Friday, September 24, 2021

A Rambling Post About Twitter, New World, Sable, Japanese Breakfast, Posthumanism, Digital Feeds, Steam Sales And Pre-Orders, In Which I Push Declarative Post-Titling To Its Inevitable And Unsustainable Conclusion


This morning I have a few things rattling around inside my head that wouldn't make full posts. Or perhaps I should say ought not to be allowed to make full posts. There's not much doubt I could get a couple of thousand words out of any of them if I set my mind to it but just because you can doesn't mean you should.

If I was on Twitter I could just craft several delicious micro-posts and send them winging into the twittersphere to charm and delight, because that's how Twitter works, isn't it? I am on Twitter, as it happens, but I have never tweeted. Or have I? Let's see... 

Ok, that's quite disturbing. Twitter logs me in automatically even though I haven't knowingly used the service for over ten years. Where is it holding the information that allows it to recognize me without a login or password, I wonder? I never let anything do that, not even stuff I use every day.

I have tweeted five times, all in 2010, all auto-generated from Fallen London, which at that time required Twitter to play. I literally made my Twitter account to play it and that is all I ever used it for. 

I have one follower, a good friend of mine from a long time back. I'm following him too but I have not the least clue how that would have happened. I haven't seen or spoken to him for more than fifteen years. 

Other than that, apart from Failbetter Games, makers of Fallen London, who I had to follow to make the game work, the only other person I'm following is, for some inexplicable reason, Scott Hartsman. Maybe he played Fallen London. He seems like the kind of person who might have done.

It does occasionally occur to me to start using Twitter but I also seem to have set up my Twitter profile using some variant of my real name so if that ever happens it's not going to be on that account. I do appear to be @bhagpuss, though. That would be okay, I guess.

Seem to have strayed from the point a little, don't we? Not sure why I'm including anyone else in that. Share the responsibility, share the blame, eh?

As I was saying, I have a few odds and ends to mention and it's Friday so I thought I might steal Wilhelm's "Friday Bullet Points" idea and run through this and that. Except they're going to bleed into one another a little too much for bullet points, which is a shame, because I like bullet points. And now I've rambled so much I've forgotten what most of them were, anyway. 

It'll come back to me, I'm sure. I'll go and make myself a coffee. Get my thoughts in order. I knew I should have made some notes.

Right, New World! That was one of the things I was going to talk about. I had the email opposite from Amazon this morning.

A few things occurred to me in the light of Belghast's thoughts on the imminent arrival of Amazon Games big new thing/hail mary pass/nine day wonder (delete as applicable), along with the comments of a couple of people in the thread there, an earlier post by Syp about his launch plans and an apparently unrelated post by Tipa at Chasing Dings, which I read this morning.

Firstly, I'm weirdly unexcited by, even detached from this indisputibly major launch, even though there are plenty of reasons I should be super-keen. It's by far the biggest new AAA mmorpg to come along in years. I was in the first alpha, what, three years ago now and loved it. I pre-ordered at the earliest opportunity in 2019. Even though the game has changed almost out of recognition since then, I thoroughly enjoyed the two later betas, last summer and this spring. There's no doubt I want to play New World. I'm just not very excited about it.

I think it's something similar to the Valheim situation and, looking further back, Project Gorgon. I've already expended all the energy on getting excited about these games that I have to spare. They aren't "new" games any more, even though none of them has in fact launched yet. They're games that were "new" six months, three years, five years ago but they're still acting as though they just arrived and it doesn't quite feel real, somehow.

New World is in the better position in that it never had any kind of early access or non-wipe open beta phase. It is a proper launch following a series of proper alphas and betas as we would have understood the process ten or fifteen years ago. And yet it still feels like New World has been around a longish time because that's how we've been trained to feel about these things now.

What I really want, I realized recently, is for New World to have launched, to be running, to have become just another live game, one I can dip in and out of when the fancy takes me. I don't want to invest any special emotional effort or project any particular wishes or hopes onto it. I just want it to be there.

Think we should roll on Sitara? Yeah, maybe not.
I was considering the choice of servers, all 177 of them. It's really not that many to choose from, of course. Clearly I won't be playing on the Australian or South American ones, so that takes it down to 140. I try to avoid playing on EU servers where possible, which knocks out another sixty-four and given a choice of US locations I'd always go East Coast, meaning I really only have to choose from fifty or so names. 

Still a lot. I need to look at that website Bel linked that warns where the streamers are going, then pick somewhere else. I like a low-pop server if I can find one. I quite like the sound of Frislandia but my favorite would be Morrow, which makes me think of the great Gray Morrow.

I was interested to see that Bel had cancelled his Amazon pre-order in favor of buying the game directly through Steam. I wonder if that makes a difference since Amazon are apparently going to email Steam keys as the standard means of access anyway. I guess it depends a) how much you trust Amazon to send things out promptly and b) whether you care how soon you can get online.

As to a) I have had nothing but exemplary service from Amazon for a decade and a half but also as to b) on this particular occasion I'd be fine with getting my key a few hours or even a few days late. I'm not crazy keen to begin  with and even if I was, avoiding the initial feeding frenzy would probably be in my best interests. Letting the hordes move through the first couple of starter areas and then follow along at leisure seems like a good plan.

What I'd really like would be an option to buy a physical box and wait for it to drop through my letter box next week. As I mentioned in a comment to Tipa on the post linked above, I have a DVD case for Guild Wars 2's  Heart of Thorns sitting on a shelf in the bookcase to my right, even though the expansion was only ever available in digital form.

All the case contains is a piece of paper with a code on it. I could have gotten that code added directly to my account by clicking a box online but I chose to pre-order it from Amazon just to get that empty case. I would do that for all the games I'm actively interested in if I had the choice because I like to see the cases displayed in my room so I can handle them occasionally and feel some kind of tactile, physical connection.

As far as I can remember, Heart of Thorns was the last time I was able to do any of that. I was reading the other day how Gen Z buy more vinyl than Millennials. I think the death of physical media may have been overstated. Were not posthuman quite yet. We might have to wait for the singularity before people stop feeling the need to nest.

Conversely, and flipping round to touch Twitter if only tangentially, I do appreciate the speed and range of digital communication. Time was I'd have to wait 'til Thursday to get my fix of music news. These days I get it the same day, possibly the same hour, the journalists do.

 

I recently subscribed to (by which I mean added to Feedly, not payed money for) two additional music sources. I was getting the feeling Pitchfork was missing stuff here and there so I added Stereogum and my teenage mentor, NME.

What I didn't realize was that the 21st century digital NME is hard into gaming, too. I am now getting more gaming news from there than most of my gaming bookmarks. It's very odd but also very welcome, not least because the news items are short, concise and gloriously free of snark. 

Since NME used to be the very fountainhead of snark and also pretension that's a big reminder to me of how the world's changed. I do like me some snark and I live for pretension but it's nice to have the facts plain, no chaser, once in a while. 

Having all three sources in my feed might be a little too much, though. Some days I can't get though them all before a whole stack more have arrived. I mostly just scan the headlines. They tell me all I want to know about most things and give me that heady, fake feeling of not being out of touch with the world. The bits that matter, anyway.

I most likely will keep all of them. Naturally a lot of the news duplicates but you can never be sure which will focus on what. Pitchfork, for example, even though they don't carry a lot of gaming news, was the first to tell me Japanese Breakfast did the full soundtrack to Sable.

I wrote about Sable a while back and I've had it in my Steam wishlist ever since. Today, the same day I got the New World pre-order warning, I also got this (on the right) from Steam.

So there's another game I'm not going to buy. I want to play it but do I want to pay  twenty pounds for the chance? Probably not. Not because I don't think it's worth that much but because I don't need a new game right this moment. Too much going on already. 

Knowing the soundtrack is by someone I'd buy an album by and also knowing what a good game (I loved the demo) makes me considerably more likely to buy it eventually. It's like buying a game and album all in one. Bargain! And an even bigger bargain when it goes on sale.

I guess I am turning into one of those people who waits for things to go on Steam sale before they buy. Is that personal growth or just my standards slipping? Hard to say. 

So far this year, though, five of my wishlisted games have become available and I haven't bought one of them. And yet I'm going through with my pre-order of New World despite my aforementioned apathy.

This is why companies do pre-orders, you know. Lock in the excitement before it fades then trust to a combination of laziness, lack of attention and an uncomfortable sense of commitment to carry those sales through to the end.

It works, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#8 Some Dusty - Birdie


My favorite band of all time is Dolly Mixture. They'd not long started gigging in their hometown of Cambridge when I arrived there as a student at the tail end of the nineteen-seventies. Before the end of my first year at university the Dollies were everyone's favorite band, the one we'd go see whenever and wherever they played. 

They had friends or acquaintances in common with friends or acquaintances of ours so they'd turn up occasionally at parties we were at, sometimes even parties to which we'd been invited. I think they even played at one of them. Hard to be sure. We crashed a lot of parties, especially in my first year. It was a blur, even then.

I saw them supporting the Fall at the Corn Exchange, about as unlikely a pairing as you could imagine and one I might believe I'd dreamed if it wasn't for the retrospective magic of the internet. £1.65 on the night. £1.30 with dole card. Those were the days, eh? I saw them at Downing College and I saw them at the Locomotive, where the roof nearly came off. One of the top five live shows I've ever seen.

 

That was more than three years later. I think we'd all graduated by then. I'd gotten married and so had two of the crew I hung with. We'd mostly left Cambridge. I think we were back for a visit or maybe it was just before we went back to the places we used to call home.

Dolly Mixture were the gang of three. Hester on drums and Debsey on bass, Rachel with guitar... Just the cutest thing you've ever seen, in their own words.

After the band split up in the 'eighties, Rachel and Debsey formed Coming Up Roses and when that ended Debsey joined St. Etienne's touring ensemble. I'm unclear whether she was ever a full band member but she's worked with them on and off ever since.


 

Birdie was the 90s band she formed with another St. Etienne alumnus, Paul Kelly, also her partner in life. They recorded and released two albums, Some Dusty and Triple Echo, both of which are superb. I know Some Dusty far better, though, having owned it almost since it came out in 1999, whereas for some reason (*cough* EverQuest *cough*) I never caught up with 2001's Triple Echo until many years later.

Birdie's sound is unearthly, ethereal, drifting and sublime. I find it transformative, transporting, transcendent and impossibly beautiful. Like everything any of the Dollies ever did, in other words. When I said they were my favorite band of all time I didn't mean just the three years of stunning live shows, the astonishing double album or the scattering of singles and EPs they gave us when they worked together. I meant everything.


Everything Birdie ever recorded has the sense of a summer in decline, dust in the fields, the harvest over, sun low on the horizon, a pale, red haze in the air. It's watching a 1960s social realist movie a decade too late on a black and white TV on a weekday afternoon with the blinds drawn. It's a long, empty corridor in a silent government building in late August, shafts of light picking out the dust motes that just hang there, undisturbed.

Yeah, I'm not going to convince anyone by talking about it, am I? You had to live that life. 

Maybe just watch and listen and you'll catch a glimpse and wish you had.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Here Come The Pandas

It was more than four years ago that the first Days of Summer event arrived in EverQuest II. As I said back then, "It arrived without much of a fanfare" but the seemingly fluffy, inconsequential little quest series quickly became one of the cornerstones of the EQII year.  

There's a very simple explanation for that: the rewards are off the scale compared to any other event or questline anywhere close to being as accessible or easy to complete. All you have to do to get started is take a portal to a 100% guaranteed safe zone, chat to a panda and find out what you have to go collect or look at this week. 

Then you use the Fast Travel map or the spires or the bells to go to the relevant zone and fly to the right part of the map using the description in the quest. It usually includes the name of a point of interest which you can see on the map, assuming you're using the EQ2 Maps add-on, which virtually all regular players would be. Once there, you wander around looking for whatever it is you need to click on, which will almost always be glowing or sparkling or obvious in some way.

Most of the quests ask you to do that three times, sometimes in the same zone, sometimes in different zones. If you were having any difficulty at all EQ2 Traders always has the exact location in a walkthrough, including the locs, which you can copy and paste into the game to get a flashing map marker and a glowing trail to lead you right there.

Panda quests are about as foolproof as it's possible to make them. There's a new one each week for the duration of the event, which is always nine weeks long. In this case the nine weeks started yesterday and run until 23rd November. 

All the quests remain in game permanently so there's no rush. You could do like I do with TV shows if you want and wait 'til they're all available before bingeing on the lot. Indeed, very much like a long-running TV show, if you're just discovering it now you'll need to go back to the beginning and start there. You can't do the various annual quest sets out of sequence but you only have to do them once per account for all your character to reap the rewards.

When I say "reap" I really mean "shop." Every reward from the past four years plus this year's lot are on an undersized panda called Pas Yu, also known, appropriately, as "Carrier of Things".

Five years of assorted rewards can be hell to sift through so to save time I'll mention that this year's all have "Hua" somewhere in the name. Just search for that.

As I said, these are really very good rewards indeed. Not for raiders or Heroic dungeoneers perhaps, although there are all kinds of non-progression goodies like house items, prestige houses and cosmetics sprinkled in there, but for solo players and casuals all of all stripes. 

The question isn't why is the Hua such a slight upgrade, it's why am I wearing such low Resolve pieces in the first place?

 

The armor and weapons, of which there are all types for all classes, are only small improvements over the free stuff from last year's expansion and they'll almost certainly be rendered redundant by the freebies in the starter box from Visons of Vetrovia, but that's the nature of a gear progression based game. For now, they'll do a job for anyone who needs to play catch-up.

I spent some time last night looking through them and comparing stats. Even on my Berserker, my best-equipped character, there are a few Hua pieces I'll use, although mostly that's because I fell off the EQII wagon back at the start of the summer and stopped working on him before he was done.

As for my half-dozen other max levels, all of them could benefit hugely from the Hua gear. On the other hand, they aren't likely to get much playtime before the next expansion drops, so whether it's worth the bother is another question. I could probably stand to wait until then before taking the whole crew to wherever the expansion begins and fitting them all out in whatever's in the now-inevitable box on the floor next to the first questgiver.

This, however, is something I very much need.
I can't craft green Adorns and I've had
absolutely no luck getting any as drops for years.

Then there are the Adornments. Adornments are extremely important in EQII. Without the right sets you are going to have a very rough time of it in any at-level content. My Berserker is also a maxed-out Adorner with nearly all the recipes but not all Adorns are craftable and anyway it's a lot of time, effort and expense to make adorns for everyone. I'd rather use the ones the pandas hand out wherever possible.

The drawback is taking them in and out. It's easy to do but it takes a while, de-adorning and re-adorning an entire suit of armor plus accessories. I'm not sure I want to go through all that effort over the next nine weeks only to find that the VoV starter gear comes with better Adorns already fitted.

I'm thinking since I'm unlikely to be playing anyone other than my Berserker and my Necro before then I might just kit those two out and leave the rest until the expansion arrives. Either way, it's hardly a pressing issue right now.

There'd be no question of my not doing the panda quests even if I didn't want any of the gear. They're some of the most enjoyable, relaxing quests in the game. I'd do them if the only rewards were a smile and a thank-you from the pandas themselves. 

There are other reasons, too. This year, like every year, there are some very appealing non-combat choices. I have my eye on the captain's hat and the 44-slot backpack that displays as a papoose with two panda cubs. There's also an ant ground mount I want. I don't think we've ever been able to ride ants before.



I like the way the whole thing has morphed from a Summer seasonal to a quasi-holiday centered on panda culture. Moving it into the autumn and renaming it Panda Panda Panda seems like a good move. I'd be up for it turning into a full holiday one day. We could do with something on the calendar between Tinkerfest and Nights of Dead.

That's about all I have to say. It's a simple event but a very good one. It shows you don't have to over-elaborate to give people something they'll both look forward to and appreciate. All you need to do is make it fun and worthwhile.

You wouldn't think it was that hard, would you?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Happy Batman Day! Now Gimme My Stuff!


Psst! Hey, you! Yes, you, who d'ya think I'm talkin' to? Wanna score some free Batman stuff? How much? What are you? Dumb or sumtin'? I said free, didn I?

Oh god, I can't keep this up. I don't even know why I started.

So, it's Batman Day, apparently. Another of Daybreak's "days" that last a couple of weeks. Someone buy Ji Ham a calendar. 

Batman Day, which I do not believe is a genuine, real-world holiday, although honestly I wouldn't bet against it, began all the way back on the sixteenth and runs until the thirtieth. 

Dates look wrong in words, don't they? 16th - 30th September. That's better. That means another nine days to log in and claim what are actually some pretty nice rewards.

DCUO is good at giving stuff away. The game's been handing out presents for years. People expect it now. What's more surprising is they even seem to appreciate it. The thread on the forum for this giveaway is hearteningly positive.

It helps that the game's set up for it, as any good superhero mmorpg should be. Think about it. Superheroes all have iconic looks that don't change much, if at all, over decades, but the ones that turn out to be worth more than a six issue mini series usually end up changing their costumes dozens of times before coming back to That Classic Look that everyone knows.

And as for stuff, they all collect trophies like your crazy cousin collects china cows. Think of the Batcave with that giant penny hanging over Alfred's head, giving him the jitters every time he sweeps around the Bat-Computer. Think of Superman's Fortress of Solitude, stuffed to bursting with mementos of all the villains he punched into space.

We have lairs like those in DCUO, even the least of us, and we have to fill the empty halls with something just to make us feel we matter. Of course, most of us don't matter so what we put on the walls and in the alcoves are pictures of our idols who do. And that's the kind of thing DCUO devs like to give away at times like this.

It's Batman Day so naturally these freebies are Batman-themed. I read the list and I was intrigued. Then I logged in and claimed them all and my intriguement (Is that a word?) turned to impression (Okay, that's definitely a word. Just the wrong one.)

I liked what I got is what I'm trying to say. There were two base pets, an accessory, two emblems and a whole sheaf of posters. 

Base pets aren't some kind undifferentiated animal that looks like Proty. Or Proty II, I guess, since the original Proty gave its life for the cause long ago. (Am I getting too comic-nerdy about this? I don't know - take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the pair of them and judge for yourself. That's the main Wikipedia, too, not some comic fan knock-off. Someone thinks this stuff is important.) If that was what a "base pet" was, maybe you could level it up and choose options for it until you turned it into the ultimate animal companion. There's an idea you can have for nothing, DBG. 

Sorry to say, base pets aren't anything like that. Base pets are pets that live in your base.

Your Base (aka Lair) is your hero's (or villain's) answer to the aforementioned Batcave or Fortress of Solitude. You can have up to eight of them although you only get the first for free (Where have I heard that before?) and they all have the exact same layout only with different themes.


 

It's a much less complex version (Much less.) of EverQuest II's housing but despite the limitations I find it surprisingly satisfying, not least because some of the items you can install look so good. The pets, for example, outdo EQII's by dint of their more dynamic movement and surprising bursts of activity.

I picked up Krypto, Superman's dog, a few years back and I'm always surprised and delighted by the way he bounds up to my character and jumps around her the moment she warps in. I thought at first it was a co-incidence but now I'm convinced it's coded. 

The two new base pets are both quite lively. The Flying Jester Blimp makes considerable use of the Z-axis and occasionally fires a bright laser beam across the room. The Batwing does something I haven't yet managed to catch it at but I can hear it doing whatever it is down the hall and out of sight. 

All they need to do to make it super-impressive is to code some kind of interactions between the three of them so you'd have the two flying craft firing at each other and also at Krypto as he tries to catch them and bring them back to my character to show what a good dog he is. Which is another idea you can have for nothing, DBG, although I'll take a credit in the patch notes if you use it.

The emblems are things you stick on your chest. There are plenty available at character creation and always have been but I rarely use any of them. They always seem too small to notice or else they don't fit the look I'm going for. 

As you would imagine, these two are the classic Bat-symbol only tweaked in some way I can't actually see to make them sixth-dimensional. As to what the Sixth Dimension means in terms of DC lore I had not the least idea until I looked it up. Read that and you'll know as much as I do. 

Still doesn't tell me what's so special about the emblem, let alone what's "Enhanced" about the version only Members get. I can't imagine I'll use either of them anyway, so I'm going to let that slide.

The accessory is a lot better. It's a cute Batman doll that clips to your character's belt. If your vision of a superhero hasn't changed much since you were six years old, this is a big deal! 

It also sent me on a bit of a journey in-game because I'd either forgotten or never knew my character even had an Accessory slot, let alone that whatever I put in there would display. From there I ended up going through the whole of my Style tab and completely changing my character's look. 

I learned some stuff about how the mechanics of that work. Again, I'd either forgotten or never knew. I also worked out how to upgrade some stuff I never bothered to think about before. The upshot of it all is that I feel better-equipped to dress and spec my characters than I did before Batman Day, so it seems Old Stoneface taught my character something after all, even though he's not her mentor.

I've left the best of the gifts 'til last. It's the World Poster pack. I love the posters in DCUO. They're digital reproductions of actual comics covers or other promotional illustrations and the standard is as high as you'd expect from such provenance. This particular set looks just fantastic.

I'm not sure anything in-game tells you but all the images appear to be taken from the brand-new 184-page graphic novel, Batman: the World, which only came out on 14th September. Holy cross-promotion, Batman!

I particularly love way the Chinese Robin mirrors Mickey Mouse and the faint echoes of constructivist art in the Russian Batman but all of them are great. I rushed around my base putting up posters before I had to stop for lunch so I didn't take full note of how many of the covers we got. I hope it's all of them - the two Eastern European versions from Poland and the Czech Republic would look particularly fine in my hero's gothic lair.

All in all I was well pleased with my haul. I'm beginning to wonder if I need a second lair to accommodate all the free decor Digital Ink keep handing out. I do have a lot of DBG cash stashed away. Maybe I'll invest in some Gotham real estate this time. That would be an appropriate way to celebrate Batman Day. 

It's on Saturday, the actual day, by the way. I looked it up. It is real, after all.

Don't miss it.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Vanguard Gives A Crafting Masterclass - Again.

 

This is by way of being a placeholder post about crafting in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the game I would contend had the best overall systems and mechanics of any I've played in the mmorpg genre when it came to supporting crafting as a genuine, full and complete playstyle the equal of adventuring (And when I say "crafting" I mean just that. I don't mean manufacturing. That's a different activity altogether.)

The post is a placeholder because, having just worked my way through the crafting tutorial, I realize just how much I've forgotten and how much there was to remember. Vanguard crafting is deep and complex, considerably more so than the runner-up in my personal poll, EverQuest II.

I'm very familiar with EQII tradeskills, which had a glorious flourishing after several years under the guiding hand of Domino but even those don't reach the standards set by Brad McQuaid's team at launch. SOE/Daybreak outpaced Sigil in the way they adapted narrative storyline techniques from adventuring and refomatted them to work for crafters but in doing so they turned crafters into non-combat adventurers. In Vanguard every questline teaches you to be a better crafter and that's that. No saving the world with your needle and thread.

This is the very basic start-of-the-tutorial version. It already has four stages, one split into two parts, four different reagents, tools, action points and a choice of crafting station. It gets a lot more complicated than that...

 

In Vanguard, tradeskill progression is about two things: learning and perfecting practical skills so as to make better items and travelling the world to find and meet master crafters willing to share their secrets. The former is something the player needs to do in much the same way a player of an adventuring character needs to perfect their rotations and develop muscle memory. The latter expands and increases the range of options available to the character, allowing them to make more things.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I can write a post about the subtlety and sophistication of crafting in Telon I need to refresh my memory on the way it all worked. How am I going to do that with the game long gone and all my crafters with it?

Sound simple? No, not really. And it's not even as simple as it sounds!


I'm glad you asked! And I'm even gladder some thoughtful ex-player chose to stop by the comments on a two-year old post to let everyone know that "As of now crafting and harvesting up through tier 1 has been implemented and is working well."

Working well where? On the wonderful Vanguard emulator, of course. I knew harvesting was in but last time I checked crafting wasn't. And now it is!

I logged in this evening to take a look. I ended up running through the tutorial in the Crafter's Forum in Khal. It took me the best part of an hour and it really was just the basics. It reminded me how much time and energy I put into learning to craft the first time around, how challenging it was and ultimately how satisfying.

As I recall, crafting in Vanguard was reasonably simple at the start but became increasingly more difficult in the low to low-mid levels. I seem to remember the high teens being particularly "challenging". Or maybe it was the high twenties. Whichever it was, a lot of people faded at that stage. Certainly I remember hearing a lot of complaints and I had some tough times of my own. 

Complications? Recurring nightmares, more like!


If you stuck at it, though, things slowly improved and I seem to remember that by the mid to upper-mid levels I was finding crafting comfortable and reasonably reliable. I could make good stuff for myself and I made good money selling things I made at the auction house. 

If I remember correctly, by the time my Outfitter hit level 47, he could make everything he could get recipes for, to the best quality, with almost no failures. That was why I never finished off the last three levels to hit the fifty cap. There didn't seem to be any point.

All of that is feeling a bit vague now. Some foggy recollection of a time long gone. Rather than eulogize about how great I think the crafting was based on memories a decade old, it might be better if I levelled up again. Not only should that give me some incontrovertible facts to work with (and some screenshots) but it might jog loose some definite, detailed memories.

That certainly seemed to be happening as I worked through the simple tutorial recipes today. I was getting flashbacks to the bags and bags of powders and crystals, the flasks and pouches, tools and trinkets, all the manifold means and measures I needed to make the best jerkins and claws. (Did Outfitters make martial weapons? I think they did. They're just gloves with spikes in, after all.)

If I'd known there was going to be a test I'd have taken notes. Also, the guy with the blur over his head is the player who guild-invited me. I've anonymized him out of courtesy but I'm pretty sure he'd be happy to add anyone who wants to play to his guild.

 

The implementation seems solid. The Vanguard emu is still supposedly in "early pre-alpha" but there's a lot there now and a lot that works. There were great chunks of flavor text missing, replaced by placeholders asking anyone who remembered what the NPCs used to say to get in touch but the stuff that matters, the mechanics, the rewards, the progression - all those seemed to be working perfectly.

I'm going to keep this short because I do hope, some time, one day, to give a more thoughtful, informed overview of the gem of the genre that was - IS! - crafting in Vanguard. Before that happens (if it ever does) I recommend, as I always do, anyone curious to know what this game was like install the emulator and take a look for themselves. There's already more to do there than some games that are taking money.

"Go find them" is the least of it. Survive the journey, persuade them to talk to you, prove you're worthy, basically live the life of a trade guild journeyman of the fifteenth century. Then go to another continent and start over from scratch.
 

You'd probably need to be the sort of mmorpg player who thrives on going it alone. It's hardly a seething mass of players. There are people playing, though (Five, not counting me, when I logged in today!) and they're very friendly and helpful. I got a guild invite this afternoon from someone  standing next to me at the crafting tables. 

Even as a single player game, though, Vanguard still shines, and crafting was always something best done alone. In fact, it may have been the only thing in Telon best done alone, now I come to think of it; group harvesting got you the best mats and civic diplomacy the best buffs.

I wonder if there was group crafting too and I've just forgotten?

Sunday, September 19, 2021

#9 Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino - Arctic Monkeys


I was incredibly late discovering the joys of Alex Turner's songwriting. The band had the temerity to emerge during my wilderness years, the 2000s. I'd kept myself almost preternaturally au fait with the major trends and players in popular music of all stripes right through from my early teens until I turned forty but then EverQuest came along and a decade was lost just like that.

That's not entirely true but it's uncomfortably close. I did hear about the Arctic Monkeys when they exploded onto the scene (Copyright Disc and Record Mirror, 1975) with their debut #1 hit "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor". I knew enough to chuckle patronizingly when then-Chancellor Gordon Brown embarassed himself (not an unusual occurence by any means), claiming to be a fan of the band and then not being able to name a single one of their tunes.

Mind you, I couldn't have, either. Not then.


Other than that, I pretty much skipped their entire career until sometime around the middle of the following decade. By then I'd begun to wake up from my long mmorpg-induced trance. I was busy trawling YouTube for nuggets I'd missed from every decade, when I chanced upon Alex Turner's side project, the Last Shadow Puppets, doing a live cover of a song by an obscure band I used to go watch in student halls and local dive clubs when I was still in my teens.

The song in question was This Is Your Life by the Glaxo Babies (later forced to change their name to the Gl*xo Babies by the trademark owners, GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational pharmaceutical company not widely known for its sense of humor). It's a cracking cover and it made me think that if Alex Turner had good taste enough to know something that obscure and that good and to cover it that well I probably ought to pay him more attention.

So I did. I went through a bunch of Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys videos on YouTube and liked pretty much everything I saw. Still didn't buy any of the records. 


 

Why I ended up buying Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino I'm really not sure. Thinking back for this post, I thought it might have been because I read a particularly persuasive review by Alex Petridis in the Guardian but when I look that up it turns out Petridis did review it but only gave it three stars out of five, plus I have no recollection of ever reading the review at all.

I must have heard of the album somewhere, and presumably heard something from it, too, because I put it on my wishlist and someone bought it for me. I listened to it and then I listened to it again and then it became one of the albums of the last three or four years I've listened to more than any. 

Reading that review, I noticed Alex Petridis cites Serge Gainsbourg and Pet Sounds era Beach Boys as the obvious and inevitable influences at play, which threw me a little. Of course, everyone gives Pet Sounds as an influence these days. It's about as useful a marker as saying "Oh, it sounds like the Velvet Underground". 


 

I thought I was at least marginally up to speed with Serge Gainsbourg, though, and I confess I did a double take when I read that part. When I go back and listen to Histoire de Melody Nelson, though, the influence is so bloody obvious it's embarassing to have missed it. Perhaps it's a good thing I never did become a music journalist after all.

However it came about, I'm extremely glad I found the Arctic Monkey's "science fiction lounge music concept album" (New Statesman - and hey, isn't the New Statesman the first place you turn to for all your rock music reviewing needs?) It's louche, loose, flip and funny. It mooches and slouches and sometimes it struts. Alex sounds worn down, world-weary, cynical and spent. 

It's packed with great one-liners that jump out of the thick, treacly mix. This is the kind of thing that gives concept albums a good name, if such a thing is even possible. I think I placed it too low. I'd shunt it up a couple of places, swap it with the other space-named entry, the Moonlandingz' Interplanetary Class Classics.

That's the problem with all lists, though, favorites especially. Nothing ever stays put. 

I keep thinking about putting an all-time favorites list together but should I do the first twenty-five years separately and then a lifetime list? Fifty favorites for fifty years would be neat. For sure it wouldn't just be the two twenty-fives  bolted together, though. And anyway, lifetime should probably be a hundred. 

If I'm going to do it at all I'd better get on with it. Much longer and it won't be fifty years any more. Technically it probably isn't already. I think I was twelve when I bought Abbey Road and Motown Chartbusters Vol 5 from my mother's Freeman's catalog, the event I always take as my initiation into popular music as an active participant, so I'm in the fiftieth year now and I only have a couple of months of it left.

Neither of those would make it in, either. Or I don't think they would. I guess we'll find out when I do the list...

Saturday, September 18, 2021

#10 - Music In A Foreign Language - Lloyd Cole


At this too-late stage I'm fairly certain I chose the wrong two Lloyd Cole albums for this poll. I fear I was unduly influenced by the presence on each of a handful of my all-time favorite songs without due regard to how the albums stood as a whole. I don't think there'd be much argument that either Standards or The Negatives was a more coherent set than Antidepressant (#15) or this one at #10, Music In A Foreign Language.

Neither of those albums has anything to match the My Other Life, Late Night, Early Town, No More Love Songs or Today I'm Not So Sure from Music As A Foreign Language or the aforementioned and previously shared Rolodex Incident or The Young Idealists from Antidepressant, though. 

Sod it! I guess I did choose the right albums after all!

Every Lloyd Cole album is someone's idea of his best work, of course, not to mention someone's favorite. Ever the self-promoter, Lloyd's never shy of quoting the more hyperbolic reviews on his website, although not for either of the two I've chosen. He does, however, add the rubric "My personal favourite" to Music In A Foreign Language.

I'm very happy to go along with that as least as far as his post-Commotions albums go. Much though I love just about everything he's ever done, I feel he's doomed to be one of those artists ever-defined by his debut. It's very, very hard to imagine anyone topping 1984's Rattlesnakes, a shoo-in for a place in my all-time Top Ten. 

I should probably do that list some time. It'll have about twenty albums on it.

 

I don't really have a lot more to say about Lloyd Cole that I haven't said a bunch of times already. I'll just mention that this one's downbeat and depressed even by Lloyd's self-flagellating standards. It's also overflowing with quotable lines, provided the point your trying to illustrate is that the world is a cruel place and there's not much hope in it for any of us.

It's a message he's been carrying for thirty five years and more, now. I don't imagine he's likely to cheer up any time soon.

Friday, September 17, 2021

"Play EverQuest Mobile On PC".


No, not really. Don't get excited. You can't. At least, I'm all but certain you can't. I'm mentioning it here in the name of completism, not in any belief there's an actual game you can play right now, or even sign up to play soon.

For one fleeting moment, though, I thought it just might be true. Here's what happened. 

I woke up this morning, logged into my PC, checked my blog roll and saw Tipa at Chasing Dings had a post up about the emulator for EQOA, aka EverQuest Online Adventures, the long-defunct version of EverQuest for the PlayStation 2

I read the post with considerable interest, having had Project: Return Home on my radar for many years. I have the website bookmarked and check it frequently although I only look at the front page, which never changes. I have no idea why I'm doing that now I come to think about it. All the activity these days happens on Discord.

I have several emulators bookmarked: FHX Restoration, FR Sunrise, VGOEmulator. I've written about all of them on occasion. I thought I'd also posted about the EQOA project but if I did I don't seem to have given it a tag and a search for EQOA on the blog doesn't bring up any posts about it so maybe I just thought about doing it.

Thinking about it is also all I've ever done towards getting the Return Home emulator set up on my PC. Okay, I may have done a little more. I read some guides a while back about how to go about setting it up but it looked so complicated I decided to leave it for a while and a while became forever. 

The video walkthrough Tipa embedded on how to get the whole thing up and running is so clear and comprehensive, though, I no longer have any excuse other than laziness for not doing it. That and the currently excessive amount of new and potentially interesting stuff going on right now, that is. 

Concept art, obviously.

 

I will get to EQOA eventually, I sorta kinda maybe promise. I'll put it on the missing pieces of the EverQuest jigsaw list with those PC Pilot games I downloaded and still haven't installed. Another daunting prospect. 

In the course of her account, Tipa mentioned in passing the existence of some "mobile versions [of EQ] for phones" that she hadn't played. I couldn't remember there having been any of those so I googled it and came up with a couple of interesting results.

One was this comprehensive and informative report from The EverQuest Show (Currently residing in the "Where Are They Now?" file, sad to say.) The other was this bold and unequivocal announcement from PC mobile emulator platform BlueStacks.

Play EverQuest Mobile on PC yells the headline before carrying on

 "EverQuest Mobile on PC is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where you explore a world of fantasy, embark on numerous epic quests, and fight battles to defeat challenging foes."

Note the tense. "Is", not "will be". Tenses are important.  The rest of the page carries on in the same, confident tone, letting anyone who cares know, albeit with some peculiarly stilted syntax 
"You can fully customize your character and make it whatever you’ll like it to be. Change the hair, face style, eye color, etc. Now you can move your character and explore Norrath, a medieval fantasy world."
There's more! 
"You have the choice to select the race of humans, elves, barbarians, trolls, etc. Choose what your life occupation will be (your class) from options such as ranger, wizard, or cleric."

I don't know, maybe it's me but don't those "etc" and "such as" suggest a certain, loose, cavalier attitude to the facts? Someone who doesn't really care what races or classes are in the game might not really care much about the game at all, not even whether it actually exists. 

It doesn't exist. It never did. For all the relentless present-tensing there's one revealing moment when reality slips in: "This MMORPG will soon be available for downloads on both Android and iOS devices.

Soon. Not now.  Not ever, most likely

But this an in-game screenshot. Anyone know where from? Could it actually be <gasp> from the mobile game itself?

 

This is the mobile EQ port being developed under the agreement (Arrangement? Alliance? Sweaty handshake in a dark alley?) between Daybreak Games and NantWorks, that peculiar, ill-defined relationship that was meant to bring both the EverQuest and H1Z1 franchises to phones and tablets but never did. 

Here's a news item from three years ago telling Android users what they could expect. The links in that article to "the current publisher of the title" and "the press release related to this news" go to Daybreak's website, where they run up against the buffers of "Page Not Found". Whatever connection there may have been between Daybreak and NantWorks was, presumably, severed for good by the assimilation of DBG into EG7 (or vice versa, if you prefer). 

Whether that means any work that may or may not have been done on mobile versions of either game vanished into the void with the dissolution of the ties between the various rights owners and developers is another matter. Perhaps the much-hinted in-development EverQuest title is being cobbled together as we speak, from the scattered fragments of the doomed NantWorks mobile port. 

Maybe BlueStacks knows something we don't, with the relative plethora of details they supply, not just  the classes, races, monsters, hairstyles and manifold gameplay options but also the macros, multi-instancing and other automated ways to have the game play itself for you... oh, wait, no - that's just a feature of BlueStacks itself, cleverly dressed up as a feature of whatever game they happen to be using as a hook to reel you in.  

So no, sadly, I don't believe you can, as the BlueStacks page claims,"Pre-register for EverQuest Mobile" or "Download and play EverQuest Mobile on PC". 

You could try, as they suggest, looking for EverQuest in the Google Play Store but you're not going to find it. (Although, as I've just discovered, typing "EverQuest" into the search field there is possibly the best way to find a great selection of mobile mmorpgs that aren't set in Norrath.)  

I strongly suspect that we will, one day, see a genuine, new, playable mobile app that uses the EverQuest name. Whether it will be this one or even if it will be of much interest to anyone other than EQ completionists is another matter entirely.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Hearth, Home, Hammer - Talking Myself Into The Latest Updates For Valheim And Guild Wars 2


It's surprising sometimes how the prospect of new content for a game you're playing doesn't set your heart racing the way you'd expect. Or my heart. I should say mine, I guess. Maybe it does yours. I wouldn't know. Do feel free to share with group in the comments.

Several games I play regularly have major updates or expansions on the way and my level of interest and excitement seems to be swinging wildly and unpredictably between them. 

I found myself unaccountably enthused by EverQuest II's relatively slight pre-expansion event this week, spending a couple of hours doing some very basic repeatable quests and getting my Swashbuckler the first twenty levels of artisan crafting required to set her on the path to becoming a master jeweller.

I could have done that at any time but somehow the spurious connection to an upcoming expansion I'm keen to play made it seem more appealing than just running through the familiar, albeit excellent, introductory tradeskill questline. 

Why I'm quite so keen to see EQII's Visions of Vetrovia but distinctly meh on Guild Wars 2's End of Dragons is a good question. I'm glad I asked it.

On paper, I ought to be more fired up for EoD. It's only GW2's third expansion while VoV is EQII's eighteenth (!). ArenaNet only make an expansion when NCSoft bully them into it whereas Daybreak pop one out every December whether you want it or not, like an elderly aunt knitting yet another pair of seasonal socks.

It's not even as though I can claim what's coming in Visions of Vetrovia is more to my taste. I have no idea what's in it. I can guess. It's probably "more of the same", but that just about describes what's in End of Dragons, too. 

I guess you could argue that means I like what EQII does more than what GW2 does but I don't think that would stand up to close scrutiny. I play more GW2, after all. I certainly complain a lot more about it, too, but mostly that's because ANet is roughly ten times the size of Darkpaw and I think they need to be held to a different level of expectation - and execution - entirely.

Based on what the EQII team does manage to get out, year after year, I can only imagine what they could do if they had ANet's resources. Of course, bitter experience suggests that, beyond a certain point, the more money and people an mmorpg has to play with, the less-satisfying the end result. And the longer it is before we see it. Just look at World of Warcraft. Or Star Citizen.

Small teams don't always mean great updates, though. Of course they don't. Valheim's much-hyped Hearth and Home is out today. I'm patching it as I type this. It's been half a year and more in the making and once again I'm struggling to summon up much enthusiasm for it. 

Oh, wait! I've patched it already. It was 180mb. It took about ten seconds. I forgot just how tiny Valheim's footprint is. I would log in to see what's in it but everything I've read so far has had the effect of making me less keen to play than before. 

I'll run through a few of the highlights. My favorite weapon, the bow, is getting a nerf because it's deemed to be overpowered. Guys? Guys??  That's why it's my favorite. 

Blocking gets a lot of attention, which is either not going to affect me at all or annoy me a lot. I never block in Valheim, never having found the need to and I definitely won't be happy if it turns out they've made it so I have to start.

You can name animals you tame. I've never tamed an animal. I thought about it but even though I like pet classes in other games, the methodology in Valheim didn't seem very appealing. I don't think not being able to name my boars before I slaughtered them was really at the root of my lack of interest.

I won't go through all the changes line by line. I'll save my commentary for when I've experienced the new build in person. If I do. I haven't logged into Valheim since May and I don't feel the urge to log in coming on now.

Part of that is that Valheim very much feels like a winter game to me. I played 380 hours of viking make-believe from February through April but as soon as the spring came I stopped. I will go back but it's still too warm and sunny outside just now. 

When I do, I'll have to decide whether to carry on from where I left off or start over from scratch. Developers Iron Gate are keen we should all do the latter. I should be happy, what with my long history of starting over (and over) on new servers in various mmorpgs but Valheim isn't an mmorpg. 

 

Among other things, it's a building game and I spent at least half of those 380 hours setting up my various homes and the portal network between them. That was, to a large extent, the point of it all. To drop all that just to see some new stuff , much of which I don't even want (I categorically guarantee I will never make my viking vomit.) seems like a big ask.

I'll might compromise by moving my levelled-up character to a fresh world and creating a new character for the old one. They only have to live there, after all. They won't need to do anything much. We'll see. I've kind of talked my own enthusiasm up just by writing this post.

Going back to GW2, my interest in End of Dragons got a small boost today with the release of the latest new Elite Specialization (aka sub-class or, as I would have it, Class). I haven't paid much attention to the five announced so far because although I have all of the classes the only ones I ever play with any attention are Ranger and Elementalist. 

Ranger is still under wraps but the new Elementalist spec is called the Catalyst (Bleh!) and the new weapon is the hammer (Yay!). The reason I like the choice of the hammer for the weapon is simple: you can see a hammer. 

To my mind, one of the huge problems GW2 has, as a game with a quasi-progression model based almost entirely on appearance, particularly the appearance of weapons, is that almost all the weapons are too small or too close to the body to stand out. Daggers, symbols, torches, scepters, focuses (Or focii, which no-one says.), warhorns... they're all hard to see, in or out of combat. Even axes, swords and shortbows don't really show up well.

Only the really big two-handers seem to make an impression: staffs (Or staves, which, again, no-one ever says.), greatswords and longbows are the only three weapons I ever bother with for looks because they're the only ones I can make out on screen. Also shields, I suppose, but shields are a terrible choice for anything other than looks.

I am oddly excited about the prospect of my three Eles bouncing around waving giant hammers, especially the two Asuras. I have quite a few unclaimed weapon chests in the bank, where I already had the staff, greatsword and longbow from the set and couldn't see any point in the rest. I'm going to go in and claim all the hammers from those!

There's a "beta" for the next three Elite Specs, Elementalist, Warrior and Revenant, coming soon. I didn't bother with the last one but I'll give this one a look. 

There's also a much more significant beta, one that deserves to go without the sarcastic quotes, for the long, long, long awaited (or feared) Alliances revamp for World vs World. The official post on that is epic in length, packed with detail and very well-judged in tone, two out of three of which are almost unheard-of in the sporadic, patchy history of ANet's communication with the WvW playerbase. 

I was very skeptical about the whole thing and I still am but I was also very cynical, which now I might not be, or not as much, at least. I still think it will most likely be a chaotic shambles but I'm willing to give the people working on it the benefit of the doubt: I now believe it will be a well-meaning chaotic shambles.

As with Valheim, I won't speculate further until I've seen it in person. The test starts next Friday (Not tomorrow, the one after that. Okay, the 24th. Of September. 2021. Happy now?) and runs for a week. I will be playing and most likely posting about it.

Finally in this liturgy of ought-to-be exciting stuff for games I play or am on record as wanting to play, there's the much-delayed launch of Amazon's New World on the 28th. Right in the middle of that WvW beta test, although by then I should have seen enough to make my mind up. 

I was red-hot to play New World a year ago. Actually, two years ago, which is when I pre-ordered it (December 2019). I've gone off the boil a bit but I can feel the heat building again now we're getting close. 

It's good timing in a way because I've run out of steam with Bless Unleashed, almost entirely because of that boss fight I mentioned with the quick time events. I am one hundred per cent certain I can beat the boss but I am not at all sure I can do the quick time events simply because of lag issues. I've done several other Field Bosses recently with similar events and failed them because of latency. 

I am flat-out unwilling to go through the fifteen minutes of attrition to get the Boss's hit points to the point where the final quick time event kicks in only to have a lag spike leave me dead in the dust. If it wasn't an automatic one-shot kill on failure it would be annoying enough but to have to restart from scratch every time the connection wobbles is too much of a risk. So I've stopped playing. 

A rambling post to represent my wavering state of mind. At least there's plenty going on, even if much of it isn't exactly what I'd have chosen. And putting my thoughts down in writing has had the unexpected effect of raising my interest and enthusiasm for all the games I've mentioned.

That's the power of blogging for you! Well, for me.

Don't let's start all that again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Visions Of Vetrovia Is EverQuest II's Eighteenth Expansion

It's been a few weeks since I played EverQuest II. When I got swept up by Bless Unleashed something had to give and EQII took the hit. It was midsummer, I'd done just about everything I cared to do from the last expansion, some of it twice. I wasn't even getting that many upgrades from Overseer dailies any more.

If I'd wanted to keep busy I could have spent time taking more of my max-level characters through the Reign of Shadows adventure and tradeskill Signature Questlines, seen they all had the best spells and combat arts I could craft or buy, made sure everyone had appropriate potions, food, drink, mounts, mercenaries, familiars...

In EQII, there's never a time when there isn't something more you could do to progress your characters, make them more powerful, more efficient, just... more. It's reassuring in a way to know you can always log in and work on your characters but in a game that cycles through an expansion every year and a level increase every two years, all improvements come with relatively short expiry dates. 


By the middle of summer most years I've not just taken my foot off the pedal, I've pulled over to the kerb. I've got the door half open and one foot on the tarmac. I pop in for high days and holidays, to sample the new quests, buy the new craft books, maybe run a couple of old favorites for kicks but that's about it. If I was a hardcore player I'd be beavering away at Ethereals, week after week, stacking the currency and buying the gear, but I'm way too casual for any of that.

Only when Yun Zi the panda pokes his big head out of his cave and starts inviting all and sundry to dig through the endless coffers of goodies left him by his father (I think that was the original lore pass) do I begin to think about getting myself organized for the expansion to come. After Panda Time we usually get the pre-expansion events, which offer a hint of what's to come and allow those so inclined to work on various craft and cosmetic options over the autumn.

This year things have been turned around a little. Yun Zi's still firming up this year's schedule but the pre-expansion events have already begun. Not only that, we've got the name of the expansion: Visions of Vetrovia.

And just what is Vetrovia, pray tell? Search me. It might be a place. It might be a person. It might be pretty much anything. About all I'm prepared to say with any certainty is we've never heard of it before. If you fancy getting in on the ground floor, Vetrovia.com is available for a mere $2275 from Brandbucket.

Yesterday I ran my Berserker though the one-time pre-expansion adventure quest, Unknown Shores and two of the three repeatable quests, Lichveil Crockery and Jars Aplenty. I also took but didn't do the three repeatable crafting quests, Stock the Deck, Stock the Hold and Stock the Galley
 
Based entirely on the dialog and characters it looks like we're in for another ocean voyage to unexplored lands. No alternate dimensions, afterlives, planes or planets, just good old islands and archipelagos, possibly a continent, although I'm not sure Norrath has room for any more of those. 
 
I took a bunch of screenshots as I quested, thinking I'd post a detailed account of the pre-event but then today I saw the official Press Release. It says almost exactly what I was going to say and uses almost exactly the same screenshots. I know it sometimes feels as if I'm doing unpaid, volunteer PR work for the game here on the blog but this is just a little too on point.

To save any further embarassment I'm just going to link to the official announcement and to the excellent, detailed walkthrough at EQ2 Traders. Between the two I think you'll find everything you need to know. 
 
I'll just carry on, briefly, with a couple of things I noticed. Firstly, the "new islands" are somewhat familiar. I felt that immediately but it was confirmed when I opened my map on arriving at Lichveil Island to find EQII Maps recognized it as Oakmyst Forest, one of the original starter zones. 
 
I have no problem with asset re-use provided it's appropriate and in this case I thought it worked quite well. I hope and trust, when the expansion itself arrives, we'll get genuinely all-new lands to explore but for now I'm happy to kill new things in old zones.

Speaking of killing, in each island there's a Named that spawns when you kill all of a certain type of mob. I would just mention, to save possible frustration, that you can't currently track either these Nameds or the mobs you need to kill, which may or may not be working as intended. 
 
My Berserker, a ratonga, has no tracking skill of his own and he doesn't generally use a Mercenary who can track either. I buy him Tracking Scrolls from the cash shop and he uses those. They don't seem to work in the new islands but I can't say for sure whether that's because tracking itself doesn't work there or whether it's an issue with the scrolls specifically.

Either way, the islands are quite small and it's not too difficult to cover every part to flush out all the baddies. I had a bit of a problem getting the last couple of monkeys to show but that's monkeys for you. I got the little sods in the end.
 

As far as I can tell, the main reason to keep doing the repeatable quests would be to earn the currency to buy the various new items sold by the vendor on the Mara Docks. It's not going to take most people very long to get everything they want. The most expensive item is a pteranodon mount at 45 Acorns and I saw someone was already riding it last night.

I'd like the petamorph wand, maybe four or five seagull plushies and the Captain's hat. I could probably get the lot in an hour or two. That would be me done with the adventure quests.

The craft quests might be more useful. The EQ2 Traders post points out the quests accept mats of any tier and that the entire thing can be done in Mara. Depending on how much XP the quests give, that might be a handy way to level up some more crafters, something I've been meaning to do for months.
 
I'll try that at some point. Probably not yet a while. All the pre-events will be with us until the expansion arrives so there's no hurry. We don't have a date yet but I'd bet on early December.

Now all we need is for Yun Zi to back out of the bamboo thicket and get his black and white backside down to the spires so we can get on with the annual freebie free-for-all. Wake up, bear! It'll be Halloween before you know it!
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