EverQuest II Updated Hands-On - Early Beta Impressions

EverQuest II's beta test is finally under way. We're a part of it and have early impressions on how this highly anticipated online RPG sequel is starting to take shape.

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Massively multiplayer online games didn't used to be like they are now. Most new ones feature a vast, persistent, 3D-rendered world in which you and thousands of other players can create a character and then fight monsters, explore, and gain experience levels and loot. Without a doubt, the massively multiplayer genre as it is now has been shaped by Sony Online's EverQuest, whose fully realized fantasy world of Norrath has enthralled thousands of players in the five years since its release. And now the studio is working on EverQuest II, which will take place in Norrath many years after the events in the first game and feature an impressive new graphics engine and many, many changes to the EverQuest gameplay. We were able to join the game's recently launched beta test, and have some early details on the game to share.

In EverQuest II, you can make a distinctive-looking character who enjoys exploration, epic battles, and posting on Internet message boards.
In EverQuest II, you can make a distinctive-looking character who enjoys exploration, epic battles, and posting on Internet message boards.

At this point in the beta, starting a new game of EverQuest II begins with the creation of a character. EverQuest II features a total of 16 fantasy races, 15 of which are from the original game. Included in the new selection are the standard trolls, ogres, half-elves, humans, and dwarves, as well as the stealthy ratonga, a new "evil" race added in the sequel. When creating a new character, you'll choose (or be assigned) a "good" or "evil" alignment right off the bat, unlike in the first EverQuest game, which used your character's race and religion to determine your character's starting city and predisposition toward the "good" and "evil" factions. This distinction will actually be important to your character's early career, since it will determine his or her starting base of operations: either the corrupt city of Freeport, or the virtuous city of Qeynos.

EverQuest II's powerful graphics engine lets the different races have drastically different appearances. As you might expect from a studio that produced Star Wars Galaxies (a game that features a powerful character-appearance editor), EverQuest II also offers a great many appearance options to help customize your character's look, including a variety of skin tones, face-shaping options, hairstyles, and, in some cases, even tattoos or woads (herbs used to make the blue face paint used by barbarians). Each race has five primary attributes--strength, agility, stamina, intelligence, and wisdom--and different races have different strengths (trolls and ogres are exceptionally strong, erudites are intelligent, high elves are wise, and so on). But, like in the original game, a few statistic points don't seem to make that much of a difference, and there are items, including magic weapons and armor, that characters can acquire that will raise their ability scores when used.

After choosing a race, you'll play through a tutorial mission on the Far Journey, a ship that rescues your character at sea. The tutorial is guided by a voice-over that explains the basics of the interface, and it ends with your character docking on the Isle of Refuge. The isle is apparently under siege from tribes of goblins and orcs that your character will be tasked with fighting. In EverQuest II, you'll start out as one of a few basic classes, such as fighter, mage, priest, or scout, and later undertake two major quests--one at level 10, and another at level 20--to "graduate" to a more-advanced character class, such as a virtuous paladin or a dastardly shadowknight.

Though the isle has plenty of quests to keep you busy for many levels, it's also the home to two ambassador characters who can arrange passage to either Qeynos or Freeport (depending on whether your character chose to be "good" or "evil" to begin with). Since we've already given you early impressions of the clean, well-lit city of Qeynos, we decided to create an evil character and visit Freeport this time around.

The alleys of Freeport are controlled by thugs and crooked guards. Beware.
The alleys of Freeport are controlled by thugs and crooked guards. Beware.

If you've played the original EverQuest, you may be surprised by what the new Freeport has to offer. The city--especially the docking area where your character first pulls in--is dingy, and the paths are rocky and unpaved. At present, new arrivals to Freeport start in a run-down hub area patrolled by rat catchers and low-life merchants. The paths extending from this hub lead to the surrounding streets of Freeport, which are controlled by guttersnipes, thugs, and corrupt guards, as well as to the outskirts of the city, which include the Commonlands, the former site of idyllic grassy plains and the current home of a monster-ridden swamp. We were greeted by an ogre character who demanded that we report in to file a citizenship request, which is one of many quests that cities will offer players in the final game. Cities will also offer instanced housing to each character--a home that players can use for storage, or fill out with furnishings.

Though we currently have details only on the early part of EverQuest II's adventuring, we'll have more information on the later game, including the development of more-advanced characters, very soon. EverQuest II is scheduled for release later this year. For now, take a look at new gameplay footage from the game in our media section.

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