Sunday, June 12, 2022

Hee! Hee! Hee! Can't Touch Me!

And now, at long last, my much-delayed post on EverQuest II's latest solo dungeon, the one that was added as part of this year's Tinkerfest holiday event. It goes by the official name of Innovation: Tinkerfest Trial and as the name suggests, it re-uses the assets from the Plane of Innovation.

PoI was originally added to the game as part of 2017's Planes of Prophecy expansion. There are arguments for and against the reuse of existing zones for new content but by and large I'm in favor of it, providing the new content is enjoyable, which this very much is.

It also helps when the ostensible reason for seeing the zone again makes sense, which it broadly does in this case. The set-up is that a Froglok called Boegie has applied to join the Ak`Anon Tinkers Guild, the first of his race ever to do so. In order to be accepted he has to pass a trial, proving both his technical skill and his innovative imagination. Where better to do that than in the metaphysical plane of existence that lies behind the very concept of tinkering itself?

The story is solid, the dialog amusing, the characters distinctive and the gameplay involving and entertaining. For any long-time EQII player it's pretty much bread and butter and meat and potatos and all the other food-based cliches you care to dish up. As I've said many times before, if you're the kind of player who likes the kind of quests normally found in EQII, this is very much the kind of quest you're going to like.

None of which would usually make it worth my time writing about it in depth, although it wouldn't be the first time I'd stretched an anecdotal account of a solo holiday dungeon to fill a whole post. In this case, however, I do have something unusual to report.

It's in the nature of a bug, or at least I think it is. I'm really not sure. If it is a bug, it's one I have so far failed to find any mention of on the official forums or the EQII Reddit or anywhere else Google can poke its algorithmical snout. 

That may mean it's not a bug at all or it may mean it's uncommon enough that no-one else has encountered it. It may also mean that this particular bug is one of those that players don't really like to draw attention to for fear it might get fixed before they've finished "testing" it.

Oh. One of those bugs, eh? Don't we have another word for that kind of thing?

I don't know. Judge for yourself. Here's what it does: it makes my Berserker completely invulnerable. 

For once I spotted it almost immediately. I have a tendency to miss things like this because I have all onscreen notifications of damage both given and received either switched off or hidden. When I'm fighting, I don't like to know any more about it what I can derive from the health bars of my character and my opponents. Anything else comes under the heading of too much information as far as I'm concerned.

When I enter a new high-level instance, though, I do excercise a modicum of caution. I pull carefully and observe the results. There are mobs in Visions of Vetrovia, supposedly intended for solo players, that some of my max-level characters don't feel fully capable of engaging yet. Not all of them bosses, either, Every time I find myself somewhere new I bear that in mind.

Consequently, I was watching carefully on the first pull to see just how much of my Berserker's health bar he'd have left after the first attack and how much healing the Merc would need to do. The answers, respectively, were "all of it" and "none whatsoever". 

The fight went on for a good while, maybe a minute or more. I had plenty of time to observe how things went. The situation remained the same: no damage taken, no healing required. I pulled a couple more mobs. Same thing.

I opened the Combat tab to see if I could figure out what was going on. "What?" turned out to be easy. "Why?" is still a mystery. As the screenshot shows, nothing the mobs could do had any impact at all. Everything they tried came back "fails to inflict any damage".

Those were just regular mobs, though. Surely the bosses would have more success? Only one way to find out.

I slowly worked my way through the instance, following the Blood, Sweat and Gears quest, occasionally referring to the wiki walkthrough for directions, since EQII Maps hadn't uploaded the new zone yet. I thought I'd have some issues with special attacks or scripted routines on some of the bosses but even though I could see the visual effects, quite spectacularly on occasion, nothing seemed to have any effect.

The only setback I encountered was when I walked into the Clockwork Shredder in the tunnels. It's a device rather than a mob and it patrols in the regular version of the zone as well as the Tinkerer's Trial so I ought to have remembered it's a scripted 100% guaranteed insta-kill. You're supposed to wait until it goes past then run along the tunnel and up another out of its way.

The Shredder's script bypassed whatever miraculous protection the bug (Or is it a feature?) was providing. My Berserker had to respawn back at the zone-in. Just an inconvenience, really. The final boss, Cogsteady Rhinocticus (A clockwork rhinoceros, as if you hadn't guessed.) also knocked me up in the air a few times but that didn't hurt in the slightest. Other than that, nothing landed a punch.

I found the whole thing delightful. Being able to run a new zone with absolutely no risk of getting hurt seems just about ideal. It wasn't like one of those super-hyper-overpowered scenarios, where everything dies to a single hit, either. Every fight took a significant amount of time, maybe a minute or two for each regular mob and anything up to six or seven for the bosses. 

I had to use all my attacks and pay attention because there were still things like power drains to manage and the bosses had huge health pools. Unlike the Berserker, the merc was taking damage, so I needed to turn the bosses and get them positioned away from him. I just didn't have to worry about scripts or jousting or jumping about and there was absolutely no chance of me dying.

It's taken me so long to get around to writing this post I had time to run the instance twice more. I thought I ought to find out if my odd experience was a one-time fluke so I took my Berserker back for a second go. Everything was just as before. No damage, no risk, no explanation. 

Things were so comfortable I did one boss with the puppy asleep on my lap, meaning I could only use the mouse. Didn't matter - I never needed to move. Then she woke up and wanted to play, so on the next boss I left my Berserker and his Merc on auto-attack and went downstairs to rough-house with her for a while.

When I came back the boss was at 80% and my Berserker and Merc were full health and full mana. It would have been very, very slow but they could have done the job without me. 

I finished off the instance and the repeatable quest. You need to do it six times before Tinkerfest ends to get the bracer that upgrades during the next two chapters of the Summer Jubilee. I hadn't been planning on doing that but now I think I might.

After that I thought I'd better check if the invulnerability bug applied to all my characters or just the Berserker. I took my Bruiser through the pre-quest and into the instance, pulled the first mob and... BAM! Normal damage.

If I was still on Test and doing my due diligence before submitting a bug report, I'd take the Berserker through a different VoV instance to see if the bug applied there, too. I did try an outdoor named with him and it definitely didn't work on that. He was lucky to get away with his life. 

I'd also take a caster through the Trial, my Necromancer probably. I might yet do that, just out of curiosity. On Live, though, I guess there's the question of whether repeatedly running the instance with unexplained full invulnerability constitutes an exploit.

Of course, I don't know for sure that it is a bug. It almost certainly is but EQII is a very complex game with a lot of variables and I can't say for sure that I don't have some buff or item or ability I've acquired at some point that's doing something it's supposed to do to make this happen. Seems unlikely but definitely not impossible.

In any case, the question of whether or not what the Berserker was doing was an exploit was rendered somewhat moot by the Bruiser's experience. Taking full, normal damage, he was easily able to clear the whole instance, bosses included, in less than half the time it took it the Berserker. At no point did he come under any serious threat, his self-healing and regeneration usually meaning the merc barely had to heal.

The Bruiser killed regular mobs in seconds and bosses in half the time his plate-wearing team-mate had needed. The whole thing felt like it was on fast-forward. Given the choice, I'd take the Bruiser without invulnerability over the Berserker with it every time, if I was thinking of running the instance half a dozen times for the event flag.

If the choice was between a slower run with no chance of failure or a faster one, where there was a significant risk of dying and having to rez or respawn, though, I'm not so sure. And if I was having to make the attempts under less than perfect circumstances, such as needing to stop suddenly or go afk at a moment's notice, then I'd definitely take the slow, safe option.

If the experiment has taught me anything, it's that I don't need any element of risk to become fully engaged with the content. It's something I've never been convinced by anyway. I feel the whole "risk vs reward" concept is a bit of a legacy artefact from a different era, if indeed it ever had any genuine validity to begin with.

I found the story engaging enough to want to see it through the first time and the rewards good enough to make me happy to do it several times more. It seems to me that's generally how things work in modern mmorpgs. I'd very much prefer to do story content at zero risk and I can't quite see how repeatable content gets more interesting or engaging by being made less certain to succeed.

Win or lose makes sense in PvP but in PvE it's just annoying. Who really wants to lose a fight with a mob? Even a boss. Especially if you know you're going to have to do it again and again. I get the appeal of group and raid PvE having failure states, the point being all that learning to work together and camaraderie but solo instanced content that no-one sees but you? It's not like your Merc or your pet's going to be impressed.

I'll be interested to know if my Berserker's invulnerability is eventually revealed to be a bug and if so what caused it. I suspect what will actually happen, though, is that Tinkerfest will end without me becoming any the wiser and if I do the instance again next year everything will be back to normal. 

Meanwhile, I'm going to swap to my Bruiser to do the other five runs I need. He may not be Superman but he's close enough and I know he's not going to be accused of cheating. Also it'll save me at least a couple of hours. Hey, my time is valuable, I'll have you know!


  1. The great thing about the Bruiser is, while he's technically not immortal he can pretty much always use Feign Death. So sudden puppy-related interruptions shouldn't be a problem for him either. ;-)

    I miss my Bruiser.

    1. Feign Death is so incredibly useful. It's close to being a Pause button for mmorpgs. It's also extremely reliable - my Bruiser currently has a 104% chance to Feign successfully. Not entirely sure how that works...

    2. Interesting...when I last played I was at 97% (I think), and it certainly felt like that, in that it almost never failed. If there are circumstances that lower Feign Death's chance of success I'm not aware of it, so in theory yours should never fail.

      Why doesn't it stop at 100% then though? I guess it's one of EQII's many mysteries...I wonder whether there's even a developer still on the team who could actually answer this.


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