You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.


GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes) star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)

by Verant


It's EQ, with improved graphics and a new continent, race, and items. Has helped a lot with camping problem.

Downs: Initial sound problems, doesn't address some of game's deeper problems.

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. Everquest’s 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 EQ’s most hardcore defenders would admit that the game has some problems. Some of them are built into the game system itself—for example, the combat system is pretty mundane, and as many hardcore RPGer’s have pointed out, there is precious little real “role-playing” in EQ.  But ironically, the game’s 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 wasn’t long before some devoted gamers had maxed their characters out. And while EQ’s zones seemed plenty roomy at launch, it wasn’t long before the game became very overcrowded. EQ’s servers were designed to accommodate 1,500 players each—during peak hours many servers were hitting 2,000 players. This overcrowding revealed the most egregious gameplay flaw in EQ’s design—its emphasis on camping. For all of Norrath’s 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, Verant’s 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 ones—like 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 Warslik’s 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 problem—at 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. They’re 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 don’t 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 they’re certainly not the most popular. As an Iksar, you’ll be kill on sight in almost any other city; if you leave Kunark, you’d best keep a wary eye out.

By the way, Kunark looks great. I mean, don’t expect Quake III graphics—at first glance, in fact, you may not notice all that much difference between EQ’s and Kunark’s looks. But as you spend more time in Kunark, you’ll begin to notice the subtle differences. Trees sway in the wind. The polygon count is much higher, so Kunark doesn’t 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 weren’t ready for implementation at launch, so for the first two months players had to suffer through some really terrible placeholders—for example, sabretooth tigers who shouted and groaned like humans. That’s 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. Don’t get me wrong; if you didn’t like Everquest, there’s nothing in Ruins of Kunark that will change your mind. It’s still EQ. But if you’re an avid EQ player, you can’t afford not to have Kunark. There’s nothing revolutionary about it—it just makes a great game even better.

--Rick Fehrenbacher