, it's...

Cats (Including Tigers and Lions) 62 - Dogs (including Wolves and Foxes) 27. Foxes are a bit of a wild card, though. I tend to think of them as funny-looking cats.

So much for the team game. How about some one on one action? Sticking strictly to song titles or bands with "Cat" or "Dog" in them that I've already downloaded, here come three fights to the death. In song, that is. No cats or dogs were hurt in the making of this blog post.

First on tonight's card it's A Giant Dog vs The Family Cat. Sounds like a foregone conclusion? We'll see...

Oooh, it's a close one... The Family Cat get bonus points for bringing on Polly Harvey but A Giant Dog counter with their excellent taste in choosing a Sparks song as a cover. I think the palpable fear of the production team towards the end of the Giant Dog performance just edges it in their favor. Maybe they'd seen this version. It's not for the faint-hearted. Don't say you weren't warned.

One-nil to the dogs.

Next up another acoustic take on a crowd-pleasing favorite as The Pink Slips take on Iggy's I Wanna Be Your Dog. And in the opposite corner please welcome Kahimi Karie, covering Momus's "Cat From The Future".

Oh, boy! Another tight decision. I Wanna Be Your Dog is a notoriously difficult song to handle - just ask The Sex Pistols - but every sludge-punk-metal act seems to think they can bring something to it. They can't but The Pink Slips can. Anyone can slow a fast song down to wring out the emotion but it takes real chutzpah to slow down a slow grinder and make it pop like this.

And then there's Kahimi Karie. Even without a video this is the cat's pajamas. Momus is an underrated songwriter and Kahimi is a kitten. No, really, she is! She'll tell you so herself. In French, no less.

Kahimi takes it on a split decision. One all!

Okay, time for the decider. It's Dog Party vs Sky Cats, a mixed musical arts cage fight between the Giles sisters' hyper-kinetic Texan pop-punk and a slice of ultracool dreamwave from Reno, Nevada.

Ohhhh! And it's a surprise win for Team Dog! It may be cool for cats - and they don't come much cooler than Sky Cats' Golden Fool - but that sheer, dogged exuberance clinches it for Dog Party's "''Til Your Mine".

Well, that was unexpected. The cats were hampered by some of their best performers being out of contention due to prior appearances on this blog. Nightmare and the Cat's take on Baby's On Fire would have wiped the floor with anything on the dog team, I'm sure, although the dogs had heavy hitters That Dog and Soccer Mommy (with Your Dog) chilling on the bench.

Next time here on Inventory Full you can look forward to a tag team rematch - Foxes and Wolves vs Lions and Tigers! Place your bets now!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Like A Bad Head In The Morning

"And I might as well just grin and bear it
'Cause it's not worth the trouble of an argument"

I don't often rant but sometimes you just have to, don't you? I'll try and keep it short. After all, no-one reading this is likely to be part of the problem and there's nothing anyone here can do about it but a trouble shared is a trouble two people have to deal with instead of just the one. That is how the saying goes, isn't it? I thought it was pithier, somehow.

Also, complaining about people complaining (which is what I'm doing, although I realize I haven't actually said so yet) is such a bad look. I mean, who wants to be that guy? Or girl. (Why is it that "guys" plural can be gender neutral but "guy" singular is always male? Not that I'm complaining. Just observing. Or maybe I am complaining. Sometimes it's hard to tell.)

Bad look or not, I am going to be that guy. As I commented on this thread, which is what got me wound up in the first place, some people will complain about anything. This post proves it.

You can work out what my posting name is on the EQII forums from that link, by the way. Unless someone else said it as well. I mean, it's hardly an original aperçu, is it, "Some people will complain about anything"? It's not like I'm claiming copyright on it.

Not that the name I post under is a secret or should be, although if I wanted to be sneaky I do have several accounts, so I could post as different people. I could go on the forums and have a huge argument with myself, maybe even try to get one of me banned. That would be meta. Or postmodern. Or ironic. Or childish. And probably against the EULA.

Hauling the point back in on a very long rope, the substantive issue that some EverQuest II players are ready to quit over is this: instead of patching every week the game will now patch every other week.

I know, right? It's armageddon! Or at least one of the harbingers. I think it's in Revelations, somewhere. God forbid the developers should take more time to get things right or give the excellent, dedicated and tireless testing community longer to do their selfless, unpaid QA shuffle.

Clearly a move like this is a slap in the face, the last straw, incontrovertible evidence that the game is on fast track to maintenance mode. What are we paying them for, eh? EH??

EverQuest and EQII players both have what seems to me to be lower than average anger thresholds, although I strongly suspect there are other MMORPGs could give them a run if there was an award for "Most Easily Outraged". Just not any that I play. Thankfully.

The other hot button issue right now (or at least the latest - there's a line of them stretching right around the walls of Freeport and back over the hills half way to Qeynos) is the removal of descriptive text from crafting mats. It used to say what level items the material was used to make. Now it doesn't.

I admit it's an odd change although the ostensible reason is entirely valid in my opinion. Changes to the crafting system over time mean that what used to be a straightforward, vertical progression is now far more horizontal. In consequence those tool tips, once helpful, are now potentially confusing, especially to newer players.

That makes a lot of sense to me. I stopped looking at that text years ago for exactly that reason. If I want to know what mats to use nowadays I open the Recipe, where it always tells you, or if I have a material I'm unsure of I go to the invaluable EQ2 Traders and look it up there. 

It seems that I'm crazy. No-one should have to do anything as outrageous as looking stuff up. It should all be there, in front of you, on the object, all the time. And if it's not you should down tools and walk away.

The hills some people choose to die on! Unplayable lag, gamebreaking bugs that stop you logging in at all, PvE events that end in a FFA PVP brawl... (oh, wait, wrong game and working as intended...). Those I could see as legitimate reasons for remonstration. The removal of a few words of guidance text? Yeah... no.

The thing that annoys me most isn't people complaining per se. Everyone complains. I complain. I'm doing it now. It's human nature. What annoys me is people complaining on my behalf without asking me or even knowing me.

"Everyone hates...". "No-one wants...". "We all wish...". No we frickin' don't! Or maybe, yes, we do, but how do you know? And who elected you spokesbeing anyway?

Generalizations are fine. Necessary, even, to put a point over. But qualify them, ffs! "It seems to me like everyone hates...", "No-one I've ever heard about wants...", "Everyone I've spoken to wishes...". Is that so hard? You may still come over as insular and ignorant but at least you're not claiming to be omniscient.

It's particularly galling when, as so often seems to be the case, I'm having a great time and someone's telling me I'm not. Blood of Luclin is my favorite expansion for years, I've played more of it than I have most others in the Daybreak Era, the progression mechanics work better for me, I'm making more money, getting better gear and having more fun. I even like the changes to how crafting works, the ones that apparently mean crafters are "shafted" and crafting is ruined forever for everyone.

Don't tell me I'm not having fun when I'm having fun!

Anyway, I said I'd keep it short so I will. Feel free to complain I went on too long or missed the point or that I don't know what I'm talking about or I contradicted myself (I do realize that all the things I'm complaining about are remarkably similar to things I've been saying about GW2 for years now...).

That's what comments threads are for, isn't it? Complaining?

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Transmitting Live From Mars

According to Steam it took me exactly five hours to complete Californium. That seems remarkably precise. It's also remarkably slow compared to most people who've finished the game, at least according to some of the "mostly positive" reviews, where three hours would seem closer to the norm.

I like to take my time, look up, smell the rosewater. Also, finding some of those glitches wasn't as easy as all that. Mostly I managed it on my own but I'm very glad someone took the time to record a full playthrough for the handful of times my search threatened to stretch from fun to frustration.

So... was Californium any good?

At just over £5.00 for exactly five hours play I thought it was reasonable value as entertainment goes. A little less expensive than the average movie, a little more than a medium-length novel. If I'd paid for it with my own money I wouldn't feel short-changed.

It doesn't have a great deal of replayabilty although I guess, technically, it has as much as any Philip K. Dick novel, in that both tell a linear story with multiple possible interpretations. I've re-read most of PKD's novels, though, some of them many times; I can't see myself playing through Californium again.

The game's greates strength is its aesthetic, which is rigourously and successfully maintained throughout. I never once tired of looking at it. Indeed, at one point I wondered what it might feel like to "play" the game without playing it.

There's a mysterious voice that occasionally chides the protaganist, Elvin Green, for his apparent inability to know when he's well off. As Elvin peels away the layers of reality, finding a less satisfactory version each time, the voice suggests, with reason, that Elvin doesn't know when to stop.

And in fact each iteration begins by putting him in a better place. He starts as a failing writer, behind on his assignments, whose publisher is about to "let him go". In the second chapter he's much more successful, feted as the "Patriot Writer", the biographer of Abe Lincoln. When he tears the veil and steps through yet again, he becomes the political leader of an entire planet, or at least the boss of a mining colony on Mars.

It's only when he starts pulling at the threads that everything unravels, always leaving him in a worse situation than when he began. He has a very nice apartment, which gets nicer each time, and it occured to me that, as a player, I could refuse to engage with the process, let the glitches glitch, just log in to spend a few minutes staring out of the window at the scenery. It's nice scenery. Elvin doesn't appreciate it but I did.

But no, we all have to do our part. So I worked through all of the chapters, saw all the changes, spoke to all the people... or not. I thought I had but the game has Achievements (because of course it does or it wouldn't be a game, apparently...) and one of them is Speak to Every NPC. And I didn't get it.

So I missed someone. I have no idea who. I spoke to everyone I saw because the writing is not bad and the voice acting is a bit better than that so I wanted to. Also you never know when a Philip K Dick reference might pop up.

I thought about that, too. Californium is a game predicated on a knowledge of or an interest in the works of a particular author. Thematically it does a fair job of evoking a few of the great man's better-known tropes. It also drops in the odd reference that seems to have no function other than to give the player warm fuzzies of recognition.

Is that Fan Service? If it is, is that a bad thing? What's wrong with servicing the fans, anyway? If you weren't a fan of Philip K Dick, would you be playing at all? I know it's why I bought the game.

Even when the references seemed to be crowbarred in (and there were only a handful that I spotted) I appreciated them. Would I rather the developers had taken their own game more seriously and resisted temptation? No, I don't think I would. I'm a fan. Serve me.

The final chapter, in which reality comes unglued along with physics and topology, was probably the best part of the game as a game. It was also the part with the least story. I do still struggle with the interface between those concepts. I've seen Californium referred to as both a "walking simulator" and a "puzzle game" and it is both of those things, although the walks are very short and the puzzles mostly easy.

I was satisified with it as a "game" but I'm easily satisfied on that front. I was a lot less staisfied with it as a story, largely because of the ending. It was all going rather well until then.

I'm not going to say the ending was bad. It might have been. There's one interpretation - and it was the first one I came to - that, if true, would make it a very bad ending indeed. One of the worst kinds of ending, in fact. But I'm very far from sure that was the ending.

Or the meaning of the ending, anyway. It was definitely the ending of the game in a practical sense; everything stopped and there were credits. Whether what had happened was what I first thought had happened, though, I somewhat doubt.

In which case I didn't understand the ending. That's not great, either, although it might be my problem. Or it might not. Maybe it wasn't as clear as it should have been.

Or maybe that was the point. Maybe it was clever Dickery, a touch of postmodernist humor. Maybe it wasn't supposed to make sense because, y'know, reality isn't what you think. If you can understand it you've misunderstood it. Except I've read, as I mentioned, an awful lot of Philip K Dick and I never once got to the end of a novel and found myself thinking "what was that all about?". Granted, I still haven't read Valis, let alone The Divine Invasion, but the point holds.

Would I recommend Californium? For PKD fans and sympathizers, yes, definitely. I felt it was five hours well spent. I enjoyed it. I strongly suspect it isn't anything like as smart as the creators probably imagine it is but it's certainly smart enough. It doesn't disgrace its source material and that's a lot more than not nothing.

For anyone who hasn't read Dick, I'm less sure. I'd say about a quarter to a third of my enjoyment came from resonances the game kicked up, stuff I remembered from the novels and short stories. Half was from the look of the thing and the rest from the voice acting and the narrative. Whether that's enough for someone unfamiliar with the original texts is questionable.

But, as I said, who else is going to be interested? Probably not a problem.

According to the best review of the game I read, everything Californium does right the much better-known and vastly more successful The Stanley Parable did better. Maybe I should try that next.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

My Idea Of Fun: EQII

Look up. Up there, right above us. See that? That's my shared bank, that is. Why don't we take a closer look?

The first box is all potions. Partially sorted. A work in progress. I only got them all into the one box just a few minutes ago.

All of those came from Overseer missions. They're useful and I'm glad to have them only I'm terrible at using consumables. They make a very significant difference to both speed and success when soloing the harder instances but I only remember that when I'm struggling. If I'm up and killing I never think to use potions to go faster. So they pile up. Also, when do I do hard instances? More on that later, kind of.

The second box is Infusers, mostly, plus some Powerlinks, a peculiar kind of one-time buff that I've never used and don't entirely understand. "Things I don't understand in EverQuest II" could be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Also a few overspill Mount items that wouldn't fit in the third box and some old Adornments I probably could junk.

Infusers are both useful and annoying. They're used in the Infusion system (No! Really?) which is how you incrementally improve gear. There are different grades and types. The current expansion uses Empyral Infusers and that's what I'm getting from the Overseer missions but I still have Celestial and Planar Infusions from previous iterations. They all still work.

Hello. It's me again!
The problem is, I can't see the point of using any of them to upgrade gear until I'm reasonably sure I'm going to be wearing or wielding it for a while and I'm nowhere near that point yet. I don't feel like much of anything any of my characters is wearing is likely to be around for long.

I haven't even done the final instance of the Adventure Signature line on anyone yet, let alone completing any of the Achievements that give what's probably going to be the best solo gear I'm going to see. But I have now at least looked at those achievements, thanks to Topauz's suggestion, and many of them seem, erm, achievable. So I'm sitting on my Infusers for now.

Bags three and four are stuffed with saddles, reins, barding and the like. Things mounts wear. A hackamore. Don't ask me what that is. I got most of those in the Dragon Attack pre-expansion event. I have a lot more stashed on individual characters, too.

One of the boxes is mostly tradeables. The other is mostly Heirloom. A few of the tradeable items are worth a lot. Millions, if the ones on the broker are priced to sell. I'm dithering over whether to sell mine or use them. I've been dithering for weeks.

The rest are either not particularly what I need right now or can't be equipped until various mounts level up. Leveling up mounts takes months and you can only level one at a time per character. You can buy your way out of that and you can get mount time potions as drops to speed things up. I have had a couple from Overseer missions.
I don't understand how this works. It's not how you'd think.

Even so, it's going to take a lot of thought and organization to work out which mount gets what on which character. I have half a dozen max level adventurers, four max level crafters and all of them have multiple mounts. I haven't been taking this seriously until now, so some of the mounts I've leveled up are the wrong ones and I only just realized I really need to use separate mounts for crafting and adventuring . Only all my crafters are also adventurers, so they'll need one of each.

I could stash all the mount stuff  in a character's bank to free up two boxes in the shared bank. I have access to an almost unbelievable amount of storage in EQII. Quite literally many, many thousands of slots. Which is fine, only I know that if I stash things on characters I'll never see them again. Out of sight, out of mind.

On occasion I have resorted to making notes on who is keeping what in their bank vault. I had it all written in a notebook at one time but of course it's out of date now. I know there are people who would make a spreadsheet for this but the day I find myself tempted to do something like that is the day I start looking for another hobby.

Box five is full of craft books for levels 111-120. Also some spell upgrade materials and recipes and mats for making yet more mount gear. I need to run all the crafters past this lot so they can scribe whatever books they can. Then I need to decide if I'm going to level up any of the other crafts so I know whether to keep those books.

I don't understand how this works, either. Add it to the list.
I ought then to sell what's left over but due to certain anomalies of crafting in Blood of Luclin, some are valuable and some are worthless. Which means checking them all. Which takes time.

Boxes five and six are full of gear. A lot of this is from Overseer missions. The rest I either picked up as various characters went through the Signature lines or I got as drops from overland Nameds. Most of it probably isn't an upgrade for anyone but some of it will be.

To know for sure I have to have everyone look at everything they could use so I can evaluate the auto-comparison. Sometimes that can be a tad hard to parse so it takes quite a while to do even one character. I have six.

Once I've equipped all the upgrades on everyone I'll have to decide what to do with the rest. I could try and sell some of the better pieces but I never really bother to sell gear. I tend to assume everyone else also has more than they know what to do with.

The weapons all need to be converted into Planar Weapon Essences (you can see some of those in Box Eight). That's what fuels weapons upgrades in addition to Infusing. Of course, the same issue applies, namely I have yet to be sure I'm keeping the weapons I'm using. So those just get stashed for now.

The rest of the gear, I have to decide whether to Transmute or Salvage. I've been exceptionally lucky with my Overseer missions so far. I have several BoL Adornment recipes that use the mats I'd get from transmuting gear over level 111. I even have a recipe to make a Red or Blue Rune (Growth, in fact), which is a big deal right now, let me tell you.

The problem here is that I don't fully understand how the revised system works yet. Some of the recipes have "Charges" and I don't know what that implies. I need to do some research before I make anything.

It's Mythical so I suppose it's a good drop.
The last box has a few odds and ends from earlier eras of the game at the top. I haven't gotten around to sorting those out yet. They probably need to be stashed in someone's bank, after which they will almost certainly never be seen again.

In the middle are the three grades of Fragments that everyone complains bitterly about getting as
rewards. I think they have something to do with Epic Weapons but since I've never even looked at how Epic Weapon quests work in EQII I have no clue what to do with them. I just hold on to them in case I need them one day. I got all of mine from Overseer missions, naturally.

Then there are a couple of boxes. I had my Carpenter make a bunch of Swamp Ash Boxes (44 slots) for my Wizard so she could clear her bags and stuff all the unsorted stuff in her bank vault, which is the EQII equivalent of sweeping the dirt under the carpet.

While I was doing that I noticed she could make a 96 slot Jewellery Box. It says it holds "Jewelery, Baubles, Adornments,Transmuted Components and Cloaks" which sounded extremely handy. Only when I put it in the bank I found out it doesn't open like a normal box. It has a "Use" button but pressing it does nothing. So that's some more reading I have to do.

Finally we come to Agents. I get these now and again as loot from Overseer missions. They duplicate. If I get new ones I add them immediately to the Berserker or the Necromancer, my two primary Overseer operators. The spares I have to shunt around to other characters but I haven't yet found time to think about who is going to get whom.

That, in a rather sizeable nutshell, is a glimpse into my EQII gameplay right now. I'm playing the game for several hours every day and enjoying it as much as, maybe more, than I have for years. It's incredibly complex and it makes me think almost all the time, which I love. Only I'm not really doing anything, am I?

Or, rather, I'm doing an awful lot but almost all of it is preparation. But for what?

As well as all that sorting and upgrading and sending Agents out on Missions, I'm making sure to use my staff every two hours to go searching for Shadowed crafting materials, which I then use to make spell and CA upgrades for myself or to sell. And doing the public crafting quests every time the cooldown allows.

Not the best selection of spells
but the first one I made sold for 150k so I'm not complaining
On the subject of making money, the Shadowed book I got hasn't exactly made me rich but I have made more than two million plat so far, which is a lot of money by my count. I've also either been astoundingly fortunate in having three more Expert/Mastercrafted books drop (a Sage book for Level 115 Caster spells, a Jeweler book for Level 115 Scout CAs and a Level 120 Armorer book) or the rarity of these things, as frequently bemoaned on the forums, is wildly overstated.

I'm involved in a fun (for me, at least) price war with a couple of other crafters, which means I have to check my prices two or three times a day. When things sell I have to replace them and since I'm selling on a different character (because he has the 100% broker fee reduction Veteran sales display) I have to swap them over and it all takes time! So. Much. Time.

I'm still doing the Familiars Wild quest daily on three characters. That involves capturing creatures almost all of which are well below my level so I need either to mentor or to be extremely careful, since they have to be both aggroed and alive when I capture them and they all die instantly if any of my max levels even look at them with an arched eyebrow.

And why am I doing that quest? Well, mainly because I enjoy it but the nominal reason is to upgrade the familiars I'm actually using. Everything leads to upgrading the characters. "Upgrading" means making them more powerful and/or robust. Why am I doing that? So I can kill things faster or more efficiently and die less often while doing it, of course.

Only, when do I ever actually go and fight anything these days? Anything where the conclusion isn't foregone, that is? There I am, happily whiling away several hours every day, having a jolly old time trying to make all my characters fit for battle and yet I have no immediate plans to go fight anything!

In fact, I actively avoid it. The only character who's doing anything that could vaguely be called adventuring is my new Fury and she's only doing it to level up so she can stop like all the rest.

Oh well. I'm enjoying myself. And I guess I'll be ready when the time comes. If it ever does. Which doesn't seem all that likely right now...
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