EverQuest II: The Shadow Odyssey
Itís always somewhat of a daunting task reviewing a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG for short). Ideally if one is reviewing a game one should have played it through at least once so it can be covered in a fair manner. But MMORPGS donít have an ending. Sure you can reach the maximum level allowed, but for many players thatís when the game really begins. With new content added regularly via patches and expansions, MMORPGS constantly evolve and so any review can only really scratch the surface of what the game has to offer. With that said, letís move on to the game itself.
EverQuest II is Sony Online Entertainmentís 2004 sequel to the incredibly popular 1999 game EverQuest. The Shadow Odyssey is it’s latest expansion pack. Set in the fictional world of Norrath, your first task upon installing the game is to chose your avatar. There are a massive nineteen races to chose from. On the side of good are Dwarves, Fae, Halflings, Froglok, High and Wood Elves. Representing Evil are Arasi, Dark Elves, Iksar, Trolls, Ogre, Ratonga and Sarnak. Interestingly there is a third alignment of neutral (Barbarians, Erudite, Gnome, Half Elves, Humans and Kerra), whom you can then assign to the side of good or evil by chosing which city to start from. The virtuous city of Qeynos or the villainous one of Freeport.
Once your race has been chosen you have a huge amount of customisation open to you. Everything from body size to facial expression can be altered via sliders, and eye and hair/skin/fur/scale colour can be changed via a large palette of shades. Pleasingly, gender is purely an aesthetic decision; it has no effect on things such as strength or agility. It truly feels like there is infinite looks available and compares very favourably with the somewhat limited character choice available in World of Warcraft. Finally you must chose a class. There are thirteen in all, most of which are split into two sub classes (apart from Rogues which have three). Some of these are closed off to you depending on your alignment, for example good characters cannot be Shadowknights and evil ones cannot be Templars. With your character finalised and named youíre ready to step into Norrath and begin your journey.
The first thing youíll notice is that you donít actually begin in the city you chose on the character select screen. You start off in a small settlement where you get eased into combat and questing gently. The game does a sterling job of alerting you to each new gameplay element as it arises. Tooltips pop up with useful information on them and as you level up, new abilities are added to your hotbar automatically. Completing quests gives you experience, financial rewards and useful armour and weapons. Characters can then be customised in two main ways. First of all you can augment yourself every few levels on a racial and class basis. Secondly, once you hit level ten completing quests earns you achievement points which can be spent on a ďtreeĒ of abilities. Spending points on the lower branches opens up abilities further down. Furthermore you can augment your characters statistics with armour, jewellery and weapons. Each piece can have several stat bonuses on them, so for example melee fighters might want to emphasize power and strength, while magic users improve their intelligence.
It sounds like a lot to take in, but the game doesnít overwhelm you. As you progress through the starter zone judging the best equipment and experimenting with new abilities becomes second nature. The game is also perfectly playable on a solo basis, although like all MMORPGs playing as part of a team is fundamental for exploring the dungeon areas where all the tough bosses reside. When you finally make it to your chosen city however, the training wheels come off and you suddenly get some idea of just how huge the game world actually is. Itís likely youíll wander round feeling a tad lost as a complex world of trading, guilds and artisan item crafting goes on around you. Perhaps thatís no bad thing, you really feel like a country bumpkin visiting the big city for the first time and you feel compelled to explore every inch of the place before moving on to continue questing and levelling up.
The gameís production values are incredible. It eschews the chunky cartoon aesthetic of World of Warcraft, for a much more realistic one. Crank up the graphics settings to one of the higher performance modes and prepare to be impressed at the level of detail in the water effects, the flora and fauna and indeed your own character. Every stitch and rivet of your armour is visible and throwing around some spells in battle results in great explosions of coloured light that make every encounter look fantastic. Many of the NPCís have recorded speech that is of a very high standard being neither campy nor hammy, and it really helps give you a feel for the different races’ attitudes and quirks.
The Shadow Odyssey All-In-One pack gives you the original EverQuest II game, plus the various expansions and adventure packs that have been released in the meantime. If you have been keeping up to date with the various add-ons, the specific additions offered in The Shadow Odyssey are: twenty new zones and eighteen new dungeons including ones with nostalgic EverQuest themes to explore and many new enemies and quests . An increase in the Achievement Points cap to 200. A Dungeon Delving mission system that allows old dungeons to be replayed with new content. A new group of Erudites who hold powerful weapons and armour for acquisition. Plus two new deities and five new Heritage quests. The content is themed around following in the footsteps of ancient heroes called Ethernauts who saved Norrath from a shrouded threat. Now players must retrace their steps as they battle against the Shadowmen and defeat the threat of the invading scourge.
Any downsides to the game? Well as a new player levelling up can sometimes be a lonely experience, but this is common to all established MMORPGs. The item crafting system is quite complex especially when compared to the relatively simplistic one of World of Warcraft. Collecting the necessary recipes, items and tools can be time consuming and itís the one area of the game that isnít obviously signposted. However once you get on top of what you need to do, selling your crafted wares to other players becomes a viable EverQuest II career choice. Just be aware that it can become as time consuming as the questing and killing aspects of the game.
EverQuest II is truly an immense game. Unparalleled avatar creation coupled with massive choice in character customisation means youíll really feel like your digital representation is unique to you. With many varied landscapes to explore and tonnes of quests to keep you busy, you wonít get bored of what Norrath has to offer any time soon. You might get a little lost on your journey sometimes, but youíll never feel anything less than totally immersed. EverQuest II comes highly recommended both to MMORPG newbies and to those who might have become jaded with what other MMORPGs have to offer.
Nine out of ten