In the interests of full disclosure, I walked into the Sony Online booth at E3 expecting to be disappointed in EverQuest 2, since the screenshots I had seen didn’t do much for me. After spending over an hour with EQ2 and the developers, I walked out enthusiastic about the product.
There’s been a dearth of information recently about EQ2, so while I’ll go over the basics about what the game is about, a good chunk of this preview will be about my overall impressions of the product.
EverQuest 2 is set about 500 years after EQ1. Luclin, Norrath’s moon, has exploded, causing a catastrophe on the planet below. The game has seen some political challenges as well. Freeport finally drove out those pesky Paladins and is now home to the evil faction, leaving Qeynos as the city of the do-goods. You’ll progress down 100 levels, with certain “milestone” levels that’ll force you to decide how you want to specialize your character. For instance, you’ll spend the first handful of levels figuring out if you want to become a fighter and the next set of levels decided which class of fighter - Paladin, Shadowknight, etc. -you want to be. You can also advance down a non-combatant path and become a craftsman.
If you’ve seen the print ads for EQ2, you’ll remember they depict a fearless party aboard a ship in a stormy sea. The brave party, who in typical Hollywood fashion are standing in a thunderstorm with nary a wet hair, are facing an unseen foe with a “bring it on” look. I figured the ad to be so much fluff, not expecting the game to recreate the feeling of being on the open ocean.
I was wrong. The opening cinematic in the pre-canned video was of the game’s tutorial, which is set on a ship at sea. The waves looked and acted realistic, and the boat pitched and rolled so much, I literally felt the Denny’s breakfast rising in my stomach. While they weren’t showing off any weather effects, I had no troubles picturing what this calm ocean might look like on an unfriendly day.
The movie closed with the party facing down a dragon – after all, what would EQ be without a dragon? The first thing I noticed was the dragon finally looked like it should: a massive, scaly beast that appeared as if he could squish the party like an ant. The fight also showcased the excellent spell effects; as the party took a direct hit with the breath weapon, their skin peeled from their bones, and the remains clattered to the cobblestones beneath them.
While that was the end of the canned demo, other stations were set up where you could play the tutorial, as well as watch the developers fight some monsters in a dungeon setting. Remember how I had mentioned that the screenshots didn’t do much for me? Actually seeing the game in action convinced me that the screenshots truly do not lend the game any justice. While the characters do still look a tad synthetic, they certainly come to life in the vivid environments.
The other impressive feature was how well the game sounded, and not just the voice-overs for the NPC’s speech. In the current EQ, when combat occurs, you get a lame midi sound byte and the occasional “clank” of a sword. In EQ2, the battles sounded much better, so much so that I actually felt like I was watching a Dungeon Siege trailer. The spell effects and combat sounds are much more vivid. The game also has some rag-doll physics in it as well, as you’ll see party members getting flung about in combat.
They are offering some incentives for current EQ players to make the switch. They are working on a tie-in from your existing EQ character, in terms of them leaving some sort of legacy, but nothing that will affect the new character’s advancement – more of a tchotchke. The chat system will allow for cross-game communication. They also have the EQ-All Access pass that will let you play Planetside, EQ1 and EQ2. While these incentives are nice, EQ2 is being marketed more towards the millions of people who have tried EQ and found it wanting; SOE wants that business back.
EQ2 is slated for release sometime this year, bit since it hasn’t hit beta yet, I’m doubtful about that. The good news is that Sony only has to answer to itself for the release date, so they can afford to take their time on it so as not to risk sullying their flagship product. While it sure looks great, whether or not it plays well is a question that won’t be answered for quite some time.
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