Few games maintain such an avid fan following as Verant's online role-playing game EverQuest. That's partly because Verant created an impressive game to begin with and also because Verant has consistently appealed to its many dedicated subscribers, both by adding new gameplay features and also by adding entire new regions to the game's already enormous world. As such, it's understandable why some of EverQuest's more skeptical players felt as if the new expansion, The Ruins of Kunark, was a ploy to milk its customers for more money for the same sort of additions they'd already been getting as part of the package. But as you explore the new continent of Kunark, it'll become increasingly clear to you that the expansion's value is as immense as that of the original game.
In addition to the huge continent, the expansion also introduces an interesting playable race and scores of new monsters to fight and items to find. Furthermore, many of the new graphics in The Ruins of Kunark looks noticeably better than in the original EverQuest, which isn't surprising given that the expansion was published more than a year after EverQuest's early-1999 release. Kunark's many indigenous life-forms look outstanding by EverQuest's own high standards, or by any others: From conventional creatures like rhinos and scorpions, to stranger beings like the draconian Sarnak and the ravenous nibblers, the sheer variety of Kunark's dozens of new monsters is certainly the best thing about them.
Unfortunately, the improved graphics do have consequences: You're likely to experience a significantly lower frame rate in Kunark's more densely populated zones than anywhere else in Norrath. Although the expansion has higher system requirements than the rest of EverQuest does, and although the frame rate can be improved by reducing the clipping plane so that you won't see as far into the horizon, you'll still find that some parts of Kunark run slower than you'd like. Nevertheless, the general improvement in the expansion's visual quality makes the frame-rate sacrifice worthwhile, just as the new regions in Kunark help make the great-looking game look even better. Unfortunately, there's little new sound in the game and no new music.
The expansion's new playable race, the Iksar, also look good. Newcomers to EverQuest may like the Iksar because they look so unusual: They're snarling, hunched lizardmen with long, whipping tails. The Iksar are inherently easier to start out with than most EverQuest races, not only because they naturally regenerate their hit points faster than other races except trolls, but also because they're inherently able to see in the dark, to run and swim quickly, and to forage food and drink. In addition, the four zones outlying the Iksar's huge home city Cabilis are filled with many different types of monsters to fight. These zones themselves are huge, varied, densely populated, and interconnected. They look good and they're fun and dangerous to explore.
The Iksar will also appeal to veteran EverQuest players: Though they're an ancient and evil race, and are hated in all other Norrathian cities, the Iksar's advantages and the well-designed zones outside Cabilis let experienced players quickly advance through the first ten or 15 levels of the game. That way they won't find themselves frustrated having to level up slowly to the point at which they feel comfortable exploring the territory. And Kunark introduces a great many interesting and powerful artifacts into the world of EverQuest - Verant claims the total number of new objects is in the thousands - and many of these can only be wielded by the Iksar. In turn, the Iksar can't actually wear a lot of Norrath's existing equipment, doubtless because of their unusual physique - or to reduce twinking, in which high-level characters pass their powerful gear down to low-level characters. Consequently, Iksar characters actually have to start from the ground up, which makes them challenging but also refreshing to play. But the biggest incentive for experienced EverQuest players to upgrade to The Ruins of Kunark is that the game raises the preexisting character level cap from 50 up to 60. Getting a character to level 50 typically requires an investment of many hundreds of hours spanning many months. And now, The Ruins of Kunark expansion is finally giving those players a reason to keep going, and for a long time at that. That's because every playable character class gets powerful new skills or spells over the course of the next ten levels after 50, while the new continent will offer challenges and rewards for high-level players looking to reach even higher levels. Though a lot of the expansion's new content is designed for EverQuest's most committed followers, there's also more than enough for new players to explore and discover. Verant's designed the continent of Kunark as a standalone area in which Iksar players can stay and fight from level one all the way up through 60.
Those experienced with EverQuest will appreciate many other aspects of Kunark that are much improved over the original game. For instance, the city of Cabilis is much more detailed than most any other city in Norrath. Most every single nonplayer character from guards to shopkeepers will speak with and respond to you, and many of them will encourage you to accomplish quests for experience and reward. The original high-level EverQuest zones have experienced a problem in which the most dedicated players would camp out for hours waiting for particular creatures to spawn so that they could defeat them and claim their valuable loot. Kunark's high-level zones help alleviate this problem by randomizing which creatures drop particular items. You'll always face an equivalent challenge for the item, and you'll still be able to find it in a particular location, but now there's a more active emphasis on exploration and spontaneity than on sitting still waiting for the right monster to spawn when you're looking for gear.
The new features contained in The Ruins of Kunark make it worthwhile for anyone who's dedicated to playing EverQuest. It also marginally improves the game for players who wanted to see a solution to some of its problems, and it refurbishes EverQuest for new players who haven't had a chance to try it yet. Verant's addition of new servers should help keep the game from getting too crowded when the new players join up and existing players renew their efforts, while the huge new landmass contained in Kunark should help keep the specific zones from being jammed in the long run. Meanwhile, because Verant has constantly added to and improved on EverQuest over the last year, it's clear that its staff will continue to support the game and also to keep its vocal player community as happy as possible.
Yet it's true that Kunark has flaws - the lack of sound effects, the slower frame rate, and even the new print manual are all rather disappointing. Also, Verant originally ran into problems shipping Kunark to its preorder customers, which was initially available for existing customers to purchase online for a nominal fee. But the shipping problems at least have since been resolved, even as the full game including the expansion has become available for retail purchase so that new players who missed it the first time can now give the game a second chance. And they're well advised to do so, as existing EverQuest players are strongly encouraged to upgrade, because thanks to The Ruins of Kunark, it's evident that EverQuest is better than ever and once again the best online role-playing game available.