|When Everquest came out last March, the big question was whether
it could unseat Ultima Online as the benchmark of massively multiplayer RPG gaming. And after a few teething problems, the verdict
came in. The king was dead; long live the king. Everquests combination of in-depth
classes and races, first-person gameplay, 3D graphics, and massive gameworld left UO in
the dust, and EQ became an astonishing success story. In the last year over 200,000 gamers
have braved the dangers of Norrath, and the game has spawned a fanatic following,
innumerable websites, and a whole new way of gaming.
But even EQs most hardcore defenders would admit that the game has some problems. Some of them are built into the game system itselffor example, the combat system is pretty mundane, and as many hardcore RPGers have pointed out, there is precious little real role-playing in EQ. But ironically, the games biggest shortcomings have stemmed from its popularity. Though Verant set the character level cap at what probably seemed at the time a hefty 50, it wasnt long before some devoted gamers had maxed their characters out. And while EQs zones seemed plenty roomy at launch, it wasnt long before the game became very overcrowded. EQs servers were designed to accommodate 1,500 players eachduring peak hours many servers were hitting 2,000 players. This overcrowding revealed the most egregious gameplay flaw in EQs designits emphasis on camping. For all of Norraths roominess, most of the creatures in EQ spawned in set spots, and doing well in the game depended upon getting into a group that was camping those spots. On a crowded server, gamers could spend a lot of time looking for a place to hunt; very often everything worth hunting in every zone was already camped, and frustration usually set in.
The Ruins of Kunark, Verants Everquest expansion, successfully addresses some of these problems. Besides providing a new race, a new continent, new creatures, thousands of new items and improved graphics, Kunark also allows players to build their characters up to level 60, and the addition of enormous new zones and more wandering monsters does a lot to alleviate the camping problem.
But the most obvious differences in Kunark are the big oneslike a whole new continent, for instance. With over 20 zones, many of them for higher-level players, Kunark is a sprawling and nasty place. A word of warning: be very careful where you tread in Kunark. Some of the zones are insanely dangerous, and even players in the high 40s have found it impossible to retrieve their corpses from the hairier zones. But there are some very nice hunting areas for mid-levels as well; zones like the Lake of Ill Omen or Warsliks Woods are vast and provide good hunting for levels from 15-35 or so. Even better, the zones are so large and the creature spawns so prolific that camping is not a problemat least yet. So far, you can always find something to hunt in Kunark. And from what I understand, the exodus of adventurers to Kunark has left many camps in the Old World open as well.
Kunark also contains a new race: the evil Iksar lizardmen. Theyre an interesting bunch. If you choose to play Iksar, you can be either a monk, warrior, shaman, shadow knight or necromancer. Though their cold-blooded metabolisms dont allow them to wear plate armor, Iksar have a suite of nifty abilities. They regenerate damage quickly, swim like fish, have infravision, and can learn to use deadly tail attacks. Their city of Cabilis is intricate and by far the best-looking of all the home cities in Norrath, and their newbie zones offer some of the best low-level experience and loot in the game. All in all, the agile Iksar look to be one of the more interesting and powerful races in EQ. But theyre certainly not the most popular. As an Iksar, youll be kill on sight in almost any other city; if you leave Kunark, youd best keep a wary eye out.
By the way, Kunark looks great. I mean, dont expect Quake III graphicsat first glance, in fact, you may not notice all that much difference between EQs and Kunarks looks. But as you spend more time in Kunark, youll begin to notice the subtle differences. Trees sway in the wind. The polygon count is much higher, so Kunark doesnt look nearly as sharp and blocky as many of the original EQ zones. Best of all, the MoB models are excellent. For example, little details--like the elaborate headdress and tongue studs that goblins in Kunark wear--contrast them starkly with their plainish cousins in Butcher Block.
At least initially, Kunark had some awful sound problems. The new sound files apparently werent ready for implementation at launch, so for the first two months players had to suffer through some really terrible placeholdersfor example, sabretooth tigers who shouted and groaned like humans. Thats all fixed up as of this writing, and while there still seem to be a couple of glitches, most of the new sounds are pretty darn cool.
But besides that, Verant has to be congratulated for orchestrating a nearly flawless expansion. Dont get me wrong; if you didnt like Everquest, theres nothing in Ruins of Kunark that will change your mind. Its still EQ. But if youre an avid EQ player, you cant afford not to have Kunark. Theres nothing revolutionary about itit just makes a great game even better.