EverQuest: The Shadows of Luclin Review

The Shadows of Luclin is easily the biggest, most significant EverQuest expansion yet, and considering the massive size of the other expansions, that's no small feat.

EverQuest was originally released in 1999, nearly three years ago. It wasn't the first game of its kind by any means, though it was the first to feature a fully 3D graphics engine. Its impressive graphics drew many players to the game, who found in it a huge, detailed fantasy world and a surprisingly complex combat system. In short, many of those who started playing EverQuest years ago are still playing it now. A lot of these players have already purchased The Shadows of Luclin, EverQuest's third retail expansion pack. The launch of the expansion's new content early this December didn't go as smoothly as possible, much to these players' chagrin. Luclin also has some of the most demanding system requirements of any PC game ever released. That's because it's a very ambitious expansion to Verant's persistently popular online role-playing game. Not only does The Shadows of Luclin give EverQuest a graphical overhaul, but it offers even more new content than either of the previous EverQuest expansions--including dozens of new adventure zones, a new playable race, a new character class, new skills for high-level players, and more.

Luclin features an all-new character race and an all-new class...
Luclin features an all-new character race and an all-new class...

The Shadows of Luclin installs off of three CDs. The expansion requires a minimum of 256MB of RAM, but 512MB is required for optimal performance. Regardless of whether you install the expansion, EverQuest now requires Microsoft's DirectX 8.1 API, which isn't supported under the Windows 95 operating system. To this end, the publishers of EverQuest are actually offering Windows 95 users a refund--these users, should they choose to stick with their operating system, will no longer be able to play EverQuest at all. The Shadows of Luclin also retails for $30--that's $10 more than the previous two expansions cost EverQuest players. And of course, to keep playing the game, you still have to keep paying the approximate $10 monthly fee. EverQuest has always required a serious investment of both money and time--and The Shadows of Luclin is no exception. Yet because of all that it offers, this expansion manages to be very worthwhile. If your system cannot currently handle it, or handle it well, Luclin's new features might just compel you to upgrade.

Structurally, The Shadows of Luclin is more like EverQuest's first expansion, The Ruins of Kunark, than like the second, The Scars of Velious. Velious was specifically catered to experienced players and consisted primarily of new adventure zones designed for high-level characters. On the other hand, Kunark offered a wide range of zones, suitable both for beginners and experienced players alike. Kunark also introduced an interesting, new lizardman race to EverQuest's already-impressive assortment of more than a dozen player races. In that vein, The Shadows of Luclin introduces yet another character race, a powerful feline species called the vah shir, which can be bards, rogues, shamans, warriors, or beast lords--the latter of which is a brand-new character class.

Verant has stated many times in the past that EverQuest had been balanced to support the game's original 14 different character classes, and no more. Indeed, between all of these, there was no shortage of variety. The dangerous environments of EverQuest have always demanded that you adventure in groups, and Verant has spent years tinkering each class so that it offers important, distinct contributions to any war party. So the addition of an all-new class is actually a big deal. The beast lord is an interesting hybrid fighter/magic-user that gains the natural ability to summon animal guardians to help it fight, as well as the power to cast spells specifically designed to boost this animal companion's fighting abilities. The beast lord itself is also no pushover in hand-to-hand combat and eventually acquires a variety of useful miscellaneous spells, such as healing and the ubiquitous Spirit of Wolf. The beast lord's versatile abilities make it a good choice for players who prefer not to group with others all the time or even for those who've never played EverQuest before. A number of EverQuest's races--barbarians, trolls, ogres, iksar, and now the vah shir--can be created as beast lords.

...as well as plenty of tough, new foes to fight.
...as well as plenty of tough, new foes to fight.

If you've devoted hundreds of hours to building up a high-level character (or maybe more than one), then perhaps you're not willing to retire it and start a beast lord just yet. Fortunately, Luclin has something for you, too. Though Shadows of Luclin doesn't extend EverQuest's experience level cap past 60, it does allow for characters of 51st level or above to earn powerful, new abilities in place of experience levels. You can actually set the percentage of the experience points you gain that you want to go into this alternate advancement pool. As you defeat high-level enemies, you'll eventually gain special advancement points that let you do such things as permanently boost your stats or your innate abilities, fundamentally improve your combat or magic skills, and much, much more. There are a variety of general skills, class-specific skills, and archetypal skills (for fighter classes or mage classes) for you to choose from. Some of the new high-level skills seem extremely useful--for instance, warriors can gain the ability to attack, or just taunt, every creature within a radius of effect. Many such skills have prerequisite skills you must learn first. At any rate, the opportunity for you to continue improving and specializing your high-level characters should keep you occupied with your preexisting characters for months.

You don't need to reach level 51 before you can customize your character in Luclin. You can customize him or her superficially thanks to the new character graphics. Previously, EverQuest let you choose from a handful of different male or female faces for each race. Now, depending on the race, you can change the hair style and color, optionally add facial hair, and change eye color, all independently of the actual face you choose. The new character models themselves are noticeably much more detailed than the original EverQuest models, especially their faces, with their clearly defined eyes, noses, and mouths.

Some of the new models aren't necessarily a definitive improvement over their predecessors--for instance, you might prefer the stocky, distinctive ogres and trolls of the original EverQuest to Luclin's more upright, more humanoid revisions. Most races look undeniably better now, though, as do some of the other newly enhanced character models, such as those for magicians' summoned elementals. Being able to get right up close, face-to-face, with another player character and see the whites of his or her eyes is quite remarkable. Also, while different types of armor in the original EverQuest merely changed the corresponding texture (or texture color) on the character, in Luclin, different types of armor are fully 3D modeled. It's great to see characters looking lean in lighter suits of armor or big and imposing in heavier types of protection.

Norrath shines brightly over the fortress town of Katta Castellum.
Norrath shines brightly over the fortress town of Katta Castellum.

The new character graphics aren't the only visual enhancement featured in Shadows of Luclin. The expansion also provides enhanced, sharper textures and improved lighting effects for all of EverQuest's countless environments. As a result, most preexisting EverQuest zones end up looking cleaner and more colorful than before. However, don't expect to be wowed by EverQuest's scenery. The simple geometry found in most zones still remains intact, so if not for the enhanced character art, EverQuest wouldn't look much different after Luclin. Actually, the sight of the highly detailed characters standing amid the sometimes plain-looking environments can be jarring--all the more so because, depending on how much RAM you have, the game will actually encourage you to pick and choose which enhanced character models you want displayed. With 256MB of RAM, it's suggested you toggle on only half of the new models. Even if you comply, you'll still find that the game's loading times will seem considerably slower than before you installed Luclin. Fortunately, having the recommended amount of RAM improves this considerably, although you still might find the game pausing briefly at times when a wide variety of player races are onscreen simultaneously--this could be detrimental during large raids. At any rate, seeing a new character standing next to an old one can be rather bizarre, though you'll be thankful for the ability to custom-toggle the new graphics to suit either your system or your tastes.

While the new graphics and the new race and class may be the most obvious enhancements in Luclin, it's the addition of all the new zones that will likely provide the most longevity. All told, Luclin introduces about 30 new zones to the already-enormous world of EverQuest. In fact, if there were any question before, then by now it should be plainly apparent that EverQuest's world is by far the largest found in any game. Luclin's new zones are exciting, interesting, and fraught with new types of danger. Luclin itself is actually the moon of EverQuest's world of Norrath, so expect to see some decidedly unusual sights in these new lands, many of which are cast in the pale glow of Norrath shining down from the sky. Luclin's huge outdoor areas are colorful and diverse. Some are craggy, harsh lands speckled with organized enemy encampments. Other areas are filled with forests of giant mushrooms. The serenely beautiful twilight sea provides even more contrast to Luclin's settings, and civilized territories--including Shar Vahl, the Egyptian-style vah shir home city, and Katta Castellum, a human settlement filled with gothic cathedrals--are particularly impressive.

Needless to say, some of the challenges in these new zones are tremendous and should satisfy even the most seasoned EverQuest players. Many of Luclin's new zones also let you embark on involving new quests, which sometimes require complex interactions with nonplayer characters. You might have to follow them to different places or fight alongside them in battle, rather than simply talk to them and give them things. Luclin's other vaunted feature is the addition of horses that you can purchase and ride around. These range from very expensive to extremely expensive and essentially just let you move slightly faster than you normally could, besides just being a status symbol. The manual promises an enhanced interface, but this hasn't been implemented yet, except in the improved patching utility that launches the program. There are some new sound effects in The Shadows of Luclin, though the game could have benefited from an audio overhaul on the scale of what was done with the graphics.

Luclin should keep new and old players occupied for a long time.
Luclin should keep new and old players occupied for a long time.

Perhaps that's asking for too much--but when you get a lot, it's easy to want more. Fortunately, if it's more you want, then EverQuest is your game. Luclin has a huge amount of new content itself, but it's not the only thing that's happened to EverQuest since the release of Velious last year--new zones, new treasures, and other enhancements still continue to be added to EverQuest with regularity. By now, there are approximately 40 different game servers running, including a role-playing-preferred server that offers an unusual twist on some of EverQuest's basic rules, various player-vs.-player-focused servers, and a server localized for European players. EverQuest's gameplay has been carefully refined over the years. The game still fundamentally encourages you to form groups and hunker down and fight monsters for hours on end. But the way many of its zones balance risk and reward, the way that various character classes complement each other in battle, and the sheer variety found in the gameworld are all things that EverQuest does uniquely well. It's not hard to see why so many players still devote so much of their time and energy to the game.

The Shadows of Luclin is easily the biggest, most significant EverQuest expansion yet, and considering the massive size of the other expansions, that's no small feat. You could criticize it for its turbulent and perhaps premature launch, but that's already water under the bridge. You could also knock it for its steep system requirements, but in due time, that will be water under the bridge as well. The fact is this expansion ensures the livelihood of a majority of EverQuest players for yet another long stretch of time; that is, it ensures EverQuest will remain very competitive with any other games in its category for the foreseeable future--for at least another year. And though it will be a costly investment for players who aren't already playing EverQuest, Luclin is even impressive enough that it will likely bring a lot of new players to the game, most of whom will be genuinely surprised at how great EverQuest still is after all this time.


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