EverQuest has become synonymous with “addiction.” Since the original’s release in 1999, it has become one of the most popular massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) of all time. Those who know little about games recognize the name EverQuest – sometimes affectionately referred to as “EverCrack.” The EQ legacy continues with EverQuest II, the much-anticipated sequel. Subsequent MMORPG releases after the original EverQuest have copied, modified, and built upon the incredible innovations that EQ introduced. vIn this same vein, EverQuest II does the same, building upon all that has been created since the original’s release. Though it does not revolutionize the genre, EverQuest II proves to be a worthy sequel and an addicting MMORPG.
Gamers are thrust once again into Norrath, the world first encountered in the prequel. However things are not quite the same. Civilization, for the most part, has fallen apart. This leaves only two main hubs for commercial trade and residence: Freeport and Qeynos. Freeport stands as the home to those of evil persuasion, and Qeynos to those who have decided to live a life of honor and righteousness. When creating a character gamers are allowed to choose the city that will have their allegiance. Though the cities differ greatly from an architectural point of view, they are about equal in size (both quite large) and quests do not differ significantly based on which city you call home; there are mere superficial differences between the types of fetch quests and the like. One issue that many complain of (at the time of this review) is the lack of player versus player action. Considering the most intricate part of EQ2’s plot is the dynamic between this good and evil, one would assume that the stage would be set for grand battles and the like. This is not the case, unless patches and expansions add this kind of feature. It almost feels as if the developers sold the game short.
Though the world is immersive, EQ2 features a lackluster plot. Though MMORPG titles do not focus on plot development as a means for progression (for obvious reasons) they have become more and more intricate since the days of the original EQ. The recent success Final Fantasy XI: Online demonstrated just how much of an integral part storyline can play in this genre. Considering FFXI built upon much of what the original EverQuest brought to the genre, one would expect the sequel to trump all – but this isn’t so. Rather than involving the gamer in a continuing, evolving plot, it merely serves as the setting and generates an appropriate atmosphere.
Despite my grievances with the plot, EverQuest II makes up for its transgressions in the sound category. The game features a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack with numerous epic, sweeping pieces. The recording quality is extraordinary and there are some catchy melodies I found myself humming. The only complaint I can foster against the lovely soundtrack is its inappropriate nature; many times the gamer is greeted with an epic blast from the orchestra in some of the most calm and/or unusual times. It just doesn’t quite match the pace or atmosphere sometimes and this may annoy some. Sound effects are equally as impressive; rather than re-using a limited number of sound effects, I was aurally bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of interesting and unique sound effects for specific weapons, items, and actions. Perhaps most impressive is the spoken dialogue. Almost every NPC has spoken lines of dialogue, whether it is a passing comment or instructions for a quest. Rather than becoming overbearing, the inclusion of voice acting further immerses the gamer in the world of Norrath. Additionally, the quality of the voice actors themselves is top-notch; lines are spoken with proper emphasis and clear diction. Sony definitely raised the bar in this respect. Future MMORPG titles will certainly make an attempt to incorporate such a large amount of spoken dialogue. Audio and visual cues are important for any videogame, and EQ2 is one of the best aural experiences for any role-playing gamer.
Speaking of visuals, EQ2 continues to impress with its technical features. Norrath is a fully polygonal 3-D world filled with a variety of areas that don’t cease to dazzle. Everything from the textures of bronzed armor to blue robes has a vibrant quality not usually present in games of this type. The lighting effects are in a league of their own, and water actually looks like water rather than a sea of blue and silver polygons with stilted wave animations. The quality of character animation is even more intricate; EQ2 abandons jilted battle stances and movement and features smooth, realistic physical reactions and fluid casting animation. But such impressive visuals require powerful hardware. Even on a more powerful machine EQ2 can be quite taxing – I couldn’t run it at maximum effects in one of the higher resolutions with my RADEON 9800 XT (256MB) graphics card. This bodes well for the future, as Sony most definitely wants to keep EQ2 a graphically impressive game for years to come.
I could spend pages upon pages analyzing and describing the intricacies of gameplay, but not only would I bore myself (and the reader) I think that experience is best left to EQ2. There is also little to explain, as EQ2 does not stray very far from traditional MMORPG gameplay. Most gamers will spend their time battling enemies for experience points, whether in a group or solo. These engagements are handled in a familiar manner; analyzing the enemy’s strength thanks to an easy to read colored bar above their heads (you obviously don’t want to start smacking something that will wax you in one hit) and then clicking, clicking, and clicking. Simply clicking the mouse will engage your character into battle; from there, physical attacks will repeat and you can use magic (depending on your character’s class) or items in order to stay alive and slay your foe. Most of this won’t be new to the seasoned MMORPG veteran. Although there are a few tweaks, it’s the same thing that’s been around for some number of years. One minor addition to the battle system is the “Heroic Opportunity.” Sometimes, under certain circumstances in battle, attacks trigger special ones that form a chain reaction, unleashing deadly amounts of damage. Reminiscent of the “skill chain” from Final Fantasy XI, it’s not integral to gameplay, but a welcome addition.
I pause to warn (perhaps remind) weary gamers new to the genre of the MMORPG: plan on investing quite a bit of time in the game in order to experience a variety of things. Much like any other game in the genre, EQ2 can be quite repetitive, especially at its earliest stages. Character classes don’t start branching out into specific areas till after level 10, so don’t expect an incredible amount of diversity with regards to abilities and the like. Additionally, though EQ2 is quite quest-laden, much of the earlier quests won’t even touch on the intricacies one sees as playtime increases. I only spent a little over a hundred hours with the game and experienced only 1/100th of what is available to gamers. Don’t expect to see anything out of the ordinary (or deviate much from the low-level grind) for about 30-50 hours.
There are many minor gripes with gameplay presentation, but none of these detract much from the experience. For instance, many players (me included) have found that the quest log is inherently useless in its current form; many of the fetch quests are quite taxing on the memory, and rather than grouping quests by the specific area in which the goal lies, they are organized via where it originated. Sadly, this is of little help. Additionally, the load times between zones can sometimes be outrageously lengthy. Sometimes I wondered if my PC had turned into the original model Sony PlayStation loading a first-generation title (hopefully everyone gets that little joke… otherwise I’m getting too old.) The flip side about the zoning issues is that Sony decided to anticipate heavy server loads and implemented a quite fascinating idea. If the zone you’re about to enter is too populated and would feasibly have considerable lag issues, the game creates a mirror of the same zone. This eliminates over camping and contributes to a less clogged atmosphere. Lag is any MMORPG’s worst nightmare, and this is certainly an interesting step in the right direction.
EverQuest II does not make a profound mark on MMORPG titles that its predecessor did. However, this doesn’t mean it’s by any means a bad MMORPG; it’s just not innovative. Gamers flocked to the original because it introduced a whole new way to play an online RPG. The draw to its sequel is simply that it is a refined, updated, and polished version of the original. There are additions, extras, and differences between the two, but don’t buy EQ2 expecting to play a revolutionary MMORPG. It offers solid gameplay, outstanding audio and video, and yes, it’s every bit as addicting as the original. But isn’t almost any MMORPG?