EverQuest II: Kingdom of Sky

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2006


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PC Review - 'EverQuest II: Kingdom of Sky'

by Keith Durocher on March 23, 2006 @ 12:56 a.m. PST

Kingdom of Sky expands the arena challenges with four deadly new arena champions and two new arena zones. Ten new adventure zones, from lush jungles to temples of unimaginable splendor, 25 new enemies and troves full of new treasures all open up fresh gameplay and visual experiences within the online world of EverQuest II.

Buy 'EVERQUEST II: Kingdom of Sky': PC

Perhaps the greatest single threat to the vitality of a persistent-world role-playing game is a stagnant environment. By their nature, all MMo titles are restricted to a certain amount of stasis, making the dynamics one encounters in the "real" world the "holy grail" sought by all developers who choose to enter this cut-throat corner of the gaming market. SOE, long known as the "old school" due to their pioneering work with EverQuest, have an established system of regular expansions to swell the borders of their virtual worlds. With EverQuest 2, they've opted to supplement this system with content updates and adventure packs as well. The full combination isn't quite perfect yet, but it certainly comes close to weaving a morphing tapestry of excitement. The latest infusion to EQ2 is called the Kingdom of Sky, and true to its ancestry, it's a mixed bag of content, features, and upgrades.

Now, I think it may be a good idea to quickly recap the setting for EverQuest 2 so as to provide some context to readers who aren't veterans of EverQuest. In a nutshell, the events of EQ2 take place 500 years after the events of EQ1, and two significant situations have arisen that shape the flavor of each game. The first of these is that the Gods and Goddesses of Norrath have all left the reality they helped sculpt. The planes of existence they inhabited have all been abandoned and shut off, leaving the mortals to their own devices. The second of these is that the moon exploded in a cataclysmic rupture referred to now as "the shattering." A celestial body of that size raining down from that height tends to do bad things to whatever lies underneath it, and thus the face of Norrath was scarred and torn asunder under the fiery tears of a dying moon. (Sometimes my prose is so pretentious even I can't read it without laughing.)

From a geographical point of view, Norrath is a large collection of islands now, and much of the world has been lost to antiquity as everyone just tries to survive. Slowly, old magic is being recovered, and once-inactive portals are opening up once again. However, they don't always lead to where they once did, which brings about the discovery of a place called the Overrealm; spires that once led straight to the Luclin moon now only go about halfway. Welcome to the Dragon Isles, a sprawling assembly of floating rocks connected by magic clouds, bristling with new opportunities.

The first EQ2 expansion was the Desert of Flames, and it detailed the lost desert of Ro. In effect, it was a direct expansion of old-world content remade in the image of the new Norrath. Kingdom of Sky is not like this at all. The closest analogue to the Overrealm in EQ1 was the elemental plane of Air. However, the Dragon Isles are not a plane; they are very much a part of Norrath. In effect, they are a vast network of tiny islands suspended in the atmosphere so far above the surface of the world that they are invisible to the naked eye.

The only native inhabitants of these locations are naturally winged races who could get there on their own: Aviak bird men, dragons and dragon-kin, and insect-like beings such as Bixies, Pixies, and Faeries. This is all due to change now that anyone can access a teleportation spire and take a look around. Naturally, this doesn't please the majority of the populace, who react to this influx of newcomers in much the same way a community of puritanical Quakers would a gang of drunken rowdies. This means the Overrealm is generally a very dangerous place to be. Translated into clinical terms, it's not a good idea to try going anywhere in the Dragon Isles until you're at least level 52, which is the minimum level to strike the yard-trash cannon-fodder mobs in the opening zone of the Kingdom of Sky. This expansion raised the character level cap from 60 to 70, so you can imagine from there how quickly the creatures ramp up in power.

Your first experiences in the Tenebrous Tangle (the first zone of the Kingdom of Sky) involve some basic quests to get you used to the geography, as well as to generate some quick and easy experience points. You're also given some insight to the power plays happening, such as the efforts of freed Froglok slaves working to liberate their remaining brethren from the oppression of the dragon-men, known as the Droag. There are repeatable quota quests to feed a ravenous Froglok, in the form of baskets lying all over the place. Pick one up, fill it with the various low-grade fauna, and turn it in to the binge-eater for nine gold and some experience. You can also help some outfitters restock their supply chests, by either collecting medical ingredients, gathering weapons from defeated Droag, or harvesting artifacts for archeological research.

These are all meant to do nothing more than provide some relatively easy solo quests, and to that end, they succeed admirably well. Beyond the basic Temple Grounds area of the Tenebrous Tangle however, you're pretty much forced to be in a group. It's simple economics of scale, since the lowest level creature you'll fight is level 54. The average is in the mid-60s and Heroic, which is one way a monster in EverQuest 2 says "bring friends." Kingdom of Sky offers new Heritage Quests, although sadly, I have yet to encounter one. The leader of the guild I'm in completed one that rewarded a 32-slot, 98% weight reduction bag, which is what I have to look forward to as I level. Additionally, the new custom-class headgear quests are slowly starting to show results, with many shamanistic characters proudly displaying their skinned-bear caps. Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting my pointy wizard's hat.

The graphics in Kingdom of Sky haven't shifted at all from the basic 3D engine used in EverQuest 2. This is primarily because it doesn't need to; it has always been my belief that SOE coded the most potent of all "third-generation" graphics software packages. However, there is a slight deficit of 3D model artistry throughout "Norrath mk. II," and this includes the Dragon Isles somewhat. Since its inception, many people have over-demonized the graphics, and I've always found that patently unfair for several reasons. For starters, the graphics have nothing to do with the excellent gameplay at all.

Also, it's only really the models that tend to flip-flop in quality; the lighting is jaw-dropping, the shadows are phenomenal, the particle effects are second to none, and the detail is enough to make even the latest PCI-E SLI combo system weep in a mixture of joy and pain. However, due to the fact that some (some, not even all) of the models look very amateur, the entire game is penalized? This is shortsighted, in my opinion. Kingdom of Sky is resplendent in all the qualities I have already mentioned, but it does still have a few "amateur" model designs. This only applies to some of the NPC types; the dragon-kin known as the Droag look like He-Man rejects, and of course, Frogloks still look as terrible as ever.

However, with that said, the Overrealm also has some of the best creature designs yet seen in EverQuest 2. Generally, it's only the humanoid characters that look less than stellar, but most of the beings populating this place are anything but human. The Vultak bird-men look creepy, like they fell off the props department truck coming from the set of the Dark Crystal, the dragons (even the drakes) are awe-inspiring in their terrible majesty, and the Ravasect mantid-aliens are an exercise in clinically chitinous cruelty. Some of the indoor dungeon environments are at the top of their game too; a good example is the rich color contrasts and ornate gilding adorning the walls and stone gates in the Temple of Scale. Essentially, the graphics in Kingdom of Sky probably won't convince too many people who've already pre-judged EverQuest 2; however, it certainly succeeds in the "preaching to the choir" department.

Arguably the most significant overall feature that Kingdom of Sky has to offer is the Achievement Points system. This is a fantastic addition to the EverQuest 2 experience, and it's easily the best reason to buy Kingdom of Sky if you're still a pre-level 50s player. Its effects begin at level 20, and it significantly alters character development. This system is roughly comparable to "Alternate Advancement" in EverQuest, only in this case, you don't divvy up experience percentages. It works like this: As you complete certain quests, defeat certain enemies, discover certain places, and obtain certain items, you are awarded achievement experience. Every "level" of achievement experience gained gives you a point to spend on a class-specific skill.

My main character, "Obsidianus Rune the level 53 Wizard" (on the Permafrost server, in case you're curious), has five different directions to take these points, and the path I have chosen is referred to as "Spellshifter." The first achievement point gets put into a familiar to summon, which changes according to the weapon I have in-hand, and each different familiar bestows a different effect. The Spellshifter path is focused on using daggers and with a stiletto in hand the familiar I summon is a tiny drake that reduces the time it takes for my little gnome to re-cast a spell. With a staff, I call forth a flying book that increases my chances of scoring a critical hit, and with a wand, I get a minute little gargoyle that reduces my threat.

Each new skill after the first requires at least four points (with a maximum of eight ranks) put into it before the next in the line can be unlocked. There are no restrictions on the paths; if I wanted, I could start putting achievement points into increasing my damage, or decreasing the overall hate I gain from enemies. I love this new system, but its implementation could have been handled more efficiently. When Kingdom of Sky went live, all of the achievement-experience areas and mobs, etc., were reset. However, even if you didn't actually have the expansion installed, you would still "rediscover" all of these places, and the experience isn't retroactively applied when you do install the upgrade. This means that if you're higher than level 20 and you didn't buy the expansion the day it went live, you'll essentially miss out on a significant amount of achievement experience points. Not all of us have the patience to start from scratch just to capitalize on 40 or more levels' worth of these new alternate skills, and so I feel quite short-changed.

There are other features that the Kingdom of Sky offers that I personally never got a chance to dabble in, most notably the expanded crafting levels (I'm only a level-12 artisan at the moment, a far cry from the new level-70 cap offered by this expansion) and the higher guild-level content. My guild (Atrestos) is only level 30 so we have a ways to go before we see the goodies in store for the level-50 big leagues. I did have a chance to complete some of the new collection quests, reveling in the cheap thrill of poly-morphing into a Droag and laughing at how silly their wings look underwater. The two new house pets are a welcome addition to my menagerie, bringing my total critter collection to seven. I'm still working on a creative name for my Carnivorous Plant, though.

Overall, I would say that the Kingdom of Sky expansion succeeds on all the levels it's meant to; it adds something for everyone, deepens the end-game for those players who show the most overall loyalty to the franchise itself, and expands on the in-game history and lore. The ambience is curiously serene, despite the incredible dangers lurking around every stone, and the whole place certainly keeps one guessing. For new players, the question is, "How did this place come to be?" while for veterans, the question is, "How does this tie into the Norrath of old?" Either way, it's an engaging addition to the ever-expanding world of EverQuest 2. True, there are a few minor kinks that need some ironing out (the transportation clouds that interconnect the floating islands often don't work, some quest-NPCs vanish for indeterminate lengths of time preventing quest turn-ins, etc.), but these are all minor issues that will get squished in the next LiveUpdate. The combination of in-game enhancements and solid expansions like the Kingdom of Sky provide a rich and rewarding persistent world experience. If you haven't taken in this game previously, now may be a very good time to start.

Score: 8.5/10

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