Earlier today, during a meeting with Sony Online Entertainment, we got our first good look at EverQuest II: Desert of Flames. Currently scheduled for release on September 12, Desert of Flames is the first full-fledged expansion pack for EverQuest II, which has attracted more than 300,000 players since it launched in November of last year.
The new content offered by the Desert of Flames expansion will come in many forms, the most significant of which will undoubtedly be the introduction of player-versus-player (PVP) combat and the Desert of Ro location in which the expansion takes place. Many of the locations we got to see in the Desert of Ro were more colorful than those found elsewhere in EverQuest II, and the expansion pack's Arabian Nights theme was evident just about everywhere we looked, particularly once we arrived in the newly discovered city of Maj'Dul.
Maj'Dul, it seems, will serve as a hub for much of EverQuest II: Desert of Flames' content, and it's also where the expansion pack's new faction system will be most evident. When you arrive in Maj'Dul, you'll find it a beehive of activity for non-player characters, such as merchants, snake charmers, fire spitters, and beggars--all of whom you'll be able to interact with, either via a polite conversation or a somewhat less-polite unprovoked attack.
Regardless of how you choose to interact with other characters in Maj'Dul, you'll quickly come to realize that there are three rival factions vying for control of the city and that if you hope to make any friends there you'd do well to enlist with one of them. Enlisting with a faction will make you a lot of enemies in the city as well, of course, but at least you'll have friends around to back you up anytime there's trouble. Enlisting with a faction will also let you play an active role in helping that faction gain control of the city by taking towers and other key structures from rival factions. The number of buildings controlled by a single faction will determine how many of its NPCs are present in the city and what services it's able to offer its players, so it will definitely be worthwhile for you to help your faction out when you have an opportunity to do so. We've heard rumors of a mysterious fourth faction operating in Maj'Dul, by the way, but the SOE representatives we met with today were far too fearful for their own safety to divulge any information to us on who they might be.
In a city full of people there will inevitably be fights breaking out from time to time. It's also inevitable that you'll become embroiled in them at some point, which is fine, provided you don't get caught disturbing the peace by the magic-carpet-mounted wizard police that patrol Maj'Dul. If you're spotted fighting, regardless of whether or not it's your fault, you'll be transported to one of EverQuest II: Desert of Flames' new PVP arenas. The arenas are designed to support battles between individuals or groups of players and are the only place where you'll have the ability to transform into one of the new creature forms being introduced in Desert of Flames. Creature forms (such as orcs and flaming dragons) will be available to buy in-game, can be earned by defeating creatures in the wild, and can be traded between players. The Desert of Ro will be populated by around 30 or 40 new creatures, incidentally, including some returning favorites from EverQuest, such as sand giants.
If you're battling against said creatures with a group of other players, you might want to take advantage of one of the other new features that Desert of Flames will add to EverQuest II: voice emotes. The voice emotes system will let you choose one of a number of different voices for your character and then bind important phrases to hotkeys that you can use at times when communicating by typing messages simply isn't viable. In the middle of a tough battle when you're health is getting low, for example, you'll be able to hit a single key and have your character yell out for healing.
When you're not busy killing stuff, you'll most likely want to spend some time exploring the picturesque desert, perhaps looking for some more stuff to kill. Exploration in Desert of Flames promises to be far more interesting than in other EverQuest II locations (or in most other massively multiplayer online games, for that matter) thanks to the introduction of new gameplay mechanics that will let you destroy or climb certain walls to gain access to new locales. We didn't get to see any destructible walls during our brief demonstration, but we got to see plenty of walls that could be climbed. The vertical scratch marks that indicate scalable walls were pretty obvious for the most part, but we're pleased to report that it looks like a number of them will be harder to find, rewarding only those of you who take the time to search for them. That's assuming you don't fall from the wall to your death, of course, which is a distinct possibility given that not all of them will simply require you to climb vertically in a straight line.
Other new features promised for EverQuest II: Desert of Flames include a level cap increase for players from 50 to 60 and guild vaults where you'll be able to share your loot with fellow guild members far more easily than has previously been possible. We look forward to bringing you more information on EverQuest II: Desert of Flames as its September release date closes in.