We recently had a chance to take an updated look at EverQuest II, the online role-playing sequel from Sony Online Entertainment. Yes, EverQuest II is a massively multiplayer game, so yes, you'll still be creating a single character and exploring a persistent world to fight monsters, gain treasures, and build up experience levels with other players. However, the sequel will attempt to cut out many of the tedious aspects of this kind of game, like being forced to find a hunting party just to advance or not having anything to do. It's also being developed to be easy to learn for beginners, but as we recently saw, veterans of the original EverQuest will likely enjoy both the references to the original game and the all-new content.
We started our tour with a visit to Runnyeye Citadel, a goblin dungeon that appeared in the original game. Like in the first EverQuest, Runnyeye will be home to goblins, as well as to minotaurs and evil eyes (gigantic floating eyeballs with magical powers), though it will also be home to new monsters, like warboars, a race of pig-faced humanoids enslaved by the goblins. The dungeon looked considerably better than the blocky caverns that made up the original EverQuest's Runnyeye area, but as producer John Blakely explained, Runnyeye and other returning locations won't necessarily be identical to their former versions. EverQuest II is still set in the fantasy world of Norrath, but it will take place several centuries after the events in the previous game, so the world has changed considerably, and Runnyeye may not present the relatively easy challenge it did previously. Like in the original game, battles in dungeons will, in fact, yield more experience point rewards than outdoor battles, and they'll be far more interesting, thanks to the sequel's improved monster intelligence and difficulty levels.
Monster behavior in EverQuest II will be determined by something the developers refer to as the "combat brain," which consists of multiple personality and tactic types--including tendencies to attack the nearest enemy, to focus on weaker enemies, or to call for help, and so on. Some enemies will attack only as a swarm on the orders of a lead enemy; defeating this lead enemy will cause the followers to lose any organized strategy and fight as individuals, which should make picking them off easier. Interestingly, when fighting monsters of more-exotic races, you may not always be able to understand their orders. EverQuest II will, like the first game, let your character learn a variety of languages, but if your character doesn't speak orc, for instance, you'll hear a stream of gibberish rather than intelligible orders.
You'll see this kind of behavior in monsters like the killer bees, which serve Norrath's bixies (flying creatures that resemble a cross between a fairy and a yellow jacket) and are housed in the Tower of the Drafling, an all-new dungeon of honeycombed hives where the bixies make their home. In addition, monsters will have not only specific difficulty levels associated with them, but also individual tiers, so players will hopefully be able to find more challenges that are better suited to their characters.
While dungeons and high-level content will continue to be great sources of experience and valuable loot, they had previously been problematic since they were so popular that many different adventuring parties would often fight over them. The new game will feature a "locking" system for combat so that once you or your party begins fighting a monster, no one else may damage or loot it, or derive experience from its defeat, unless you call for help. Similarly, high-level encounters, such as dragons and other exceptionally powerful foes, will be "instanced." That is, separate versions will be available for you and your party and for other players so that no one will have to wait in line to be next to fight the big dragon for the big treasure. The design team is actually trying to judiciously use instanced content to let players schedule their own encounters. So instead of getting on a waiting list to fight the big monster everyone wants, you and your friends should be able to plan your next big adventure on a certain day.
Even returning zones like the jungle of Feerott, the former home of the ogres of Norrath, and Stormhold, the dungeon formerly known as Befallen, will be different this time around. In accordance with the lore of Norrath, the jungle of Feerott will remain the land of lizardmen--reptiles that walk upright and command crude tribal magics, though these lizardmen will all be blind, having removed their eyes in worship of their god. (And apparently, if you wander into the nearby dungeon of Cazic-Thule, you'll actually encounter clumps of their still-seeing eyeballs that will follow you as you walk past.) Other dungeons will include the all-new Deathfist Citadel, home of the orcs. All told, the game is planned to launch with about 100 different zones with a somewhat larger landmass than that of the original game. However, over the course of the game's life, the development team plans to add more areas to explore as players begin to discover what caused the terrible cataclysm that nearly destroyed the world. And in the course of their careers, players will apparently be able to gain a fearsome reputation by completing important quests and playing political factions against each other. Later on in your career, other characters in the world may approach you to ask you to perform quests on their behalf.
EverQuest II continues to look impressive, and with Sony Online's considerable experience, it's easily one of the most promising massively multiplayer games on the horizon. Interestingly, the publisher plans to offer a standard monthly subscription for the game, along with the Sony Online "all access" bundled subscription, which lets players access all of the studio's games (except Star Wars Galaxies) for a flat rate of $21.95 per month. In addition, the studio is doing everything possible to keep the system requirements relatively low; the game is planned to allow play on a computer with a 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and a 64MB video card, though this setup won't allow for the game's full graphical splendor. We'll be hearing more about EverQuest II as we approach the beta test, which should begin in a few months. The game itself is scheduled to ship later this year.