Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Release Date: February 17, 2003
Pre-order 'CHAMPIONS OF NORRATH': PlayStation 2
I wasn't sure what to expect when I got my hands on the soon-to-be-released Champions of Norrath. How would a single player version of Everquest work? Would this venture just be a sub-par attempt to use the Everquest name for all it was worth, or would it actually be worth playing?
Champions of Norrath is built upon the tried-and-true formula that is seen in just about every single role playing game to date, like Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, and the Baldur's Gate series. It provides fun game play, and tasks like leveling up and customizing your character are challenging without being insanely difficult. There is never a dull moment in the game, and you can do side quests to keep the game fresh.
With this title, SOE has catered a bit to the non-Everquest crowd; you do not have to be knowledgeable in all things Everquest in order to enjoy this title. The class system (confusing to some) is gone, and the playable races have been limited to five. Each race has a pre-defined class, so you don't have to worry about which race receives a better bonus for each class or which spells are more effective, etc. Since Champions of Norrath is set long before any other Everquest PC titles, the lack of a class system doesn't have any effect on the game's fun factor.
The basic story behind Champions of Norrath is as follows: the head of the wood elves has sent out a call to any and all warriors that wish to come to their aid in order to destroy the union of two bitter rivals, the orcs and goblins. The five champions that have answered the call are the barbarians, dark elves, high elves, erudite and, of course, the wood elves. The different gender does not affect the class statistics so there is no need to have an all-male slash fest. I like playing as a female character, but is it wrong to get in touch with my feminine side? The classes are as follows: barbarians = warriors, high elves = clerics, dark elves = shadow knights, erudite = wizards, and wood elves = rangers.
The game play and battle systems are, as stated above, similar to current RPGs, but SOE has tried to distance itself from more of the same, while still keeping it rather simple to learn. You have your standard modifiable skills such as strength, stamina, and dexterity, but you also have your advanced skills. SOE has created a simple mapping system that shows the level of advanced skill that is required in order to move on to the next advanced skill. As you level, you are given a certain number of skill points that you can use to pump up your character, in addition to a couple of advanced skill points that you can put into advanced skills to make your character more unique than a typical beefy warrior. If you don't know which advanced skill to select, you can move your cursor over the skill and get a description of the bonuses and applications. Even with the lack of class selection, SOE has still found a way to make every character as unique as possible.
The world itself is expansive. While not free roaming, you aren't set to follow one path. You will traverse a number of terrains, from lush forests to fire- and lava-ridden wastelands. There are tons of hidden side paths that lead to other areas that have nothing to do with story. Also, SOE has stated that each dungeon - as well as all of the nasty enemies inside - will be randomly generated upon entrance. This is becoming more of a standard in these types of RPG games, and I must say that it's a welcome feature. SOE has also stated that each race has up to 70 hours of playtime, which is fantastic replay value. In addition, a little addendum to the story is shown at the beginning of the game, and while I won't divulge the details, let's just say that playing as the dark elf should prove to be very interesting.
There is a selectable difficulty, but it follows the likes of Diablo, where you must complete one difficulty setting in order to unlock the next, because it requires a high-level character at the outset. With the difficulty increase, weapons, armor and items get much better. Speaking of items and weapons, the game developers have also added the ability to craft your own items, and the game randomly generates its own items. Isn't the game becoming more in-depth than you had initially thought? Additionally, you have the ability to play multiplayer with up to three friends, either locally or online, and you can use voice chat a la SOCOM.
The game's audio and visuals are some of the best yet, totally 3D and textured beyond belief. One particularly impressive visual effect is that any armor changes will affect your appearance in game. You don't wear armor just for stats anymore; now you can wear plate mail to look cool. The surrounding environment is also pretty to look at, and the animation and character models are fluid and not misshapen. The water effects are similar to XBOX level coolness, a level which I had thought that the PS2 hardware wasn't capable of. Champions of Norrath has shown that the aging PS2 can still hang with the big boys in the graphics department. Far and away, the music is one of the best aspects of the game, comparable to the Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack in its intensity and ability to set the mood. Sound effects and the voice acting are of the best quality; I just love slaying goblin flesh with my sword and hearing the ensuing squishy sound. The voice acting is so good that I actually want to hear NPCs speak.
To finish this up, Champions of Norrath is looking to be a best seller and a favorite for average gamers and die-hard Everquest fans alike. The story is awesome, audio and visuals are what you have come to expect from SOE, and online multiplayer capability is just jaw-dropping. To answer my earlier question, Champions of Norrath is definitely worth playing, so be sure to check it out when it's released later this month.
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