EverQuest II vets may be rolling their eyes at the prospect of an AA article, but for newbs on both the Live and F2P shards, alternate advancement can be a tad confusing if you're averse to reading a lot of tooltips. In this week's chapter of The Tattered Notebook, I'll break down EQII's AA system to give you a baseline of knowledge and a starting point for thinking about your own builds.
So what exactly are alternate advancement points? Omgwtfbbq I'm level 60 and haven't the foggiest clue what my AAs do! The answer isn't as complicated as a brief glance at the AA window makes it seem. Think of AAs as additional customization for your character in the form of new spells, new spell effects, resists, pool enhancements, and the like. Many MMORPGs make use of AA-type mechanics; World of Warcraft calls them talents, for example, whereas Age of Conan sticks with the tried and true AA nomenclature popularized by EverQuest and EverQuest II.
From a gameplay standpoint, AAs simply make your character more powerful than average characters of her particular class and level. For example, a level 90 wizard with a full-featured 250-point AA build will mop the floor with a level 90 wizard who has placed his points haphazardly (or not at all). When I say mop the floor, I mean in PvP (yes, shockingly enough EQII does have it) or PvE -- in the form of efficiency and survivability. Whether you're thinking about getting into endgame raiding or itching for some battleground action, you'll want to come up with an effective AA build. From a game design standpoint, AAs add another layer of carrot-chasing on top of the leveling mechanic and serve as incentives for players who've reached (or are approaching) endgame content.
EQII's AAs are separated into three categories: class, subclass, and shadows, each accessible via a tab at the top of your AA window (press "L" in game to access it). The first category, class AAs, are as the name suggests: related to your choice of adventuring class. In my case, my first AA tab is sorcerer. The class tree is activated by dropping an available AA point in the starter ability, then spending additional points either on the starter (up to 10, each of which bumps up your base stats (i.e., intelligence, stamina, etc.) or in the abilities below it. You can hover over each AA circle to read a description of the benefits, and you'll note that each column under the class tree relates to a particular base stat (from left to right across the tree: strength, agility, stamina, wisdom, and intelligence).
Most of these AA abilities must be purchased in descending order, i.e., if I want my wizard to make use of the Kinetic Evasion AA (the second circle in the far right column on the class tree), he'll first need to spend four AA points in the first ability in that column, Confounding, in order to unlock Kinetic Evasion. You may also notice that the first three rows of the class tree are connected via a light orange line. The fourth row of abilities (the first row without the connecting lines) are known as the end line abilities, and each of these requires 22 points in the preceding columns. Underneath the end line abilities (the last row of the tree) is the row of Sentinel's Fate Attributes, which were introduced via the corresponding expansion and exist apart from the rest of the class AAs. They are unlocked when you reach level 81 and have spent a total of 70 points in the class tree.
If this all seems a bit much, realize that it's more confusing on paper than when you're actually looking at the trees. Open up your EQII AA window as you read this article and mouse over each ability, taking a few moments to check out the tool tip descriptions.
The second tree, subclass, relates to the particular type of sorcerer that I am, i.e., a wizard (I could have picked a warlock at character creation instead, and I would then have the warlock subclass AA tree in addition to the shared sorcerer class tree). The subclass AA categories and abilities vary quite a bit; my wizard tree bears almost no resemblance to the shadowknight tree on my alt, as an example. That said, like the class tree, subclass AAs are usually purchased from the top down, unlocking as you spend enough points in a particular ability. There are also end lines and a Sentinel's Fate line as before. My suggestion is to do a bit of research on your particular class forum to see what AAs are recommended by experienced players.
The third and final AA category is called shadows. The general line features abilities that are available to every class. The second, or archetype line, will vary based on whether your character is a mage, scout, fighter, or priest. This line becomes available to you when you've put 10 points in the general line as well as spent a total of 60 AA points. The class line refers to the same character class we discussed earlier (sorcerer, for example), and becomes available after 10 points are spent in the archetype line as well as 120 AA in total. Finally, the subclass line (wizard, warlock, etc.) requires 10 AA points in the preceding subclass line and 170 AA, all told.
Obtaining AA XP
Now that you have an idea of what AAs can do for your character, the next question is probably somewhere along the lines of "how do I get them?" The simple answer is to play the game. First off, you must be level 10 or higher. After that, it's as easy as killing named monsters, completing quests (even gray-conning quests award AA XP), completing collections, and discovering locations in the world of Norrath.
You'll earn AA XP alongside regular adventuring XP (and any XP you earn after the level cap is automatically put towards your AAs). The ratio of AA XP to adventuring XP can also be adjusted via the slider in your AA window. Many theories exist as to the best way to maximize both your XP and AA gain as you play (with the current goal being 250 AA points at level 90). While I'm just starting to play around with my own AA methodology, that's another column in and of itself, so I'll point you to Skag's invaluable (and freaking huge) thread on the official forums that chronicles his experiments.
Inevitably, there will come a time when you want to change your AA build. Maybe SOE nerfs the heck out of your favorite class or adds a new ability or two, or perhaps you discover a build on a fan site or forum that leaves your antiquated loadout in the dust. Whatever the reason, you can respec your AAs, provided you've got the coin. It gets progressively more expensive as you continue to respec; however, if you time it right you'll rarely pay more than 10 gold per change. Your first, second, and third respecs will cost you one silver, 10 silver, and one gold, respectively, while your fourth respec will set you back 10 gold. The fifth time docks you a full platinum coin, but if you can wait 30 days between respecs (after your fifth), each will cost a mere 10 gold.
Where do you respec, you might be wondering? I'm glad you asked. Incidentally, so are the fine folks at the masterful EQII Wiki, to whom I now direct you for all your respec NPC location needs (scroll down to the bottom of the article for the full list).
That's all the time I've got for this week. The cheese is calling my fireball-flinging ratonga, and he's anxious to demo his new AA-powered Surge of Ro. Until next time, keep the blue side up (and the AA sliders maxed).
Jef Reahard may be an eternal EverQuest II newb, but he writes a weekly column about the game anyway, through the eyes of a Ratonga Wizard (or any one of 3,720 other alts). If it has to do with the huge and ever-expanding world of EQII, it's been jotted down in The Tattered Notebook. Send Ratonga fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.