Wednesday, April 3, 2024

All The Colors Of The City

After I finished writing Monday's April Fool's post I thought I probably ought to log into EverQuest II to claim my free baby dragon and check out the Bristlebane Day content. I'm pretty much done with Nightingale for now, at least until they add some new content, and none of the other upcoming games I'm interested in are running tests right now, so it seemed like a good time to get back to what I was doing a couple of months ago - playing EQII.

Before I logged in I checked to see if anything new had been added to the holiday this year, which was when I found out there isn't just one holiday running, there are two. Well, three, if you count the Year of Darkpaw. Four, if there happens to be a City Festival on. (One of those runs for the first week of every month.) Or five, if there's a full moon, when the Moonlight Enchantments appear.

That's why it's not that unusual for holidays, anniversaries and live events to overlap in Norrath. There are just so many of them it's pretty much inevitable. Around this time of year we get Bristlebane Day, the April Fool analog, but also Beast'r, whose real-world counterpart is, I'm sure, readily apparent from the awkward pun.

I had a little trouble chasing down the exact details of what might have changed this year but as usual EQ2 Traders came to my rescue. From there I learned there is indeed something new this time. Quite a bit, in fact. As well as the expected new holiday crafting recipes and vendor items there's also a new quest.

A while ago I remember mentioning that in EQII these days, a new holiday "quest" generally just means a new collection with some framing dialog. Not so this time. This is a bona fide story quest that takes place in a brand-new dungeon. Okay, the dungeon itself is made up of re-purposed rooms from previous content and there are only three of them, but that's absolutely no criticism. It's an exemplary demonstration of how to re-use assets effectively to create enjoyable, new content.

I can say that now because I've finished it. The dungeon itself didn't take long - maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. Getting a character ready to try it at all, though - that took me about four hours.

The very surprising thing about the new dungeon is that it requires a minimum level of 128 to enter. It's current expansion content in other words, which does seem odd for a holiday event. Usually these things scale.

I'd forgotten until I tried to enter the dungeon from a big book in the Commonlands that you have to click on. I didn't actually have a character that level. My nearest, the one I was playing, was my Berserker. At around three-quarters of the way into 127 he was close but not close enough.

I could have left it at that. It's only a holiday event after all and now it's been added it'll probably be in the rotation forever. I could have left it for next year. As I said, though, this happens to be a good moment for me to come back to EQII, something I've been wanting to do for a while, so I decided it was about time I knuckled down and got on with the Signature Quest from last December's Ballads of Zimara expansion.

Really, I ought to have finished it ages ago but I'd hit a patch with a lot of dungeon play and I hadn't been able to find the necessar couple of dog-free hours to beat down several bosses in a row. Last night, though, it was raining hard and Beryl was keeping her head down in case anyone suggested going outside. It seemed like an opportunity so I took it.

The dungeon I needed to finish turned out to be two dungeons linked together, both of them set in the final zone of the expansion, the Djinn stronghold, Vaashkaani. I was under the mistaken impression Vaashkaani was an open-world, city zone but while it might still be some kind of city, it's actually made up of several combat instances. 

The first took me about an hour to finish; the second double that, so a little over three hours in total, which is quite a run for me these days. Luckily, I had the invaluable EQ2i walkthroughs up for both. Without those I would probably have been there twice as long.

The fights, of which there were many, weren't all that hard. My Berserker is prety decently equipped for this kind of  entry-level endgame solo stuff, although there's still quite a lot more I could  - and should -do to toughen him up further. 

Having played EQII for so long now, it's interesting how these things change over time. A few years ago, most of the complaints from casuals like me revolved around time-to-kill on both regular mobs and bosses. It could take hours to grind through a solo instance, with each fight taking minutes and the bosses maybe a quarter of an hour.If you got a "kill ten" quest, and there were some, you could be there all morning.

Then there was a phase when just about everything seemed to drain your power or mana, making every fight take even longer. I remember going afk, leaving my Berserker on auto-attack and going to the kitchen to make myself a coffee because I had literally no buttons to press.

That was not a popular mechanic and I'm happy to say it's largely disappeared. What seems to have replaced it in BoZ is a cute little trick with Heroic Opportunities

As any who played EQII when it launched back in 2004 might remember, HOs were once a big part of the game. They are combination attacks that you can do solo or in a group. When the combo is complete they kick off powerful effects that either buff you or damage or debuff the mob.

I didn't much like them then because I was playing in groups much more than I do now and people were constantly yelling at each other, either demanding they complete the HO or complaining they had completed it when they shouldn't have. People were very fussy about the timing for some reason. It got on my nerves and I was glad when it largely fell into disuse.

Some people obviously remembered it more fondly than I did because there have been many requests for the system to be revamped and made useful again. A while ago that made its way to the top of the dev team's to-do list and now HOs are back in fashion.

In the instances I've just finshed there are several occasions when HOs are the only thing that will remove a boss's shield so you can actually hit them. Or you have to complete an HO to blow up some device that, if left unattended, will instantly kill you. There's no real logic to it but it's a lot better than seeing your mana disappear into a black hole. 

It's also a mechanic that requires a certain amount of attention and finesse, which is why I died a few times getting to grips with it. Once I had the method down, though, I thought it was fine. I certainly prefer it to having to chug mana potions, which cost a fortune for the good ones and which I never remembered to pack anyway, let alone the attritional auto-attack grindfest that comes when you run out of them.

The bosses in Vaashkaani also all have the ability to stifle, stun or fear, which would be extremely annoying if there weren't free augments available that negate all of those effects. I had to remember to swap the necessary augs in and out of my belt, the only item that has a slot that will hold them, but that wasn't hard to do - until I found out the hard way you can't change augs in a damaged item.

Eventually I got through the whole instance - both of them - and I have to say it was good fun. The level of challenge was just about right for me. I had to concentrate just enough to feel engaged and I got my timing wrong a couple of times but nothing went on so long it made me dread failure and another try plus I always made progress on each attempt so I could see a way to succeed.

It helped a lot that Vaashkaani is absolutely gorgeous. The screenshots give an impression of how colorful and vibrant it is but you have to imagine all those colors shifting and shimmering as the crystals pulse, clouds drift across the skylights, waterfalls pour down and foliage ripples in the breeze. Once again, you can really see why Darkpaw would like to get new players straight into the current content. The 2004-era graphics of the older zones, much though I love them, really do the game a disservice.

Under current mechanics, you get no meaningful xp for clearing zones. It all comes from quests. When I handed in mine I jumped straight from three-quarters of the way through 127 to five per cent into 128. Mission accomplished!

I also got a lot of drops from all the nameds but I wasn't very lucky with RNG. Most of the gear I got was for other classes. My alts will love it  - if they ever get this far. 

My Berserker didn't much mind not getting stuff he could wear. Everything that dropped was all 155 Resolve, which is mostly what he has now. He got it all from previous holiday events so he's very mildly overgeared for the content he's doing although not for much longer. According to the beta forums for the forthcoming GU 125, bosses in the next update drop 160 and 165 Resolve gear, which will be a nice upgrade.

As soon as I dinged 128, it was straight off to try the new holiday instance. It turned out to be a jolly romp with an amusing story, some good jokes and a lot of fighting. I won't rehash it all here but the gist is that Bristlebane tells you the story of a famous thief and sends you to three episodes from his life, wherein you take various roles, all of which pretty much consist of a massive fight that starts the moment you zone in. It's all action!

The drops were much the same level as the ones I got in the instances, which makes sense since 155 Resolve seems to be about par for current solo endgame gear. I was able to upgrade a couple of 145s I was still uisng so that was nice.

According to EQ2 Traders, if you do the instance three times, you get a silly hat. It's fast and fun so even I ought to be able to manage that before it all goes away in ten days or so. 

If I want the five new Beast'r eggs, though, I'll have to hurry. That event ends in just a few hours.

What am I doing here then?!

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