Everquest is arguably the best MMORPG on the market, even after being out for five years. With a huge geographical area to explore, tons of creatures to fight, oodles of items and weapons to find, and plenty of quests to fulfill, Everquest was and still is a superior gaming experience. So now, after being released just last month, does Everquest II add anything to an already near perfect fantasy/roleplaying game?
Yes and no. Everquest keeps with the tradition of its predecessor with highly detailed characters, plenty of action, and lots of places to explore, yet falls a tad short of being an excellent game. Mainly, this is due to its high technical specifications, which will give you a lot of slowdown and lag if your playing on anything less than the best gaming system money can buy. That's great news for those who have that system; for everyone else, expect some headaches and frustration in the form of crashes, forced downgrades in environmental details, and slideshow graphics.
However, five years in the making, Everquest II does bring to the table some significantly enhanced features to make fans of the original (and all of its expansions) consider a purchase. One of the biggest enhancements is the engine. The engine is designed to take advantage of the new hardware being developed over the next few years, which gives players peace of mind knowing that it will continue being a solid fantasy/roleplaying game, and one in which you can confidently continue sinking your paycheck and free time. As was already mentioned though, you'll need a pretty darn fast system to be able to get much enjoyment out of it. Even those who have a top-of-the-line system may still experience hiccups and occasional slowdowns here and there. You've been warned.
The game itself, when everything is operating as it should, is highly impressive, though, as landscapes are incredibly detailed and the lighting and particle effects for such things as spells and other magical abilities are amazing. Character models are well animated and have a decent polygon count. The game boasts a first for MMO games in that even non-playable characters have spoken dialogue now, which really takes a huge step over the original in bringing the game to life. In fact, there are over 70,000 spoken lines of dialogue in the game, which is an incredible feat to pull off, especially in an MMORPG.
The story is fairly cliched and simple, as you start the game as a refugee and are picked up by a boat headed for the Isle of Refuge. It's here that you can choose your allegiance between good or evil, and make your way to one of two surviving cities of Norrath: Qeynos or Freeport - Qeynos being the city of good, and Freeport being aligned with evil. In the game, you'll find thousands of items, complete quests galore, and fight with hundreds of creatures.
The character system is fairly typical for a game of this nature, in which you can choose from 16 races and 24 different classes, which is a respectable number. Interfaces are all well built and easy to read and navigate. One great thing about Everquest II is its fairly in-depth tutorial, which does a great job of teaching you the ropes, whether you're brand new to MMO games, or a seasoned veteran of Everquest. This tutorial goes a long way in helping you get a healthy start in the game and is highly recommended for beginners. Veterans who haven't played Everquest for awhile will also find the tutorial refreshing and enjoyable, while polishing up on their techniques.
One surprising omission in the game is that there is no player vs. player aspect, which was a big deal in the original. Instead, you are introduced to guilds, which you can join and complete tasks with throughout the game. Forming a guild is a fairly simplistic task, which requires a decent stash of gold and some other players who share your same goals. Your guild will experience leveling-up just as your individual player does, as each one of your members complete certain tasks commanded of them. Your goal is to be the most prestigious guild in the game by building up your stats and becoming bigger and bigger, and by completing more and more tasks. This alleviates the no player vs. player? problem somewhat, and it can be a very challenging - and rewarding - aspect of the game.
Combat in Everquest II is fairly straight-forward, mimicking the original's. However, one main difference in Everquest II is the fact that your character has a lot more abilities, which can really make the combat fun and exciting. However, as previously mentioned, having a top-of-the-line system will greatly improve your combat, as not having one may produce more headaches than the combat may actually be worth.
A nice touch - at least in the beginning of the game - is a faint, glowing path that leads you back to where you died so you can pick up your spirit shard. This helps quite a bit where it's needed most - in the beginning - especially for first-time Everquest adventurers. However, you'll notice that this stream disappears as you get further into the game, after which you'll be on your own, which is fine since the meat of the game is in exploration and adventuring, not hand-holding, which most die-hard players will appreciate.
Which leads me to another major gripe. It's a real shame that it takes so darn long to load from one zone to another. This is a serious problem in the game and may have the more impatient players throwing they're hands up in frustration. In some instances I was waiting for well over a minute for a zone to load. Since you'll encounter many zones while playing the game, that adds up to lots and lots of wasted time staring at a loading screen, which I'm sure most players aren't paying to see.
As previously mentioned, the audio is one of the strongest points of the game. Over 130 hours of dialogue were recorded for Everquest II, which means that just about every player you encounter, including NPC's, will have spoken dialogue. Most of it's good, but there are some voices you'll wish had been left out. However, they have recruited some top notch voice actors in the form of Christopher Lee and Heather Graham, and a slew of other voice talents that lend a great performance and really enhance the atmosphere of the game.
Other than that, expect the same basic magic and mayhem as you did in the original game, just lots more of it. Everquest II is certainly a worthy addition to the now vast library of MMORPG's out there, but if you're looking for that special, epic gem that only comes along every other blue moon and blows you out of the water, you may have to look elsewhere, as Everquest II is really just more of the same, and doesn't quite have the impact that the original had. The game has its good points, its great points, and points that should crawl away and die, but for the most part, it's a fairly decent game on its own right. For those who have played the original Everquest to death and are yearning for more of Norrath, Everquest II will certainly fill that void in your life. Here's to hoping you get that Alienware system you've been asking for for Christmas. You're going to need it.
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