Apr 17 2006
Like a lot of people, I didn't spend much time with EverQuest 2 when it launched in 2004. There were several reasons for this, but the two that sealed the deal were: no PvP and World of Warcraft. Of course, all MMORPGs evolve over time, and EQ2 is clearly not standing still. In fact, the game has seen 2 adventure packs and 2 expansions in a year and half. What's more, PvP servers have been added, the class system has been revamped, and the early levels have been completely reworked.
While it may seem like EQ2 has been marginalized by World of Warcraft, it is still a very successful game. One definite upside to playing a game that doesn't have millions of subscribers is you rarely encounter server problems or queues. Every MMORPG has technical issues from time to time, but EQ2 is exceptionally reliable in this regard.
No More Isle of Refuge
If you played EQ2 prior to the Kingdom of Sky expansion, you'll recall the Isle of Refuge and a short boat sequence which introduced you to the game's controls. They've ditched the Isle and the boat ride in favor of 2 newbie islands: The Outpost of the Overlord for the dark denizens of Freeport and the Queen's Colony for the righteous residents of Qeynos. They are reminiscient of the Isle of Refuge in that they are there to teach you the basics, but it unfolds very briskly now and the rewards have been improved. On PvP servers, you are aligned with the starting city you choose.
Another big change is that you pick your profession (class) during character creation now. You used to start with an archetype, then you got to pick a class, then, at around level 20, a subclass. While it was an interesting system in some ways, you had to plan ahead.
Graphics and Interface
Like a lot of fantasy MMORPGs, EQ2 creates a largely familiar-looking world, despite the fact that there are frog warlocks and such running around. The graphics engine is quite remarkable. Metal textures have a perfect shine, the water is unsurpassed for a MMORPG, the lighting is top notch, and character models have an abundance of polygons. The hitch is that it takes an extremely good PC to run EQ2 on the highest settings, but to its credit, it looks terrific even on medium settings.
It would all be that much more immersive if the world didn't have so many seams in it. The major cities are broken up into zones in such a way that you can't run across town without seeing several loading screens. There are technical advantages to this, such as enabling them to start up new instances of a zone when the population gets too high, but it feels like a step backward in comparison to games where you cross an entire continent without having to zone.
While the GUI and game controls are highly customizable, there is no mini-map, which is a peculiar omission in this day and age.
The game has met with some stiff criticism of its artistic direction, and it plainly isn't as cohesive or as immediately recognizable as some of its competition. If you prefer a world with a relatively realistic appearance, however, EQ2 does a decent job of achieving this.
Many would argue that the original EverQuest set the standard for combat in games of this kind, and EQ2 maintains this high standard. You start with more skills as a result of adjustments to the class system, which adds some fun to the early levels. RPG lovers will find themselves in familiar territory, selecting targets and unleashing the special attacks on their shortcut bar.
One unique feature that EQ2 has added to combat are Heroic Opportunities. These are special group abilities that trigger combat bonuses if the group members successfully execute individual moves at the right time. It's still another layer on the game's intricate group dynamics and it's nicely implemented.
Downtime between fights has been minimized, and until the mid-levels it's reasonably easy to play solo. As is usually the case, you will make much faster progress in groups, or better yet, as part of a guild.
Player vs. Player
At release EQ2 had no PvP, but several servers with PvP rulesets were made available when the Kingdom of Sky expansion launched, and by all indications they have been a hit with players. SOE has always said that they didn't want to add PvP to the game until they felt they had it right.
You fight for your home city, either Qeynos or Freeport, and chat functions, among other things, are limited to your own faction. Certain zones inside the city are quite safe unless you decide to initiate an attack, but beyond that anyone of the opposite faction within 8 levels of your level is fair game. The level range broadens in higher level zones, and the Kingdom of Sky has particularly harsh areas with no level limits.
While there is something to be said for restricting PvP to certain level ranges, it also diminishes the pool of players you can call on when defence is needed.