Tonight at a brief event held by Microsoft to evangelize its plans to continue growing Windows as a gaming platform, which the company revealed earlier this year, we caught a glimpse of the latest build of EverQuest II. Scheduled for release in 2004, EverQuest II clearly has big shoes to fill in the wake of the incredible, ongoing success of the original game. Visually, at least, the sequel is an obvious improvement. All of the character races from EverQuest return (a new ratlike race is also available), and while they're recognizable, they're done up in a distinctly different style.
EverQuest II will require Microsoft's DirectX 9 and clearly is taking advantage of the sorts of graphical bells and whistles that it facilitates. Bump mapping and shaders are used to give the game's characters and environments lifelike depth and texture, making the world of the game seem much more realistic compared with that of EverQuest. Sony Online Entertainment's John Smedley pointed out that, just as EverQuest pushed the envelope when it was released in 1999 by requiring a 3D accelerator and an Internet connection, so will EverQuest II take full advantage of the most powerful technology available at the time of the game's release.
EverQuest's gameplay heavily revolves around groups of players teaming up to take on powerful monsters. This will be true of the sequel, which in fact will offer numerous, new ways of encouraging players to join forces. For example, pairs or teams of players will be able to execute special melee attacks and spells that would be unavailable to an individual player. And, in addition to being able to form groups or guilds, characters will be able to have families--they will even age with time.
Also, certain spells may be more potent at particular times of day (such as in the dead of night) or in certain environmental conditions (such as where it's snowing). Characters such as druids may even need to pay attention to the season in choosing how best to channel their magical energies. The designers' goal is to make the world of the game even more meaningful; the various details in the game world are intended to be more than just window dressing.
We got to see some environments ranging from what looked like an African savannah, complete with grazing elephants and rhinoceroses, to a dark, gloomy catacomb filled with mean-looking monsters lurking in the shadows. Ships will also figure heavily into the world of EverQuest II, and we got to see what looked like a traditional galleon, with its sails realistically flapping in the wind. The most impressive creature we saw was a living statue of sorts, which stood about a hundred feet tall, towering extremely high above the player. Its ferocious stomping attacks seem like they'd hurt quite a bit, so we're guessing this is probably one of the stronger creatures players can expect to encounter.
In terms of the gameplay design, we learned that one of the goals of EverQuest II would be to bring the depth and complexity of EverQuest's high-level adventuring down to Earth, so that right off the bat, most players can begin experiencing dramatic, strategic, and involving combat. By comparison, EverQuest's combat is quite simple and passive for the first few dozens of hours in a player character's life.
Earlier this year, Sony Online announced plans to provide an incentive for EverQuest players to start playing the sequel once it's finally available. We learned that, while these incentives wouldn't put an experienced EverQuest player in an advantageous position starting out in EverQuest II, he or she would have certain perks, such as being able to reserve his or her desired character's surname. EverQuest II takes place hundreds of years into the future, after the moon Luclin has collided with Norrath and irrevocably changed the world, but EverQuest players may begin their lives in EverQuest as part of the same family as their original characters. Their characters' housing may even be adorned with some hallmarks of that bygone era.
EverQuest II is currently in a pre-beta state, and all of its elements are still being put together. Stay tuned for more information on the game in the weeks to come.