Monday, December 4, 2023

Through Splendor Sky By Cloud And Owl

EverQuest II's latest expansion, Ballads of Zimara, continues to be both a delight and a surprise. My progress has been slow, for which I can only blame my increasingly poor sense of time management. It seems the more free time I have, the less I get done and anything labelled "Inessential" goes right to the back of the line. I swear I found it easier to make time for playing games when I worked full-time, which is just ridiculous.

Because of all that, I'm still in the opening zone of the expansion, Splendor Sky Aerie. It's charming, open, airy and vast; a perfectly lovely place to explore. It's also precipitous and twisty, making the lack of flight a potential drawback.

Fortunately, there's a workaround to not being able to fly: my Featherfall cloak. Wearing one of those is almost exactly like having Levitation cast on you in EverQuest. All you need to do to get from one side of the zone to the other is climb up somewhere high and then drift slowly down. You can move freely in all directions at a good speed and it feels just like flying - just so long as you don't need to go upwards again.

The last several expansions have handily provided plenty of mountains and cliffs to launch yourself from and this one's no exception. I've been riding my Tishan's Fluffy Transport, the free big white cat mount, through the air in style, although not as much in style as when I've been riding the official Kingdom of Sky public transport system - clouds - or better yet, travelling about the Aerie the way the locals do, on the back of a giant owl.

Experience gain is, as promised, very slow. I just dinged 126 this morning after completing the first instance and doing the hand-in. I found that instance itself something of a surprise in that I didn't need to kill any of the bosses to complete the quest I was on. I just had to do regular stuff inside the instance, killing a set number of ordinary mobs, freeing some trapped apprentices and escorting the senior trainee back to the zoneline.

I can't remember the last time a Signature quest took me into a new instance and let me come out again without completing the zone and killing all the bosses. It felt really good, like someone was actually thinking about what a solo player might enjoy doing rather than just giving them the cut-down version of the Heroic instance and telling them to get on with it.

Since I wasn't being forced to, naturally I decided to try the first boss anyway, just to see how it went. I'd already been using the regular instance mobs to see how reliable my new Mercenary might be and he was doing fine but a boss would be a much better test.

I couldn't find a specific walkthrough for the boss so I just pinged him with an arrow and went toe-to-toe. If he had any tricks I missed them although I did notice Valek announce several times that he'd cured me, so I guess there must have been something going on. 

There was one moment when my Merc looked like he was getting behind on his healing duties but as  Berserker I have a bunch of self-heals. I popped a couple of those and we were back on top right away. 

For the first boss-fight of an expansion it all went very well. Add to that the open world solo Named I took on and beat (Close fight!) a couple of days ago and I'd say so far things are just about perfectly tuned to my particular tastes and my character's abilities. I'm pretty sure there will be people claiming it's all gotten far too easy but I rememember a few expansions back I literally couldn't kill even a solo overland named until well after the mid-year update so I'm definitely not complaining.

Whether the difficulty ramps up later in the Sig line or in subsequent zones I'll wait to see but normal practice has generally been for things to get easier, not harder, as you'd expect when you acquire better gear from the quests and drops, so I'm optimistic.

One thing that has always made a big difference, of course, is upgrading your spells or combat arts, which is why as a solo player I take some care always to have crafters on my account who can make them for all my adventurers. 

If I'd had some kind of ten-year plan all those years ago, when I rolled a Berserker on a whim to try out the new Free to Play server, Freeport, I'd have made him an Alchemist so he could make his own upgrades. Obviously, at the time I had no inkling he'd become my main character and stay that way for more than a decade, so I made him a Weaponsmith because it seemed like a craft a Berserker might do. Bloody roleplayers, eh?

I've long since rectified that error of judgment by giving my Bruiser the Alchemy job. He's also a max-level Adventurer, or he will be when he does this Sig line, but I thought he might as well get on with the Tradeskill Signature in the meanwhile, so he could make new spells for the Berserker going through ahead of him.

I started on that a few hours ago, which was how I learned two things. 

  1. The Bruiser never did the follow-up quest to swap his Gathering Goblin for a gathering speed increase so he gathers at a painfully slow rate compared to the Berserker.
  2. All that stuff about reduced XP and slower levelling in Ballads of Zimara? Does not apply to crafters!

I did one quest in the TS Sig line. It took me about five minutes, most of which was zoning. I handed it in and it gave me about half a level. 

Then I did the next part, most of which was doing a handful of combines at a workbench right next to the questgiver, using materials he'd just given me. I handed that in and dinged 126. 

The whole level probably took me ten minutes. Fifteen at the outside. Half of that was reading the lengthy quest dialog. If it carries on like this, I'll have a 130 Alchemist long before I have a 127 Berserker.

All of which works for me. I have half a dozen adventurers and four or five crafters I'd like to get to max level. I'm very happy to have it go faster. 

There's already a structural problem with alts in EQII in that the first hundred levels offer multiple paths to avoid repeating content but after 100 everyone pretty much has to do the same thing. I almost always enjoy the Adventure Sig line in each expansion but rarely so much I want to do it half a dozen times. When the XP  rate was jacked up, it wasn't too bad but I'm already starting to dread having to go through it all at this pace again and again. At least it's nice to think I won't have the same problem with the crafters.

That said, looking at the walkthrough and bearing in mind what I read on the Beta forums, I think both questlines are probably quite a bit shorter than they have been the last few times. That might sound like a negative in that it might mean there's less content but if, as I hope, it really means there's less padding, I'd say it's actually a positive move.

Once again, we'll know when we get there. So far, I'm having a great time. If it carries on this way, I'll be a very satisfied customer.

Before I get any further through the storyline, though, I really need to go back and do that Gathering Goblin quest I missed. I have two hundred and forty assorted mats to gather for the next stage of the TS questline and I'm jiggered if I'm doing it all at half speed!


  1. Is that winged snake in the last shot a friend or a foe about to try and eat you? Great picture either way!

    1. That's my familiar. Looks great but makes it very hard to get a clean screenshot sometimes. I had to dismiss it this morning when I was trying to get a good shot of my new mount.


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