When Blizzard announced they were infringing on EverQuest's territory with an MMOG version of WarCraft, it didn't require Nostradameus to predict that Sony would return fire with an RTS EverQuest game, and thus, Lords of EverQuest was born, and one can only hope Blizzard's entry into the MMOG world is more original. In fact Lords of EverQuest feels more like a mod for WarCraft 3 than a competing product.
Early on in LoE's development, Sony went out of their way to dispel the notion they were making a cheap WarCraft clone, backing off once screenshots and Beta reports showed they were making a full-priced WarCraft clone instead. Sure, it's pretty tough for a fantasy-based RTS game to completely escape WarCraft's shadow, but there are too many one-to-one references for it to be a mere coincidence. WarCraft had Heroes that would gain levels and abilities as the game went on. LOE has Lords that gain levels and abilities as the game progresses. In WarCraft you could find neat little items your units could loot and use. In LoE you can find neat little items your units can loot and use. In WarCraft you had a powerful campaign that hooked you in from the very first mission. In LOE you have... well two out of three's not bad, is it? Sadly the quality of the campaign is the one big difference between the two games.
You'd think after an intro like that, this would be a candidate for "Coaster of the Month", but interestingly enough, LoE isn't a complete failure, rescued only because the graphics and voice work are superb. It's almost like Sony realized they weren't going to amaze us with their originality, so they might as well dazzle us with their candy. If a company really wants to get good voice talent, they'll usually hire on one "known" actor, whose career in movies is in the dumper (Mark Hamill, anyone?). Sony instead hired John "Gimli" Rhys-Davies, who I don't think is begging his agent for work. Also making an appearance are Callista from "Xena", and Peg Bundy from "Married with Children", which shows just how much money Sony tossed towards voice work. The graphics are likewise excellent, with fantastic landscapes, and nicely rendered water and scenery. The buildings are WarCraft clones, though, down to the way WarCraft buildings "breathe", and is especially noticeable on the Shadowrealm buildings. The particle effects aren't too hard on the eyes, with well done spell and explosion visuals.
Unfortunately, where the game falls down is where it matters most: the game play. Simply put, this is one boring game. Especially when considering the credentials both of the company that publishes it and the game that it borrows heavily from (read: rips off). There are three alliances, loosely based on EverQuest factions: Shadowrealm (Dark Elves, Ogres, and the Iksar); Dawn Brotherhood (humans, barbarians, and dwarves); and the Eldaar Alliance (high elves, wood elves, halflings and froglocks). Short version of the story: the three Alliances hate each other. Long version: they really hate each other; that's the extent of the plot depth. Each of the alliances has their own campaigns, if you call a smattering of missions with little to no interconnection a "campaign". The story behind the missions is weak, heavily scripted and on most maps you are lead by the nose to the conclusion, as there is only one path through. No side diversions, no mazes, just a singular path. Thankfully, there are missions that don't require you to spend time manufacturing your army, sparing you that staple of RTS games. LoE also eliminates the need to manage different groups of gatherers, since there is only one resource, platinum, which you need to concern yourself with. This gets you away from running out of food because all your gatherers are getting wood, which is nice. There's also a little inside joke there since "farming for plat" is one of the basic tenets to EQ. Solving the mission will require little more than superior firepower; tactics don't really factor in at all.
The kicker, though, is this game could have been great, even borrowing heavily from WarCraft. Lords of EverQuest was supposed to introduce a lot of "EverQuest-iness" into the genre, and although it's a worthy concept, lack of attention to detail has made it more of a curse than a blessing. While every RTS game allows you to create control groups of your units, LoE will allow you to base these groups around the "ideal" EverQuest parties, where your Warriors will tank, the Clerics will heal, the Enchanters will mez, etc. Unfortunately, it works better in theory since getting this to work in practice is cumbersome since you must first select the unit you want to cast the spell and then the target. The combat ones, are auto-casted, which is nice, but when it comes to the manual ones, usually the beneficial ones, odds are by the time you get that key heal off the unit is dead, or the battle is long over.
The pathfinding suffers from the same problems that plagued RTS games two years ago, most notably the inability for units to get out of each other's way. On average, if you tell a group to go someplace, it will get there reasonably intact, but there were cases when large groups of units got left behind just because another unit was in its way. The units must have been terrorized at an impressionable young age by the bridge troll too, since I had issues getting them to go over some of the bridges. Or else they decided to forgo the conveniently placed bridge and walk around the lake instead because they needed the exercise.
As an incentive for EQ players to buy the game, if you registered the game by January 4th, you got a free month of EQ and an invitation to a special phase of the EQ2 beta. Naturally, your EQ account has to be active when you register LoE, and remain active until beta begins to get the in. At any rate, the deadline for registering has passed, so if you haven't bought the game and are a current EQ subscriber, one big impetus to buy is gone.
It doesn't happen often, but as I kept playing the game the thought going through my head most often was: why was this game even made? It reeks of Sony exploiting the EQ license for all its worth. Sure, the graphics are decent, but good eye candy is only a piece of the pie. The only really "new" thing is that with each mission you get a certain amount of points, which you can spend to carry over units from one mission to the next. Since your units can level, this is a nice feature and doesn't waste veteran units. After they hit level 6, they can be knighted, which gives them some extra abilities. Other than that, the units are pretty standard fare, and each Realm's units are carbon copies of the other Realm's units, just with different models. Usually, if you have a unit that breathes fire, as an example, your opponent might have a unit with increased fire resistances to balance it off. With the units being clones of each other, you won't have to worry about what units build in order to stave off the inevitable rush; just build a ton of healers and you'll be all set.
The game does get better with multiplayer, since you are now free from the AI issues and boring missions. The big problem though, is to do multiplayer, you need more than one person sitting in an empty lobby, which was my general experience when attempting to play; people just aren't playing this thing online. This isn't a surprise given how many other great RTS games are out there, and holding people's attention still.
This is the first game I've reviewed where I cannot justify buying this game to anyone-and coming from a hardcore EQ player, that's a tough thing to do. If you've got a spare $50 kicking around, and you're on the edge of buying this game, use it to take someone to dinner; it's a far better use of your money, even if your guest is a sworn enemy. If you're a huge WarCraft fan, about the only thing you'll get from the game is a greater sense of appreciation for WarCraft 3; you'd have to really be jonesing for a RTS fix to like this one. On the other hand if you're an EQ subscriber, the game has nothing to do with the EQ you know and love (and your significant other knows and hates), and the big selling point-the extra month and the EQ2 beta-has already passed, and as a marketing ploy was a pretty weak attempt to get the core audience of their flagship product to buy another EQ title. That's not to say that an EQ based RTS game wouldn't have been great. If Sony had spent less on getting Gimli and Callista to contribute their talents on the voice work, and spent more on better writers and a couple of extra passes with the "buff-and-polish bug remover", this would have been a better game. Sadly, instead we have a game that's getting uninstalled from a nowhere near full hard drive. It sure looks good, but like people, beauty is only skin deep, and this isn't a game you'll want to hang out with once the novelty of the beauty is gone.
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