EverQuest: The Scars of Velious Review

Those that are experienced enough to explore the new lands Velious has to offer will certainly find these areas to be extremely challenging and rewarding.

Beginners need not consider The Scars of Velious, the second retail expansion to Verant's extremely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game, EverQuest. Velious is designed for EverQuest's more seasoned player population - the players who've already devoted hundreds of hours to the game. Statistically, this actually includes the vast majority of the game's more than 300,000 active subscribers. These players will find that the new expansion offers far greater challenges than any they've previously experienced in the world of Norrath, just as they'll find that the continent of Velious itself is filled with some of the most interesting and fully developed EverQuest zones to date.

The Scars of Velious is designed for players with characters at around the 35th level of experience up through the 60th-level limit. Unlike the previous expansion, The Ruins of Kunark, Velious doesn't add any new player races to the roster, nor does it cater to players just starting out. The cold, frozen continent of Velious isn't the least bit hospitable. In fact, even the weaker creatures inhabiting the continent are very aggressive, hard-hitting, and fast. Because of all the danger, the 16 new zones in the expansion definitely aren't well suited to casual exploration, nor to casual players. You'll want to travel to and in Velious with a contingent of powerful allies closeby, who can readily assist you with magical defenses, brute force, or diversions as necessary.

You arrive in Velious by means of a gigantic gnomish ship, the Icebreaker, whose bizarre front-mounted oar-paddle apparently makes it the only vessel capable of navigating the previously uncharted waters around the island. The Icebreaker will drop you off on the coast near the Iceclad Ocean, leaving you to venture forth toward such locations as the haunted Tower of Frozen Shadow, the frost giant haven called the Great Divide, the lost dwarven city of Thurgadin, and more. The most advanced players will also be eager to set foot in the two new ethereal planes in Velious: the lush plane of growth and the bizarre plane of mischief. There's also the Skyshrine, a city of dragons. Each of these zones is rather large and filled with new places to explore, creatures to fight, and treasures to loot.

Velious is a snow-covered continent, but fortunately the new zones tend to be at least as distinctive as they are snowy. The Scars of Velious was designed to be a cohesive addition to the world of Norrath, rather than a loosely connected set of new zones; specifically, you'll find that Velious is actually the site of an ancient feud between giants and dragons. Meanwhile, a race of battle-hardened dwarves has also somehow managed to survive on the sidelines. You can choose to side with any of these, at the possible risk of angering the others. Faction standings have always been a key feature in EverQuest - fighting certain types of creatures makes those creatures gradually hate you more, while their enemies grow fonder of you. So inherently evil races such as trolls, ogres, and dark elves can still eventually gain the favor of good races. Velious takes this concept a step further by making you have to choose your alliances more carefully. Certainly, it doesn't seem favorable to be at the top of either a giant's or a dragon's hate list.

The expansion introduces some new play elements that will make EverQuest more rewarding for some players but will also make the land of Velious a lot more treacherous for most everyone else. For instance, traps have been added to certain areas, so unless a war party has a rogue or a bard capable of detecting and disarming them, the entire party might fall victim. Death has never been easy to deal with in Norrath, as having to retrieve the possessions from your own corpse, let alone having to spend hours regaining the experience you've lost, can be extremely frustrating, but Velious adds a further possible complication. It's no longer safe for a player with good faction standing to drag another player's corpse to a convenient location for the revived player, as the creatures of Velious won't let someone assist their enemies. This makes death an even greater risk in Velious, so again, unless you're traveling in a large group or with high-level clerics ready to resurrect their fallen comrades, then you'd best be extremely careful.

It's true that Velious offers rewards that are suitably impressive compared with the risks involved in trying to find them. Most notably, you'll find several new types of armor in Velious, which should help further differentiate player characters' appearances.

In addition, Velious will have some indirect effects on Norrath. Since high-level players will migrate to the new continent, that'll help make more room throughout the rest of EverQuest. Players who've been previously frustrated with just how crowded Norrath can get will probably find that Velious helps alleviate this (regardless of whether they've bought the expansion), simply by providing much more room for high-level players to hunt. Of further note, since Kunark, Verant has added several new game servers to EverQuest, so server crowding is less of an issue than before. Most servers are still quite crowded at peak hours, but they're not jam-packed, and the game still plays just fine even over relatively slow modem connections.

Verant has continued to refine EverQuest in other ways since Kunark, by continually fixing the game balance, improving and enhancing the interface, and more. As a result, EverQuest is definitely a much more polished game now than it's ever been before. The game's interface is now much more fully customizable, and it features resizable windows, more room for skill buttons onscreen, and room for more macro buttons. You can even change the various font colors in the game. These changes have been patched into EverQuest already, so you needn't install Velious to use them if you already own the Kunark expansion or EverQuest before it; however, Velious does contain a significant new interface enhancement - a translucent inventory screen. This lets you play the game in the full-screen mode at high resolutions, and you never have to switch to lower resolutions when you look in your inventory, as was previously necessary. These and other changes to EverQuest's previously unrefined interface definitely make the game much more easy to use, although many of these changes are only helpful and noticeable if you've already gotten used to doing things the harder way in the game.

The Scars of Velious looks about as good as (and sometimes better than) The Ruins of Kunark, which means the new zones tend to be a lot more detailed than the original EverQuest lands. The dozens of new creatures in Velious include more anthropomorphic beasts such as otter men and walrus men, as well as more serious-looking threats such as the giants and the dragons. Some of these have new sound effects, and Velious even has some new music in it. However, given the amount of time most players spend with EverQuest, chances are they'll be listening to something other than the game's repetitive combat theme and other sounds as they spend their free time in Velious.

Some players will find that Velious is very frustrating from the start, when they're initially forced to download a large patch just to get the expansion working with the game. But these frustrations are and always have been inherent to EverQuest. With the exception of adding traps for rogues and bards to detect and deactivate, some new spells for the magic users, and a few new combat disciplines for the melee fighters, The Scars of Velious otherwise does nothing to modify the various player-character classes or to change the fundamental way the game has always played. Like EverQuest, The Scars of Velious demands that you spend a serious amount of time with it, and that you establish a tight network of reliable online allies. Players who meet these demands and who've already devoted a lot of their time to the core game will find that the new expansion is worthwhile, as its low cost will easily translate into hundreds of additional hours of gameplay. On the other hand, there's nothing about Velious to recommend the expansion to anyone who isn't already immersed in Norrath. Perhaps this is the key to the success of The Scars of Velious. It's clearly stated on the box that it isn't suitable for inexperienced players, while those who are experienced enough to explore the new lands it has to offer will certainly find these areas to be extremely challenging and rewarding.

The Good

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The Bad

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