Wednesday, December 16, 2020

All Around The City


Reign of Shadows, the seventeenth expansion for EverQuest II, went live roughly on schedule last night. Maybe half an hour late, I'm not exactly sure. I would have been there for the grand opening but I was stuck in a diner in limbo thanks to the Blackwell Convergence and I couldn't get to a natural conclusion bang on the dot of eight.

By the time I extricated myself from that little conundrum the servers had been up for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and there were already four instances of the new hub zone, Fordel Midst. I'd read the patch notes so I knew the way to get there was via the Ulteran Spires, which is what we call the Wizard Spires, now that we've stopped calling them the Combine Spires. Try to keep up.

For paying customers, which according to information recently released to investors by EG7 means almost everyone currently playing, there's near-instant access via the fast travel system but for old time's sake I took the bell from Freeport and flew over to the spires in Commonlands so I could go to the Nexus the way we did it back in the day. Although to be truly authentic I probably should have gone to North Karana. Oh, well.


Of course, back then we had to wait anything up to twenty minutes for the spires to cycle. And you had to remember to get a stone from the NPC and keep it in your bag. If you forgot that, when the big stones charged up and everyone else vanished, there you'd be, standing there like a lemon. Did that a few times...

Now it's just click-and-go so I clicked and went. And Nexus looked pretty much as I remember it, only about four times the size. I gosh-wowed at it for a minute or two, setting what would become something of a theme. Then I began trying to take screenshots that did justice to the architecture and especially the cavernous sense of space.


Jeromai's been complaining about the problems of capturing the full glory of Cyberpunk 2077 in static images. I wouldn't presume to compare the two games but technical issues aside there's the same problem all tourists have in real life: without special lenses and equipment it's all but impossible to capture grandeur and scale on camera.

Suffice it to say, everything I've seen in Reign of Shadows so far looks fantastic. A lot better than these shots suggest. The caveat to that is that so far I've barely seen anything. Pretty much just the Nexus, the Bazaar and a few districts of the main city.


And most of that isn't new. It took me a few moments to realize but some - perhaps all - of what I've seen so far is recycled from last year's Blood of Luclin. Far from being disappointed by that I think it's a stroke of genius. Months ago, when I was fighting my way through these streets in solo instances, I did actually wonder to myself why they'd taken so much trouble creating entire city blocks as dungeons. Well, now I know. Someone was thinking ahead.

It's not just that the city works so much better as a city than as a series of dungeons, although it does. It's that there are now nested layers of familiarity and nostalgia, all creating synergistic feedback. I remember the original Bazaar and Shadowhaven from my first trip to the moon back in EverQuest's third expansion, Shadows of Luclin but I also remember the new acrchitecture and street plan as well as, perhaps more importantly, the significant NPCs from my multiple playthroughs of BoL's signature questlines.


If anyone knows how to play the nostalgia card it's Daybreak (still calling them that for shorthand) and they just get better at it all the time. I felt a strange stirring when I found the bank and learned I'd have to do some prep work with the locals before I could open an account. That synaptic trickle turned into a palpable surge when I got to the end of the dialog and saw the reward.

I'd forgotten all about the early days of Luclin, when anyone who wanted to deal with the shopkeepers and officials of the moon's de facto darkside capital first had to earn their own Amulet of the Haven but now it all came flooding back. God, that quest was annoying! I can't wait to do it again!

I did get started on it but naturally I got distracted. Wandering around, I happened on the multi-denominational church, where worshippers of all the Norrathian faiths have their own altar. At first I thought it was pure set dressing but then, down some stairs at the back, my Berserker came across the altar of his own chosen deity, Rallos Zek, to whom he was not only able to pray but from whom he received some major godly buffage.

You can, of course, set up an altar in your home to whichever god you choose and have those buffs running constantly. They only need refreshing every twenty-four hours. But that's something I rarely remember to do. Unlike other mmorpgs, EQII's borrowed power systems tend towards persistence, making buffs from previous expansions more relevant than you might imagine. But who can remember them all? Not me. 

I might stand a better chance if all I have to do is go to church in the current hub city, though. We'll see.

Among other sights I noticed were the crafting halls, somewhere that looked like a library and a kind of arena that was in exactly the spot where the original Luclin PvP area used to be, right next to the Bazaar. In old EQ that got removed due to people being inadvertently ganked when they got lost trying to buy a new tunic. The EQII version seems to be engaged in some kind of Netherbian incursion. No doubt that will be explained in due course.


The oddest thing I spotted were a couple of farms. Cows in the city? And an underground city at that. Weird. But I guess the Vah'Shir have to get their milk from somewhere.

By this time I'd dismounted and was exploring on foot, always a good sign. I was also feverishly marking points of interest on my map, something I started doing at the start of expansions only a couple of years ago. 

Time was when you could rely on EQ2 Maps to have fully annotated maps ready to download almost as soon as the doors opened on a new expansion. People made them during beta and uploaded them weeks ahead of time, I think. Of late, though, it can be quite a while before they appear so I've started making my own.

By the time a couple of hours had passed it was time to stop for the night. I hadn't really done anything but I'd had a great time. It bodes well. This morning, before I started to write this post, I checked the forums for the inevitable emergency patch notes and to see if there was going to be more down time today. There were none and there isn't. It seems the servers came up and stayed up which bodes even better.

And now I'm off to explore some more and maybe this time even do a quest or two. More as it happens. Or not, if I'm having too much fun to stop.

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