Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: November 15, 2004
While games like Meridian 59 and Ultima Online are considered the first graphical MMOG's, it was EverQuest's 1999 release and subsequent 400,000 subscribers that truly launched the genre. Given its successes, it was a matter of when, not if, there would be a sequel.
For those who are expecting EverQuest 2 to be a true continuation of what made the first one great will be in for a shock, as the only things EverQuest 2 shares with EverQuest is the name of the home planet, most of the races and most of the classes; the meat and potatoes of the game has been completely gutted and rebuilt from the ground up, making EverQuest 2 its own game, and not a true sequel.
EverQuest had a huge learning curve that SOE has tried to lessen over the years, but players new to the original will still find a steep hill to climb. EverQuest 2 attempts to decrease that, and is largely successful at it. The first thing you do is choose what your character looks like and if you are going to be good or evil (good characters start in the city of Qeynos, evils in Freeport). The game then launches you into the tutorial. Norrath's moon, Luclin, has exploded and the tutorial takes place on a refugee ship that picks you up. The tutorial does an excellent job at explaining all of the game mechanisms. After you are done with the tutorial, the game drops you off on the Isle of Refuge, the game's newbie area for the first six levels. There are tons of quests to do here, and most of them require groups so you'll get the first taste that EQ2 is geared more for grouping than soloing, but more on that later.
Once you've had enough of the Isle of Refuge, you talk to the Ambassador who then arranges passage to your starting city. Quickly you learn that what you think is the main city is just the suburbs, as there's another quest you'll need to do to gain entrance to the city itself and start the class-related quests. It's not a long or terribly hard mission, but is something that's rapidly going to become annoying with future characters. Also upon arrival from the isle, you'll be given your own apartment, which will come in handy if you decide to become a crafter.
Unlike other MMOGs you don't decide at level one what your class is. Part of the “easing in” process is that you don't actually determine that your final class until level 20, instead deciding at several levels how you want to specialize. While it sounds like there's a lot of customization that can happen, really all you're doing is refining your initial choice. For instance, at level two you choose your archetype (Fighter, Mage, Scout or Priest), and at level 10 you choose your class (in the Fighter example, you can choose to be a Warrior, Brawler or Crusader). What's important is that none of these choices are reversible; if I decide at level 15 that being a Crusader wasn't the right choice and I should have worked on Brawler instead, I'm out of luck.
While the Holy Trinity of classes is still omnipresent (you need someone to take, deal and heal the damage), Sony has made some effort to spread the load across the different classes. To a certain degree, a healer is a healer; while each of them has different buffs and spells, they all can carry the load as the primary healer. The only gotcha is that it looks like only the fighter classes can do an effective job at managing agro, keeping all the monsters in the encounter focused on you, and not the healer.
There are two separate schools you can advance in: Adventuring and Artisan. The Adventuring school allows you to advance on down the combat path, while Artisan lets you explore your more peaceful side and craft goods to sell to other players. Unfortunately, it's not possible to advance solely down the crafting path, as several of the quests—most notably the Citizenship Quests—require you to have combat skills to complete. Also, since most of the resource gathering you will need to do is in dangerous spaces, you'll need to have a way to fend off the monsters. The Artisan paths are somewhat similar to the Adventuring ones, where at key levels you'll be forced to refine your specialty.
The combat model in EverQuest 2 is more lively and interactive than in the previous game. As you level, you'll gain new abilities, which you'll use to do extra damage, control agro, cast spells, etc. You're free from just hitting auto-attack and walking away, and now need to make decisions about what styles to use. At the same time, you can also use attacks called Heroic Opportunities. HO's are a little confusing to figure out, but the easiest way to describe them is that they launch a s series of “Simons Says” type prompts: perform the appropriate action and good things happen. All in all, it works well, but getting the sequence and timing down in groups is a little tricky. For solo play, though, they work very well and let you take on more powerful monsters than you might usually be able to.
The styles aren't limited to just combat either, as crafters also have different abilities they can use during the crafting process that affects the outcome of the attempt.
The quest system is also much improved. While EQ2 doesn't make determining quest-givers as easy as World of WarCraft (which gives you an indicator above the giver's head), EQ2 still makes it fairly easy by having the NPC call out, or gesture, to you as you go past. Once you've accepted a quest, you'll get an entry in your journal with the quest details. While the journal is a tremendous improvement over the non-existent one in EQ1, there are still flaws. The chief one is that it only sorts quests by the zone received it, not also by the zone you need to perform the task, making it hard to figure out all the quests you can do in given zone. It's an easy enough fix, so I hope SOE allows better filtering in the future.
Most of the quests will require a group to complete at the level the reward does the most good, and the fastest XP is fighting hard monsters. The con system takes this into account. When you click on a monster, it will tell you if it were designed for a solo or group encounter. It can get a little mis-informative, since the solo or group flag is not level-dependant. For example, if a monster is designed to be “grouped,” at level one it will tell me it's a “group” monster, but at level 50 – when I can easily defeat it on my own — it's still going to show “group.” When you target a monster, you'll also see the monsters that are “linked” to it and will also rush to attack you. This has its good and bad points; on the one hand, you know just what you're getting into, on the other, there's no creativity in splitting a group of monsters so you just get one.
I don't have a problem with the forced grouping design decision (it is a multi-player game after all), but I wish there were more content someone could chew through in an hour's time.
EverQuest 2 does a decent job at allowing players to get good gear by questing or looting mobs, while reserving the best gear for player-made pieces. Unfortunately, SOE has made it difficult for players to sell their wares, as the game requires you to stay online in your apartment to sell stuff. Other online games allow you to sell stuff online, and it's disappointing to see this requirement still in the EverQuestseries. Hopefully, they will come up with a way to eliminate it. Finding items players are unloading is straightforward: just go to a "broker” and browse the list of items players are selling. You can then either purchase it straight from the broker for a markup or go to the player's apartment and buy it there and save some coin.
Another area Sony has attempted to improve upon is overcrowding, which is a big problem in MMOGs. Once everyone figures the best XP spots, they get camped more than the bar at a wedding. EQ2 attempts to solve this problem by instancing everything but the main city zones. When a zone becomes too crowded, the game simply opens up a second copy of the zone, so when you zone in you'll have a choice between “Antonica 1” and “Antonica 2.” There are also quests that unlock special instances just for your party, but there aren't enough of them. As a result, while the instances do help relieve some of the overcrowding, you'll still run into space issues in the more popular areas.
There's a fundamental problem with the instances though: recovering when you go link-dead. The issue is, when you go link-dead in an instance, upon re-entering the world you aren't always guaranteed to get back into the same instance, and this can get hairy if EQ automatically logs you back into a fresh instance separate from your party. In that case, you need to hope you are real popular with your friends as they'll most likely have to run back out to get you and re-invite you. One solution to this problem would be to let you invite across zones, and then let groupmates get into a filled instance.
Traveling is a much less time consuming affair than in EverQuest. Scattered throughout the lands you'll find Mariner's Bells, which act as an instant teleport to several zones or to a different instance of the same zone you are in. Gone are the days of sitting on a dock waiting on a boat. However, given how great a job they did with the water graphics in the game, I found myself missing boat travel. I've heard a rumor that boats are something they'll allow players to buy later in the game, so there's hope yet I'll be able to enjoy the open seas. Also, the two zones right outside each of the main cities let you ride a griffon to predetermined stations to quickly get across the zone. One of the rewards for completing the Citizenship Quest is the ability to teleport back to your home city once an hour.
The death penalty in EverQuest 2 is almost perfect. Unlike the original, you don't lose XP or levels when you die, and instead incurring an XP debt that is worked off over time. Your gear will also be slightly damaged, requiring you to pay a visit to an NPC to get it fixed. I don't have a problem with this at all, and it makes death painful enough you'll want to avoid it, but not so harsh you'll log off thinking of lost time. The problem is, if you are grouped and someone dies, you'll share in his or her XP debt. I don't like for a bunch of reasons, the most important being that the death may occur outside of the actual group activity itself. I've accidentally given party members debt by running off the side of a cliff on my way to meet them. You'll also share in the XP debt of that complete moron in your group who thought pulling three rooms worth of mobs was a great idea. SOE made the decision so you wouldn't just let someone die, but to be honest, sometimes letting the person die is the best option for the group, and then rezing the person back in. It also opens up the door for possible griefing, so it's not a system I support at all. It's a harsh enough penalty that it may deter people from grouping, and it just needs to go away.
There's been a lot of hoopla for the graphics in EverQuest 2, and they live up to their billing, as SOE has done an excellent job with the art direction and presentation. The modeling, texturing and design come together to produce a truly immersive effect. Qeynos and Freeport each have their own distinct art styles, and it's pretty easy to tell just from the screenshots which is good-aligned city and which is the evil one. Qeynos is full of light and hope, and Freeport is full of ominous and dark buildings. Both cities do an excellent job at making you feel you are in a real city with plenty of parks and twisting alleyways.
The outdoor and dungeon zones are also well done, with an excellent zone layout and lots of landmarks so you don't get lost. The character models and animations look great. They can look a tad plastic, especially in the hair, but SOE has pushed the bar higher with the models. What I don't like is that most of the armor isn't customizable, so everyone pretty much wears the same clothes. Whether or not you'll like the hyper-realistic look is mostly a matter of taste, but I like them.
The excellent graphics do come at a cost, as my two-year-old computer was able to run it, but I would get noticeable lag in the city zones and some of the dungeon zones. It seems to be getting better, as I haven't made any changes to my settings over the last week, and it's running a bit smoother now. Also, when the game launched it was picky about what version of the NVIDIA drivers I was using; the older version I was on would cause graphics corruption with shadows turned on, and the never version would cause the screen to go blank. I had originally thought this problem solved, but it happened again recently on the newbie isle.
What's debatable is design decision that SOE made to make the graphics unplayable at the highest settings on any computer on the market today. On the one hand, it means the game is going to scale well into the future without a serious engine upgrade, but the downside is that current customer may feel put off that their smokin' rig can't run it at high. Personally, I wish the game ran a tad better on older hardware.
Almost every piece of dialogue in EQ2 is spoken, and SOE hired extremely talented actors to lend their voices to the game. Heather Graham and Christopher Lee voice the two rulers of the cities: Qeynos' Antonia Bayle and Freeport's Lucan D'Lere, respectively. Originally, I was skeptical about how the voice acting would affect the game, but it really brings the game to life and is an excellent addition. The accents are well done, and the NPCs sound like real folk, and not Shakespearian. It's a joy actually hearing the hustle and bustle of the cities.
Overall, I feel SOE has delivered a respectable product. It's not as revolutionary as the original, but is addictive and fun. There always seems to be a goal that's “just out of your reach” that kept me interested in playing. It's also a radical departure from the original, so people who found fault with EverQuestmight want to give the sequel a try. While it doesn't push the genre into new waters, it does put a high level of polish on existing tenets. There were things about EverQuest 2 that bothered me (the shared XP debt for deaths incurred while grouping being the biggest), but they didn't take much away from my enjoyment of the game.
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