Dungeon Spotlight: The Estate of Unrest

Dungeons play a major role in most MMO’s group content offerings. There’s the open, contested variety, mostly found in older titles, and the instanced versions meant for one group only to which we’re all so very accustomed to today.

Wether contested or instanced, you always gather a bunch of friends around you and raid some baddie’s lair/mansion/cave/whatever in hopes of fat loot.

While this basic premise is pretty much always the same the disparity in terms of complexity, difficulty and design sophistication between different game’s dungeons – and even individual dungeons within a single game – can be huge.

Many instanced dungeons these days are as linear as humanly possible. Just follow the path from one boss to the next, kill trash mobs in between. If you need to use your brain at all it’s only to overcome the boss mechanics. To me that’s boring as hell, and it’s no wonder that the majority of players wants to get through as fast as possible. FFXIV’s dungeons are a prime example of this.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. The other day Lakisa and I made a trip through Everquest II’s (in my opinion) second-best instanced dungeon, which is also the second-best I’ve ever played in any game: The Estate of Unrest. Boy, I had almost forgotten how engaging and immensely fun an MMO dungeon can be. We were a good bit overleveled and overgeared, but because it was just the two of us the difficulty was just right. Since I still remembered some details despite the many years it’s been I let Lakisa have the first shot at figuring things out of course.

Spoilers ahead, I guess.

EQ2_Unrest_Entrance

Saying that Unrest isn’t linear would be the understatement of the year. This isn’t just a dungeon, it’s also a point-and-click adventure as well as a survival horror game.

You have to find keys (in a hedge maze, no less) and the corresponding doors, chess pieces (Resident Evil 2 says hi), music sheets and cooking ingredients. One group member then has to actually play that music and cook a meal while the other(s) have to fend off continuously spawning mobs.

EQ2_Unrest_Piano
Come on now, she isn’t playing THAT badly!

You have to repair switches in different rooms and figure out that they have to be pulled simultaneously, forcing the group to split up.

Then you have to fight evil versions of yourself. I’m not making this up.

EQ2_Unrest_badratts
I…don’t think so!

One boss occasionally teleports a group member into a cell that can only be opened from the outside, forcing the others to bail her out before everyone’s locked away. We didn’t make it in time, what with being only two instead of six people, so while the boss died we both ended up in jail. I had to leave the instance, go back in and run back to the cell block.

EQ2_Unrest_cell
Rat to the rescue

The next boss goes by the name The Hemogoblin and stands in a pool of blood, which amused Lakisa to no end.

EQ2_Unrest_Hemoglobin
No good dungeon without a proper medical joke, I guess

After that we were closing in on the Big Bad himself. He tried to scare us away one last time.

EQ2_Unrest_TV

Of course we didn’t falter, and soon he had to pay for his bad deeds.

EQ2_Unrest_Boss
You’re one ugly…

I didn’t keep an eye on the clock, but I guess the run took us almost three hours. It was time well spent. We didn’t get anything tangible out of it other than AA XP and some collectibles, but the adventure alone is so much worth it. Needless to say the dungeon tells a compelling story on top of all that interesting gameplay, and we enjoyed every second of it.

10/10

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EQII quest types if wish every MMO had

Ever since WoW set lots of genre standards quests have become the de facto means for progressing your character in most themepark-MMOs and even some sandboxes. You don’t just go forth and kill Orcs, gather shrubs or whatever because you want to, but because some NPC tells you to.

Players are supposed to be busy for as long as possible, so lots and lots of quests are needed. Quantity often trumps quality in terms of quest design due to this. It’s become so bad over time that there’s a well known trope for boring busywork-quests: ‘Kill 10 rats’.

10Rats
In case you don’t know The Noob yet, it’s hilarious!

Fortunately not all quests are like this. Everquest II has a lot of variety, and also some types of quests I haven’t seen in any other MMO yet. Which is a shame because I think these are pretty great, although they, too, are mainly meant to keep you busy.

Here are some examples.

Lore and Legend quests

For nearly every creature type in EQII there’s a corresponding L&L quest. They require to collect body parts of said creatures to learn more about them.

What’s great about them?

You have to kill all those mobs for other quests anyway (see above), and it’s nice to get not one but at least two pings every now and then as well as extra XP at the end. Some of those pings come in the form of tradable items that need to be consumed for the quest, so even if you have already finished yours you can still benefit from looting duplicates by passing them to your alts or selling them.

The rewards other than XP are what make these quests stand out though. Every class has some kind of spell or ability that you can only use against creatures whose L&L quest you have completed. It’s not insanely powerful, but it’s still nice to have another damaging ability at your disposal.

You also get a wall mounted trophy and an actually readable book containing a short story about that creature type for your house.

EQ2_LL
Yes, I’ve studied that brain very thoroughly, thanks for asking.

When a quest manages to make mindlessly killing mobs much more rewarding and fun it’s doing something right in my book.

Language quests

The EQII Wiki lists 43 languages, only two or three of which player characters can speak from the start. Some can be bought, but most have to be learned by doing a quest.

What’s great about them?

The basic ones again require simple drops coming from the corresponding mob types, so they give you yet another reason to go on a killing spree.

More elaborate languages, like the Dragon language, have equally sophisticated quests. The main step of this one asks you to “find 26 translated runes of Elder Dragon”. Doesn’t sound too hard until you realize that those runes are spread out all over the game world and you have no exact idea where they might be hidden. If anyone has found all these without using coordinates from a walkthrough: hats off to you! Even with outside help it’s really cool though because it makes you revisit all these zones and kind of see them with different eyes while you examine every nook and cranny.

Learning the languages serves the purpose to actually be able to understand and talk to those people and creatures. If you don’t know the language yet you will see only gibberish in chat, and consequentially can’t properly interact with them to get or progress quests. This makes the world feel more real to me and gives a sense of achievement the more my characters learn.

EQ2_Language
Ha, you say that now!

Heritage quests

These aren’t exactly applicable for every MMO because they send you on a quest to rediscover ‘relics of old’, namely famous items from the game’s predecessor Everquest. Still, even without the nostalgia factor (which I don’t have either because I’ve never played EQ) these are very cool quests.

What’s great about them?

In a word, they’re epic. When done at the appropriate level they’re much longer and harder than your average quest and always tell an interesting story. Some are sad, some are hilarious, some are plain silly. Whatever they are, I never skip the quest text because I’d do myself a disservice.

Granted, the items they reward aren’t always worth the effort, at least not for their stats. Often you’ll find that you can’t even use it because it’s not for your class. After all the legendary Shiny Brass Halberd, for example, won’t magically turn into a wand just because you’re a spellcaster. This doesn’t bother me though because these too can be used as a housing decoration, and I often sit in my library, drink mead from the Stein of Moggok and read a book about lore and legends while admiring the sight of my Glowing Black Stone and Greater Lightstone upon my shelf.

EQ2_Heritage
Well, not really, but you get the idea.

Farewell to Wildstar and other MMO news

So I come home from a 12-day vacation and the MMO-gaming world has pretty much turned on it’s head. Huh.

Pearl Abyss is buying CCP Games. Since I play EVE Online and intend to continue to do so I hope this will be good for the game. There’s much doom and gloom going round of course. I prefer to share Wilhelm’s more upbeat view. Also, in my opinion Black Desert’s cash shop isn’t as P2W-heavy as many people claim it to be. I didn’t aim for being competitive in PvP though, so what do I know. We’ll see.

A billionaire doctor has invested in Daybreak. Any news concerning Everquest II that’s not decidedly good news makes me very nervous right now. I just fell in love with the game again and would very much like to make up for lost time as long as I can. A shutdown announcement would be heartbreaking. Bhagpuss is cautiously optimistic, and I hope he’s right.

Speaking of shutdowns, the time has come for Wildstar. Unlike others who said their farewells I’ve never played it, but it makes me sad nonetheless.

The game was on my radar since I first saw it’s brilliant gamescom ’11 trailer. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it has Sci-Fi and Western style…it’s basically Firefly. What’s not to like?

Wildstar
Well, ok, Firefly with WoW-sized shoulderpads

Obviously a render trailer like that doesn’t tell you anything about how a game actually plays. Once details about the general gameplay direction became known I started to doubt if this was going to be a game for me: a themepark with action combat and ‘hardcore endgame’. This is what the devs themselves said about their raids:

How hardcore are our raids? So hardcore that they floss with BARBED WIRE!!!

Okaaaay.

Despite my fondness of playing solo I do like raids. The more people the better. I went from 24-man raids in EQII to 8-man raids in SWTOR and was like ‘this is no raid, this is a group with two extra people’.

My EQII raiding days have taught me one thing though: it’s hard to find enough players of compatible playstyles, skill levels, goals and schedules for raid groups that big. Even if you do find those people, keeping them all engaged and happy for a period of time isn’t just hard…it’s fricking impossible.

So how does the prospect of 40-man raids with super high difficulty sound? Awesome in theory if you do like that sort of thing, but very much at odds with reality.

Once I had read about ‘attunement‘ I definitely knew Wildstar was not for me.

It’s a shame, because I would have very much liked to at least check out it’s player housing. More than a few call it the best they’ve experienced.

Which makes me wonder, again, who exactly the game was meant for.

I have never, ever, met a player whom I’d call at least semi-hardcore who was into housing and other kinds of ‘fluff’. Those people want their game’s devs to do one thing only: design more dungeons and raids. Everything else is deemed a waste of time and resources. From their point of view it’s understandable.

Statistics show that they are a minority though. A vocal minority for sure, but still a minority. Enough to pay the bills for a AAA MMO? Apparently not.

And so it goes. It’s sad because the game has a lot going for it. I think I’d have liked the setting, style, music and non-hardcore features very much.

Farewell Wildstar.