|Let's be frank for a second: The online RPG genre existed prior to Sony/Verant's EverQuest, but the scene didn't really explode and gain the widespread popular appeal until nearly 500,000 fans logged on to the fantasy world of Norrath. Truth be told, I was never engaged by the first game in the series. It wasn't until Microsoft's Asheron's Call that I really began to warm up to the genre that I had long considered a time-consuming, low-return experience. The stories of some gamers playing themselves to death (literally) not only frightened me, but made me wonder, “What kind of game could actually make a person not eat or sleep for days on end?” And while I may never know the true answer as to what these particular people where feeling moments before they fell out of their chairs, I know what they experienced, as I have finally seen the light that is EverQuest II. |
Comparing the game to its predecessor may be the best way to point out the follies of the formula, but my lack of experience led me to tackle this review of the game head on, with only my previous beta testing experiences to go back on. Late 2004 was a golden time for the MMORPG genre with the two most anticipated games in years being released less than a month apart. On one side the established fan base of EverQuest was clamoring for the game's ambitious sequel, while fans of Blizzard's WarCraft series waiting on the other side anticipating the developers' first massively multiplayer title. While there was much debate on message boards and chat rooms as to which game was superior, there is no doubt that the true winners are the fans, and win they did.
EverQuest II picks up roughly 500 years after its predecessor. The moon orbiting the planet you inhabit exploded, causing great rifts to open up and destroy the surface of the world we once knew as Norrath. Now two main cities remain, Freeport and Qeynos, and you decide which way to play, evil or good. Realistically there isn't any advantage to playing either way, other than the starting city and a few minor differences here and there. Players have the ability to change allegiance, should they want to, but for the most part you will get used to the world surrounding you.
The game starts off with the prerequisite character creation that allows you to choose your race, skin tone, eye color, hair color, rag color, etc. Unfortunately, even with an abundance of options, your character will pretty much look like any other in the same race. Add armor and some weaponry to that and it is hard to distinguish one character from another. While this will never pose a problem for you, as the camera is always centered on you, it does cut down the experience a bit. Your next major choice is to pick which profession you will adopt. Certain ones are unobtainable due to your race, but EverQuest II presents you with many different ways to create a character keyed in with the way you want to play the game. Further in the game you will choose more focuses classes as you make your way up the level ladder.
Landing on the Isle of Refugees, which serves as a tutorial to the gameplay mechanics in this sequel, you are tasked with completing nearly a dozen different quests ranging form errands to team combat in order to bring your experience up before proceeding on to the main game. There is a level cap in place here, but any experience (XP) over that cap is saved and applied once you arrive in your port-of-call.
Quests in EverQuest II vary greatly, and it's a good thing with hundreds upon hundreds of them to complete. A quest journal keeps track of who you should speak to next, the quests originating sub-city, and difficulty. I would have liked the journal to also allow you to group the quests by destination sub-city in addition to origin, but maybe SOE will address that at a later time. The quests themselves have you explore all the nooks and crannies of either Freeport or Qeynos and will have you speak to a variety of NPC (non-Player Characters). Popular quest dynamics include Kill ## of Monsters, take something to someone, retrieve object from someplace. While some of the quests are a bit puzzling, like simply having you walk to the next building, others have you explore entire districts in search of one NPC. Guards will aid you by sometimes knowing where a particular NPC is stationed, but for the most part, you'll be doing a whole lot of exploring. Guards also help you out in hunting areas where more powerful monsters are likely to be more aggressive. Running near a guard's hot zone will prompt them to intervene and kill the foe, although you forfeit any experience points.
The world of Norrath is filled with life in the form of NPCs. Nearly every NPC is fitted with a quest, thereby providing you ample places to earn experience. These computer-controlled characters communicate with you via spoken dialog (to which there is an enormous amount of) and in the form of text bubbles. Nearly 95 percent of all NPCs encountered during my review period had spoken text. The voice acting is also very well done, although it is easy to tell when a particular actor has done more than a few voices in the same area.
Freeport and Qeynos are divided up into districts or sub-cities, as previously mentioned that each provides a different atmosphere. The Elddar Grove has a series of huge trees, some of which you can explore, the Baubbleshire has a reminiscing look of The Shire from Lord of the Rings; these are just a few examples of how the landscape and surrounds changed between zones. To render these environments, the most powerful MMORPG engine on the market powers EverQuest II. Water that reflects and splashes accurately, high-resolution textures that leap off the screen, bump-mapping that looks spectacular; you will be hard pressed to find a better looking game, especially one with the versatility as EQ2's.
The user interface is fully customizable with location and transparency of each of the game's many panels fully changeable. You can have your view of the action as cluttered or a clean as you require. No matter which way you prefer, hot keys will be your friend and EverQuest II uses a great many of those keys on your standard 104-key keyboard.
One of the remaining problems with the game is the lag experienced in only certain districts. One major sore-spot in Qeynos is South Qeynos. The lag in this zone brings the game to an almost standstill at peak times, and turns the experience into a slide show during off-peak hours. Other zones have their fair share of problems, sometimes its best to completely avoid these sub-cities, but when you have a dozen quests to complete, dealing with the lag is a frustrating experience. Aside from some of the server problems, only the puzzling and sometimes-redundant quests will cause the gamer any problems while adventuring through this virtual world.
MMORPGs are a hard genre to review, mainly because of the differentiating gameplay experiences for each and every player. The best advice I can give anyone starting a game such as this is to read the manual. There are tons of visual cues (such as a monster's name color) which would be impossible for me to adequately go into here. EverQuest II does provide a robust manual for newcomers to the game/genre to learn from, but it may not be the best choice for a complete newbie to these types of games. The EQ crowd has always been hardcore, and the entire league of MMORPG's has never been geared for the casual gamer. A game such as this takes a very large time investment and only with full commitment will you obtain the most return for your buck. Yet, those looking for a way to jump in the deep-end, and have the time to devote to developing the skills needed for such a game, the community is very open to new entrants.
It is true that no gameplay experience will ever be alike, and with the grouping aspect, customizable interface, varied cities, beautiful graphics, and excellent sound. Those gamers looking for the latest and greatest need to look no further than EverQuest II, as the game has something that will keep you engaged for many months and years to come. With the constant updating of the client and addition of new content in the form of adventure packs, EQ2 will be around for a very long time just like its predecessor.