Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest series has conquered the realm of PC Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), creating a rich world that has sucked players into a constantly evolving experience. Now, the series has arrived on the PS2 with most of its essential appeal intact. Obviously, Sony has simplified a few things and streamlined the interface, but does the console version live up to the heritage? We examine EQOA and discover whether it makes a successful transition between these very different formats.
The original Everquest almost single-handedly popularized MMORPGs back in 1999 and thes series remains one of the most popular online PC titles out there. Representing the much anticipated console debut of this innovative series, Everquest Online Adventures has a lot to live up to. The PS2 edition isn't exactly the same as the PC editions and has been made more accessible with a simplified interface, faster gameplay and a much greater emphasis on action. However, the game's roots as a PC game are quite evident, which is both good and bad. Before you begin the game, you first have to create a character. There are 11 different races to choose from including Elves, Dwarves, Barbarians, Clerics and more. You can customize your character by choosing their sex, hairstyle, body look and other options. Once you have created and saved a character, you are ready to begin. Your character spawns in their home city. As the game begins, you are invited to join a Guild. After you have joined your guild, you can talk to other characters, who will give you quests, items and advice. Your first few quests serve as your introduction to the game and teach you the basic skills you'll need later on. Initially, you fight small animals and use items you get from beating them to gain experience points. Each time you complete a quest, you can save your progress by meeting a sorcerer who will bind you to that area. While these training missions are a bit dull, the real fun begins once you've completed these initial stages and begin to go outside your city to quest with other players.
EverQuest Online Adventures isn't the typical console RPG and instead takes an almost completely different approach than many video gamers are accustomed to. You'll definitely need to adjust your expectations before you begin, because if you go in expecting something as detailed and elaborate as Final Fantasy X, you're very likely to end up disappointed. While most other RPG's on the market favor single-player, solo missions, co-operation with other players is essential for players to fully appreciate the gameplay in EQOA. A number of factors make grouping with other players essential. This is especially true since the classes and races have complimentary skills that compensate for the weaknesses of others. For example, the warrior Barbarian races need the healing skills of the Druids in order to survive battles. Grouping also allows you to take on foes that are more difficult, giving you access to better items which you can then trade amongst your party and other online players. Socializing with the other members is also helpful because once you have an established party in place, you can take on quests without having to search for another group. Questing in groups also allows you to level up much faster than you would otherwise and gives you access to items you'd never get on your own. While it's a bit hard to find a group at first, once you've gained enough experience and levels, you'll find that you'll have more players asking you to join them than you know what to do with.
Like the other games in the series, EQOA takes place in the mystical realm of Tunaria, which consists of different cities and areas, scattered across a massive gameplay area. However, this installment takes place several hundred years before the PC game. Each city in the game is populated by a variety of both computer-controlled and online players. After you set out from your guild, you'll see other buildings in the village. Inside these buildings, you'll find merchants and craftsmen who you can buy, trade or sell items with. Most of these stands are populated by craftspeople who carry their own unique items, such as food, swords and armor. Exploring the cities is important, because you need to know where a specific item is located. This saves time when you need to buy an item for a mission. In addition, there are other characters roaming around such as guards and other players that you can . When you enter each domicile, you can select that character and interact with them. You spend the initial portions of the game relatively close to home, but gradually explore more areas as you receive more advanced quests. A lot of your time is spend moving from one area to another, and the constant walking gets old after awhile. Since there is such a large world to explore, this can be quite time consuming. However, each area of the game has a coachman, who can take you to other areas almost instantaneously. This speeds things up dramatically and saves the game from becoming an exercise in tedium. Unfortunately, you'll still need to walk long-distances for a large portion of the game.
A little patience and persistence is required initially, but once you learned the basics, EQOA's game world opens up dramatically and becomes much more enjoyable and immersive. The combat in the game is surprisingly fast and you won't have to spend a lot of time waiting for the next battle to occur. While the enemies are passive in the initial stages, and won't attack you unless you attack them, you'll quickly find more aggressive foes waiting for you. As you get out into the more dangerous areas, goblins will charge at you whenever they spot you. While its hard to avoid some encounters, the game helps you along by giving you an ample supply of medicine and food. The risk/reward ratio is higher when you face these enemies because defeating them gives you more valuable items. However, you will probably lose a life on more than one occasion but the game doesn't penalize you as severely as it could. This is where Binding becomes extremely important. When you die, your character respawns at your last binding point. Even better is the fact that instead of automatically losing all your items and experience, you only lose a portion of your experience. Unfortunately, recouping your losses is harder because you can only regain these points at half the rate you normally would. This makes the initial stages easier to play, with the set-backs being minor and short-lived, not the major punitive actions they could have been. You should be aware, however that other nearby characters can take the opportunity to raid the area where you died, so you need to get back to that point quickly.
Controlling your character is fairly easy and the translation does a good job in converting the commands from the PC keyboard to the PS2 controller. It's not perfect, and some of the commands can be a bit clunky. However, some of the functions from the PC version, such as hotkeys have been eliminated to simplify things. This streamlined approach makes for a simpler, more accessible game. Basic functions such as running and fighting are accomplished using the analog buttons. Selecting characters to talk to only requires you to press the shift keys. You can cycle through characters by pressing this down again. The combat system works in a similar fashion to communication, you select which enemy you want to fight and once selected, press the square button to strike them. The inventory and character status screens are also easy to use and navigate, with players pressing the pause button to call up the menus. Obviously, communication is an incredibly important aspect in EQOA and he game handles text communications in two ways. You can either use the preset menus to select basic messages, or type in messages using either the onscreen keyboard or a USB keyboard. While hunting and pecking to select the letters is a bit annoying, this is an acceptable compromise. However, players who plan on really getting into the game should really get a keyboard because using the PS2 controller slows the action down substantially.
While SOE has done a decent job in adjusting the balance of the game to emphasize action over the more esoteric socialization aspects, EQOA remains true to its PC roots. While keeping the formula consistent is probably a good idea, console gamers who've grown accustomed to the flashier style of play in video game RPG's will likely find the gameplay a bit dull. Instead of the elaborate cut-scenes and dynamic plots of console RPGs, gamers will instead find a pure role-playing game that offers a comparatively spartan approach. This is underlined by the presentation of EQOA, with its rather barren environments, bland character design and large, relatively empty environments. Even with several different worlds to explore, with varied terrain, the game's appearance is a bit flat throughout. The characters seem stiff and animate poorly with minimal texture mapping and special effects that seem rudimentary. While the lack of graphic flourish allows the game to run faster without much lag, it also makes the experience seem less robust than it could have. The sound effects are minimal with only scattered music included during battles. While this allows players to focus on the game, it makes EQOA look dated in comparison. However, the lack of visual splendor is somewhat compensated for via the depth of play and large worlds to explore.
In our experience, the log-in and set-up process was easy to get through with a few simple menus to navigate. Entering the information wasn't excessively odious and most gamers should find getting online simple. EQOA does take up quite a bit of real-estate on your memory card (Almost 3Mb), so be warned of this ahead of time. Once we got through the initial stages, we found that subsequent log-ins were speedy and flawless. SOE has already released several patches and updates for the game, but since the game automatically updates the process of downloading these was relatively painless. While some of the downloads are minor-bug fixes, SOE has already added substantial content to the game, such as new quests and additional characters. So, it's safe to say that SOE is definitely earning the $9.95 per month fee and is showing an impressive commitment to the players at this early stage. We have no doubt that the game will be even more robust in a few months as more content is added. When you enter a new session, there is quite a bit of load time, but this is worth it since once you enter the world, you can go for quite some time without encountering this screen again. However, one word of warning: you need to make sure you have saved your game through binding before you exit, since the character and inventory are saved on the game's servers, not your memory card. The performance of EQOA with our broadband connection was excellent and there was very little lag. We experienced virtually no troubling connecting to an area. From a technical standpoint, this is quite impressive considering how many thousands of players are online simultaneously. As the most ambitious online console title to date, you can't help but be impressed by how smoothly things have gone to date with almost none of the aggravation other console online titles have had to date.
While it may not appeal to a large section of the audience, EQOA is an outstanding release that definitely brings an different style of gameplay to the PS2. You're definitely going to need quite a lot of time to fully explore the game's expansive world. It's a bit faster-paced than the PC edition, though still slower than most console gamers are probably used to. While PC owners will appreciate the added speed, players weaned on video game RPGs will probably find the pace a to be too slow. However, the monster-battles do become a bit repetitive after awhile, and it takes too much time to traverse from one area of the game to another. That said, the true appeal of EQOA lies in its social aspects, which allow you to interact with other players, and undertake some truly enjoyable quests. This is probably the best aspect of the gameplay and while the community isn't cohesive yet, there's still more than enough to make for an appealing experience. While this isn't the type of game you can play casually and truly appreciate, EQOA offers literally hundreds of hours of gameplay that should keep you entertained and occupied for quite some time. It's definitely a lot deeper and its non-linear approach allows you to play at your own pace. SOE has done an excellent job and have converted their popular series to the PS2 effectively. EQOA is a little easier to get into and play than its PC brother, but retains the most-important elements that made the original title such a phenomenon. While it's doubtful PS2 owners will embrace EverQuest Online Adventures with as much passion as the PC community has, this is a solid title that fills a void in the console world and is highly recommended for PS2 owners looking for something different from the normal RPGs.