Sunday, 6 November 2011

Never Coming Back: Beastlords in EQ2

I know the Very Thing to go here. And no, they're never coming back.

According to Smokejumper's somewhat garbled interview, helpfully summarized by Feldon at EQ2Wire, both the expansion that brings back Beastlords and the Game Update that ruins revamps Freeport will go to closed Beta (from Friends and Family Beta presumably) on Tuesday November 8th. I'm as excited about one as I'm nervous about the other.

I have an affinity for pet classes that long pre-dates MMOs. The first time I ran into the idea was back in the very early '80s in a tabletop RPG called Dragonquest, a quirky ruleset that offered an unusual choice of career paths. I didn't much fancy Military Scientist, Astrologer or Courtesan but I liked the sound of Beast Master. It reminded me of Daniel P Mannix with attitude (if Mannix didn't already have more than enough attitude to be going on with).

Oh sorry! Was he yours?
I loved the catching and taming part but almost immediately I ran into a fundamental design flaw. Should have spotted it earlier, really, given that it was quite literally part of the Beast Master's job description: "A Beast Master will, in almost all cases, become very fond of animals". All too true as I found out when I was repeatedly required to bury the dead after ordering my furry friends to fight monsters much bigger and tougher than they were.


Several dead pets into our group's campaign it became apparent that a Beast Master who was a) rapidly running out of beasts that took months to train and b) increasingly reluctant to allow any of the few he had left to take any risks whatsoever in case "something bad" happened to them, was going to be of limited use outside of a petting zoo. I re-rolled as something less emo and that was about the last I thought of pet classes until I stepped into Norrath some fifteen years later.

We don't do "cute"
For a good while "pet class" in Everquest meant someone who raised the dead or animated rocks. This had two big advantages over the Beast Master, namely that skeletons and earth elementals cannot strictly be called "cuddly" and that if they "die" you just raise or animate a new one. Nothing to bury, nothing to mourn.


Shamans did have a pet that looked like a wolf, but it turned out to be a spirit. It looked cuddly but your hand would just go right through. You couldn't rest a pint on his back like I used to do with the landlord's labrador in a pub where I used to drink. We were close, but we weren't quite there. We'd dealt with the downside but something was still missing. Then came the beastlord.

I arrived late on Luclin, Norrath's doomed moon. We were off playing something else at the time, Dark Age of Camelot probably, so I missed the birth of the Beastlord. When we returned, though, I made a Vah Shir Beastlord immediately. A tiger-girl with a tiger pet? Come on!

I took to the class right away. It had all the things I'd always wanted in a pet class: a really powerful pet that would fight beside me, not a weak creature I'd need to protect nor a living wall I'd hide behind. My warder and I stood hip to shoulder as we fought, falling back or surging forward to support and sustain each other as Shissars hissed or Akhevans made that weird chittering noise they make before they fell to our claws.

What have I told you about claws in town?
My beastlord ended up being the Everquest character I played most over the years. She's my highest level still, beached at 84th. I could understand, though, why Beastlords were lost when Luclin exploded. In many ways they were too powerful, too versatile. Just too damn good. Once you've played a beastlord it's hard to settle for less. The balancing issues that beastlords brought had ripped through Everquest for years and since EQ2 seemed to have "avoiding anything that gave us trouble in EQ1" as its core design brief it must have been an opportunity too tempting to resist. Although Blizzard seemed willing to take the risk when they added the Hunter class to WoW. Wonder how that worked out for them...

For many years Beastlord became the class that dare not say its name. They all died on Luclin. Every last one. They're never coming back. Except they are. Next Tuesday in beta and, with luck and a following wind, by the end of the month for the rest of us. There'll probably be five thousand new beastlords in Freeport on the first day and I'll be one of them. And I'll be keeping a diary.

2 comments:

  1. I don't have your history with this class, and that makes it hard to share your enthusiasm. I have invested nearly three years in my Dirge, through 90 levels, 90 crafter levels, over 260 AA's, multiple zones, etc. My identity in EQ2 is tied to that specific character, much as yours is to your EQ1 Beastlord, and the odds that I will ever re-roll are virtually nil.

    Meanwhile, I look at WoW's new expansion plan, and they're also adding a new pet taming mechanic, only their's is a pet battling system that will be open to existing characters. I can only speculate whether SOE has more customers like you who are happy about Beastlords or more customers like me who are disappointed that such a large portion of such a thin expansion box is going to a class we have no interest in playing.

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  2. I just read the interview about Beastlords on the EQ2 website. The more I hear about them, the less like Beastlords they sound. The original beastlord was a fighter/priest hybrid. This one's a scout. The original wore leather, this one wears chain. The original was a symbiote, the new one is a guy with some pets.

    What with that and the supposed "action oriented" gameplay that differs from all other EQ2 classes, I'm not expecting to like the new one anything like as much as the old one. Probably just as well, for the reasons I gave above, which are why they never wanted to add BLs to EQ2 in the first place.

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