During last year’s anniversary retrospective for EverQuest II I dared to say things were too quiet. Big mistake! Why would I tempt fate like that? I certainly can’t say the same for the game’s 14th year. The past 12 months have heralded activity from updates and new in-game festivals (yay) to more layoffs and server merges (boo). And who could forget the shutdown scare and apparent cover up/lying over the Columbus-Nova-doesn’t-own-Daybreak fiasco halfway through the year. That was anything but boring. And except for the rebuttals and “clarifications” offered due to the aforementioned fiasco, there was less communication from Daybreak, even though more was promised. In fact, I never heard one word from that representative again.Planes of Prophecy to the cusp on the next big expansion, next week’s Chaos Descending.
Instead of a nice chronological stroll, let’s take a windier path and start in the middle. The biggest hullabaloo came halfway through the year; April is when the big fall-out and sanctions for companies and subsidiaries of a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, came about. That spelled some serious concern for players because he owned the Renova Group conglomerate, which in turn owned a subsidiary called Columbus Nova – you know, the Columbus Nova that players first worried would dismantle the EverQuest franchise and sell its assets off. Now worries switch to the frozen assets: Would EQII be shut down if Daybreak’s assets got swept into the sanctions? Daybreak fired back with a lot of insisting that Columbus Nova didn’t own it, never owned it, there was no affiliation, and that official press releases for years were wrong, etc. It was a mess — a big, sticky mess that disgusted many players. The day after this storm hit, Daybreak’s Chief Publishing Officer and former Senior Vice President, Laura Naviaux, announced she’d left the company. She wasn’t the only one, either. The next day was the confirmation of a number of layoffs, upwards of 70 to 100. Nothing to worry about , right?
Daybreak lost a lot of face in this whole mess as well as many customers who refused to have any credit card information on file anymore. Even die-hard vets lost enough faith to leave. How Daybreak handled the whole thing was the biggest takeaway, and it wasn’t a positive one.
And now, to the beginning! Every new EverQuest II year starts off with an expansion, and 2017 was no different. Planes of Prophesy launched on November 28th. I very much appreciated that we didn’t have to complete any special questing or achievement requirements before-hand in order to jump into the Plane of Magic, the first stop on the expansion; all we needed was the expansion and to be level 100. The zone was vibrant and full of color.
In February’s Stitch in Time, besides a new public quest and an overhaul of the familiar system, players got a new tradeskill signature quest line for crafters level 100+. If you weren’t close to level 100 but really wanted to participate, you could just buy the new tradeskill boost to bump yourself up to 100. Then come May, everyone had the chance to experience the expansion thanks to a free level 100 heroic character that was granted to all existing accounts (not just subscribed this time!), complete with mount, gear, and familiar to get you started. Unlike other free boosts, this one also granted temporary free access to the expansion even if you didn’t own it, allowing players to explore, level to 105, and get a feel for if they wanted to get the expansion permanently. After that trial, access to the Planes of Prophecy stopped and players could no longer level, but all gained XP was kept. Even if you weren’t keen on the expansion and didn’t like playing boosted characters, it was worth getting it just to do a few things you couldn’t before.
“Returning” seemed to be a bit of a theme this past year. There was the free level 100 character and access to PoP to tempt folks to return. Also in May came a substantial free update. Seeds of Vengeance, GU106, let players return to the Shard of Hate to face new bosses, new puzzles, and new locations as raids, groups, or even solo. All Heroic and Event Heroic dungeons from The Planes of Prophecy also got Expert and Expert Event versions to get folks going back to those.
Come August, with the return of the school year in sight we returned to Guk (some of us, for the very first time). Disappointingly, even level 100+ players couldn’t access these special returned versions until they completed the prerequisites to get into the PoP area with the portal; just going to the dungeon itself would not offer the right version of the instance as I found out when I tried to stream. Word was that you didn’t need the expansion to participate, but it didn’t appear that way in practice.
In an only slightly related tangent, those who played on the progression server Stormhold who returned found themselves without the server they knew and merged into Antonia Bayle. The Fallen Gate progression server, on the other hand, just kept steadily advancing through the expansions.
You get a festival, and you get a festival, and you…
This past 12 months has to mark the most prolific for new festivals in EQII history. In a calendar already packed with celebrations, new ones squeezed in. The Oceansfull Festival debuted in June, full of fuzzy dancing Othmir and free gifts just for prying open giant clams. This festival may not have had anything intense about it, but that was perhaps its crowning feature. It was refreshing to have a simple fun festival that gives you rewards without wearing you down to the bone grinding relentlessly. You also didn’t feel totally driven to get all your alts in on it as items were tradeable. And even more awesomely, you could still collected those rewards even if your bags were full because they were bestowed via quest and went into overflow to be dealt with later! This was a godsend to me personally.
July brought a Scorched Sky event for players to vanquish burning elementals across Norrath. (This probably was cathartic for folks who wish they could defeat the heat out outside their front doors!) The Days of Summer may not have been new this year, but it did add a few new quests to up the exploration.
A big disappointment came by way of favorite established festivals. Frostfell , Brewday, and Nights of the Dead were live but lacking new content (and no, I do not count some new items or a collection new content). As I noted at the time, Frostfell’s falling short content-wise certainly did nothing to lessen my worry about EQII’s longevity. Having new festivals, on the other hand, did. However, the juxtaposition of ignoring established celebrations but starting new ones seemed odd. What could one more quest line have hurt in at least one festival? Earlier this year I posited:
“With all the troubles Daybreak has had lately, from laying off staff to the whole Columbus Nova fiasco, it isn’t too far-fetched to be concerned that this might be a taste of the light fare that content will become in the future.”
Light is exactly what the fare felt like. I am certainly not complaining about getting new ones. They might have just been grinds for goodies with little substance, but there was a fun bit of lore and flavor to them. Except for the next one; I am complaining about the grind for it.
And now on to the current and final festival of the 14th year. Although it isn’t new in practice (prelude events have preceded a number of expansions), Against the Elements is new in substance. Players have a minimal quest that starts a grinderfiffic escapade to collect enough tokens to get the housing and cosmetic items that are only available during the event. Sadly, where the Oceansfull Festival gave us relaxed collecting, this one goes back to the grind-your-eyeballs-out camping and killing mobs that is likely bore you to tears or drive you to insanity before you get enough to get everything you want.
That brings up right up to the start of EverQuest II’s 15th year, which begins today. Next week will start it off with an expansion; Chaos Descending launches on the 13th. But what will the rest of the year bring? How will the expansion stack up? What new content will be receive through updates throughout the year? Will favorite festivals feel a little love? And will Daybreak finally make good on its promise to me last year that it would increase communication from the devs and studio? Only time will tell. And then we’ll have a tell all at next year’s retrospective!