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PC Review - 'EverQuest: Omens of War'

by Mark Crump on Sept. 30, 2004 @ 12:51 a.m. PDT

Omens of War will allow players to adventure solo, in groups, and in multiple player raids to complete "Epic Quests" and earn specialized Epic weapons to assist them in their battles. All-new character levels, items, spells, and quests will challenge the most veteran of players and a new task system will offer new players an easier way to gain experience and items.

Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: September 14, 2004

Buy 'EVERQUEST: Omens of War': PC

Omens of War is the eighth expansion in EverQuest’s 5-year history. The previous expansion, Gates of Discord, was designed with the high-end player in mind. While Omens is designed for someone who has a character of at least the 45th level, the content here is a lot more palatable for the average player.

In Omens, the Priests of Discord believe they have been granted a gift: the knowledge of a world that is enveloped by Discord – an ethereal poison that wreaks havoc and strife on all it touches.

That world is Kuua, a once peaceful land, at least until the Priests of Discord showed up. There were a vast numbers of races in the lands; the most advanced being the Dragorn. After the Priests showed up, all hell broke loose and the races entered into a war, with even the Dragorn entering into a civil war.

Ok, so that’s the back-story most people don’t even bother paying attention to, instead asking: “What’s in it for me?” Omens has several new features in it, some of which are meant for all players, like the task system, a guild tribute system and some graphics enhancements. For the higher-level player, you’ve got new Epic quests and hunting areas designed for level 45 and up characters.

The task system gives out mini-quests that fall into one of two categories: scouting missions, where you need to go to specific places in several zones; or kill tasks, where you have to kill 10 of a given mob. Some tasks also fall into both categories. The task system was the item I was most looking forward to, and, unfortunately, it is also my biggest disappointment. Originally, the tasks were geared for the under-50 crowd, and in that regard they are an outstanding success. My level 19 Druid was getting 10% of a level and 3pp per task -- even the quick FedEx tasks, a more than satisfactory result. It’s at the over-50 areas that the task system breaks down. My 56 Necro did a short task and only got 2% of a level, so the task wasn’t worth the xp gains at all. The decision to have the tasks go all the way to level 70 was made near the end of the expansion’s development cycle and they have a rushed feel to them. Some tasks bring you to locked zones (Veeshan’s Peak and Howling Stones); some are downright un-solo able; and even the scouting ones are more of a pain than they are worth -- there’s simply better XP to be had. Granted, SOE’s expectation was that the tasks wouldn’t replace xp gained from grouping as the best xp in the game, but I’d expect it to provide either the same, or better xp than I’d get soloing, and at the higher levels that’s simply not happening. Also, it was originally designed to take into account how well (or un-well) a class can solo, and that’s not happening as well as people would have liked. Also, the location of the taskmasters is a little scattered, and not all of them give out tasks for your level, so you’ll have to run from Taskmaster to Taskmaster to find ones for your level. It would have been better if all of the Taskmasters gave out level-appropriate tasks.

While that sounds like damning criticism, I think the task system is a great idea. For the lower levels implemented well its implemented well, and the higher-level ones really just need some fine-tuning and they’ll be fine. At the lower levels, they perform exactly as Sony planned: to give the player something meaningful to accomplish in a short amount of time. Druids, with their ability to port and track, have an advantage on getting through them quickly.

The best feature about Omens is how accessible the content is. Unlike Gates, most of the expansion is unlocked, with only one keyed zone. The rest of the zones are geared towards small groups of level 45+ characters. My main, a 56 Necro, was able to solo quite well in the first zone, Draniks Scar, and the xp was decent. I’m hearing reports that higher-level characters are also able to solo quite well in the deeper zones, with above-average gear dropping as well.
In addition to the open zones, there are a handful of instanced zones, accessed by hailing an NPC, who gives the party an Adventure that takes place in their own, private, zone, free from the trains and camp-stealers.

The overall art direction is well done, also, with SOE finally breaking away from the alien themes that have plagued past expansion; Omens is instead chock filled with high-fantasy goodness. One of the main races in Omens is draconic, so dragon themes play heavy in the architecture. This is the first expansion to take full advantage of the new graphics engine Sony rolled out at the same time as Gates’s launch. As a result, Omens is easily the best looking expansion for EverQuest, but it doesn’t come without some costs. This expansion allows every creature and player in the game to cast real-time shadows, so expect to take a huge hit in frame rates with them turned on, especially on large raids and in the Bazaar. There are new water effects as well in almost all zones in the game. While looking a tad plastic at times, it’s a huge improvement over the old water. Also, most textures in Omens are bump mapped, which helps give them a feel of depth. Another small downside to the new effects is how dated they make the old EQ zones feel; Sony really needs to find the time/way to rebuild the old zones to take full advantage of the new engine, especially with games like EQ2 and WoW looming.

The zones themselves are nicely designed, and while the terrain is visually similar to the Luclin expansion – with rolling hills – it is much gentler on the system performance. The buildings are also a big improvement over the previous offerings, with nice, towering fortresses with requisite draconic gargoyles.

Gates of Discord introduced a tribute system to EQ, where players could hand in old, unwanted, loot to select NPC’s who would then bestow buffs on the player. Omens brings that to a different level, by now allowing players to donate that loot to a guild tribute system, which lets guild leaders hand out buffs to players that need them on raids.

EverQuest’s first expansion, Ruins of Kunark, introduced class-specific Epic Quests. Omens bring another round of Epics to the game, dubbed Epic 2.0. Like the first set of quests, these are meant to be lengthy, time-consuming affairs. If you already have Epic 1.0, you can skip a few steps in the beginning. There’s also a midpoint epic, Epic 1.5.

As you’d expect, Omens brings some new additions to the Alternate Advancement system, most of which look pretty good. Eternal Breath permanently lets you breath underwater and in airless environments; Mnemonic Retention gives you an extra spell slot; and Teleport Bind, which lets a Wizard teleport an entire party to the wizard’s bind point. That’s just a small sample of the total AA’s, so you’ll want to check out the ones available for your specific class.

There’s also a voice macro system, which lets your character speak several pre-recorded phrases. This is handy for giving an audible alerts – heal me now, stop, follow me – that might get lost in the normal battle spam. The voice effects themselves are a little corny, with the Dark Elf female sounding a little like the Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz, the Gnome like he took a hit off a helium pipe and the Troll like he has a bad cold. You can record your own macros, but they are only going to affect the ones you hear, not the people near you (it replaces a file in your EverQuest directory).

The big draw, though, for a lot of the player-base is the increase in the level cap from 65 to 70. With a lot of the players having already hit 65 and getting a tad bored, the extra 5 levels (and associated spells and abilities) offers a carrot to keep them occupied.

Two minor dings against Omens: the lack of dungeons - it would have been nice to adventure through some nice caverns with the new texture and lighting effects; and the fact that at least the box we got from SOE didn’t have a manual in it, instead I had to download a PDF file from the SOE site.

Omens went through a lot of rework after SOE received some harsh feedback during and after their Guild Summit held out in San Diego. By and large, I think Omens is significantly better than its original design spec, which had designed the expansion for guilds capable of completion Gates of Discord. Gone are the alien races and the extremely high-end content. Instead, we’ve got an enhanced task system, decent content for the 45+ crowd, new Epic quests and nice Alternate Advancement Abilities. The biggest thing, though, is the overall accessibility of the content. There are no locked zones, complicated and time-consuming trials to get access to them. Instead, the zones are well equipped for small groups or solo players to explore and have fun with.

With Gates not having done much for me, Omens reminds me of the expansions from EverQuest’s glory days – namely the Ruins of Kunark and Scars of Velious expansions, although it’s not as deep content-wise as those expansions, there’s still a lot to see, do, and slay. EverQuest hasn’t offered much to keep me interested lately, but there are enough things in Omens to for me to jot down a short to-do list of AA’s, spells and levels to get.

Omens is a solid expansion, with enough neat new toys to keep the existing players something to tide them over for a while. It’s also a good sign from SOE that they aren’t focusing the end-game solely on the need to be in a large raiding guild. If you’re a current EQ subscriber, it’s worth getting. If you’ve let your account lapse, deciding if it’s worth coming back for will largely depend on why you left the game; there may not be enough new things to overcome why you left.

Score: 8.4/10

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