One of the advantages of massively multiplayer online role-playing games that let you play in persistent virtual worlds with thousands of other players is that they can evolve and grow over time. The world of EverQuest II will experience another growth spurt with the release of the upcoming third expansion, EverQuest II: Echoes of Faydwer. With Echoes of Faydwer, the designers at Sony Online Entertainment continue to tie together the worlds of EverQuest II and the original EverQuest. Faydwer was an area in the original game, and the traditional home of the elves, dwarves, and gnomes is back and better than before.
Echoes of Faydwer is being designed to appeal to both existing fans and newcomers to the franchise. There won't be any increase in the level cap, because the designers wanted to focus more on creating content for everyone, rather than concentrate on creating challenging high-level content that's suited for the veterans. We were taken on a quick tour of many different zones in the expansion, including Crushbone Keep, a starter dungeon infested with orcs; Castle Mistmoore, a vampire lair that looks like a beautiful gothic estate; and the Steamfont Mountains, previously home to the gnomes but now home to the clockwork machines they left behind after disappearing shortly after the cataclysm that divides EverQuest and EverQuest II. Many of these locales will seem familiar to veterans of the original game, though considerable changes have been made; they also look a lot better, thanks to all the graphical improvements in EverQuest II.
The major new addition is the new playable fae race. Fae are faeries, and these tiny sprites can make good spellcasters and scouts. Though technically the shortest race in the game, the fae end up being about as tall as the gnomes thanks to the fact that their feet never touch the ground. Instead, these faerie folk float around using beautiful, delicate wings that you can customize in color and appearance. These wings aren't powerful enough to propel the fae high into the air, so you won't be able to fly over obstacles, but they will let the fae slowly parachute to the ground, so you can leap off of cliffs and other tall objects. This comes in particularly handy considering that the fae's main city is Kelethin, an old elf town located high in the trees--sort of like an Ewok village in Return of the Jedi. To get down to the ground, where random encounters can be fought, simply jump off any of the edges of the city and float down, because yes, it's still a long way down from those treetops, just like in the original game."
In terms of character creation, the fae will be the most customizable race yet in EverQuest II. We already noted the wings customization. You can select from a variety of wing types--most look inspired by butterfly and insect wings--and then customize the color patterns with up to two colors. The facial customization options for the fae are far more advanced than for previous races; you can mold and shape the face any way you like using the facial tools, which are primarily a bunch of sliders and similar in concept to the facial customization options seen in The Sims 2. The fae have custom armor types developed just for them, and considering the nature orientation for this race, it makes sense that fae armor is decorated with vines and other natural patterns.
Though other races won't get the new face customization options (mainly because they weren't built with the tools in mind), all players will be able to create customized cloaks, while guilds can troop around in cloaks that are unique to each guild. The cloak system is similar to the one seen in Guild Wars; you choose patterns and colors for your cloak, and guilds will be able to lock their design so no one else can use it. The other good news for guilds is that the guild-level cap is also being raised from level 50 to level 60. Other upgrades in the expansion include improvements to the subclass system, so there a host of new skills to unlock, as well as tinkering and transforming abilities for crafters. Tinkering lets you make devices like rocket boots, while transmuting will be to useful for enhancing existing items using a Diablo-style slot system. Most items will have an adornment slot, and you can enhance the item by plugging certain objects into the slot. The examples given to us involved combining a sword and a whetstone to create an even-sharper sword, and adding studs to leather armor to created studded leather.
If you've noticed the appearance of prophets lately in EverQuest II, there's a reason for that. There's a new deity system in the expansion which lets you select a god from whom you can gain blessings and miracles by sacrificing items and accomplishing quests. You will even be able to set up altars in their houses for that purpose. This reflects the larger idea in the expansion that the power of the gods is slowly returning to the world. Indeed, part of the focus in Echoes of Faydwer is dealing with a power leakage from the goddess of growth, which is fueling monstrous growth of ordinary plants. Part of your tasks might involve finding the source of the leak, as well as dealing with the humongous dragon that defends it.
There certainly seems to be a lot to do in Echoes of Faydwer, even if you're adventuring on your own. Each of the zones will have a solo content path to follow, with a line of quests designed for each zone. It's encouraging to hear that there's new content for new players and veterans alike. Indeed, SOE says that it will ship Echoes of Faydwer in both a retail package and as a digital download. Existing subscribers will most likely want to use the digital download, because the retail package will not only include Echoes of Faydwer, but the original EverQuest II as well as the first two expansions, Desert of Flame and Kingdom of Sky, to help lure new players to the game. In either case, expect Echoes of Faydwer to launch November 14.