Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest Impressions

We check out the upcoming action RPG in development at Snowblind Studios

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Sony Online Entertainment recently dropped by the GameSpot offices with a new build of Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest. Currently in development at Snowblind Studios--the same development team behind Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance--Champions of Norrath is an action RPG set within the realm of the popular massively multiplayer online RPG EverQuest for the PC. As such, fans of the EverQuest series will immediately recognize the five playable character classes: the barbarian warrior, the dark elf shadow knight, the high elf cleric, the erudite wizard, and the wood elf ranger. Each of these characters can be customized in a number of ways--you can customize skin color, hairstyle, tattoos, and facial hair.

Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest will offer both online and offline gameplay modes.
Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest will offer both online and offline gameplay modes.

These character classes also have their own unique attributes. The barbarian warrior has high strength and stamina and can swing a massive weapon around and inflict generous amounts of damage on enemies. Conversely, an erudite wizard has high intelligence and thus can obtain enough mana to cast a variety of different spells. Some character classes will have slightly more balanced attributes, such as the shadow knight or the cleric, which have reasonable melee attack skills that are complemented by magic spells. For example, the shadow knight can cast a pet spell that causes a skeleton to rise from the ground and aid in your attack on the enemies in the dungeon. Likewise, the cleric can summon forth a mystical hammer that will attack any enemies within sight.

Like in any good action RPG, attributes can also be boosted by certain types of weapons, items, and armor. Champions of Norrath uses a prefix and suffix system for weapons, so a basic broadsword can be changed into a rusty broadsword of fire, indicating that it will give bonus attack damage for fire. The same sort of effect also works for armor, but instead of increasing offensive strength, it increases your resistance to certain types of attacks--a fire shield would increase your character's resistance to a fire attack. There are also weapon auras that will automatically give trait bonuses to characters that are in the immediate area, which is an interesting design method for keeping players close to each other.

You'll be able to interact with familiar faces from the EverQuest universe.
You'll be able to interact with familiar faces from the EverQuest universe.

But weapons and armor aren't always necessary when trying to give your characters a little boost in strength or defense. The high elf cleric has a variety of "buffs"--spells that are designed to enhance a character's current abilities. You can learn additional skills and spells, or perfect the ones you have, by spending experience points in the skill-tree portion of the character data screen. Each character class has a different skill tree that corresponds to its innate strengths, so the barbarian has several special melee attacks that he can learn, while the erudite wizard has numerous offensive-oriented spells, such as fireball and root. The skill tree doesn't have a stringent progression, so it seems that you'll be free to choose which spells or skills you want to use after learning the first two or three skills in the tree.

As for the structure of the actual game, there will be several different hub areas based on various locations on Norrath, such as the treetops of an elven city under attack by goblins. Within these hubs, you can venture into the dungeons to defeat an assortment of nasty creatures, to collect items, and to level up. However, the development team at Snowblind has also designed these dungeons so that they're randomly generated, in the hope that you will continue to play the game and level up your character long after you've defeated the last boss. Whether or not that equates to the 100 hours of gameplay that Sony Online Entertainment is touting for the game remains to be seen. In addition, there are approximately 40 different types of graphic sets for the dungeons, so you'll see everything from spider-infested dungeons covered with enormous webs to more traditional caves. However, the main storyline will not change significantly as you progress through the game.

You'll be able to use a variety of spells to enhance your character's abilities.
You'll be able to use a variety of spells to enhance your character's abilities.

The variety in the dungeons is matched by the added detail given to the character models, which now feature three times more polygons than they did in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Plus, you'll undoubtedly notice the attention that was paid to the details on various types of armor, which range from typical shiny metal plating to incredibly ornate designs that look as though they were influenced by Mardi Gras. But more importantly, the excellent water effects from Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance make a return in Champions of Norrath.

Even in its early state, Champions of Norrath looks like it will instantly appeal to EverQuest fans but also any fans of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, since the combat and overall controls are quite similar. Interestingly, the game will have support for online play (up to four players at once), but no subscription fee will be charged for the game. Sony Online Entertainment said the game will be shipped in November (before Thanksgiving) on a dual-layered DVD. Look for more on the game soon.

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jakeboudville

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sounds cool

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