(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.
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:
- Betraying your old city, becoming an exile and hated by all.
- Doing chores for another city, becoming a tolerated member at the fringe of its community.
- Becoming a citizen of a new city.
- 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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.