Second Wind: EverQuest II, part two

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Second Wind: EverQuest II, part two
Screenshot -- EverQuest II
Hello again, friends, and welcome back to another installment of Second Wind. You might remember that last time around, I decided to jump into the world of Norrath by way of EverQuest II and found the experience to be more than a little bit... mind-boggling, let's say. The game is so immense, in fact, that it couldn't be contained in a single feature, so I had to split it up into two parts. In part one, I took a look at some of the game's basic features and systems, such as progression, questing, and combat (which I thought were solid, lacking flow, and a bit clunky, respectively), but I didn't have the opportunity to tackle some of the game's deeper features, such as dungeons and crafting.

So now that everyone's up to speed, let's get down to business. I've spent a great deal of time in Norrath at this point, and I believe I'm finally starting to get a feel for the game. Of course, the fact that it's taken me this long to get to that point should tell you something, but I'll leave that for later. For now, how about jumping past the cut to find out what I've discovered during my recent adventures?
Since instanced dungeons are a pretty major part of any themepark MMO, that seems like a sensible place to start. But in EverQuest II's case, it's not what I found that's important, but moreso what I didn't find. Namely, a group. I spent numerous hours in the game's looking-for-dungeon queue, spammed my fair share of chat channels, and even went so far as to offer what paltry payment I could for a dungeon run, just so I could get an idea of EQ2's dungeon design, but even at peak hours, the only replies I got were to the tune of "good luck with that."

Now, that's not to say that EQ2 doesn't have an active community, because the global level 1-9 chat (which, despite its name, is by no means limited to players in that level range) was teeming with activity at all hours of the day and night. It was simply that the majority of said activity was only of interest to higher-level players. So if you've already got a high-level character in EQ2, you're fine, but if you're thinking of starting a fresh character, you better get used to questing your way up the ladder, because finding groups for instances (and even group quests, for that matter) is very hit-or-miss and, in my personal experience, more of the latter than the former.

Screenshot -- EverQuest II
Thankfully, I didn't need the help of other players to delve into the game's crafting system and, as with many other facets of EverQuest II, it's quite a deep dive. Crafting in EQ2 begins with harvesting (in case that wasn't obvious) and, in all probability, ends with carpal tunnel. EQ2 eschews the "one-click" model of harvesting that many other games have taken up in order to simplify the already tedious process of resource gathering, which means that harvesting all of the available items from a given resource node requires a whole lot of clicking. Factor in the fact that resource gathering can fail if your skill is too low (apparently my character is too uncoordinated to pick berries or pull up roots half the time) and you can be sure that your mouse-finger is in for quite a workout, especially if you want to keep all five of your gathering skills up-to-snuff.

After hours of scrounging through the wilds for raw materials, I was finally able to jump into crafting proper, and thankfully I found it considerably less mind-numbing, though not without its faults. Manufacturing tradeskills in EQ2 require more active input than simply choosing a recipe and pressing a button. Crafting is instead carried out through a minigame wherein players are given six abilities. Three of these abilities affect the progress of the item, and the other three affect the item's quality. Throughout the crafting process, players have to contend with events that crop up by utilizing the appropriate skill in response. Successfully countering the issues that arise will result in a higher quality (and more rapidly completed) item, while failing to do so will likely result in failure.

Screenshot -- EverQuest III'm generally all about developers taking steps away from the press-craft-button-and-go-make-a-sandwich style of manufacturing professions that are nearly ubiquitous in the genre today, but after hour upon hour of crafting, I started to feel much the same way about EQ2's crafting as I do about the remarkably similar system in Vanguard.

It's fun and interesting at first, but it's not challenging or engaging enough to really make crafting entertaining, and after a while I found myself wishing I could just press a button and walk away. Instead I was forced to sit around and play the crafting equivalent of whack-a-mole for hours on end. This is probably my fault, to an extent, because I chose to do all my crafting at once whereas a normal person would probably do so in small bursts between quests. In light of that, I don't want to paint EQ2's crafting system too badly. It's entertaining enough in small amounts, but extended crafting sessions get super-tedious very quickly.

I do, however, have to give the game credit for the inclusion of work orders, which is something I think every game should have. Work orders (and their time-limited counterparts, rush orders) are essentially quests for crafters. You accept an assignment from an NPC, gather the required materials, and craft the requested goods in exchange for some coin and delicious crafting experience, plus status points and faction reputation. It's a much more goal-oriented way of leveling crafting, rather than forcing crafters to make a bajillion arbitrary items to get their skill level up, and considering how frequently neglected crafters tend to be in modern games, I think that's worthy of praise.

But if you're a free player who wants to sell some of your crafted goods on the game's brokers (EQ2's version of the auction house), you better be prepared to drop some real cash. Free players, unfortunately, are restricted from selling items on the brokers unless they're in possession of some broker credits, which are sold in packs of 10 on the SOE Marketplace for 50 StationCash. Admittedly, that's a paltry 50 cents USD, but it's still a minor annoyance that I felt was worth mentioning.

Screenshot -- EverQuest II
I think I've gone on long enough for one sitting, so let's go ahead and wrap this up with some closing thoughts on EQ2. I said at the beginning of the first part of this Second Wind that I felt like I could spend dozens of hours in the game and still feel like I had barely brushed the surface. Now I can say with confidence that I was completely right (for a change). EverQuest II is huge, and I think that's what keeps drawing me to it. Only a couple of days ago I discovered the deity and ability upgrade research systems, both of which had been available to me for at least 10 levels, but I somehow never stumbled across them.

Remember how I used the word "overwhelming" a million times in the first part of this feature? That's really my one-word summary of EverQuest II. It's a massively multiplayer game that truly feels massive, both from an in-universe standpoint (see: cities that actually feel like they could house the huge populations they're supposed to) and from a metagame standpoint. There's so much to do in EverQuest II that it can make your head spin, but people who aren't afraid to jump in head-first and sort through the insanity will find an expansive game that, to me, feels like one of the most expansive virtual worlds in any modern MMO.

MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!
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Second Wind: EverQuest II, part two