Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest Updated Preview

We get an updated look at Sony Online Entertainment and Snowblind Studios' upcoming action RPG.

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Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest is the upcoming third-person action RPG from Sony Online Entertainment and developer Snowblind Studios. The game is set in the rich world created for SOE's popular massively multiplayer online RPG EverQuest for the PC and last year's EverQuest Online Adventures for the PlayStation 2. You'll play as a hero tapped to defend the realm from the machinations of Innoruuk, the local hate god who's bent out of shape after being denied his chance at shaping the world like the rest of the gods in the pantheon. Rather than quietly stew at the snubbing, Innoruuk stirs up a heap of trouble for Norrath, which you'll have to stop in order to restore order. Champions of Norrath was originally slated to ship this year, but the release date has moved to next year to ensure the game comes together well. While we got a taste of what to expect in our previous looks, the latest version we tried gave us a more-complete sampling of what this promising game will offer.

Champions of Norrath will be one to watch for early next year.
Champions of Norrath will be one to watch for early next year.

The story, which will unfold via a combination of cutscenes and conversations with characters, follows your efforts to get an unholy alliance of orcs and goblins to simmer down. As you progress, you'll come to understand just why the unlikely factions have joined forces, and you'll discover more than a few unpleasant surprises sent your way by Innoruuk. The heroic tale will be broken up into five main acts that will span 50 hazardous levels.

You'll be able to tackle the game in one of three modes: single-player, multiplayer, and online. The single-player game sends you off to single-handedly save Norrath. The multiplayer mode will support up to four players on one PlayStation 2 via the underused multitap for group slaying. The online mode, which is one of the most promising elements of Champions of Norrath, will let you play with up to four friends over broadband or dial-up connections using a PlayStation 2 Network Adapter.

The basic structure and mechanics of Champions of Norrath are similar to those of Snowblind's previous game, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. You'll work your way through levels, defeating enemies and interacting with non-playable characters. You'll find several different hub areas based on various locations in Norrath. Within each hub, you can venture to different locales. Each locale will have dungeons where you can defeat an assortment of nasty creatures and collect items. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to engage in side quests, battle boss characters, and level up. The catch to all this is that the dungeons will be randomly generated from approximately 40 different types of graphic sets.

You just know there's trouble afoot when orcs and goblins buddy up.
You just know there's trouble afoot when orcs and goblins buddy up.
Snowblind has tweaked the Baldur's Gate formula to make room for five playable races this time out. You'll be able to play as a barbarian warrior, a wood-elf ranger, a high-elf cleric, an erudite wizard, or a dark-elf shadow knight. The various classes have their own unique attributes that will cause them to play differently. The barbarian warrior has high strength and stamina and can swing a massive weapon around and inflict generous amounts of damage on enemies. The erudite wizard has high intelligence and can earn enough mana to cast a variety of different spells. Other 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 skills. Each race will feature male and female models, and you'll be able to customize your character's skin, hair style, and hair color.

The gameplay mechanics in Champions of Norrath are similar to those used in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, although there have been some tweaks inspired by Blizzard's Diablo games. As in Baldur's Gate, you'll earn experience for killing enemies and eventually start to level up your character. As your character goes up in level, he or she will earn skill points that you can then spend on an attribute or special ability of your choosing.

However, while it may sound as though you'll be a pretty awesome warrior, thanks to the aforementioned ability to level up, the forces of evil are powerful and are not easily defeated. Fortunately, Champions of Norrath offers a vast and also versatile selection of items, including armor, weapons, potions, and accessories. The game uses a prefix and suffix system for weapons, armor, and accessories, so a basic broadsword can be changed into a rusty broadsword of fire, which will give it bonus attack damage for fire. The same sort of effect also works for armor, but instead of boosting offensive strength, it increases your resistance to certain types of attacks--a fire shield will increase your character's resistance to a fire attack, for example. There are also weapon auras, which automatically confer trait bonuses upon characters who are in the immediate area, which is a slick way to keep players close to each other during a game. When weapons won't cut it, you can always turn to the game's wide variety of spells.

You'll be able to customize a number of your character's features.
You'll be able to customize a number of your character's features.

The game's control is accessible and easy to pick up. You'll move your character with the left analog stick and attack with the X button. The D pad will let you call up a spell menu, which you can use to map any spell your character can perform to the circle and triangle buttons. The square button is a context-sensitive action button that will let you talk, open chests, and collect items. R1 will let you block attacks. R2 and L2 will let you drink health and mana potions, respectively. R3 will let you toggle the automap in the game on and off. Finally, L1 will let you switch your character's weapons on the fly.

The graphics have come together quite nicely since the last time we saw Champions of Norrath. The character models are very impressive and feature a high level of detail. Each character class has its own unique look, and subtle differences are noticeable in their animations. The environments are equally gorgeous, with a generous polygon budget, an eye-popping particle-effect and lighting system, and a great deal of variety in the levels, which include a mix of indoor and outdoor areas. The frame rate has stabilized since the last time we tried the game, and it now purrs along quite fluidly during offline games (we haven't yet tried an online game).

The graphics pack some serious punch.
The graphics pack some serious punch.

The audio in this version of Champions of Norrath was more complete and offered a solid accompaniment to the action. The voice acting is well done and used effectively. You'll hear quips from your character as you explore, either commenting on the surroundings or razzing you for lingering too long. You'll also hear assorted cries from your foes as they attack or die and an assortment of sound effects for weapon collisions and the various spells. The soundtrack still wasn't final in our version, but we expect some suitably melodramatic tunes that fit the fantasy theme.

Based on what we've seen so far, development on Champions of Norrath is coming along fine. The game offers a substantial quest, strong gameplay mechanics, and an impressive array of play modes. The online multiplayer should be a slick addition to the above mix. Anyone looking for a strong action game will want to keep an eye out for Champions of Norrath when it ships next year. Look for more on the game soon.

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