When you think of massively multiplayer online role-playing games that let you create a character, fight monsters, and recover treasures in a persistent world with thousands of other players, you generally think of high-fantasy settings with elves, ogres, and wizards. This is due in no small part to Sony Online Entertainment's then-breakthrough game of 1999, EverQuest. The studio is now gearing up for the launch of the long-awaited sequel, EverQuest II, and we recently had a chance to take an updated look at the game, including a sneak peek at some of its high-level areas.
EverQuest II will take place in the same world as in the original game, Norrath, only this time it is centuries later, after a series of cataclysmic events transformed the world and brought the orbiting moon of Luclin crashing down onto the planet. Several areas from the original game will be present in the sequel, though in somewhat of an altered form. For instance, the commonlands outside the now-corrupt city of Freeport will remain sparse grassland. However, these areas are now home to small settlements with livestock, and there are well-traveled roads that are ideal for horseback riding--another feature that will be carried over into the sequel.
This time around, the commonlands will also house griffin kiosks, places where you go to catch a ride. That's right, similar to a certain other massively multiplayer game, EverQuest II will have flying mounts that, although they can't be controlled directly, will let you get a bird's-eye view of the land as you fly over it on your way to your next destination. The commonlands are infested by, among other things, the deathfist clan of orcs, which were mostly just a nuisance in the original game, but this time they've entrenched themselves and may even have their own fortress.
We also received a tour of the enchanted lands, the foreboding, foggy forest that was formerly known as Misty Thicket (the traditional home of the halfling race) in the original game. The enchanted lands are still home to various animal creatures as well as several species of giant insects. Other stops on our tour included the rocky Thundering Steppes, the current home of rock crabs and tough undead creatures, and another visit to the Feerott and the ruined temple of Cazic-Thule. Like in the original EverQuest, the Feerott is something of a cross between a jungle and a swamp, and it's inhabited by lizardmen that are arranged into various castes (including warriors, healers, and others). However, the lizardmen of EverQuest II are blind, since they plucked out their eyeballs as a sign of allegiance to the god of fear (their eyeballs are actual fixtures in the temple of Cazic-Thule, and they turn and watch as you pass by). The Feerott is inhabited by some other very powerful adversaries, including gigantic two-headed ettins and flying manticores. We even had a chance to see two all-new high-level zones in EverQuest II...but you'll have to wait until this Friday when we reveal them with all-new footage.
EverQuest II's character development system has also been recently updated, and there are many new high-level skills and abilities for the game's advanced classes. As before, you can choose a basic profession (scout, fighter, healer, or mage) to begin with, and then you pick a partially specialized character at level 10 and a fully specialized character at level 20. Part of the game's modular design gives your characters all the basic abilities that pertain to your base profession, regardless of what specified path you choose. The game was designed in this way to make characters of different classes somewhat interchangeable, so that parties wouldn't have a single, required character class (like the cleric and enchanter came to be in the original EverQuest). These new abilities include the powerful "mark of the hunt" regenerative song for the "fury" bard class, the high-level "torment" spell for the "coercer" enchanter class, which damages enemies while replenishing the coercer's spell power, and the shadow knight's "insatiable hunger" spell, which grants the caster and all party members a random chance of draining away the health of any enemy (similar to the "vampiric embrace" spell of the original EverQuest). All classes gain new abilities at every level--this includes both class-specific and general skills, though you have to be trained in the advanced crafting skills in order to proceed in them.
The game has been in a beta test state for some months, and the sequel is almost done. If the sequel can combine the great potential strengths of its varied character development system, its powerful graphics engine, and its many improvements over the original game, then EverQuest II will offer a more varied, more flexible, and more accessible gameplay experience as addictive as the original game. The game is scheduled to launch on November 8.