EverQuest was a giant of a game in every sense. Born in 1999 of Sony/Verant parentage, this massively multiplayer online roleplaying game catered to hundreds of thousands of players during its five year reign. It might not have been the first or the most innovative, but it became far and away the most polished, popular and expansive example of the genre. It also became widely know as Evercrack for its ridiculous addictive qualities, and for lurid Transatlantic stories of EverQuest related suicides, divorces and sackings.
Now, after months of intensive beta testing, the world of Norrath is ready once again, to open its doors to the public. EverQuest II has arrived.
If you want to be cavalier about it, you could sum it up a little like this: It's part of the Dungeons and Dragons tradition, a Tolkienesque world of monsters, quests and people bickering with each other while pretending to be Gandalf and saying Thee and Thou for no good reason. It has standard roleplaying experience conventions, advancements in rank and power, and a repetitive combat and loot system. It's online, and it's a license to print money.
That's the basic recipe, and EverQuest II is more of the same only prettier. There you go, simple, isn't it?
In one respect, it is pretty much the case. There was no way that EverQuest II could ever afford to be a major departure from the successful formula of the original, and as expected, this new release clearly is a refinement and evolution of existing ideas in the genre rather than a brave new world in its own right..
However it is also such a complex project that short of writing a three part novel it would be impossible to address - and assess - all of the new features and the reasons behind them. As with all massively multiplayer gameworlds it will need to mature for months or even years before we see the real measure of EverQuest II. As such, treat this review as a slice in time, if you will - a look at the major issues and the quality of the experience promised in this new-born Norrath.
First impressions last
So let's get down to business. The game is set after the shattering of one of Norrath's moons, causing a radical restructuring of the environment. This explains why some of it looks very familiar, and yet how some strange new areas - and races - have sprung up. If the original playing arena was large, this is simply enormous.
Having chosen a server, you create your own avatar and enter the world either at the good city of Queynos or with the naughty lads at Freeport. The depth of character customisation is almost a game in itself as you chose from 12 races (including all the old favourites and new ones such as the cat-like Kerra) and then settle down to deciding every detail from the length of your nose to the arch of an eyebrow. Choosing a name is also something of a game depending on what you're trying to get past the Sony 'acceptability' filters. Sadly, it was not to be for Lingus The Cunning.
You begin the game with the tutorial and starter island. This gives you time to familiarise yourself with the conventions and set up your own preferred interface - it's an excellent UI where every window, bar or icon can be moved, resized, adjusted for transparency, hidden and so forth.
Next you are asked to choose between becoming a fighter, mage, priest or druid, and from there you are given a progressive series of quests to introduce the social aspects of the game. It's clear from the outset how much more emphasis there is on questing than there was in its predecessor, as you are sent on a number of starter errands across the city and surround domains. You're forced to explore and interact; you can't just rush out and start bashing away if you want to make any progress. Questing also forms the backbone of artisan advancement and item loot gathering.
However it's not until you get off the tutorial island and arrive in one of the two major cities that the game engine really starts to make its presence felt. The sheer scale, complexity and imagination of the environment is simply breathtaking. It's a visual and technological tour de force. And to cap it all, every single non-player character (NPC) in the game has a full-audio voice-over.