Sunday, May 31, 2020

Flying Easy: EQII

More than six months after the expansion arrived I finally took a second character to the conclusion of the Blood of Luclin Signature adventure questline. Everyone I was planning on levelling hit cap in adventuring, crafting or both long, long ago but there never seemed to be any urgency (or point) in finishing up the quests.

Back in January, when my Berserker muscled his way through the Sig line, it felt like moderately heavy going at times. Nowhere near as slow as some previous expansions but certainly not a quick stroll around the park.

The first time around, I was focused on winning the right to fly on the moon. I don't think I really noticed just how subdued the ending was. The whole thing just kind of fizzles out. Other expansions have had really big, kick-ass finales, throwdowns between gods that I found very impressive. This one just ends with a downbeat debriefing in an office.

Being able to fly around Luclin turned out to be no big deal, either. It's convenient, sure, but once I worked out you can either wear a cloak with the Featherfall effect or slot a leaper or glider into your  mount slot to get about eighty per cent of the effectiveness of actual flight, it really stopped being any kind of issue.

I always had my Necromancer pegged as the next character who'd finish the adventure line. I'd been gearing her up in anticipation so by the time she picked the story back up she was already seriously overgeared. The questline naturally provides sequential upgrades so that by the time you finish you have decent starting gear in every slot but the worst item she was wearing was already better than the best the reward she got.

Which was absolutely perfect. It meant the whole thing was a cakewalk. Boss fights that took my Berserker ten minutes or more back in January lasted barely thirty seconds. In one case, when the Necro got teleported into a pitch black room with the boss at thirty per cent and she was running round in circles trying to find the door in the dark, her pet and her mercenary finished him off without her before she could find the way out. 

I've been playing my Berserker a lot recently, plowing through instances in the hope of upgrade drops, the way you're meant to do. As I wrote, his power levels make that a fun romp rather than the effortful grind it has been in previous expansions. I've been very happy with his time to kill and general, all-round capability.

Well, I was. Until I played my Necromancer in the same content, that is. She's still not as well-geared as he is but the difference is staggering. Those six-minute instance clearances I mentioned someone boasting about in general chat suddenly seem entirely plausible.

It's not just the time to kill, either. It's the way the pet tanks everything without apparently dropping a beat. With a healing mercenary backing her up the pet seems invincible on this solo content. It also gives me a much wider range of options in awkward situations. When mobs do that infuriating power drain, for example, my Necro can simply stand back out of range and let the pet deal with it.

I've been thinking of making the Necromancer my primary character for instance farming. I played a Necromancer for several years back on the Test server and I know how satisfying a class it can be. The Berserker is enormously good fun but it's very much a one trick class. Two, if you swap between offensive and defensive stance, which I haven't done for a long time.

If it's pure speed in killing I was after I'd probably gear up my Wizard. Even in basic gear she's already faster than either the Necro or the Berserker. I'm always a litle nervous of playing pure DPS casters, though. I have it fixed in my mind how fragile they are although I'm not sure that's been true for many years.

Then here's the Warlock and the Bruiser to think about. Warlock, as a class, for some reason I have never really taken to. I always think of my Warlock as a crafter even though he's max level in both disciplines. Bruiser was another one I played for a long time on Test. I liked it a lot but I was almost always in a duo there. I fear that played solo it would end up feeling very similar to the Berserker, only with frustratingly fewer AEs.

As for the Fury I was levelling up from scratch, she's stalled at eighty-nine. It was really very good fun into the seventies. It's still fine and if it was the only way to level I'd be more than happy to keep going but I'm sitting on several Level 100 and 110 boosters and I'm more than half inclined to use one of those and just be done with it.

Overall, things are progressing very handsomely. Soon we'll have the next round of holiday events and then we'll be into the Summer Ethereal season. This looks like being the first year I'll actually be ready to take full advantage of that, assuming Darkpaw roll some of the drops out to solo content as they did last time.

From there we'll run up against this year's Panda quests, if that tradition continues. Then, if precedent holds, we'll head into Gear Up, Level Up and the pre-expansion events, whatever they may be. Atlhough maybe there won't be quite the same focus on getting everyone caught up this time around, seeing there's no level cap increase this year.

Whichever way you look at it, it's a full dance card. I haven't been so invested in EverQuest II for years.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Numbers Don't Lie : EverQuest

I've seen some unnerving suggestions we should all be using the unexpected personal time available during the extended lockdown to get stuff done. I like to resist such puritan notions, although I have done rather more gardening than usual and I just today took delivery of some paint and brushes in preparation for painting the stairs next week.

Mostly what I've done with the time is to write an inordinate number of blog posts. By chance I had the two weeks immediately prior to tlockdown off work as holiday, so I've now been at home for more than ten straight weeks and I've posted on sixty-three consecutive days, from March 28 until the post you're reading now. I might slacken off soon.

I do find it remarkably easy to do things that are similar to work but aren't actually work, as Mrs Bhagpuss pointed out to me only this week. Yesterday and today, for example, I spent several hours logging into EverQuest on three accounts and writing down, in longhand, the race, name, class and level of every character on every server.

It's a count somewhat compromised by a couple of factors. Firstly, there are those pesky Progression/Time-Limited and Special Ruleset servers. I can't log into any of those on two of the three accounts because only All Access members are entitled to play on them. I'm fairly sure I don't have many characters on those but there are bound to be a few.

Also, while I'm on the topic, I made a major statistical faux pas the other day, when I said that the recent mergers left Darkpaw with three such servers, to which they were about to add two more. I was radically under-representing the true position.

There are three preferred TLE servers, Mangler, Selo and Miragul, plus the two new ones, Aradune and Rizlona, but there are four more non-preferred ones, Coirnav, Ragefire, Phinigel and Agnarr, making a total of nine. That does seem like an awful lot of retro/nostalgia servers, especially after the least-popular ones were just merged.

The other element of confusion in my character count is the oft-mentioned tangled history of accounts played at various times by myself, Mrs Bhagpuss or both of us at once. Not literally at once, like some kind of bravura keyboard duet, sadly, but turn and turn about.

Also, there are some characters we both played and, to my considerable confusion, several whose origin and ownership I genuinely cannot recall. Since I'm now the only EQ player in the house I can, theoretically, play any or all of the characters whenever I feel like it, so I'm going to lump them all in together.

In total there are seventy-one characters, which is perhaps a little fewer than I expected. I can think of one or two that are missing. There was a time when Sony Online Entertainment didn't automatically transfer all characters on a server merge. Below a certain level, ten for example,they had to be logged in prior to the merge to prove they were still played or they'd flick into non-existence when the databases combined.

I had a monk on Rallos Zek and a ranger on Sullon Zek who met their end that way. Probably a few other low levels here and there encountered a similar fate. I'm still quite annoyed by the loss of that monk, who would have been one of my earliest characters. I played him quite a bit even if he did never get past about level six.

It's no surprise to find that the most played race is Gnome with twenty-two examples. Next comes Human with nine, something of a surprise, perhaps, but both Mrs Bhagpuss and I liked the original Human character models. I still do.

After that it's all fairly even. At the bottom end, the two Iksar are mine and the two Drakkin are both Mrs Bhagpuss's from, I think, our time in The Serpent's Spine. Ogre, Froglok and Halfling are the least popular with a single representative each, all of them mine.

The Ogre is my Shadow Knight. Ogres were preferred for tanking because of their total immunity to being stunned from the front. Other than that, as a very large race, they were a serious pain to play in confined spaces. If there wasn't a shaman on hand to shrink my Ogre SK he wasn't going anywhere near Lower Guk.

Halflings I always found embarassing, especially the males. I can remember exactly how my one Halfling got made, along with a good deal of her play history.  She was a Warrior, who I made at the launch of Tholuxe Paells server to partner someone whose name I've long forgotten. We agreed to start there as a duo and that's why I was playing an unusual class/race combo - it was all part of some prepared plan that fell apart in a matter of days when whoever I was supposed to be duoing with lost interest and disappeared back to their old server.

Tholuxe Paells itself is long gone, too. Dorothy's been shunted around a few times, ending up on Bertoxxolous-Saryrn alongside a whole crew of characters that used to be our Antonius Bayle team. Looking at her gear I can remember buying much of it in the Bazaar before having a good run out with her back when Mercenaries appeared.

Most popular class is a tie between Druid and Necromancer but that's a tad misleading. Unlike Mrs. Bhagpuss, I've never actually played a Necromancer at anything like the level cap of the time. Instead, what I tend to do is make a Necro for every Progression server. They have a huge advantage at low levels, with particularly powerful pets that can be had for the price of a few extremely commonplace bone chips. There are always a lot of necros on any new server.

Druids also solo very well but not until much later. They're a real pain to get started, not beginning to show their true soloing colors until the thirties. Both classes are excellent soloists and group members at higher levels, if well played. So many are badly played, though, it can often be a tough task getting the chance to convince anyone you're the exception.

The five Paladins are also a bit of a trick. Only one of those has ever been played properly and that's Mrs Bhagpuss's level fifty-four, who used to tank for us on occasion, back in the day. Three of the others are bank mules of mine. I tend to choose Paladin for that thankless task because it's the class I'm least likely to be tempted to play. To make sure they'll never leave Plane of knowledge, I recommend making the pally that most odious of races, a Froglok.

I was puzzled, then, to find I have a level 51 Paladin  on Firiona Vie. I am guessing I made that character to do something on the now-defunct Free Trade server Brekt, which was rolled into Firiona Vie in the last round of merges. I'm also guessing there was some option to start at level 51, something that has happened a few times. I don't think the character has ever been played and I can all but guarantee it never will be.

Level ranges are interesting. My highest character is my Gnome Magician on Luclin-Stromm. She was levelled authentically to the mid-60s, then boosted to 85 on a giveaway. She then levelled authentically again to 93 before settling down in the Guild Lobby to do the daily Overseer quests.

She dinged 98 this morning. My plan is to take her to one hundred doing Overseer missions before kitting her out with new gear and spells until I run out of money. Then I'll take her on a tour of some of the places she was struggling to level in at 93. Seven levels in EQ is a huge step up so I'm hoping that could be fun.

After her I have a whole bunch of eighty-fives, all boosted with Heroic freebies, and then my 84 Beastlord, who did every one of those levels the hard way. The level 78 necromancer is Mrs. Bhagpuss's highest character from back when she played. That was my Beastlord's main duo partner although you can see that I carried on for a good while alone afterwards.

Below that comes a huge slew of characters from the thirties to the sixties, reperesenting the peak of our involvement with the game. All of those have been played very extensively. Most of the rest are either classes or races I didn't get on with or stem from my determination to play on every new server when it launched.

Some of them have been around for a lot longer than their low levels might suggest. The level sixteen human warrior and level eleven human wizard, for example, are two of my very oldest characters. I still get them out and run them around, now and again.

I'm not sure this is the sort of thing those people advocating we all make good use of our enforced leisure would have had in mind but it is quite useful. It's not all that unusual for me to want to log in a particular character for some reason or other only to end up spending so long trying to find which account and server they're on I run out of patience before I find them.

There are also those few characters I discovered that I can't remember ever seeing before. A level thirty-five Druid on Xegony-Druzzil Ro, for one. Where did she come from? Or another Druid, level 39, on Bertoxxolous-Saryrn, with a name I entirely fail to recognize.

Mysteries that may never be solved. Or ever need to be, for that matter.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Cake/NotCake : LotRO

There's a promotion running in Lord of the Rings Online whereby all quested content for which you would normally have to pay is temporarily available, for free, to everyone. Standing Stone Games just announced an extension of the offer until the end of August.

They've also said that they're going to send out a "Coupon Code" in the next few days that will permanently enable all currently-available quest packs on your account. You have to use the code before August 31, after which, presumably, everything reverts to the status quo ante.

Here's my dilemma:

I love getting free stuff in games. I log into games I don't play just to grab things I'll never use. I've written about that quite a few times. This is a really big, really generous offer. Something no-one who dabbles even occasionally in LotRO would want to miss.

But... and here's the thing... I really don't like the questing in LotRO, something else I've written about a few times. How much more I've found myself enjoying the game when it wasn't shoving quests in my face every five seconds. Tedious, repetitive quests, written in a turgid style, presented in a jarring, jagged format, using an ugly, hard-to-read font.

When SSG began the current promotion I gave it a go and I did not have fun. Plugging away at some of the now-available quests, I found the xp "terrible" and the gameplay "teeth-grindingly tedious". Admittedly I wasn't in the ideal area and I was playing a Guardian, quite possibly the dullest class I've ever encountered in any MMORPG, but I had a much better time with the same character in the same place last time, when he couldn't get any quests at all.

What to do? Miss out on a very generous and ostensibly desirable freebie, something that goes entirely against my natural inclinations? Or take it and risk tainting forever what had been a charmingly pure and unsullied experience?

Of course I could take the offer and then never use it. Just because a bunch of NPCs suddenly decide they're willing to let me run errands for them doesn't mean I have to do exactly what they want, does it? But that would require self-restraint and frankly, if I had that kind of inner resource, I wouldn't be piling up presents I've no use for in games I don't play in the first place, now would I?

And there's the crux of it. I don't, in fact, "play" Lord of the Rings Online. I played it once, for about three or four months, I think it was, about ten years ago. After that it became one of the scores of games I keep on my hard drive, update occasionally, log into sporadically, either on a whim or when something like this happens.

If I'm being honest about it, more often than not, when I fire up any old MMORPG, ex-favorite or passing fancy, my primary motivation is to get a blog post out of it. I rarely even have the excuse of nostalgia. The main game I've been playing for about two or three years now is "blogging" and I suspect that will continue until someone actually makes and releases a new MMORPG worth thirty hours a week of my time.

Let's not despair. I have a plan. A way to have my cake, not have my cake and not leave my cake on the plate, either, all at the same time.

I have more than one LotRO account because of course I do. I have my regular account, the one I bought, paid for and subbed years ago, before there was any other way of doing it. That's the one I still play. But there was a time when you had to have a different account for the free trial, back before it all went free-to-play... or maybe it was when the ownership changed and you needed one to play on American servers instead of European ones or... I don't know. Or something. Reasons!

Anyway, I made another account and played on that for a while. I have characters on there. Not seen them for a few years. Can't remember their names. Or their classes. Or their levels. But they exist.

Here's what I could do. Use the Coupon on the account I usually play, thereby satisfying my urge to Get Stuff For Free. I could even log in Mrs. Bhagpuss's old account and flag that for a coupon too. That should satisfy my FOMO and sheer, pointless greed.

Then all I have to do is make sure not to log in the other account before September 1st. Shouldn't be difficult - I haven't logged it in for years. Then again, try not thinking of a purple elephant...

That way, on the rare occasions when I get the urge to log in and potter around in Middle Earth, I can choose between the productive-but-enervating quest version or the meandering-but-immersive alternative. It almost makes sense! (Not really...).

Even then, it's going to be tough. Standing Stone seem determined to get everyone questing, one way or another. Once the offer expires they'll be offering all "expansion pack quest content" in the store for a dollar each or 99 LotRO points, which you can fairly easily earn in-game.

If I'm reading the announcements and clarifications correctly, something I'm not convinced is the case, it's going to lead to a confusing situation from September onwards. We'll have subscribers with access to everything, legacy F2P players, who used the coupon, with all the non-expansion quests but nothing from the paid DLC, new F2P players with no quests other than the starting zones and a la carte F2Pers with whatever subset they've ponied up for at the time.

Just as well no-one really pugs quested content.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Increase The Population : EverQuest

So much for that moment of madness. It's not as though I even want to play on Aradune only, y'know, everyone else is doing it. Or so it seems.

At least I didn't  take the day off work yesterday, like Tipa. Although, right now, every day is a day off work, so...

I noticed last night that both EverQuest and EverQuest II were having server issues. I got kicked when I zoned to Freeport on the way to my Mara home, where I was heading to craft a compass and a throne for the researcher missions.

Couldn't get back in so I went to log in to EverQuest instead, meaning to collect my Overseer rewards and set another five quests to run overnight. Couldn't get in there, either.

Server issues are something of a way of life in Norrath these days so I didn't think anything of it. I'd forgotten it was launch day for the two new servers so I didn't even think to blame them for breaking the game.

This morning all was back to normal. I finished up all my stuff then I happened to read Tipa's post.

I hadn't been planning on making characters on either server because I know if I did they'd never get played. Look, here's what happened when I made characters on Selo.

Level three! Level four! I really stuck with it last time, didn't I? And look at those names. Breezy and Buffy. I was definitely planning on taking it all very seriously. Actually, I'm pretty shocked I got those names. I must have been there when the server came up. Unless there was pre-registration...

It's strange, though, isn't it? Here's a twenty-year old MMORPG (Okay, twenty-one. Geez!). It already has three retro servers up and running. Then they put up another and just like that it's full. At seven in the morning (Pacific time). On a weekday.

You'd think the novelty would have worn off by now. I mean, there's nostalgia and there's obsession.

You can get onto the other new server, Rizlona, although it's showing "High" population right now. So's Aradune, for what it's worth. The tracker only does Low, Medium and High. There is no Full. Or Empty, come to that.

I'll give it a few days to calm down, maybe. Then I might try again. I do fancy another few hours in the Commonlands or Steamfont or Qeynos Hills. Poking orc pawns with a rusty shortsword. Bashing gnoll pups with a warped staff. Maybe I'll get as far as level five this time.

Or perhaps I'll make a character on Vox, the only "Preferred" server that isn't some form of Progression/Time Limited/Special Ruleset. It's a long time since I levelled up under the normal rules with normal xp and a merc.

Oh, hang on, wait a minute...

I already have two characters on Vox! Both gnomes. Both... level one. What is wrong with me?

And, oh god... no, this can't be happening...

Those two are on my current All Access account. You need one of those to play on any of the Time Limited Progression servers. But anyone can play on Vox...

And it seems I already do. Or did. I  have six characters on Vox on my old account. The one I actually play EQ on but don't pay for. Not the one I actually play EQII on and do. What a mess.

When did I play on Vox? I have no memory of it at all. One of those characters got to level forty-five. And another to twenty-one. And they're both gnome necromancers! How did that happen?

Oh, I get it - the level twenty-one is from Fippy Darkpaw, which just merged with Vox this week. I remember him. That was the last time I actually stuck with a Prog server for more than a couple of sessions.

I am seriously going to log into every server and make a list of all my characters. I have no clue how many I have or where they are.

I guess, when you look at it like that, another one on Aradune's not going to hurt, is it?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Now The Drizzle

Yesterday saw the appearance of the latest instalment in Guild Wars 2's Icebrood Saga, entitled No Quarter. There hadn't been a lot of hype. I'd almost forgotten about it.

I finally remembered at around eight in the evening. I logged in and did the first part, then took a quick look around the new map. That took me about forty-five minutes altogether.

This afternoon I picked up where I left off and finished the whole thing. The story, that is. It ran about the regular length, something around three hours, not counting the time I spent wandering about, exploring, taking screenshots, admiring the usual, exemplary efforts of ArenaNet's art team.

As usual, it's difficult to say very much about the narrative without spoiling the story. I may do a post on that in a few days, once people have had a chance to take a run at it themselves. Or I might have forgotten about it by then and not bother.

One thing I will comment on is the absence of voice acting. Due to the exigencies of the pandemic it's not been possible to orchestrate the necessary audio work but ANet decided not to let that delay the release. All the dialog is there in text and speech bubbles but the NPCs and the player character express themselves only in occasional grunts and murmurs.

It does feel a bit odd at first. Personally, I'd have done away with the grunting. I soon got used to the silence but it had the unexpected effect of making me aware that GW2's voice acting is generally not at all bad. I could hear some of the characters speaking in my head in the voices of their regular actors, which is quite a compliment. I'll be glad to have the voices back, whenever that's possible.

Moving on to the new map, Drizzlewood Coast, it would be perfectly safe to discuss that in some detail without worrying about spoilers, only first I'd want to spend quite a lot more time there. This is the map that's supposed to be a PvE version of World vs World, which should make for an interesting comparison, only I'd probably need to play through the whole meta at least a couple of times.

As the above screenshot suggests, there certainly are similarities. That could be a bunch of players ramming a tower in Eternal Battlegrounds. If it was, the door would have lasted longer than ten seconds. If this is WvW it's WvW on fast forward.

I spent about thirty of forty minutes running about after a tag, fighting charr soldiers, protecting supply dolyaks, knocking down gates and taking territory. It all culminated in a large-scale battle at the bridge. Bits of it felt like WvW but a lot of it felt far more like many other big map metas - Silverwastes or Dragon's Stand, for example. I'm going to have to see a lot more before I can tell if it's really anything new. I'd be very interested to see an experienced pugmander lead here, though.

First impressions, then, very favorable. Decent story, no overly-annoying, artificially extended boss fights, large, attractive, interesting new map. I'm not sure I can really see much of a difference in format between the current "Saga" and the previous "Living Story" but in terms of quality, execution and content the Saga so far has been a major improvement.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Many Happy Returns : EverQuest

Writing this short series of posts on the Seven Ages of EverQuest has been a useful experience for me. It's brought back a few lost memories but more importantly it's allowed me to start putting the fragments I already had into some kind of order.

I'm minded to sit down and draft a personal timeline to firm things up even more, although one the evidence so far I'd be well advised to do it on index cards, so I can shuffle them about every time I realize I've got it wrong.

One of the main reasons I find it so confusing is the sheer number of times Mrs. Bhagpuss and I left and came back. I think we must have taken something like half a dozen separate runs at the game, spread across a ten-year period from 1999 to 2009. Since then it's just been me but I've probably added another three or four notches to the tally, the latest of which, still ongoing, began with the introduction of the Overseer feature.

This third and final (spoiler - no it's not!) part of the story begins with the phase The EverQuest Show calls "Renaissance". I'm not sure whether it marked a commercial resurection for the game - it was notable that Holly Longdale referred to 2015 as the year when EQ's population once again began to rise - but without doubt the years from 2006 to 2010 saw a huge improvement in both the content and direction of the game.


The Serpent's Spine

We came back from wherever we'd been (EverQuest II again, I think) specifically because of promises made in the promotion of this expansion, which was, as Wikipedia puts it, "added with the aims of making soloing... a more viable option." Ironically, we then proceeded to duo much of the content, rather undermining the whole concept.

The Serpent's Spine was Sony Online Entertainment's attempt to re-boot the franchise. By this point it must have been obvious that EQII had dropped the baton EQ had passed and also failed to carve out its own niche in the exploding MMORPG marketplace. World of Warcraft was expanding exponentially, becoming a global phenomenon, while SOE's play for the same market was faltering in its slipstream, watching the competition accelerate relentlessly out of reach.

EverQuest players had, to the greatest degree, declined to abandon years of progress for the dubious pleasure of starting again from scratch in the Norrath of five hundred years hence. Paradoxically, all too many of them seemed more than willing to drop everything for Azeroth. The stubborn EQ players who remained may have seen WoW as a dumbed-down, clownishly easy game for children, yet it offered so much that so many of them had yearned for. WoW was solo-friendly, directive, linear and compartmentalized. And it was cleaning up.

The Serpent's Spine, like EverQuest's first and third expansions, Ruins of Kunark and Shadows of Luclin, wasn't really an expansion at all: it was a whole new game. It featured a new race, the dragonborn Drakkin, complete with their own starting city, from where it was possible to level up all the way to the new cap of seventy-five without ever leaving the expansion.

To make things even more appealing to the burgeoning crowds of neophyte hobbyists WoW was bringing to the genre, TSS had a coherent, linear storyline and was designed to be soloed, theoretically by any class. To make that possible something entirely new was added to the whole game: the ability to rest.

"Resting" has nothing to do with the "rested xp" we're used to now. In TSS, to rest simply meant that mana health and endurance now returned rapidly as soon as you left combat. Instead of having to meditate for long enough to go to the kitchen, make a snack, eat it, do the washing-up and still have time to spare before your mana bar filled (casters) or to be forced to wait for what seemed plenty of time to go out to a restaurant for a three-course meal (melee) you could now watch your bars refill in a minute or two.

It was a genuine game-changer at the time, particularly for melees and melee-hybrids. I remember putting several levels on my long-neglected warrior and rogue just for the novelty of killing a mob with less than fifteen minutes downtime before the next. The "con" system, whereby you were able to judge which mobs would kill you instantly and which would take a little longer, also received a solo-friendly revamp, making pulling considerably less of a death lottery.

The zones I remember us spending the most time in were Blightfire Moors and Goruka Mesa. We might have gotten as far as the ice giant city of Valdeholm, the final levelling zone for the expansion, by which I mean we may have seen it from a distance. I'm sure we never went inside although I've hunted it to oblivion since, with only my mercenary by my side. 

We didn't make new characters. I never liked the Drakkin much - skinny humans with delusions of grandeur. I think I must have been playing my beastlord. I have no memory of what character Mrs Bhagpuss played. I can't find any screenshots to check, although I'm sure many were taken. Stuck on some defunct hard drive, no doubt. There's a pile of half a dozen not six feet from where I'm sitting.

I remember The Serpent's Spine as a well-designed expansion with several memorable and enjoyable zones. We didn't, by any means, spend all of our time there but we saw a good deal of what it had to offer. I know it fairly well now, having been back many times.

Even now, it remains Darkpaw's preferred starting point for new and returning players, provided they start at level one, that is. Heroic characters beginning their journey through Norrath at 85 start in House of Thule. To emphasize the preference, five of the current Hot Zones are in TSS. They give increased xp and the game prompts players of the right levels to go there.

Did TSS bring new players into the game or tempt back those who'd strayed? I have no idea. I certainly remember it as being busy back at launch and it still has its moments. I suspect, though, that it was too little, too late. WoW was gathering momentum before rolling over the entire genre and crushing the life out of it forever. It was too late for fresh starts.

The Buried Sea 

Except, of course, it never is. When The Buried Sea arrived we were off on a new start of our own in Vanguard, an adventure that turned out to be one of the best experiences of my MMORPG life and one of the highlights of Mrs Bhagpuss and my times playing together. Nothing EQ had to offer was going to compete with that, least of all an expansion featuring pirates.

I didn't think I'd seen all that much of TBS but it seems I spent quite a while there in later years, although if I hadn't written about it I might not have remembered. I had to look it up to remind myself.

It seems I liked it. Franklin Teek sent me to somewhere called Jewel of Atiki, about which I had this to say: "It was with surprise and delight... that I arrived in one of the many zones I've never before visited, Jewel of Atiiki, to find myself in an analog of ancient Egypt. Pyramids, sphinxes, efreeti, palm trees and...gorillas?"

I posted a few more pictures a few posts later but I don't think I went back much after that. I seem to remember the drawback was travel. The mobs were killable and the xp was good but it took forever to get there and even longer to move around the zones themselves.

It's a perennial problem in EQ. Complain all you like about fast movement ruining immersion but so does always ending up in the same places because they're the easiest to get to.

Secrets of Faydwer

In the last part of this series I said that 2007's Secrets of Faydwer marked Mrs. Bhagpuss's farewell to EverQuest. That's true but not in the way I meant. It was indeed the expansion whose content our characters were duoing at the end of the last and final time we played EQ together but it wasn't the current expansion when we were doing it. That would have been 2008's Seeds of Destruction.

Had it not been for SoD, I very much doubt we'd ever have seen SoF at all. It came with a level increase taking the cap to 80 and even the opening zones were intended for high level characters. For all SOE's talk of making the game more soloable, we'd have needed a group to prosper there at the time the expansion launched.

Of course, this being EQ, we'd have had little trouble finding one. There would have been pick-up groups aplenty. There always are in the introductory zones of fresh expansions. By 2007, though, our pugging days were largely behind us. We'd have needed a stronger incentive to entice us back for one more go. That incentive wasn't to come until the folowing year.

I can tell you plenty about Secrets of Faydwer all the same. Since I've reverted to playing the game solo in recent years I've probably spent more time there than anywhere else. I levelled my Beastlord into the low 80s in the opening zone, Dragonscale Hills and my Magician went into the low 90s doing tasks for Franklin Teek in Hills of Shade and across the various sky islands with their towers and fortresses belonging to Meldrath the Mad.

The EverQuest Show has a separate category for the Age of Nostalgia but Secrets of Faydwer is where the trend began. It doesn't play with time the way later expansions do but it plays with memory. The main reason I like EoF is that it's genuinely an extension of the original continent of Faydwer. It's not another plane or a subterranean lost world - it's just a part of Faydwer you never saw before, over the mountains, not very far away at all.

Meldrath is a great villain, one of EverQuest's best. I've never faced him down in this version because this is EverQuest and you'd need to raid, but his insane influence is everywhere. The place clicks with clockworks. Transportation is by cannon-fire. A skyscraper-tall robot clomps around the opening zone and if you clamber through a hatch in his boot you'll find yourself in a whole new zone inside him. Between all that and the lush, werewolf-infested forests that recall Lesser Faydark, it's one of mid-period Norrath's most familiar-feeling settings.

Just writing about it makes me want to log in my Magician and take her for a roam. At 97 she should be able to own most of it.

Seeds of Destruction

And so we come to one of EverQuest's most controversial expansions. Not for anything it contains by way of content or storyline. Just because Seeds of Destruction introduced mercenaries into the game.

For my money, mercs were the single best innovation the game ever had. The ability to hire an NPC to fill the role of a player meant two things: soloing suddenly became fully possible and genuinely enjoyable for all classes and pugging became hugely easier, safer and more reliable because you never had to wait for a healer or a tank.

Mrs. Bhagpuss and I returned for our farewell tour as a duo and it was a tour. With the addition of an NPC mercenary each we were effectively able to act as a small group. It also meant neither of us had to heal and we always got a rez.

We played a number of combinations of classes and mercenaries. Often we took two cleric mercs along, reducing the risk of death to the point that we were able to explore areas we'd never seen before or expected to.

We pushed deep into Gates of Discord and Omens of War, far beyond the boundaries those expansions had imposed on us when they were new. Wall of Slaughter took an ironic turn as we became the ones doing the slaughtering.

The highlight of that time was our foray through the higher planes. When Planes of Power was endgame we were still fairly new to serious group and guild play. We'd scarcely progressed past the first planar tier - Disease, Justice, Nightmare and Innovation. After a couple more expansions we'd made it as far as Tier 3's Plane of Tactics and Bastion of Thunder. I think Mrs. Bhagpuss, who briefly joined one of the biggest raid guilds on the server, might have seen a little of the Tier 4 Elemental Planes. I certainly didn't.

With mercs in tow and both of us playing pet classes, effectively making us a six-character group, we made it all the way to the Plane of Time, the final zone in Planes of Power. Obviously, by then most of the flagging had been removed, or at least I assume it had. I can't actually remember. I do know we weren't killing any gods, mercs or no mercs, so we must have been given a pass on that, at least.

The whole thing was such fun we spent what I recall as several months there although it was probably more like a few weeks. We both levelled characters into the low eighties but at that point it began to feel like hard work again. We drifted away once more, I think back to Vanguard for a while and then for three months in Lord of the Rings Online before returning yet again to EQII. Or somewhere. Frankly, who knows? We were always paying something but exactly what we played when is probably lost forever.

This, you may notice, isn't telling you anything at all about the Seeds of Destruction expansion itself. That's because, back then, we never touched it. I'm not sure we even knew where it was.

I did eventually get to see some of the new zones, which turned out to be not so new at all. It was the beginning (I think) of the major re-use of art assets, something that would become a trend in both EQ and EQII for a while. Oceangreen Hills was a reskin of Qeynos Hills, complete with its own version of Blackburrow. Old Commonlands was... well, you can probably guess.

I saw a good deal of both of those after my Magician took the Heroic option offered by Daybreak and jumped to 85. She doggedly levelled from there to 93, some of which I documented here on the blog, before it all started to get too much. Franklin Teek began sending her to Old Bloodfields, Seeds of Destruction's timewarped take on the Omens of War zone and it didn't go well.  She retired for a time to brood in the Guild Lobby. She's still there now, only thanks to the Overseer system she's closing in on 98 and she's not had to waggle a finger.


This whole Renaissance section has taken longer than I expected but this bit's going to be short. To the best of my knowledge I have never even set foot in Underfoot. Looking at the list of zone names there's not one I recognize. I've seen it described as "Gates of Discord 2.0" and it was supposedly the toughest expansion SoE ever released so I don't feel I've missed much.


And there I'm going to leave it. I really did think I'd wrap the whole thing up this time but as usual I had more to say than I expected. Not to tempt fate but the final part really should be brief. Looking at the ten expansions it covers I think I've only set foot in two of them and then only in the starting zones. Surely I can't have two and a half thousand words in me on that?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Well Did You Evah?

Before I get to the third and final part of my unplanned trilogy on the expansionary evolution of EverQuest I thought I'd give myself a break and tag onto the "Have You Ever?" bandwagon as it passes by. Wilhelm breaks down the provenance so I won't bother with that. I'll just get straight to the questions.


Driven or been driven at 100 mph/160 kmh? 

Yes, albeit not intentionally. I drive a lot of hire cars. We almost always take touring holidays where we just fly somewhere, hire a car and drive about for a week, week and a half, with only the loosest plan on where we might go. I do all the driving. Mostly the cars are small and similar to what I drive at home but sometimes they're more powerful. The roads are often very good, very straight and very empty.

I'm generally good at sticking to the limit but sometimes, in a more powerful car than I'm used to, on a long, straight, empty highway, if I'm chatting away, it's all too easy to let the needle drift upwards. I have caught it drifting past 160km a few times although not in recent years. I try to avoid breaking any road rules, these days.

Learned a possibly deadly skill?

No. Why would I do that? Do I look like a spy? Of course, if I was a spy I wouldn't look like one, not if I was any good. Or tell you about it, either.

Ridden in a helicopter? 

Helicopters are functional. I wouldn't not go in one but only in the way I wouldn't not go in an elevator. It's a non-thing, isn't it? Unless you're a traffic reporter or a cop. Or Colonel Kilgore.

Been Bungie Jumping?

Bungie jumping is just idiotic. I wouldn't have done that when I was twenty. I could be snide about it but seriously, you only have to think about it. It does all the snark work for you.

Gone zip lining?

I went on one in Fortnite the other day. Does that count?

Zip lines are different. They have function. They take you from somewhere to somewhere else.  Plus you don't look like a total doofus. I'd have done it for real when I was younger. Much younger, like fifteen. We didn't really have them then but we did have "adventure parks" where you slid along a rope on some kind of pulley system. I did that. Does that count?

Been to an NFL game or Ice Hockey?

Nope. I wouldn't be against the idea but it's never happened. I would love to go to a major league baseball game, though. Or minor league. Actually, minor league is more Americana, so that.

Watched Dr. Who?

Now we're just being silly. Everyone in Britain has watched Dr. Who, whether they wanted to or not. To avoid it you'd pretty much have to be a trappist monk and I bet even they can tell you their favorite doctor in mime.

I grew up watching it. I saw the first series. I saw the first episode. At time of transmission. I can remember watching it. I was five years old. I didn't watch many more because it gave me nightmares so it was banned in our house for a while, but I must have been back behind the sofa by 1965 because I remember watching the Zarbi episode, which also gave me nightmares, which I can also still remember. I would have been six and a half by then. 

 We didn't have a T.V. for a few years in the '60s so I was hit and miss on Patrick Troughton but by Jon Pertwee I was watching every episode religiously. I missed some of Tom Baker's run because I was at university and we didn't really watch much T.V. then. I saw most of his episodes, though and Tom Baker will always be the Doctor to me for the simple reason he was the best. I carried on, desultorily through Peter Davison, (dull) and Colin Baker (poor, although I've come round to him over time) but by the time Sylvester McCoy took over I was gone.

But... I ended up swapping a bunch of football comics with someone at work for VHS tapes of all McCoy's episodes and I liked him a lot. It was the cheapest. lowest-budget, uncared-for era of the show but it had more personality than anything Davison and C. Baker had managed. And Ace, with her leather jacket and baseball bat.

I've not seen any of the revival version, yet, other than a couple of the Christmas specials, but I have almost all of them on DVD. I'll get around to them one day. I'm not a Dr. Who fan, mind you. I'd like to make that quite clear. I've met real Dr. Who fans. Seriously, all that above? Just an average viewing  history for someone with a passing interest in T.V. sci fi, where I come from. 

Been to Canada?

No, but I'd like to. I listen to a lot of Canadian music. Top country for bands. Also scenery.

Visited Disney?

No and I wouldn't like to. I love Disney. Huge force for good in the world, despite Walt being basically a wannabe totalitarian dictator. I've almost been in a fight over that. The "force for good" argument, not the dictator thing. I don't see why I'd want to see the characters re-created in pantomime cow outfits by financially-challenged students, though. As for the rides, see "Bungie Jumping", above.

Visited an actual castle?

Oh, please! I live within fifteen minutes drive of at least three, all of which I have visited several times. And those touring holidays I mentioned earlier? We try to hit two or three new castles every time. There are even pictures on this blog.

I don't keep a count but I must have visited getting on for a hundred different castles by now and I've been to quite a few more than once.

Visited Vegas?

Nope. Mrs. Bhagpuss has. She asked her daughter where she'd like to go for her thirteenth birthday and that's what she chose, so off they went. Gambling wasn't on the agenda, obviously. They mostly saw shows and used it as a base for trips to Death Valley and the Grand Canyon and suchlike. They gave it a good review.

Eaten alone at a restaurant?

Wilhelm thought this might be a British thing but I think it's mostly a girl thing. I don't imagine any man ever thinks twice about eating alone in a restaurant but it comes up frequently in novels either written by women or with female lead characters and I've heard several radio discussions on the topic, always from the female perspective.

I actually like eating alone in restaurants and I've done it a lot. I used to go on holiday on my own once or twice a year (back in the days when I also went on a family holiday and a couple's holiday, all in the same twelve months). I found that eating alone in restaurants can be problematic, even for a man, but only in the evening. At that time, you're taking up a table that could make a lot more money and sometimes you can feel the vibe.

Instead I would try to take my main meal at lunchtime, when most restaurants are delighted to see single people willing to pay for a full meal plus drinks. I had some really great, long, hazy, sundrenched afternoons on restaurant terraces in cities and small towns all around southern Europe. Not sure when that's going to happen again...

Played an instrument?

Several, all very badly. The only one I can play with any facility is the guitar, although it's now more than twenty years since I last picked one up. 

When I say "with any facilty" I mean I know some basic chord shapes. Enough to have played decent rhythm guitar for a punk band. I could play fast and in time and all on the downstroke. I got compliments on that but it has limited applications. By the time I left university in 1981 no-one really wanted me to play guitar any more, which was fine because now they wanted me to sing. I was pretty limited there, too, but I knew what my limits were and stayed inside them and that seemed to work for a few more years.

I keep thinking of starting again. Maybe actually learn to read music. I should probably do it before arthritis sets in.

Ridden a motorcycle?

Only on pillion. I was in my late teens and I was a bad pillion passenger. I would lean the wrong way. I wasn't asked twice by the same person.

Ridden a horse?

No. I sat on one, once. I've ridden a donkey and a camel. Strangely, I went through a period in my early teens when I read loads of pony books. My mother did the football pools (ask your grandfather - your British grandfather) and I made her promise me if she won she'd buy me a black pony with a white blaze on its forehead. I think my main interest in ponies, if I'm honest, was that girls liked them and I thought liking them too would get me in with girls. It didn't. It just made them laugh.

Been skiing/snowboarding?

Nope. There used to be annual skiing trips organized by my school, on which several of my friends went every year, but I never even thought about going. The one time the school changed tack and went for a trip to the Balearics, though, I was in like a shot.

It's odd, looking back. I grew up sledging and I love snow. I think it was the poshness that put me off. That and the horrific expense.

Gone to a festival?

Yes, quite a few, although like Wilhelm I don't stay overnight. My first was the Watchfield Free Festival in 1975, which I attended with my cousin. We got stopped by the police, late at night, on the way back to my aunt's house, where we were staying and I refused point blank to give my name or any information. I was a revolutionary little git in those days. I also got stopped by the police surprisingly often and it annoyed me a lot so I tended to react quite sarcastically.

Throughout the late 1970s, all the way through the 1980s and well into the '90s, I went to the Ashton Court Free Festival every year. For a few years I lived within walking distance, which was good because parking there was a nightmare by the time it grew to be the biggest free festival in Europe. I saw a wealth of great bands although few great performances. Festivals are terrible places to watch bands, anyway. Great places to get high and hang with your pals, though.

Actually, I did once try to stay overnight at a festival. It did not go well. It was the first "wet" year at Glastonbury. 1985. I went with my then-wife. We lasted one night. At the festival, not in our marriage. The tent pretty much fell in, the site was a sea of mud. We gave up mid-Saturday afternoon, came home and watched it on T.V..

I have no plans on trying that ever again.

Driven a stick shift?

This is the question that makes me think this has to be an American quiz. I have never met anyone from Britain who calls a manual transmission a "stick shift". It's something I associate one hundred per cent with American culture.

Also, almost everyone over here does drive a stick shift, so why would anyone even ask? It would be far more appropriate for a questionnaire like this to ask if you'd driven an automatic. Most British people won't have. I have, though.

Actually, I just fact-checked this and I'm way out of date. Automatic transmission vehicles in the UK are much more popular now than when I was learning to drive. It's up to 40% now and rising. Maybe the question doesn't so much indicate a non-British author as someone much younger than me. Like that narrows it down...

Ridden in a police car?

In spite of all those stop-and-searches when I was a rebellious teenager, no, never.

Driven a boat?

Nope. Been in plenty but never at the wheel or whatever you call it.

Eaten escargot?

No. I've swallowed a baby octopus, whole. That was quite gross enough.

Been on a cruise?

No, and given the news reports this year I'd be surprised if anyone ever goes on one again. I never will, that's for sure.

Been on T.V.?

I had to think about this one. I'm pretty sure not. I was on the radio once. I remember being in the studio. I have absolutely no memory why or what it was about. You'd think these sort of things would stick with you but evidently not.

Been in a paper/book/magazine?

Again, hard to be sure. Also, it depends what counts. I had a decade and more in fanzines, including plenty of articles, reviews and opinion pieces in what was, at the time, the U.K.'s largest, semi-pro comics zine. I also had stuff in Comics Feature, a fairly big U.S. prozine. I didn't get paid for anything there but I did get paid for reviews in MicroAdventurer magazine, a short-lived pro-zine dedicated to video adventure games.

That's not me being in the paper, though, is it? It's my work. Maybe that's not what the question means.

The first band I was in, which I co-founded, was either reviewed or mentioned in a feature article in all the big three U.K. music magazines of the '70s, N.M.E., Sounds and Melody Maker. I didn't get mentioned by name, though. Does that count?

If not, then "no", I guess.

Eaten Sushi?

Oddly, no. Everyone at work under about 35 seems to live on it. I'd be more than happy to start but it hasn't happened yet.

Seen a U.F.O.?

Hmm. I think so. As in I have a vague memory that I did, not that I saw something I think might have been one. Once again, you'd think it would be the kind of thing you'd remember but that's not how my mind works.

Rescued an animal?

When I was in my mid-teens I was visiting my aunt, who lived about thirty miles away. We went for a
walk and I found a magpie on the ground, unconscious. I picked it up and started carrying it around and we drove home with it, still unconscious. It was winter and we had a fire lit. I put the magpie on the hearth-rug and settled to watching T.V. About an hour later the bird suddenly leaped up and began flying madly around the room. We opened the window and eventually it flew out.

I'm not sure the magpie, which was now thirty miles from home, in winter, at night, would have described that as being rescued but there you go. I have other animal rescue stories with even less heart-warming endings but maybe I'll save those for another time.

Met someone rather famous?

I've met loads of people who are or were "rather" famous and a few who count as "famous" without the qualifier. If you want to meet a certain type of famous person, you could do worse than work in a book shop in a world heritage city with an active arts and theater scene. Not only do we have all those authors, sports personalities, actors, celebrity chefs and T.V. personalities turning up to do book signings or give talks but half the indie bands and touring theater companies who hit town kill an hour or two in the afternoon wandering aimlessly among the shelves.

I've generally tried to steer clear of that side of the business because I don't especially like meeting celebrities, especially if they're people I admire. Gives them too much opportunity to spoil your illusions.  That said, the ones I have met have generally been lovely, especially when I happened upon them out of the blue rather than at a formal event. For example, John Irving was charm itself, as was Becky Chambers.

Before I worked in a bookshop I met plenty of "rather" famous people via comic fandom. I interviewed Marv Wolfman for an hour and hosted a question and answer session on stage with Dave Sim of Cerebus fame. I was Will Eisner's minder at the event pictured above, which was both amusing and a huge honor. For a while I knew Alan Moore well enough that he'd buy me a drink, but then Alan would buy anyone a drink back then. Lovely man.

I could go on but that's more than enough name-dropping for now. I hate people who name-drop, don't you?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Lost In Daydreams, Forgotten By Time : EverQuest

And so we come to what might be the more intriguing part of the tale. We've all heard war stories from EverQuest's early days and its meteoric rise, when it became, briefly, the most popular and celebrated MMORPG of its day, until hubris, incompetence and implacable fate dragged it down to an ignominious and devastating fall. But all of that spans less than a quarter of the twenty-one years the game has stuck around.

We hear far less about what happened after the collapse. I saw some of it, in flashes as a lightning storm, but most is as dark to me as anyone. Just a few, glowing fragments, scattered across those long, quiet years.

The Lost Age

Dragons of Norrath 

When DoN launched in February 2005 I was deep in the slough of EverQuest II's despond. It would be a few months before Mrs Bhagpuss and I returned to the cradle. When we did we found Norrath much changed.

Looking back, it's difficult to see why we bothered. Everyone we knew, pretty much without exception, had jumped ship on both games. I never found out where most of them went because, by and large, I'd kept all my relationships on a strictly in-game footing. I didn't collect real names or email addresses. When people stopped playing they stopped existing.

I had no shots of DoN at all. I had to log in my druid to go take some.
I'm happy with that decision. It was a conscious choice and, I feel even now, a necessary one. Even with a degree of distancing, those were years filled with very considerable personal drama, much of which overspilled the game into what we amusingly liked to think of as "real life".

Before we'd left for the EQII beta I'd had a spectacular falling-out with one of the key movers in our extended social circle. Mrs Bhagpuss was not on speaking terms with another. There were all kinds of complications with any number of individuals. Guild drama was a way of life back then and we had a tangled skein of inter and extra guild relationships to contend with as well.

Things in EQII hadn't been quite so extreme but drama followed us there, too. Our guild leader had a blowout in the middle of a status run one Sunday afternoon and very publicly quit the game, never to be seen again. The guild faltered on with no active leadership, bleeding membership to other guilds but mainly to other games. We struggled on until early summer, then one day the last person either of us knew in EQII announced he was quitting and we decided we might as well call it a day, too.

I don't recall whether we went straight back to EverQuest or if we tried something else first. There wouldn't have been a lot of choice in 2005. We did, however, have a choice to make on our return to EQ.

Back in May 2003, in the days when EverQuest new servers were popping up like mushrooms, a Brand New, No Transfers, Fresh, Start server called Stromm arrived. For about three months Mrs Bhagpuss and I abandoned our friends on Antonia Bayle and made a whole new set on Stromm.

Of course it was night when she got there. Possibly the darkest in-game night I have ever seen. And this at 6pm game-time...
When the time came to return to EverQuest once again, in the summer of 2005, we still had the sour taste of the previous summer our mouths. Back then, we'd taken the opportunity of a free character move Sony Online Entertainment  were offering to transfer all our characters from Ant. Bayle to Saryrn, but we knew no-one there and had no affection for the place.

It was a time when server pride and community were both very real. We'd had a very good few months on Stromm. There were no bad memories. It had been a lively yet laid-back place, full of the enthusiasm of people starting a fresh, new life with a clean slate. That's where we decided to go.

The thing was, there'd been a level cap increase and our characters hadn't reached the last one before we stopped. Dragons of Norrath was the current expansion but most of it was a long way out of our reach.

I can't remember much about what we did to level up but I do know we barely touched anything DoN had to offer. I do recall doing some faction work in the opening zone, accessed via tunnel from Lavastorm, itself revamped for the expansion. There were some instanced missions of some kind that I may have spent a little time on at some point. I definitely did enough to earn quite a lot of one of the expansion currencies, Radiant Crystals, because there were some augments I wanted.

Here's the same shot, auto-levelled to remove all the effects. Which would you rather see when you're exploring a zone where everything wants to kill you and is perfectly capable of doing it?

Some of that probably happened on a later run. It's all more than a bit vague. I do know that, by the time the next expansion arrived, we were just about ready for its opening zone, Corathus Creep, which was meant for character levels 45 to 55.

Depths of Darkhollow

I have quite a soft spot for DoD, something I doubt you'd be likely to hear from many EQ players. The aesthetic of the zones, all of which lurk in some nebulous and ill-explained subterranean nest of caverns beneath Nektulos Forest, is pearlescent and overripe, by Giger out of Lovecraft. There are gnomes because in Norrath there are always gnomes behind everything. I can still hear the relentless clockwork theme of Corathus Creep in my head.

The fights were tough but the xp was good. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I duoed there a lot for the first few weeks. We pushed as far as the next zone, Undershore, but it was too much for us. Then the rot set in. And how.

A quiet day on the beach at Undershore.
All expansions have their unique features. There's a post to be written about that and I may well get around to writing it some day. There are features that the game was waiting for, which change the way we play forever and there are features that barely get used at all. DoD had one that started out as the first and ended up as the second.

There were three major new features in total: Evolving Items, Shrouds and Monster Missions. I'll save the first two for that post, should it ever happen. The one that concerns us today is Monster Missions.

I've ranted about this before so I'll keep it short. There comes a time in every developers life when it seems like a good idea to stop players playing the classes and characters they've chosen and instead stuff them into the pantomime costume of someone or something else. It can be a fun diversion or, more commonly, a total pain in the butt.

Monster Missions should absolutely have counted as the latter. Not only did they turn entire groups into nondescript NPCs, they imposed onerous movement restrictions and provided minimal combat abilities. I never heard anyone even pretend to find them fun. It would have been just another failed and forgotten feature to stack alongside so many more had it not been for the xp.

Those don't look hallucinogenic at all...
Somehow, Monster Missions gave more xp for the time they took than anything else in the game. Literally anything. Once word on that got out, almost no-one wanted to do anything else. If you wanted a group you'd better be ready to give up playing your character because it was go monster or go solo.

Since we were only duoing or soloing, it shouldn't have mattered but it did. These things always do. A rancid stench of discontent and entitlement permeated the air. In MMORPGs, if you make something easy and accessible and give it great xp or rewards, countless players will feel they have to do it.

Some of them will be fine with that but many won't. And yet they'll do it anyway. And hate what they're doing. And hate themselves for doing it. And tell everyone who'll listen just how bad it feels and how much they hate whoever made them feel that way, which is never themselves, even though it always is.

Things went that way and we put up with it for a while and then we couldn't any more so we left. Again. Where we went I don't recall. I can only think it must have been back to EQII, although the dates don't seem to fit. Whatever, wherever, we were gone.

Lovecraft's influence is strong. Still, better him than Tolkein.
Of course, we came back, eventually. I always come back although Mrs. Bhagpuss has finally shaken herself free.

SoE nerfed the missions hard then harder until people stopped doing them. Things went back to normal. Most people just wanted an excuse to stop. The monster missions are probably still there but no-one cares. It's a vast game with a thousand dusty corners. What's one more?

Darkhollow itself, I have revisited, several times. I've done some levels on at least three characters, most recently my old Shadowknight, who did a level in Undershore a couple of years ago. I even wrote about it. I may well go there again. As I said, I'm quite fond of the place.

Prophecy of Ro

I know nothing about this expansion other than it destroyed Freeport. I wasn't there when it launched and when I came back it was already forgotten. How it was received, what people did while it was new, whether it was considered good, bad or indifferent, I have not the least idea.

What's more, I've never really taken the trouble to go look at it since. One of the huge delights of EverQuest is the way your character becomes much more powerful with levels while Norrath remains the same. It's still surprisingly possible to get out of your depth in older content but on the right class and particularly in the post-mercenary era it's possible to play tourist in places that once meant instant death.

Look! It's another Roger Dean album cover!
I have some screenshots taken in one of the zones so I must have been there at least once but I remember absoluterly nothing about it. Maybe I'll go and take a look with my Magician when she dings 100. It should be fairly safe by then.


So much for the Lost Age. It really does live up to its name. If it hadn't been for the happy hours I spent in Corathus Creep I'd barely know it ever happened.

Next up is what the EverQuest Show calls "The Renaissance". It features two more expansions for which Mrs Bhagpuss and I returned, yet again, for one more run. Mrs Bhagpuss finally bowed out after 2007's Secrets of Faydwer and hasn't been back since. I keep plugging on although I think about the last new content I actually saw first-hand must have been in 2010's House of Thule.

Next time should see us all the way through to the end. It's two-thirds of the lifetime of the game and about as much of the content but most of it remains as mysterious to me as the dark side of Drinal, Norrath's other moon.

If anyone's actually played through any of the last ten years of EverQuest maybe you'd like to tell the class about it. I know I'm curious.
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