Reaching new heights

The other day this happened in Path of Exile:

PoE_Lvl91

This is the highest level any of my PoE characters has ever reached. I used to regard level 88 or so as ‘max level’ for my characters, with 90 as a distant, long-time (but rather unrealistic) goal.

How different things can look when you have a build that’s powerful enough to make tier 8+ maps a breeze and sturdy enough to die only very rarely. Sky’s the limit, hell yeah!

Reaching level 90 a while ago was an even bigger milestone for me though, because that was an alltime-record in more than one regard: highest level in PoE, but also highest level in any ARPG ever.

My most played and highest-level character before PoE was my Sorceress in Diablo II.

Diablo2_Sorc
Rocking Tal Rasha’s Wrappings, one of DII’s high-end sets

I played in ‘Closed Battle.Net’ which means that the characters were saved server-side instead of client-side, and if you didn’t log in they were deleted after three months. I obviously failed to do so at some point, and that was that. Made me pretty sad to be honest, but it had become quite a chore to log in all those characters regularly (I had three accounts full of mules alone), and I didn’t really play anymore at the time. Oh well.

Anyway, level 89 had already been a pretty huge achievement for me, although a big round 90 would’ve looked much better of course.

Now I got that 90, and even surpassed it by one. We’ll see how far this can go.

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Double, double toil and trouble

Everquest II has no shortage of holiday events. I haven’t done the math, but saying there’s more days a year with an event active than days without one can’t be far from the truth.

Most of them are great, too. Some of my favourites are Tinkerfest (not based on a real holiday) and of course Frostfell, which is themed around Christmas and the winter solstice.

The one I’ve always been looking forward to the most is Nights of the Dead, the Halloween event. This year it went live on October 5th and will stay active until November 1st.

Since new content is added almost every year there’s an amazing wealth of stuff to do by now. When I left the game in 2011 there already were two haunted houses, one giant hedge maze and lots of smaller content. Since then a race, a whack-a-mole type minigame, new collections and another haunted house have been added, so I had some new stuff to look forward to in addition to replaying the bits I already knew.

I vaguely remembered that some or most Halloween stuff started in West Freeport back in the day, so that’s where I went first. On my way there I stumbled across some tombstones that aren’t normally there. As I looked closer I discovered a shovel lying in the grass. Equipping it turned some of the tombstones clicky, so click them I did.

EQ2_Halloween1
It’s technically not really whack-a-mole, but it sure looks like it

One of various things then spawns from the grave. A gift package that can contain either candy, a collectible or a housing item, a mob to fight or a ghost who gives you a quest. I took the quest of course, desecrated some more graves, then followed the lead the ghost had given me.

The quest ultimately leads into the (for me) new haunted house. Like the one in Loping Plains it’s mostly built out of assets from The Estate of Unrest, but with a different color scheme and of course new riddles and enemies. It’s not very long or elaborate, and the boss fight is pretty click-heavy. Overall I like the two other houses more, but new content and new rewards are still nice.

After that I finally made my way to West Freeport. Indeed the quest giver for the trek to Loping Plains as well as the entrance to the first ever haunted house are still there, so I did those two next.

I had completely forgotten the dancing challenge (seriously) in the Freeport/Qeynos house. I succeeded without a single fail, which I think was a first.

EQ2_Halloween2
Quick, call Norrath’s Got Talent!

I had read somewhere that there’s also a new (again, to me) race in the Commonlands and Antonica just out of town, so I went and had a look. It’s pretty straightforward, you have to collect as many ghosts as possible while riding a sickly green cloud mount during a limited time, and get rewards accordingly. I made it into the leaderboard in Antonica on my second try (I assume not many had done it yet this year though), and I got myself two copies of one of the appearance weapons because it supplements my Ratonga’s outfit and the Bruiser’s fighting style well.

EQ2_Halloween3
Are you talking to me!?

Saving the best for last I finally ventured to Nektulos Forest and entered Hedge Hollow, a giant hedge maze with a couple of quests and really cool rewards inside. I got the outfit seen above there long ago, and you can still get it.

Speaking of rewards, there are lots and lots. Every quest has it’s own selection, but most come from the event vendor in every major city and are paid for with candy corn. Every ‘spooky’ kind of monster (skeletons, bats, werewolves, spiders etc.) has a chance to drop some kind of candy, and all of those can be exchanged for candy corn. Some of the items, especially the mounts, are pretty expensive though, and the cost for my list of want-to-have items quickly amounted to well over 1,000 candy corn.

EQ2_Halloween4
Flying mounts for everyone (at level 85 crafter or adventurer)!

To be honest, the thought of having to farm that much candy the old fashioned way wasn’t something I was particularly thrilled about. Hence I was really happy to find out that my pack pony has the ability to fetch candy for me. Instead of asking it to gather a specific tier of resources I can tell it to bring me holiday harvests (so I assume this also works during Frostfell etc.), and after two hours it returns with about 90 assorted candies. I’m using two ponies non-stop for this now, so buying everything Lakisa and I want and then some before the event ends shouldn’t be a problem at all.

I kind of miss the old trick-or-treat minigame (which apparently was removed and replaced by the races when Freeport and Qeynos were revamped), but other than that the event is bigger and better than ever. It’s still plenty of time to do everything before November 1st, and I highly recommend giving it a go.

Memorable Moments – Chapter Two

Today I’m going back to a great experience I had in 2009. As a line member of KIA Alliance I was living deep in nullsec for the first time in EVE Online.

Our home base was the TN25-J system in Period Basis. As long as we were part of the anti Band of Brothers coalition spearheaded by Goonswarm we had often traveled to Delve and Querious to fight BoB. After their defeat we didn’t have a clear focus or purpose for a while – which lead to most corps leaving the alliance in the end – and we mainly roamed around Period Basis and Stain shooting everything that wasn’t blue (i.e. allied with us).

Naturally Stain’s residents were keen to return the favour, so gangs of pilots from THE KLINGONS, Systematic-Chaos and Reikoku (a former BoB corp) came to harass us regularly.

One day nothing was happening and I ran missions to earn some ISK on my second account. Fortunately I was on Teamspeak just in case because suddenly one of ours called out “Guys, I need help, they have tackled my carrier in GR- !”.

At the time capital ships weren’t nearly as abundant as they are today and the prospect of losing one, no matter the circumstances, was devastating (well, at least it would’ve been to me), so we knew we had to save it. We didn’t have an experienced fleet commander online though, and there were a few moments of ‘Oh god, what are we gonna do?’.

The pilot reported that there were about 20 of them, all sub caps, and that he could tank them for quite a while. There was still time.

I quickly checked what ships I had ready to go, and since no one else seemed willing to step up I decided to at least get the ball rolling.

I asked everyone to grab any ship fitted for close range gank with a bit of tank and tackle, undock and meet up at our jump bridge in TN25 directly leading to GR-J8B. I hopped into my blaster fit Deimos and headed out to the bridge.

EVE Deimos
A more recent shot of a Deimos of mine – I was much too nervous to take screenshots then

While everyone scrambled to get their ships ready someone was mindful enough to contact our allied neighbors, Zenith Affinity, who would join us on site.

After a while a dozen or so sat on the jump bridge good to go. Some more weren’t quite ready, but the carrier was taking more and more damage. The clock was ticking.

I said “Jump, jump, jump! Latecomers just catch up when you’re ready.”

We landed in GR- and I let everyone align to our outpost. The carrier had been caught 15km off of it (how or why we’ll never know) and was still sitting there, tackled and slowed to a complete halt.

As soon as we got word that the Zenith guys were also in system and aligned I gave the command to initiate warp to the carrier.

To be honest, I don’t remember many details about the fight itself. I was in a frenzy, my heart pumping, my hands sweating. I think I called the enemy ship nearest to me when we landed primary, after that the carrier pilot took over the target calling. Astonishingly he seemed to be the calmest of us all.

Their DPS consisted mostly of Tech I cruisers, so our mix of battleships and Tech II cruisers was superior from the get-go. We destroyed the first ship, then the second, and on it went. More and more reinforcements trickled in on our side too, and before long we had wiped out the majority of their fleet. Only a couple managed to avoid being tackled and got away.

We rescued the carrier and didn’t even lose much – actually hardly anything – in the process while delivering a decent blow to our hostile neighbors. Op success!

The battle report consequently shows a very one-sided affair, but for me it was one of the most exciting battles I’ve had in EVE, and one of those rare gaming moments that was not only fun but also really meant (and still means) a lot to me.

A new flavour of summoner

Yeah, I couldn’t resist for long. Alongside Path of Exile’s new challenge league came quite a few changes to the passive tree, so as I had expected we all got a free reset. I seized that opportunity to change my Incursion-character’s build to a different kind of summoner centered around the unique helmet The Baron.

PoE_Baron
Live and let die indeed seems like a good PoE-motto to me

As you can see having as much strenght as possible is the name of the game. It gives you more zombies, boost your minions’ melee-damage, and if you manage to hit 1k strenght your zombies’ attacks leech life to you.

The summoner build I played until now was rather squishy and I died more often than I would have liked, so I definitely wanted that last bonus. It’s not easy to get that much of any one stat though. Fortunately the game provides a bunch of different means to get there.

Wearing items with strenght on them is obviously the most straightforward way.

PoE_STRitems

Rare items are utilized to provide much needed life and resists, since those are in scant supply on most unique items. The uniques give significant bonuses to strenght, but also supplement the build nicely with an additional skeleton, life regeneration as well as a lot of dexterity and intelligence.

The latter is important because in order to level up all skill and support gems used in the build the other two stats can’t be neglected. Especially intelligence needs some love considering that a couple of the passive tree jewels also used to reach 1k strenght do this at its expense:

PoE_Strenght
Need…more…strenght!!!

I’m just over 1k now with enough int and dex to make everything work. The life leech from the zombies is very noticable and makes surviving much easier, as does the fact that I’m wearing actual armor instead of energy shield items this time around.

Offensively the build absolutely rocks. I have 13 zombies and a maximum of 12 skeletons. Since I summon three skellies with each cast I’m at the maximum pretty quickly, and their damage output is tremendous. The zombies are socketed into The Baron, the skeletons into a five-link chest, so there’s still room for improvement. The fact that I leveled from 87 1/2 to 89 in just two days is a testament to the clearspeed the build already has in it’s current state.

Also helping with that are the spectres that I use. Monkeypower!

PoE_Monkeys
I call them Bud and Terrence

They don’t do much damage by themselves, but that’s not their purpose anyway. One uses a warcry that gives frenzy charges to surrounding allies, making them run and attack faster as well as do more damage, the other’s warcry gives power charges which increase crit chance. When supported with a Blood Magic gem, which makes a skill cost life instead of mana, they spam their warcries constantly as long as there are enemies in range.

PathOfExile_x64 2018-09-26 14-08-22-404
My army and me, pumped to the eyeballs with charges

The build is so much fun to play! It still has all aspects that I find great about summoners, namely that I don’t need to kill the monsters all by myself, yet I still have my hands full with directing and supporting my minions. Sure, in lower level areas I can casually stroll about and watch everything around me die, but on high level maps I have to be on the ball and can still die myself if I’m not careful.

What the build doesn’t have is the clunkiness and rather slow ramp up that my previous iterations of summoners had. I’m really happy with it.

Here’s her passive tree at level 89 with all points spent:

PathOfExile_28-09-18_BaronLvl89

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

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.