Taking players to the realm of the mystic world Norrath once again, Sony Online's Everquest II offers abundant enhancements that make this already immersive and addictive series even better. The biggest changes involve enhanced guild, skill and journal systems, streamlined play, new races and classes plus an enhanced journal system that makes keeping track of your progress much easier. Also impressive is the extensive use of audio and the visual upgrades, which create an even more impressive world vastly more detailed than the original game. EverQuest II is also remarkably easy to play, thanks to its extensive tutorial and simple controls. While fans of the original will probably be the most excited about EQII, players new to this universe should also find plenty to enjoy.
As the sequel to one of the biggest online MMPORG's of all time, the expectations for Everquest II are obviously quite high among the series' legions of dedicated fans. The game takes place hundreds of years after the events in the first EverQuest. In the new game, the mystical land of Norrath has suffered a series of calamities that leave only two small cities standing. One of the cities represents the light side, while forces of evil populate the other. This definitely gives the new game sense of tension that the first game lacked. Before you begin your quest, you first need to create a character. There are 16 different races to choose from including the usual humans, orcs, elves, and fairies. Only a few of these are available initially with more exotic lizard and rat races becoming available later in the game. Players can customize their characters appearance with different facial features, hairstyles, clothing, eyes, skin tone, and age. Once you have decided on their looks, you can select which class they'll be from more than 48 specialties including wizards, fighters, craftsmen and many more. Fortunately, you aren't locked into a specific class for the entire game and can change this if you become bored of it. After you've created your character, you have to decide which side they'll align with. This plays a key role in what kind of game you'll play - the good side takes place in a bucolic setting while the bad guys have an evil city. Some of the races and classes in the game are also unique to these sides, so you have to choose them carefully. The balance between the various races and classes is fairly good, though those with stronger fighting skills seem to have an advantage over weaker races. However, the real key to success in the game is building up your character's experience over time, so the differences are actually only a matter of degrees. Your skill as a player matters much more than which class or race you select.
EverQuest 2's structure follows the basic parameters of the first game, with players opting to complete or not complete a series of quests, which can involve fighting monsters, locating items, and other tasks. Players will face off against more than 100 different types of monsters in their quests, ranging from simple rodents which are easy to kill and more difficult enemies such as skeletons later on. The combat system itself is easier to use but more flexible this time around. When you encounter an enemy, you can choose from a number of options. The first thing you need to decide is which type of attack you want to use. You can choose to attack with a weapon, use a magic spell or call on other characters for assistance. Players also have the option to flee a battle if it doesn't look like it's going their way. When a player does die, recovery is a lot faster and easier than in the first game because the penalties aren't as great. Instead of losing all your items and progress, you are instead penalized with slightly reduced armor and attack strength, and can recover these by contacting a sage. This makes the experience far less frustrating for newbies, while experienced players won't have to risk losing all their progress if they fall prey to an unusually aggressive foe. The gameplay is much easier to learn this time around with a far less steep learning curve that makes progression go much faster. Most of the earlier missions are simple and can be completed easily by a solo player, but the more complicated quests require you to team up with other players and form a party.
As you play through various missions and quests, you'll earn experience points, gold and other items. Your character's abilities increase with experience, making them more proficient fighters, or better craftsmen as you progress through the game. Players can interact with other characters in the game who'll assign them tasks, ask them to join guilds or even trade items with them. The Guild system is quite interesting, it allows you to align with other characters in a group, which can then increase all players' skill levels when tasks are finished, even if your character didn't finish them. While these gameplay changes seem subtle, they play a big role in the game, making it slightly easier to increase your skill level quickly. This helps to relieve some of the tedium often seen in these types of games where you spend many hours playing before you can achieve even minimal experience levels. This makes the gameplay much more enjoyable than you'd expect, giving EverQuest II and immediate and much broader appeal than the first game. While you'd think the earlier missions would be dull, you'd be mistaken since the game rarely falls into the monotony that afflicts many other MMPORG's. While the quests and combat are quite enjoyable, the real key to EverQuest's appeal has always been its community aspects, and the new game doesn't fall short in this department.
Interacting with other characters in the game can be accomplished in a number of ways. You can initiate a conversation with other players by turning and facing them. This can lead to friendships, which can then lead to forming guilds which allow you to become part of the virtual community. After you get deeper into the game, you can buy and control your own property including houses, apartments and more. You can then host a variety of events such as tournaments and parties where you can further socialize with other players. The experience is incredibly rich and satisfying, though this largely depends on the players you encounter and their commitment to the game's world. With so many items in the game, its critical to strike up relationships, since this allows you to trade and buy items you wouldn't otherwise be able to collect. The other advantage to this system is that it gives you a much broader array of character experience, which lets you build yourself up much faster. Cooperation is also a key element in many of the more dangerous quests, so its better to have companions you know than those you don't. The world of Norrath is vast and can be quite intimidating, with hundreds of locations such as cities, villages, dungeons, seas and forests to explore. The game's scope and magnitude is evident throughout with the sheer variety of other characters that populate every area. This makes EverQuest II a fascinating adventure in a world that feels realistic precisely because it's filled with living breathing, unpredictable characters with events constantly unfolding around you.
While the gameplay enhancements are quite impressive, the biggest changes in EverQuest II come in the form of the visuals, which have undergone a dramatic facelift. The world of Norrath is rendered in exceptional detail, with every location looking crisp. From the intricately detailed cities, to expansive mountain terrain, everything about the game's environments is impressive, with realistic weather and lighting effects making the world come alive. This gives the game an incredible look throughout and this impressive sense of scale makes the experience feel all the more epic. The characters themselves have also been rendered in exquisite detail, with much more fluid animation and movement giving each citizen a more life-like appearance. The increased variety of customization options also goes a long way in suspending the player's sense of disbelief. Everquest II's monsters and enemies have also been upgraded with improved texturing and more detailed modeling. The visual polish and artistic excellence is evident impressive throughout, especially considering the aesthetic compromises that typically come with the online role-playing genre. SOE's ambitious design also extends to the dialogue in the game, which is far more extensive than most other titles and features actors such as Christopher Lee in key roles. This definitely adds to the sense of walking into an epic movie, like Lord of the Rings instead of merely playing an online game. While many games of this type skimp on production values, EverQuest II does the opposite and creates one of the most immersive and beautifully designed MMPORG's on the market to date.
EverQuest II's visual enhancements are obviously the most immediate improvement to the game, but look underneath and you'll find the solid gameplay and community aspects that have underlined the game's success from the beginning. While it still offers the same immersive, deeply satisfying experience as previous games, the steep learning curve has been lessened which allows new players to get to the more interesting aspects of the game much faster. The larger scope and increased number of missions makes for a more varied and interesting experience that should have even more long-term appeal than the first game. The world that the developers have created is so evocative, detailed and beautiful that you can't help but be impressed. Players everywhere probably had high expectations and fortunately, EverQuest II delivers and experience that transcends the first title to create a truly immersive experience.