Massively multiplayer online expansions often forego appealing to new players, focusing instead on adding content aimed at appeasing high-level veterans. This is part of what makes Echoes of Faydwer EverQuest II's most engaging addition to date. The new expansion is loaded with new content, which is mostly aimed at welcoming new players and giving experts a fresh look at the same old Norrath. There's a new race, a new continent, a new belief system, and a goodly amount of lore to sort through as well. However, experienced players will likely feel a little slighted by some of the additions. There is no increase to level cap, and the higher stat caps and increased raid difficulty don't compensate for it. But for new players and those looking to create a new character, Echoes of Faydwer is a fine addition to the EverQuest universe.
It's also brimming with lore, much of which fills gaps between the original EverQuest and EverQuest II. The butterfly-winged Fae have rebuilt the city of Kelethin on the lost continent of Faydark, just as clockwork creatures infiltrate the underground city of Ak'Anon. EverQuest lore has always been rich, if a bit haphazard; thus, the new bits of backstory and tradition are a good fit. The Fae are charming and enjoyable to play as, and casting powerful, destructive spells as such dainty porcelain creatures is always fun. You cannot choose an evil class when creating a Fae and must start in the race's home city of Kelethin. However, other good or neutral characters can opt to start in Kelethin. As of now, the Fae cannot betray to Freeport, but players itching to join the forces of evil should note that Sony Online Entertainment plans to add the ability in a future update.
The treetop city of Kelethin is a delight to behold, thanks to clever architecture and a captivating visual design. But it's not all about enchanted forests and twinkles of fairy dust. As you venture further into Faydark, you'll encounter giant mechanical beasts, steaming geysers, looming windmills, and decaying stretches of wilderness. You could easily reach level 70 without ever straying from the continent, which should give you an idea of how much there really is to see. There are a lot of quests, each one granted by a non-player character with a flourish and a goodly amount of voice-over. It's a lot to keep you busy, and you should expect a solid time both soloing and grouping at lower levels and against standard monsters.
In fact, the expansion is all about stuff--lots of stuff. There's nothing evolutionary about any of the new content, but there's just so much of it that explorer types are bound to stay happy, while higher-level players should enjoy the new heroic and raid instances. Boat transport, pretty new horses, higher-level armor, and other goodies await, all without really altering the gameplay in any significant way. Yet the new stuff is undoubtedly compelling, whether it's exploring the new deity quests, trying out the new cloaks, or pursuing the pumpkin-headed horseman.
All of the holdover elements from EverQuest II and its expansions are accounted for: arcane augmentations, achievements, and player-versus-player arenas. It's disappointing that no new arenas or arena champions seem to have been supplied. If you preferred that method of PVP content, you won't find any fresh settings. However, two tradeskills have been added: tinkering and transmuting. Tinkerers put together some quite interesting gadgets in line with the clockwork theme of the new continent. The items have a variety of offensive and defensive uses, with great names like "troll snot flinger" and "izitedibilforpepl probe." If you choose transmuting as your secondary tradeskill, you can turn items into their raw elements. In turn, these elements become adornments, which are used to enhance weapons and armor.
In the original EverQuest, you were allowed to align with a deity. Echoes of Faydwer brings back this concept with a belief system that is complete with blessings and miracles. You'll first choose a deity, and once you finish the related quests, you'll earn abilities granted based on your tier. In the case of our Tunare-aligned Fae, that meant healing skills and summons, among other choices. However, you are limited to one blessing and one miracle at any given time. Casting a miracle is a dramatic event, not just because of its powerful effect but also because of the theatrics of particles and colors that accompany it. It's also an interesting story development, since the gods departed the land between EverQuest and the sequel. Are the faith-centric abilities an omen of upcoming divine intervention? It's a fascinating possibility and more fuel for Norrath's ever-deepening lore.
However, Echoes of Faydwer has its share of issues. Higher-level players will find that raids and dungeons are more taxing than before. For example, with the new instances come better drops. Blessings and miracles also add another new element that needed to be accounted for--all without increasing level cap. This means you need to further tweak your characters and groupings. Players who worked hard for their current loot will be disappointed to find it no longer does the job, particularly when they revisit instances they've adventured through previously. Of course, bugs are a familiar issue in MMO games, and Faydwer is no exception. Our Fae conjuror got stuck in a Djinn bottle without the possibility of escape at one point. Because of another glitch, our wood elf could not complete Kelethin citizenship, even after meeting all the requirements.
It's also disappointing that two years later, the EverQuest II engine is still sluggish. Turning on shadows brings even the best machines to their knees. Yet even with the performance issues, the game still looks quite good. The visuals are showing signs of age, with some flat textures and jagged edges. Character models and animations still remain top-notch, and the new areas are beautifully rendered. The sound design is mostly unchanged, and Norrath is filled with noise from every possible angle. Sometimes it's filled with too much noise. As much as there is to like about the Fae, the cutesy-poo voice-overs are grating to the point of self-parody. But it's hard to fault the sonic barrage too much because it does a creditable job of making the world breathe.
Echoes of Faydwer doesn't just pack in all of the new content, though: It includes the Kingdom of Sky and Desert of Flames expansions as well. It goes without saying that if you haven't played EverQuest II, it's a great value. And if you already play? Well, the expansion has a load of new quests and characters, from gliding fairies to ticking motorized monstrosities. Echoes of Faydwer is EverQuest II's most likable expansion, thanks to its friendly new race and expansive continent, which makes it worth a look by both newcomers and veterans.