Everquest 2: Crafting, and Taking Things Easy

We’re still playing Everquest 2, but we’ve slowed down a bit on progress for a couple of reasons:

  1. I got to the end of my trial period, so I forked over some cash for a month. The EQ2 launcher responded by wanting me to redownload the game. That kind of ate one of our sessions.
  2. While I was doing this, Arb decided to experiment with a couple of other classes she was interested in. A couple of hours later she announced that Warden was The One :) (You can take the girl away from the healer, but you can’t take the healer out of the girl!) She then decided to reroll it so that we could both stay as fae.
  3. Found that we could both get some housing! Major excitement! Distracted us from questing for a while.
  4. New patch in LOTRO has been distracting for Arb. That basically gave me more time to get into the crafting in EQ2 (I think we both accept that if our main game puts in some new stuff, it’s likely that we’ll want to play that with other friends.) I do love that I can mess about with crafting without getting out of synch with xp.
  5. It’s been hot, so we haven’t been much in the mood for long sessions.

In any case, we’re all caught up now and the fae are at around level 12. So the fae starter area has been much slower for us than the Sarnak one, but we are both enjoying it more. The wings definitely help.

I definitely spend more time in EQ2 feeling puzzled or frustrated than I remember being the case in other games I’ve played over the last couple of years. That’s not particularly a bad thing, but the game doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand, even when that seems to have been the intention. Once we got used to it, we enjoyed getting lost occasionally, having to stop to discuss what to do next, or figure out what was going on.

We’ve certainly had some quests where we had to spend a few minutes exploring or searching round and area to locate the specific place they wanted us to be. And quests themselves do a fairly good job of mixing up exploring (go to location X), with killing (and kill mob Y), and gathering (and pick up stuff Z while you’re there). We also finished the long quest line that ends up making you a citizen of the city, which was good fun. They get you to explore, to learn your way around the treetops, and you wind up by killing a mini-boss in an instance.

I’m also enjoying the 3D nature of Kelethin (the fae starting area), although I imagine it could be a pain without wings. For a start, we can easily jump off the fae treetop city without having to go via a lift. Now that we’ve spend some time running around it, the city is also growing on me. It’s a set of platforms linked by rope bridges and branches.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t seen many other low level characters around. There are chat channels for levels 1-9 and so on. People who talk on them aren’t restricted to those levels, but we do sometimes hear people asking for help (and generally being answered). So the chat channel gives the lower levels a sort of community … kind of. I like the basic idea.

A room without a view

Most exciting part of exploring the fae city was when I found that we could each get some housing. It starts as a cheap one-room acorn and you zone into your room via the housing area. So the rooms are instanced and you pay a weekly rent, which you can pay in advance. It’s like being in a hotel.

You also get given a few items of furniture to start you off, and you can place them wherever you like in the room. I put my mirrors at fae height so I guess anyone taller will get a good view of their own crotch. There’s a vault too.

I know that houses can get very big and expansive but even right from the start it’s obvious why EQ2 housing has been so popular. It’s accessible, it’s fun, it’s easy to customise, and it’s useful. Thumbs up. Now I just need more stuff to put in mine.

I dip my toes into crafting

I knew a few things about EQ2 crafting before venturing into it. It is more involved and complex than the typical ‘hit the button and watch the green bar’, you get separate crafting xp from adventuring xp so you can actually level up as a crafter in this game, and … that I regularly got killed in crafting accidents when I tried the game in beta.

So I started off by locating the crafting trainer in the Fae City, who gets you started with a quest – to go and gather lots of stuff. Gathering is similar to other MMOs in that you wander around the world looking for herbs, ore, fish, or rats nests which are nodes that you use to harvest the materials. Maybe it’s my WoW (and LOTRO, and every other game ever) bias showing but I’m still not clear why you’d gather leather from rats nests when there are perfectly good deer and pigs around the place to kill.

Eventually, when you are done with this, you go back and are allowed to actually use the equipment located in an instanced crafting area. Each type of craft has its own table/ forge/ oven etc which has cool animations when you use it.  The crafting itself stymied me at first, I made the mistake of looking at my skill list which instantly resulted in confusion at the very very extensive list of craft related skills with no clues on how to use them.

But I decided to press on and just try making something, and that worked out much better. When you create an item, a crafting window comes up showing various green progress bars. Along the bottom of this window (and bound to keys 1-6) are various icons. As the crafting progresses, icons will occasionally flash up on the window. When they do, you hit one of the matching icons at the bottom.

Crafting progresses as a series of ticks. On each tick, your progress has a chance to increase, but the durability of the item also has a chance to decrease. Your goal is to get to the end of the progress bar while there is still some durability left on the last bar. So it’s a kind of pattern matching game. There is a bit more to it. Each icon you pick at the bottom has a bonus and a penalty (so one might give a bonus to success but a penalty to durability or vice versa) so as well as pattern matching, you have to balance up your success/ durability.

It’s definitely a lot less complex than I remember from the beta (at that stage you had to make lots and lots of subcomponents too).

I found it quite frustrating initially. It feels very random. Sometimes you’re just going to fail but you have to keep going anyway because you need the skill ups. But after a few practice tries, I was more able to understand the long email of useful crafting advice that Ysharros kindly sent us. I made some stuff!! I’m feeling that this process is a little deeper than it seems at the start and quite enjoying EQ2 crafting now.

At the exalted tiers of crafting level 9 I now get to select a crafting skill in which to specialise. I can pick between being a crafter (can make furnishings, food), outfitter (can make armour and weapons), and scholar (can make potions, jewellry, scrolls). I have no idea which of these might be useful to us or work well for making some cash in game. But I’m not really attracted by the idea of Scholar –- I’d rather make stuff we can wear, eat, or put in our rooms.

In a typical example of non-handholding, the materials you gather from the first part of the crafting quest are not actually quite sufficient to let you craft all the items that they ask for in the second part. I decided I was too lazy to gather more so instead I checked out the broker who is also located in the crafting area. It’s not really an auction house so much as a combined player vendor. So players from all over the game can give items to a broker to sell, which he’ll do in return for a small cut of the profit.

So I browsed the vendor for my missing rawhide leather hides, and bought a handful of the cheapest ones. They were transferred immediately to my bag without needing to go via the mailbox. I think I much prefer this scheme to an auction house for commodity type goods. Auctions are great for rare or high value items where the actual value isn’t well known. But so often I just use it like a shop – I think I prefer having an actual shop in those cases.

And … the exit questionnaire

After I subscribed, I immediately unsubbed so as to avoid any kind of automatic resubscription. I always do this on MMOs, even if I know I’m in for the long term because I like to at least have the choice to get out at regular intervals even if I decide not to use it.

EQ2, like many games, sent me off to answer an extensive exit questionnaire when I unsubscribed. Most of the questions were very irrelevant, especially since I have every intention of resubbing as long as we’re still playing and enjoying it.

But I do give them props for including “I don’t like automatic resubscriptions” as a selectable answer in the first ‘Why do you hate us??111!!!!’ question. I like it when drop down lists actually include an answer that does reflect my thought process, it makes me feel less weird. I’m pretty sure that WoW, by contrast, doesn’t give that option and makes you fill out the ‘you must be some kind of weirdo’ “Other answer, please specify below” box.

Everquest 2: Dragons vs Fae

This week, Arbitrary and I were determined to get our dragon ladies to level 20. I’m not sure if level 20 means anything really significant in EQ2 but when we first created the characters, we were given a quest that gave out a title if you made 20 within a limited amount of time. So it seemed like a good waypoint.

In practice, with the various levelling bonuses and recruit-a-friend bonuses, the actual levelling side was very quick and easy. And since we’d paused at around level 18 last week (OK, maybe we did sneak an extra session in over the weekend) we knew it wasn’t going to be overly traumatic to pick up the last two levels.

Gorowyn: City of Falling off Ledges

Gorowyn is the Sarnak city, and we’d wound up near one of the entrances so it seemed a shame not to go and explore. It is built inside a huge cave with different tiers of the city on ledges. You get around using lifts and pulleys and moving gondola-type things.

It wasn’t really a very convincing city. Seemed more like one of each sort of ‘necessary’ NPC (ie. class trainers, profession trainers, vendors, quest people, guards) laid out in standard pattern. And a pub, which I liked. I just think it lacks any sense that NPCs actually live there, and I wasn’t picking up much of a racial flavour to it either.

One thing we did like was that when you talk to the guards, you can ask directions to people by name. So if you are looking for a quest NPC, you can type in their name and the guard will illuminate a glowy trail leading you towards them.

There was also a certain amount of falling off ledges. I’ll come back to this as it seems to be a theme in EQ2 cities.

How are the dragons shaping up?

After our brief encounter with dragon civilisation, we decided to go on to the next quest hub and do what we do best – mass genocide.

Now when we created these characters, we picked them because we thought they looked cool. We noted that Sarnak were listed as evil (races in EQ2 are divided into good races, evil races, and neutral ones) but in the starting area we hadn’t seen much evidence of this. Sure, we were wandering around and decimating the local ecology but that’s just what characters do in these games, right? I hadn’t seen anything that tipped the Sarnak onto the evil side of the scale.

I think our genocide expeditions, where we were sent out to exterminate the opposing race via slaughter, biological warfare, and starving them to death kind of righted the balance on that one. I was almost disappointed when one of the NPCs stopped us and told us to go back to the city for more orders but it turned out to be OK. We were just being asked to halt the genocide because our dragon lords had decided these bird guys might (just might) be more useful alive.

I do like the writing so far. The quest NPCs don’t come across as being stupid, and don’t treat you as if you were stupid. It’s all very businesslike.

This particular quest hub was much more old school than the previous one. You know the setup where there’s a load of mobs out in the field, and a quest hub. And you get sent out to the same place on five different occasions, each time going a little bit further into the mob area, until finally you get to kill a named mob and they let you move somewhere more interesting?

It was that.

So at level 20, I’m quite liking the Fury. I’m not loving it, but there’s an element of ‘been there, seen that’ involved. Also, it’s a bit off-putting that anytime anyone asks in trade chat what classes are good, everyone tells them to play a Fury.  I’m also figuring out roughly how the buffs work – I think buffing characters have a concentration stat that controls how many buffs you can have active at any time. Some of the buffs are more like auras (ie. you put them up, they stay up until you cancel them, and they affect your whole group), others are timed buffs that need to be recast. There’s a runspeed group buff which has been a particular favourite.

I also get my first shapeshift at level 20. I can turn into a lioness. Rar! It’s a form with some melee combat bonuses (hadn’t thought the Fury was a melee class but what do I know) and more amusingly you can also cast spells in lion form and it has a silly cast animation.

I was amused that on one occasion, Arb ran in somewhere and pulled a ton of mobs by accident (or so she claimed!), I was healing, it was all a bit chaotic. When it calmed down we looked around and noticed that we were still alive and the mobs weren’t.

And I was like, “I don’t think my heals are all that good.” *facepalm* They’re fine, evidently.

She’s not all that thrilled with the Shadowknight, and part of that is not really grooving on the look of the class. At level 20, I look way better in my leathers than she does in her plate, and that’s not really inspiring. It may be that high level plate looks better but it’s hard to say from where we are now.

Checking out other classes

So the dragon duo was working well, we’d seen the dragon city and killed lots of stuff. But somehow we didn’t really love the characters. It seemed a good time to explore alternatives. EQ2 has tons of classes, and it was easy to make a list of other options that we both thought were interesting. Then we had to figure out which combination could end up with the same faction and starting area.

I am very impressed with at least one aspect of the class design. It feels as though you can get a good sense for how a class plays from very early on. I’m not sure if it’s an accurate sense but from scanning forums and talking to people, I think it could be. So the Fury is a healer/nuker with lots of buffs who relies heavily on DoTs/HoTs. The Shadowknight is a solid AE tank with some magical effects and buffs thrown in.

The next combination we decided to try out was Monk (unarmed fighter, it is tankish in nature but not really, if that makes sense) and Dirge (rogue type support class with lots of buffs). Both these classes are further in concept from types we have played before, which is part of the appeal I think.

Arb is still keen to try tanking, but hated the look of the plate armour. So the Monk, with its cool animations and ability names seemed like a good fit. I was bored of casting and wanted to hit stuff – didn’t really fancy the Warden so I picked on one of the other melee support classes.

The Dirge does remind me a bit of my burglar in LOTRO although I think I prefer the Dirge so far. You get to move around a lot in combat, and there are positional attacks and various stuns and debuffs that are set off by your melee moves. In addition, it has a ton of useful buffs. So more of a buffing than a debuffing class I think. Not sure how much of a problem it will be to not have a healer but there’s only two of us and not a full group, and the Dirge’s melee-oriented buffs might work out well.

We ended up picking Fae for our race which meant we got to check out the Fae starting area. I think Fae as a race may be a bit thick. They name their local landmarks things like ‘Drippy Cave’ and ‘Orc Hill’ and the NPCs act like idiots. I suspect the writers were going for a childlike gleeful view on life. We rolled our eyes and got on with it.

The best thing about playing Fae is the wings, which look awesome and also mean that when you (inevitably) fall off ledges, you actually glide gently to the ground instead of crashing down like a brick.

We did notice that this duo was more fragile than the tank/healer combo, but that just meant that we had to be more careful with the pulls. Drippy Cave (I can’t believe I walked into a place called Drippy Cave) was a trial by fire. We picked ourselves up and went back there about three times before perseverance and ‘not acting like bloodcrazed lunatics’ won out and we finally cleared our quests there.

I’m finding the area much more charming than the dragon starting area. I’m sure this is intentional but the introduction to the Fae city is also simply more engaging than the dragon equivalent.

So what’s next?

I think the aim now will be to get the Fae alts to 20 also and then decide which we feel like playing. The nice thing about playing as a duo is that we don’t feel any pressure to hurry to endgame so it doesn’t really matter if we futz around at low levels and try to work out what we want to play.

I still haven’t had much of a chance to look at tradeskills or the EQ2 cardgame, both of which I’m curious to try.

One thing I do feel about the game is that they throw a lot of complexity at you deliberately. There are mechanics which are simply more awkward than they need to be. The skill system is one of them. As I understand it, you get to learn two versions of every spell – and they’re both on the same cooldown. You can upgrade them separately so every time you either go up a  level or upgrade a spell, you’re supposed to check your spellbook to make sure you have the current best version of everything on your hotbar. But I could be entirely wrong, there’s just a lot going on that I don’t really comprehend.

I’m thinking that they’re aiming at players who love the idea of being thrown into an incomprehensible world and trying to figure it out. And I say this with no irony intended. It is quite an engrossing experience and a lot of players adore the challenge of complexity.

It just feels very … old school sometimes.