Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Finished? I'm Just Getting Started!

One week after the launch of EverQuest II's latest expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, I find myself in the unusual position of already having two level-capped crafters and a level-capped adventurer. It's clear that the whole concept of levelling has changed. What surprises me a little is how much I like it.

I've always been a firm believer in the concept of levelling as an essential element of core mmorpg gameplay. To me, making the number next to my character's name go up has been a major motivation, almost an end in itself. When the levels stop coming, it's time for a either new character or a new game.

That said, I've never particularly liked the way levels seem to stretch to fill the time available. Back in the glory days of EverQuest it was possible to spend a whole week grinding mobs for several hours a day just to get a single ding. We called those hell levels. It's true the satisfaction I felt when that ding finally sounded was intense but an unhealthy proportion of that supposed satisfaction was really relief. Any rush of pleasure it brought dissipated all too quickly with the realization that now I had to do it all over again.

Over the years the length of time it takes to complete a single level in most mmorpgs has shrunk considerably. Games that expect you to spend several hours on a single level tend to be seen as grindy throwbacks, something that seems quite ironic when you consider how pleased with ourselves we used to be if we managed to knock off a whole level in a one session.

Even so, it was a big shock two years ago when Blood of Luclin arrived and many of us found we'd done most of the ten new levels by the end of the first day. There were those who suspected it was a bug of some kind but no, behind the scenes someone had evidently decided that levelling was passé, no longer a focus activity, just something to be disposed of quickly before the real fun began.

And to my considerable surprise they were right. As a casual player with a stable of characters, many of which I rarely found time to play, BoL marked the first time I was able to guide as many of my team to the cap as I would always have wanted. 

In previous expansions, the time commitment had proved too much. It generally took me the whole two year cycle between level cap increases to get everyone where I wanted them, at which point the whole thing rolled over and I was back to where I began. Being able to take characters from the old cap to the new in a matter of hours rather than days or even weeks meant all I needed to decide was who went first.

Just because levelling itself has been all but trivialized doesn't means levels don't matter. They remain vitally important in that much of the damage-scaling derives from the relative difference in level between character and mob. That's perhaps even now one of the most significant factors in a fight. Levelling also opens upgrade paths for everything from spells and combat arts to armor and weapons. In the modern game, though, all of those are starting points not endings.

The old grind that used to live inside the number by your name hasn't vanished with the accelerated pace, it's just moved somewhere else. If you care about being the most powerful fighter, the most effective healer, the sturdiest tank, now you need to make the numbers go up next to so many things apart from just your level. 

Your mount, your familiar, your mercenary (if you don't play exclusively in full groups), the grades of your spells or CAs, all of those need to be levelled in some form or other. Hitting that level cap in a new expansion barely takes you over the starting line.

On paper it sounds as though it should be an anathema to someone with my preferences but in practice it's very much the reverse. The way the game is now suits me far better than I would ever had imagined had someone described to me years ago. It's a classic case of "You think you don't want it but you do".

The way things used to work for me, expansion after expansion, was that I'd spend weeks levelling one character, occasionally taking a break to level another as a change of pace. I'd work my way through the long sequence of quests, which weren't always collated in the tidy way they are now, until eventually I'd accrue enough experience to make it to the cap. 

I always made it with at least one character but it sometimes took so long and involved so many quests that when I got there the thought of doing it all over again with a second character was more than I could bear. Even though I had ten or a dozen characters it was rare for more than a couple to cap out in any one expansion cycle.

That was adventuring. Tradeskills worked slightly differently. EQII has full, quested storylines for crafters and I would always work my way through each of those at least once but for many years it would be just that - once. Crafters had the luxury of being able to level by doing writs rather than by questing, meaning you could grind out the levels in a day or two just standing at the tables in the crafting hall. Dull though that could be, it often seemed a more palatable option than repeating many days of questing. I usually  had more capped crafters than adventurers for that reason.

Adventurers used also to have a non-questing option for levelling. They could grind mobs in dungeons. Not any more, or at least not once you get to Level 100. To level an adventure class after that you pretty much have to do the quests in the appropriate expansion. When that takes a week or two, it can look quite unappealing prospect by the time you come the third character on your account.

Until recently I might have said you'd need to do the whole Signature questline every time, something that was certainly true as recently as 2017's Planes of Prophecy. Controversially, it's still the only option for anyone trying to get from 100 to 110. From BoL onwards however, almost  every quest, Signature or Sidequest alike, gives so much xp there's more than enough to take you over the line, even if you don't do absolutely everything.

In Visions of Vetrovia, levelling is sidelined even further, although I have a suspicion that may not have been the original plan. While there is a level cap increase in this expansion, it's only five levels. There seem to be more than enough quests for at least five more.

It does look as though the natural flow of the expansion would see a character dinging 130 somewhere in the last of the four new overland zones. My Necromancer dinged 125 without even making it as far as the end of the second. And that's not even considering the experience that would come from doing the instanced dungeons that form part of the Signature questline, something I haven't really touched.

So much for levelling your adventuring class, an activity once considered the core of an expansion but now scarcely more than a gentle introduction to the real new content. And again, I have to stress I prefer it this way. It turns levelling into the kind of relaxing fun I always claimed it was (It was, too, mostly.) without taking anything away from the meat of the expansion, all of which remains solidly attached to the new backbone, the Signature questline. 

Or so I assume. I've barely started the Sig line yet. The adventure one, that is. The Tradeskill questline, that one I've finished. Twice.

This whole post was originally going to be all about the tradeskill Signature questline but I'm conscious there are several regular readers who play EQII, at least two of whom have already mentioned they've bought this expansion. The crafting questline is very... interesting. There's a lot I could say about it. Unfortunately, much of what I'd want to say would involve spoilers. 

I thought of a few approaches that might let me work around the salient plot points but really I'd need to be very specific to make the criticisms I have in mind so I've decided to let that ride for now. Maybe in a few weeks, if anyone's still interested. Me included.

Putting those specific concerns to one side, overall I loved VoV's crafting Signature questline. It's not all that long, maybe three or four hours, but it's perfectly formed. Niami Denmother's pawprints are all over it in the best possible way. 

It's coherent, involving, compact and satisfying. Everything you're asked to do is either gathering or crafting. There's no pseudo-adventuring such as we've been force-fed in recent years. Better yet, the whole thing from start to finish has been carefully designed to be accessible to crafters who don't care to adventure at all.

It's possible to do the entire thing from start to finish without ever aggroing a mob or having to venture into a dangerous area. Every time you're asked to gather materials, all the nodes you need are right there, close to the NPC who gives you the quest or near the crafting station where you make the items. 

When you need to move from one part of a zone to another you get to ride on a dinosaur but best of all, each time you finish the last quest in a zone you unlock flying in that zone for your character. That's a very good reason, if you have a character that's both a crafter and an adventurer, for doing the crafting Signature line first.

The reward for completing the whole thing is really excellent. It gives you a teleport item to Renfry's Basement, which is where you'll be getting all your daily crafting quests, unlocks the new Blueprint system and provides a Bonus Prestige Point (Very hard to come by.) but the real gem is the mount, Orita Skyquaker

The base stats on the mount are way better than the maxed-out mount my Berserker was riding, although I think that one comes from BoL so it's probably not such a huge upgrade for mounts from the last expansion. The key factor for me is that it has both adventure and crafting bonuses on the same mount, meaning no more swapping them in and out, something I never remembered to do anyway.

In action, the mount is also one of the weirdest I've ever seen. It carries you about by your arms in a fashion that looks both hideously uncomfortable and horribly dangerous. I flew it around just long enough to take some screenshots and then popped soemthing more comfortable into the appearance slot.

Next I plan to cap the Berserker, then my Jeweller, then my Bruiser. After that I'll begin to think about the real upgrades, all those mounts and familiars and all those spells and combat arts I need to craft. Beyond that comes Adorning, which I haven't even investigated yet. 

At some point I'll have to make a serious run at the adventure Signature questline, including the instances, but before then I plan on making sure whoever takes it on is overgeared for the content. I might even consider starting an armorsmith or a tailor to make Mastercrafted armor, which I understand has been returned to its former status as transitional gear for moving beyond solo content into Heroics.

And that's just the beginning. So much more to do than just level up and I'm really looking forward to it all.

I believe I may have been assimilated but I'm not going to fight it. It feels too good.


  1. Isn't the title a quote from Scent of a Woman?

    1. It might be! I've never seen that movie although weirdly I said to Mrs Bhagpuss only a couple of days ago, when it came up as the answer to a quiz question, "People are always quoting from that film". Including me, apparently.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about the sharp divide I've seen lately in the games developers make and the games their prospective audiences seem to want. EQ2 seems to be one of the few games where the devs and the player base seems to be (mostly) on the same page.

    1. Both the EQ titles, really, although EQII has wobbled a bit in recent years, adding too many new systems and messing around with old ones, mostly, I think, to try and overcome certain technical issues that probably had their root in a lack of investment in new hardware. Since the EG7 purchase the purse strings seem to have been loosened a little and this expansion looks like the dev team made a definite effort to move closer to what the installed base likes and expects. We'll see how it beds in over the year but it seems to be fairly well-received so far.


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