Category Archives: Everquest II

Allegiance, Betrayal, and Oh So Many Warning Boxes!

(I started this post in December last year [!], but it never finished it, and it got stuck in my draft box. So don’t be surprised I talked about a character being 50 that in the last post was already 85.)

With Tabascun, my half-elf swashbuckler at the level cap and at a bit of a dead end, I focused again on my army of low-level alts. Well, not exactly an army, unless you compare to it a country like Liechtenstein, I guess. I first tried my Ratonga Dirge. Didn’t work. Somehow, the dirge gameplay totally bores me. It feels quite sluggish and slow. I wonder whether there’s some tipping point after 40 (my current level) at which it becomes more fluid and dynamic, but at the moment… no. Maybe my 20 Fae Inquisitor? Cool combination, but right now, also not my fancy. Just too damn slow to kill stuff. 22 Erudite Mage? Almost, but not quite. So I rolled up yet another character. Enter my Iksar Illusionist, Hazzlash M’Hamza! I still am proud of that name, I find it fitting for an Iksar, and it has a nice ring.

Hazzlash in his stylish "Guarding of the Learned" appearance clothing.

Hazzlash in his stylish “Guarding of the Learned” robe.

Iksar always fascinated me. I have a thing for anthropomorphic animal classes in MMOs. Maybe because, for all their repetitive tropes, they’re still more diverse and inventive than your same-ol’ skinny-elf-stout-dwarf-bumbling-gnome-evil-orc. Plus, the concept lends itself more to stylization without going overboard with comic-style looks. Much harder to fall into the uncanny valley with a bipedal lizard or tiger.

The choice of the Illusionist was a strange, in a way. First, they officially are a “support class”, being masters of crowd control and energy regeneration. After my experience with the slow dirge, I hadn’t expected to end up with another support class in EQ2. Second, they are a pet class! *gasp* That is extremely unusual for me. For some reason, I couldn’t get myself to play pet classes for years.

My first ever MMO character (that I played for longer than the abortive UO and EQ tries back in the day) was a hunter in WoW, and I loved her. Female orc hunter, with a wolf. (And a wolf mount, and a worg pup.) Awesome combo. I raided with her during Vanilla, and loves the quirks of the class. Then BC came around, and my first guild collapsed. I tried a paladin, and ended up maintanking on him for the next couple of years. Ever since then, I couldn’t get myself to play a pet class again. So for the first time in seven years, I’ve been playing a pet class. It probably helps that, with mercenaries around, every class is a bit of a pet class in EQ2 now. That eased the way back into that mindset.

So I said that Illusionists are a support class, officially. They are in the unfortunate position that their forte, crowd control, fell out of favor years ago. These days, CC is a very niche thing, and most of the time, tanks just AoE tank as much as possible. That would leave Illusionists in a bit of an awkward position. Thankfully, they more than make up for it with very nice damage, some power regeneration abilities to make sure your healers won’t run out of mana, and a permanent, reliable mirror image pet. (Their “sibling class”, the Coercer, trades more powerful regen for an unreliable, mind-controlled pet, that may break free at the most awkward moment.)

With that combination of pet and powerful spells, the levels flew by. Soon, I was close to level 50. Now, 50 is an important milestone for me. On the one hand, it opens up the content of the first EQ2 expansion, Desert of Flames. I remember from my swashbuckler that I really liked the overarching “Peacock Club” story line that unfolds over the 10 levels you can spend in the desert and its enchanting Arabian Nights city, Maj’Dul. I’m not alone in that sentiment: I heard many people say that this is one of their favorite signature quest lines. Back when I was playing my swashbuckler, there were no mercenaries in the game, which meant that I never finished the final parts. Now, with a pet and a mercenary on call, I should be able to finish the quest line and finally see the end. (This also holds true for content from later expansions: many of the signature quest lines like to end in dungeons – as they should, in my opinion, if they involve big bads. But that is a topic for another day.)

The second reason that level 50 is important is that it opens up another line of AA abilities that you can train, and access to deities. Technically, you can become a follower of a god even earlier, but there isn’t much point to it, because the quest line can only be finished at level 50, at which point you get a pet symbolizing your god, which conveniently also buffs you.

For my Swashbuckler, the choice had been simple. Bristlebane the Trickster, Norrath’s equivalent of Bacchus or Loki, was an obvious choice for that class and the way I imagined my swashbuckler to behave. My Illusionist made it much harder to decide. Bristlebane again? Boring. Solusek Ro, the Prince of Flame? More something for a mage. The Tribunal? That one is reserved for my Inquisitor, if he ever reaches level 50, because that would fit perfectly. In the end, I decided Quellious, the Tranquil One, might be a good fit. Quellious is about meditation and finding truth. And shouldn’t an Illusionist try to understand truth, so he can then bend it fighting against his enemies?

I ran into a bit of a problem though. When I went to the prophet to profess my newfound faith, he wouldn’t talk to me and my “evil ways”. What? Oh. Right.


Everquest has a relatively lax approach to factions. While there are “good” and “evil” cities, everybody can group with everybody else, form guilds, and so on. Every character starts as either good or evil, but apart from limited access to a few cities and quests, this does not have any impact on gameplay. Allegiance is decided in three ways: some races can only be good or only be evil; some classes can only be good or only be evil; and if both your class and your race are “neutral”, it is up to the player to choose at character creation. Illusionists are neutral, but Iksar are evil. Quellious, on the other hand, is a good-aligned deity, so no tranquility for me until I become a goody two-shoes. Or at least can show citizen papers of a “good” city.

One of the many things that EQ2 does amazingly well, and so much better than most other MMOs, is the way you switch your allegiance if you want to. There are two different ways to do this. On the one hand, switching between citizenship of cities of the same alignment is relatively easy: you talk to the ambassador, get sent off to do some sort of citizenship course that might involve interviews or community service, and bam, you’re done. (This is not a figure of speech: the quests can involve such things as asking you questions that you have to answer, or picking up trash from the streets.) A bit like applying to become American if you’re British, I guess. On the other hand, joining an opposite city is more problematic. Think about becoming a Soviet citizen if you were an American. In the 50ies. That process comprises three steps:

  1. Betraying your old city, becoming an exile and hated by all.
  2. Doing chores for another city, becoming a tolerated member at the fringe of its community.
  3. Becoming a citizen of a new city.
  4. Potentially changing your subclass. Yes, I said there would only be three points. It’s not technically, only incidentally, part of allegiance switching though, and I’ll come back to that one later.

So the path was clear to me. Qeynos was beckoning.  I wasn’t really happy with my current city anyway. “Neriak, City of Hate” might sound nice on business cards, and it’s cute that it’s inside a glimmering cave, but it’s full of Dark Elves. Not sure how exactly you build up a community on the concept of “instilling as much hate and fear in everybody else”, especially if that includes citizens doing that to each other.

How did I end up in the city of the dark elves anyway?

A Tale of Two (then Four, then Six) Cities

In the good old days (or maybe not so good. No idea, didn’t play back then), it was easy. There was Qeynos, and there was Freeport. After the tutorial island, you continued in a suburb/village close to your home city, or, in the case of Freeport, aptly named “racial ghettos”. Freeport always was a bit of a dump… You spent your next levels inside that village, then went out into the open for the first time, either in Antonica or the Commonlands. This was in stark contrast to Everquest, where almost each race had their own starting city… most of which were devoid of any life, because players congregated in a few places. Which probably was the reason they didn’t repeat that for EQ2. (And potentially laziness. I’m sure it takes a lot of time to create 20+ starter areas in a quest-driven MMO).

Later on, SOE added a few more cities: Kelethin and New Halas for good characters, and Neriak and Gorowyn for evil characters. At some point, they removed the starter island, and with it the choice to officially start in either Qeynos or Freeport. Even later on (at some point in 2012), they also removed the possibility to inofficially start in either city, by choosing a different one and running over. All villages and ghettos are now cordoned off and unavailable, instead recycled as instances during a few select quests.

So, being an Iksar and therefore evil by default, I had the choice between Neriak and Gorowyn. Gorowyn has this tiny problem that it is the city of the Sarnak. See, Iksar and Sarnak… don’t get along very well. In fact, Iksar consider Sarnak inferior and enslaved them for a long time. So Gorowyn was kind of out. The game didn’t prevent me from starting there (see what I said about the lax approach to factions?), but it felt wrong. All that was left was Neriak. Oh well, so Neriak it was. As I said, I never really warmed to the city, though. Too dark, too “everybody hates everybody”, and too damn confusing to navigate! I thought about switching to Freeport for some time, but in the end, I decided Qeynos would be so much better anyway.


I'm sorry Simr... Szmar... Sssszzz... Dave, I can't let you do that

I’m sorry Simr… Szmar… Sssszzz… Dave, I can’t let you do that.

So it was settled. I would have to get out of Neriak, then, free of my former shackles, apply for Qeynos citizenship. Each city has its own betrayal quest, which typically start with a situation that highlight the downsides of each ideology. In the case of Neriak, you find a boy in an alleyway harassed by thugs (and I assume about to be kidnapped to be sold as a slave). The thugs weren’t very polite, and when I tried to point that out, they even attacked me! (In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, they were thugs after all, and this is an MMO, so we kill everything that moves and is attackable, right?)
So I had to show them some manners. I’m sure their bodies were made good use of by the city once they were found. After that somewhat unsavory affair, I could talk to the ambassador and ask some additional questions that were not quite toeing the faction line:

Smooth, very smooth. I guess my character would also whether there's "other stuff for sale under the counter" *wink wink*.

Smooth, very smooth. I guess my character would also ask whether there’s “other stuff for sale under the counter *wink wink nudge nudge*”.

Thank god the old "it was just a test! Haha!" still works.

Thank god the old “it was just a test! Haha!” still works.

As it turns out, maybe (just maybe) the ambassador was the more subtle one of us two. Magister De’Pater, who you are sent off to, is in fact quite dissatisfied with the current rulership and is willing to make you a conspirator if you sneak into the palace and steal some documents.

I've never seen you before, but you seem like the trustworthy type,  sowill you help us with a conspiracy that will mean our death if anybody tells the queen?

I’ve never seen you before, but you seem like the trustworthy type, so will you help us with a conspiracy that will mean our death if anybody tells the queen?

Connections, how convenient. Why don't I have any? Oh, probably because I hate this city and want out of it.

Connections, how convenient. Why don’t I have any? Oh, probably because I hate this city and want out of it.

After that, things start heating up. You’re sent to rescue Reverend Valac, another conspirator, and in the course of that are attacked by assassins. Barely making it back to De’Pater (as a nice touch, assassins start to pop wherever you go in the city), you realize that he’s not happy with how things are going and shoos you off to go into hiding. Poor Valac seems to be in the same boat, while De’Pater, a man with the right connections, probably will head off to another party with open bar and hot dark elf dancers.

It seems that, despite the fact that you can change back to your original city with some extra work, SOE wants to make extra sure nobody ends up in limbo. There are a lot of warning boxes on the way. At this point in the betrayal line, you will see the first one:

Are you absolutely sure?

Are you absolutely sure?

And for good measure, the Reverend will ask you again, too. In his defense, he probably doesn’t believe in pop-up warning boxes that he can’t see:

I know you said this so-called "warning box" already asked you, but we don't believe in things we cannot see, so I'll ask you again.

I know you said this so-called “warning box” already asked you, but we don’t believe in things we cannot see, so I’ll ask you again.


Once you confirm, you will end up hated by all cities. Congratulations! On the upside, you now have access to Haven, the neutral town of all exiles. On the downside, “town” is somewhat of an exaggeration. It’s more a hole in the ground, with few amenities, and nobody ever is there because I don’t know of anybody who ever stayed exile by choice for a long time. I wanted to make screenshots to show the dreary cave, but sadly, it was during Christmastime (remember how I said this post had been stuck half-ready for quite some time?), and everything was “decorated” (and I use the term loosely here) with giant sugarcanes and other abominations, so I passed. In a way, it made the place look even more hideous.

At that point, a guildmate informed me that betraying to Qeynos was a bad idea. Wait, what? Thankfully, what he meant made sense and didn’t mean I had wasted a lot of time for nothing. He simply suggested I should betray to Kelethin and change to Qeynos afterwards. The main reason is that, as I said, you end up hated by everybody, and you will need to do repeatable reputation quests to build up your reputation with a city before you can apply for citizenship. I guess being hated by the others doesn’t immediately give you credit. His point was that the Qeynos quests were very drawn out because you spent a lot of traveling to and from the quest giver. Kelethin, on the other hand, offered a quest for killing orcs which resided almost immediately next to the quest NPC.

Within a few hours, my reputation was high enough to talk to the ambassador and apply for citizenship. The rest of the process was surprisingly straightforward. I had to show that I could speak Faerie, but the requirements can’t be very high: the quest required me to talk to a grand total of 3 people. Turns out the whole thing was a prank because Faes speak Common. Pesky things! I remembered to flip them off once I was on my way out to Qeynos. For now, I had to stay polite, because I was invited to an audience with the Queen to finalize my documents.

Please sign where I mark the documents with an "X".

Please sign where I mark the documents with an “X”.

Anybody ever noticed how MMO rulers seem to not have an awful lot to do? They just stand around all day and seem to be so bored out of their minds that they jump at any opportunity to meet any random adventurer who finishes a low level dungeon or wants to hand in his citizenship papers.

The game was not done with me yet, though. I had to confirm my subclass after betrayal. One of the interesting twists of the allegiance system is how it ties in with “good” and “evil” classes. Each class in EQ2 comes in two “flavors” or subclasses. (In fact, you cannot play the actual “class”, which is only an umbrella term for the playable two “subclasses”. The terms used to make sense many years ago, but this post is already long enough, so I won’t take the detour to explain that history this time around.) Some of them are neatly divided among allegiance lines. For example, Paladins are always good, while their subclass counterparts, Shadowknights, are always evil. Switching your faction automatically means switching your subclass. This is, in fact, a nice and in-game way of a class change. Of course, sibling classes already share a lot of abilities, but many class-defining abilities are specific to each subclass.

Neutral classes, such as my Illusionist, have the option, but are not required, to change their subclass when they switch faction. I chose to stay an Illusionist because I liked the class. Of course, and maybe understandably in such an important question, this also didn’t go without its share of warning messages:

Are you sure you want to change into what you already are? Fear the consequences of staying the same!

Are you sure you want to change into what you already are? Fear the consequences of staying the same!

If you switch, you might have to pay again...

If you switch, you might have to pay again…

Less understandably, neither of them makes a lot of sense. The first one is seriously outdated, because spell levels are now saved and will not be downgraded to their Apprentice version any more, and it’s been like that since 2010 (or so the Internet tells me). More hilariously, the lowest spell tier isn’t even called “Apprentice I” any more, and that renaming happened in mid-2009. The second warning still made sense in December when I made the screenshot, though is outdated now too, since in March SOE did away with “premium classes” that you had to pay extra for if you weren’t a subscriber. Plus, there is really no reason to pop up that box in the first place after I choose to keep my current class.


Hazzlash, citizenship documents in hand, made his way to the Qeynos ambassador, and, after some street-cleaning work, was accepted as a citizen. He found out that, even with a mercenary, the Peacock Club quest line ended prematurely for him, because after a group quest phase, it progressed to raid quests. (Plus, by that time, I had lost interest. In the end, I stopped playing EQ2 altogether for some months, and only returned recently.) At the moment, he is in his high 80ies, and I have hopes that, if I make it to at least 90, I might be able to actually get groups for reasonably current content with him, which should be much easier than with my swashbuckler, because enchanters and bards are the two classes that seem to be sought after the most, while DPS is a dime a dozen like in every game. Reverend Valac never became happy in Haven, and sneaks back into Neriak on a regular basis to help other adventurers betray the city.

MMO Ennui

It’s that time again.  I come home after work, eye the icons on my desktop (I don’t use my desktop for pretty much anything, but I do keep my game shortcuts there), and just sit there staring at them. I had a pretty good run recently, played a bunch of LotRO, EQ2 and EVE. However, the last couple of days, none of the games could really captivate me.

LotRO was the first to fall off. During the time I didn’t write, I pushed my Hobbit Warden the last couple of levels to the level cap. However, I never really got to the point where I enjoyed Rohan. Too on-rails, too grindy, too… I don’t know. I guess part of it is that there’s nothing at the level cap I really want to do. I’ve exclusively soloed to the top, and as such, I never collected any experience with grouping mechanisms. Wardens will be expected to tank in groups. I don’t think I want to dive straight into that cold water. So all there is to do is grind dailies (blech) or level an alt.

EQ2 had the best run of the three. After hitting level cap on my Swashbuckler late last year, I started an alt Illusionist who, after my general MMO hiatus in spring,  is sitting at 85 at the moment (long-lost post about him in my post queue). I’m somehow missing the motivation for the final push to 90, though. From there I should be able to get groups and waltz my way to 95 and 320 AA easily (or at least that is the hope). I switched guilds from a US-based to a Euro-based guild, but it for the most part stopped raiding around the time I joined, which led to reduced attendance in the guild overall. Nobody really quit, but people just play less, and there are still not a lot of people on to play with. I basically switched from one guild with low attendance due to time zone issues to another guild with low attendance due to other issues. I probably should try and find a larger and more active guild, but I always feel like I’m abandoning people when I leave a guild, even if I’ve only been there a short time and not really contributed much.

EVE is the most recent one I picked up again. At the moment, I’m sitting in my private corp again, population status: 1. I’ve been flying around a bit, doing some missions, but that’s really not something that can keep my interest going. EVE missions are quite repetitive and get boring fast. I’ve been thinking about re-applying to the Uni, but being a Uni member comes with some restrictions I’m not sure I’d want to carry right now (especially when it comes to where you are allowed to go and such). Plus, the Uni is specifically designed to be a transitory corp. Newbies join, and most leave after some time when they learned some ropes. As much as I liked the Uni, this transitory nature made it hard for me to completely feel at home. I’m slow in my socializing, so it sucked when people tended to leave about the time I felt I slowly started to get to know them. I’m still a bit scared about WH and Null, so I’m a little bit scared of finding a corp in one of those areas. Plus, I don’t have a lick of an idea how to go about finding a corp in EVE in the first place. It seems to be all about alliances, but you don’t apply to alliances, you apply to a corp that’s part of an alliance, and I don’t think I could name more than 5 corps without looking them up. And while those 5 would probably interesting places to be, and I’d gladly accept an invitation from them, they are also (highlighted by the fact that an EVE noob like me knows them) famous enough that they wouldn’t accept me. You know the saying with clubs and exclusivity…

At the moment, I’m also lying in wait for FFXIV. I’m having high hopes; on the other hand, I know that I’m almost certainly setting myself up for a disappointment. I don’t even know much about the game, just what I saw over the course of a bunch of beta weekend hours. I think I’m projecting my hope for a good community and lots of socializing and grouping onto a game that’s still mostly a clean slate.

Long story short, just like Syp, who seems to be at a point where he feels like he needs to restructure things, I also have to reconsider what I want. Looking at what I wrote, a common denominator seems to be that I want more social interactions in my MMOs. Soloing MMOs can get boring, surprise! I guess I’ll have to do some thinking and figure out what I want and how to go about it. Suggestions are welcome.

EQ2: Simulating the Level Cap Experience Before the Level Cap

Of the games on my list to potentially return to, EQ2 was the strongest contender once its main detriment was out of the way with SOE making the PSS1 transfer optional. So I dusted off my Swashbuckler, by far my highest-level class, and continued my journey.

The first thing I did was leave Moors of Ykesha, where I had stopped playing many months ago. I remembered that I hadn’t liked the zone much. When I first logged in again, I was in a zone filled with gnomes and their contraptions. I don’t like tinkering gnomes, at all. In fact, I hate them. So I had to leave, that much was clear. After a bit of back and forth I ended up in the Sundered Frontier, a level 80-85 zone added about two years ago. Very slowly, I’m working my way into EQ2’s present.

Wait, what? Pandas?

The first thing I noticed was that I remembered most of the abilities of my swashbuckler. That is no easy feat, with EQ2 having probably the highest number of abilities that you regularly use of any MMO that I played. The combination of many abilities and long cooldowns means that two action bars of 12 buttons just barely fit my normal rotation abilities. Three more are filled with situational ones and buffs. So figuring out how to play the class again was one of the things I had been a bit worried about. Thankfully, that worked out well.

Aren’t you supposed to help out in that other game, at least for the time being?

The second thing I noticed was that… wow, I was powerful! The great combat stat shift of 2011 had been followed by an equally great gear shift, which ended with my handcrafted titanium chainmail feeling ridiculously powerful. In fact, I would see barely any upgrade for the next 1.5  zones and 6 levels (or, in other words, about 75% of that particular expansion’s overland content!). I guess that helped with getting into gear again, too.

The third thing: I wasn’t 100% sure what the story was. I mean, I got part of it, but there were a lot of Erudites running around, but the city wasn’t called Erudin, but Paineel? And everything was kinda of floating in the air? It seems this cataclysm event that destroyed Norrath roughly six years before Azeroth had flung the area around Erudin and Paineel into the air. Some demons also seemed to have been involved and snacked up Erudin. You know, Erudites liking magic and all, and not really caring about whether that involves demons or something. Anyway. I liked being back, even if it took me some time to figure out what exactly had happened.

A Tale of Two Kinds of Levels

Most people reading this probably know, but Everquest’s supplement to adventuring levels are “alternate adventuring levels” or AA. They date back from the time of Everquest and can probably be best described as WoW’s talent system from the early days, but with a lot more levels, and consequently less return per point, for the most part (the exception being special abilities that are unlocked by spending enough prerequisite points in the tree). Rift’s Planar Attunement is quite similar in number of points available and return per point.

Contrary to how talents work in WoW or PA in Rift, you earn AA as you level, but more or less independently of your leveling rate. You earn AA for exploring now areas, killing named monsters for the first time, and a few other things. For every AA level earned, you get one point to spend in your AA ability trees. In addition, EQ2 has one of the coolest inventions of any game I played: the AA conversion sliders. It sounds really mundane when you hear about it: the slider allows you to define a percentage of adventuring XP to be rerouted to AA XP as you earn it. That allows you to level really fast (set to 0%), but somewhat neglecting your abilities. Or it allows you to easily lock at your level, while continuing to earn experience toward AA levels that you then can choose to spend right away or later. And anything in between! It so easily and elegantly solves the problem of outleveling content in a zone too fast. And at 0%, you can pick and choose really nicely which zone you’d prefer to play, skip the alternatives, and maybe even part of your chosen zone.

SOE wouldn’t be SOE, of course, if there wasn’t at least some downside to this. The first one is that you need to be a subscriber to get access to the slider. For non-subscribers, the slider is fixed at 50%. That is not too much of a problem for me, though, because I tend to subscribe to games for as long as I play them. The other problem is more fundamental. As the level cap increased over the years, so did the AA cap. And at certain “magic numbers”, powerful abilities and buffs await. That means that there is a tremendous power difference between a level 90 with 100 AA and with 300 AA. Which in turn makes it (I imagine) very hard to tune new zones properly.

I’m leveling! And see, I just unlocked the final AA tree… at 85, just shy of the level cap. Life-long (AA) learning, indeed.

For the last expansion, SOE finally decided that it needed to create an AA requirement. So far, there is only one of those caps on the way, and my guess is that it will suffice for a long time. While the level cap has been 92 since the last expansion (and will rise to 95 with today’s release of Chains of Eternity), you cannot progress past level 90 until you also reach 280 AA.  At this level, the last powerful “heroic” ability unlock. The last 40 AA (up to the current cap of 320) do not unlock any more special abilities, and can mostly be used to round off some lower-tier improvements. So if you reach level 90 before 280 AA, your slider will be locked at 100% for the time being, and that’s that.

Plans, and The Foiling Thereof

Coming back with that knowledge, I was happy to notice that I was on a good path. I decided to pump up the slider to 75, and let the AA roll in. Two thirds into the Sundered Frontier zone, however, I realized that I might have a problem. Whereas at lower levels, I seemed to level faster than I could consume the leveling content, I now was going too slowly. Monsters started outleveling me, and my fabulous fighting power waned. This is in part because, as opposed to low-level content, there is not much choice in zones any more at the high levels. So with a heavy heart, I lowered the slider to 25%. By the end of the Stonebrunt Highlands zone, close to level 90, I had caught up with mob levels again. But it was clear that I would come out short on AA. In the end, I think I ended up with 238 AA by the time I hit 90.

Grats on level 90! You’ll like it so much, we arranged it so you’ll enjoy it even longer!

To be honest, it could be much worse. Over the months and levels, I spent a lot of time of my swashbuckler exploring old content, even soloing some dungeons when I managed to get powerful gear and just shy of the green/gray mob barrier. I spent times at high slider settings, and all those things. Many people have fewer than 200 AA by the time they hit 90, even if they don’t powerlevel at ridiculous speeds. It’s still a weird feeling. There is content (even overland, solo content) I can’t access yet, there’s gear that I can’t wear, and I can’t progress towards them directly at the moment! All there is to do is to grind experience to get AA. It’s strange how you can enjoy one thing (leveling), and feel weird about another very similar thing (AA leveling).

I guess the difference is that the way of playing is much more similar to level-cap play: instead of following quest and story lines, I now have to pick and choose, backtrack, find other things to do. Except I can’t even run dungeons very well, because too many people seem to be 2 levels and one expansion ahead of me. So I’m in a bit of a pickle and have to reconsider what I actually want to do.

Of course, this being EQ2, with a ridiculous amount of content available at different levels, I found ways to stay entertained, and earn AA in the process. (I am not yet at 280 AA at the time of writing, though.)  But this post is already long enough, and not writing about it right now hopefully will motivate to update you again in the very near future!

SOE, Strangeness and Charm

I have a love-hate relationship with Everquest II. When I first tried it, many years ago (my memory is failing me, but I think it was while I was in Japan, and after I started playing WoW, which would put it somewhere in the winter of 2005 or spring of 2006), I soundly rejected it. When I picked it up the second time no less than 5 years later, I fell in love with parts of it, especially those that I, had I had the tenacity, could have already enjoyed in almost unchanged fashion back then. I then played and enjoyed it, even though often as a second choice below a dominating WoW or LotRO, for about half a year.

After it fell out of fashion with me (as it happens, me being the whimsical master of my games that I am), I felt the itch to return more than once. Alas, the main reason I never returned had nothing to do with the game or the world itself: I complained bitterly about such petty things as the removing of slow-speed mounts, but the fatal moment came when SOE decided to sell us like serfs to a shady company I am embarrassed to admit comes from my own country. Indeed, this was enough to both keep me from playing and make me complain about it on this blog.

Now, in the sudden, strange turn of events that seem to be SOE’s staple, news reach us that we might actually be spared from this cruel fate. The information is still quite terse and want for details (as, I might point out, is SOE’s wont), but it might mean that I will be able to stay with the slightly more appealing company for an, for all intents and purposes, unlimited amount of time. If that indeed turns out to be the case, this would increase the chances of me returning to EQ2 quite a bit.

Irony of fate: I laboured for a long time whether I should return to EQ2, and steadfastly refused on principle. Now that the fundamental facts might have changed, I’m immersed in the most unlikely of competitors, Rift. Though, who knows, that might not be for long. As I often said before, and will say again, Rift is a great game, but a sub-par virtual world. Who knows when the whims will change again and lead me towards another random waypoint.

(as often enough on this blog, if you find the reference, you may keep it, and also point it out and claim bragging rights)

What I’m not playing: EQ2

About 16 months ago, I started playing EQ2 on the side, while still raiding with my heavy progression guild in WoW. I think I started around the time we hit a lull, not being able to kill Sinestra despite many attempts, and slowly losing ground from our all-time top position of 800 worldwide, 400 worldwide-25, 400 European, 200 European-25, abouts; something we would never reach again. People who expected us to progress faster and faster and climb the ranking even higher got restless and annoyed, and in the end, I left mid-Firelands (and the guild collapsed in January after disappointing Heroic DS progression). By the time I started playing EQ2, I already felt slightly burned out and non-confident in my tanking abilities, so I rolled a swashbuckler. It was also the class name that appealed to me, and the fact that it was a free class choice in the F2P version of EQ2. I played a lot, only logging into WoW for raids, and when I left WoW completely, I focused on EQ2, and played LotRO on the side.

I had a lot of fun and liked the world. I started in the Greater Faydark, and although many people berate it, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. I progressed through lots of the older content, slowly and leisurely: Antonica, Nektulos Forest, Thundering Steppes, Zek. (not Rivervale though – if I never have to go back to that place, it’s still too early. *grumble*) There are lots of nice memories from that time:

I went to the Sinking Sands in my mid-40ies, and hit 50 there.

EQ2: Tabascun hitting level 50

I liked the scenery so much that I stayed for another 10 levels, and then some.

At some point, I reached level 70, though I’m not sure where that screenshot was made.

I worked on my tradeskill and even became a level 90 armorer, the level cap at that time:

But at some point in winter, I stopped playing. I’m not even sure when exactly it happened, but I assume it must have been around the time I went to Japan; I guess I just never picked it up after I came back. For almost half a year now, I’ve had the itch to return, on and off. The reason I haven’t returned is not with the game or its mechanics (though, with EQ2 arguably having way too many similar, but different skills on longish cooldowns, it would probably be hard to get back into the groove). No, the reason solely lies with the company.

How a company can destroy a game

In February, out of the blue, SOE suddenly announced that they would split their use base: Soon(tm), they would hand over their EU customers to a shady German-based company mostly known for cheap browser-based games. There was a severe outcry over this: would complete servers move? Only players? Would they be divided and have to forcibly transfer to other servers? SOE used their typical information policy: they said nothing. Then kept silent a bit longer. At some point, they said they understood their customer’s apprehension (how nice), and they’d “work on a solution”. Supposedly, the forcible split is now off the table, and all that will happen is that European players will have to pay a different company. Pay more than before, in fact. For less service, because ProSiebenSat1 customer service is done by volunteers. Say what?

After half a year, the details are still in the air. Latest rumors are that no more than one account is allowed access per IP at any given time (meaning couples playing together or multiboxers would be out), and that standard procedure with ProSiebenSat1 is that you consent to remote access to your system for customer service. Seriously? I’m baffled. That’s absolutely out of the question. And that from a German company, all the while we here in Germany are still kinda protective of a lot of things privacy, or so I thought.

DCUO is somewhat of a test balloon. They had their transition last week… and it was a disaster of conflicting information, bad customer service, and bugs, as far as I can tell.

Why? Why? This is a game that I enjoyed and that I would actually try again. It is the first time the reason I’m not playing a game is not because I got tired of it, but because the companies behind the game are fucking up so hard that it is sucking all the fun out of the idea of going back. I’m too frightened by them to go back and try their game. It’s frustrating, it’s disheartening, it’s appalling.

Only Two Things Are Infinite

As a wise man once said (it might’ve been Einstein, but I don’t believe that; it probably was Melmoth): “Only two things are infinite, WoW’s subscriber numbers and SOE’s stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former”. We’ve seen that the former indeed are not infinite, because a non-infinite number of people left the game, and we could see the result in Blizzard’s quarterly reports. Had it been an infinite number of people leaving, then SW:TOR would have infinite subscribers by now, because it’s a known fact that 23.42% of ex-WoW subscribers subscribe to the flavor-of-the-month game after they leave, and SW:TOR’s numbers are far from infinite. In fact, they have such pitifully low subscriber numbers (some say not even a full million!) that they are barely profitable.

But as always, I digress. SOE has given a remarkable proof of their stupidity yet again. And what a proof that is. Because, you see, doing things wrong does not make you stupid. In fact, doing things wrong the first time and better the next time is sign of intelligence. True to that, SOE did the best thing they could manage: take one of the few things they always did right, and change it for the worse.

Region lockouts are a big thing in MMOs. I’m passionate on that topic because it bit me before. When I started playing WoW, I bought a box in Japan and ended up on the US realms. That meant weird playing times when I got back to Europe, or finding one of the approximately 5 EU guilds on US realms. There was no way to transfer anything over the Atlantic, and I believe there still isn’t. In the end, I bit the bullet and rerolled on EU servers, leaving everything I had behind. It was a scarring experience.

There is absolutely nothing that region lockouts improve. Localization is no excuse. What happens is that game companies pay the cheapest company they can find to hack together a bad translation at breakneck speed and call it a day. There are very few exceptions. And even if localization is important to you, they are no reason for region lockouts. Just release a base game and language packs. That will be enough, because I can’t remember ever seeing a game where the localization went further than a simple translation.

But, true to their stupidity, SOE did something even worse than launching a game with region lockouts. They’re introducing them to EQ2 retroactively. One of the great things about EQ2 and other SOE games was that there were no region lockouts whatsoever. Now they decided that they will hand over the “EU-designated” EQ2 servers to a company with quite shady history. From that moment on, EU players won’t be able to play on the US servers any more. and vice versa. SOE hinted at a half-assed grandfather clause for EU players to stay on the US servers, but there is no solution in sight for US players with characters on to-be-EU servers. And with SOE’s history of implementing anything more complicated that an ice cream scoop, it’s a safe bet that things will go wrong during the transition anyway. Especially since they have no experienced partner to help them.

It’s a shame. I had felt the EQ2 itch recently and was close to playing again. Now I can’t imagine doing that. I also thought about subscribing again for a month to try out Vanguard, but I’m not sure I can reconcile my conscience with that. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Rewarding stupidity makes you look stupid, and I’d rather not be seen with the MMO village idiot right now.

Small Annoyances: Online Game Updating

This is one of the things that have always slightly annoyed me. Not enough to go into a rage, but enough to probably cause companies some financial loss here or there. The problem is that there are games that I can’t update if I don’t have a current subscription. Example: RIFT. I have to log in first, then I can update. But if I don’t have a subscription, I’ll get an error message when I try to log in. So if I wanted to play the game again, I’d have to resubscribe first, then update the game, then play. Seeing how I have no idea how much of an update that would be, I skipped the resubscription on more than one occasion because I feared that I’d spend all night updating. Same with SOE’s games (though with EQ2 now being subscription-less, this isn’t as much an issue any more than it used to be).

In fact, the only game I can think of that has a monthly subscription, but allows you to update regardless of your account status, is WoW. Blizzard got it right, yet again.

I don’t understand the reasoning behind the “no update without a subscription” policy either. Companies save some network traffic, but I would strongly assume that’s negligible compared to people creating traffic by a) playing the game, or b) downloading the whole several-gigabytes game (which you often enough can do without a subscription).

I regularly update my online games, even those that I haven’t touched in a while. Actually, especially those. Because I don’t want to have to wait through 3 hours of updates when I get the itch to play them again. Game companies, mark my words: if I want to play your game, I don’t want to wait through hours of updates.

Give me the option to update when I don’t want to play, so I don’t get discouraged by updating when I want to play.

The In-Depth Testing of Everquest II

Today, EQ2wire quotes announcing the incoming start of the beta phase for their upcoming expansion “Age of Discovery”. The beta will start on October 27th and end on November 14th.

Yes, that’s less than 3 weeks of testing. For an expansion. Granted, people talked a lot about how this expansion mostly seems to deliver things that were originally promised for their Destiny of Velious expansion, and that AoD looks more like an adventure pack than a real expansion. I can’t say, I’ve not played the game for long enough to judge.

But still. 3 weeks. Last time SOE tried such a breakneck speed, GU61 ended up horribly broken and needed numerous fixes. (Yes, that’s a different link for each word.) There’s still itemization broken in  several places, two months later. And here I thought mistakes are something you learn from.

I really would love to like Everquest II, but why, oh why do you make it so hard to do that?

SOE is conspiring against me yet again

I enjoyed EQ2 quite a bit. Then GU61 came around, and messed with pretty much everything. The bugs that hit my character (randomly resetting AAs for no apparent reasons while I was playing, not being able to zone into the GH, and later not getting out) made me walk away, for the time being, about two weeks ago.

Now that the next weekend is around, and I might have another peek at the game, hoping that most major bugs will have been sorted out, I read that SOE was hit by a power outage.

Let’s see how fast they get back on their knees. Knowing them, and being the snarky guy that I am, I’ll venture forward and say the games will have game-breaking bugs from database or synchronization issues all weekend. SOE, you make it really hard to love your games.

Edit: It gets even better. The last round of “fixes” actually broke more than it fixed. *sigh* Oh well, another EQ2-less weekend, I guess. There’s other options around. Oh the frustration at how this company is managed.

Guilds, Moves, Loyalties, and Ethics

I said I’d have another topic. A reason why I had to spend part of Sunday away from leveling. I think I have to give some background information first, though.

“My” guild, Disciples of Marr on Antonia Bayle, was something I ended up being in by sheer chance. I know, it’s often like that when you start out. And I had just come back to EQ2 in May after a 5-year hiatus (or, to be more fair, I had tried out the game early on, never made it off the starter isle, and went off playing WoW for the next years).  So I browsed the list of guilds looking for members, and after a small chat with one of their recruiters, which gave me the impression they’d take pretty much everybody and work from there, I joined.

Things started pretty rocky. Just two days after I joined, I logged in to a guild hall in disarray. Explanation that I somehow coaxed out of people was that there had been strife among the officers. Two of them moved stuff around erratically, and then took off with some bits from the bank. Ugh. Oh well, can happen, I guess?

What I did notice over time was that most of the officers never were around. The guild pretty much ran on cruise control. Which was fine for me, because I didn’t play that much anyway, and as I already said in the last post, I was mainly looking for a crash pad and a crafting area. The guild felt pretty dead at times, with barely any people around, and nobody talking. There was only one officer who was constantly around (let’s call her X for reference), and while I found her a bit hyperactive at times, at least she did some stuff.

Then the possibility of a merger was announced. Then the merger was blown off because somebody didn’t like the idea. Then… I slowly started to get worried about where this guild was heading, or rather, whether it actually was heading anywhere, or going in circles with people fighting over the helm. Then, a week ago, I logged in to a T1 guild hall (previously there had been a T3 guild hall). Reason given (by X) was that the T3 was too expensive. No idea how much a guild hall costs, but I guess there’s a point there, especially since I had never seen anything going on in the hall except in the crafting room, so all the space felt wasted. I assume that didn’t sit too well with some leaders though, because the next day, one of them (let’s call him Y), who had barely been around the last months, went and demoted everyone except for him and his wife from leadership positions. Ugh twice. This was getting a bit silly. X, who was demoted, decided now was the time to actually go through with aforementioned merger.

Loyalties and Ethics

I had to make a decision: stay with the guild, or leave? As it were, that decision was made for me. Y’s wife logged in, and asking about what was to happen next, immediately “had to leave because the boys were making a big mess in the living room”. One member pointed out it had been the same a couple of hours earlier. So much for credible excuses. X decided she had had it, and promoted the people who were around at that time to the highest level she could. That meant access to the guild bank and to all furniture in the hall. Then the looting started. Quickly, I realized that staying in the guild was pointless from my point of view, because there would be nothing left.

Now there was a different decision that I had to make. I still feel torn about in hindsight. To loot or not to loot? I pondered my choices. Which side should I pick? Seeing how I at least could talk to X, and Y’s side had refused to explain themselves, I threw my lot with X. I decided I had to go somewhere, and with everybody leaving, the remaining goods in the harvesting box and bank would go to waste anyway. Besides, I was a swashbuckler, right? So looting felt ok. So I duly filled my bags, and later on, dropped everything into the new guild’s reserves.

Me filling my bags.

X laid out all the furniture of unknown origin in the guild hall for taking. (Stuff that was lent via the in-game mechanics was returned to the rightful owners). It looked like a crazy garage sale.

In the end, all that remained were the amenity NPCs. The never had had a name, so I played around with my new rights to leave a message to people who might have missed the whole thing.

I already said, I feel torn about how I behaved there. I’m generally not the type for that. If there’s strife, I don’t pick a side, but lay low. I’m also not sure it was very ethical to just take that stuff before I walked out the door. There’s still a slight chance that the old guild might recover. Plainly said, it might qualify as stealing (not in the legal sense, but still), even if none of that stuff is hard to replace. I got a bit carried away in group dynamics there. Here’s your newly granted rights to take what you want, now go and loot away! It’s ok, we’re all doing it! I guess identifying with my in-game character (a swashbuckler’s a rogue, after all) helped ease the idea.

Now I’m in a new guild, with most people from the old one. Some left over the whole fallout, not rejoining the new one. I wonder whether it was the right decision, too. At least yesterday, the new guild felt filled with a lot of hyperactive people spamming guild chat like crazy. Let’s see how it works out over the week. If it doesn’t… I realize this is probably the worst application post ever, but anybody out there interested in a player with an erratic schedule, new to the game, but generally willing to explore things, to learn fast, and who overall is low-maintenance and easy to get along with?

I’d be interested to hear your opinion. I tried to be as neutral as possible in presenting the whole thing. What do you think? And have you been in a similar situation before, doing something in-game that you later were not sure was the right thing to do?