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EverQuest 2 Preview

publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
developer: Sony Online Entertainment
genre: RPG

PIV 1000, 512MB RAM, 64MB video card w/ pixel shader
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 08, 04
» All About EverQuest 2 on ActionTrip

You may have noticed (or perhaps felt) a steady, far off booming over the past few months. Sometimes, it's more noticeable, as the day to day chaos slows down around you and you have time to sit and think with a cool drink near your hand. As you sit and gaze off into the distance, trying to collect your thoughts, it's there in the background. As ever present and steady as your heartbeat, though not as fast. It's the slow steady pounding of a giant's footsteps, relentless and ever moving forward on its path. Casting a look at the drink near your hand, you can see ripples moving out from the center of your glass in time with each heavy foot fall. Another testament that you are not going crazy, that yes, SOMETHING is out there and in an instant you are sure of two things: that it's really damn big and that it is coming your way.

EverQuest II (EQ2) is slowly making its way towards the gaming market. (Funny, I thought you were talking about my last blind date really. - Ed.) Just last week we were invited into the North American Beta test that had been going on for the past few months. As the sequel to the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) on the market, fans of the current Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) game, as well as the simply curious, are anxious to see and hear how things are going. I was intrigued myself since I have been following the development closely after visiting Sony's booth to see in game footage for the past two years at E3.

After getting the e-mail welcoming me into the beta, I logged onto my Station account and started the client download. If you have seen any of the movies or screenshots SOE has released, you will understand why I was not surprised that I was looking at a three plus hour download on a cable modem. The graphics, character classes, interaction with NPCs and a massive number of voice overs for the game SOE has promised is unprecedented in any MMORPG thus far.

After the client downloaded, I double-clicked on the shortcut and thought back to my first experience with the EverQuest world. It's been a long, long time since I have played the original EverQuest on a regular basis. I preordered the game before it came out over 5 years ago and had an account created on launch day. After playing the game for a few months I suspended my account because I did not have the time needed to keep my character even with the one friend I had made online. So I suspended my account and moved onto other games.

Time and the release of a number of other MMORPGs have taught SOE a few things about what players are looking for and how to welcome newcomers into the online gaming fold. With EQII, SOE is not going for just a graphics update, but for a change in the game mechanics itself. Although the graphics of the new engine are very good, it's the game play; quests, crafting and other features; that will keep people glued to their monitor and playing for much longer than I did with the first version of the game.

As I logged onto my beta account and proceeded to create a character, the graphics were as beautiful as all the screens and movies I have seen at E3. A selection of sixteen playable races were available to choose from, but I went with something fairly safe and chose a female half elf. The game features two factions for your character to align with when the time comes to apply for citizenship, good and evil. Since the first game, the world of Norrath has changed and the inhabitants of the world have gathered (mainly) in two large cities. Each city is like a polarized magnet and creatures of good alignment are drawn to one city while evil characters are drawn to the other. When choosing your race, you are informed of which side you are allowed to ally with, good or evil. I was informed that my half elf could choose to align herself with either side when the time came. I figured I would cross that metaphysical bridge when I came to it.

Next I was taken to the character creation screen. I did not have to worry about assigning points into stats or choosing a class, rather, I was given an interface where I could adjust the physical aspects of my character. Sliders allowed me to change the angle of my eyes, the tilt of my eyebrows and the size and shape of my mouth. (The Sims 2 are everywhere I tell you! - Ed.) This reminded me of the character screen from Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided but it was much more refined and easier to use. This should be no surprise since both games are SOE products, but it is better implemented in EQ2.

After I patterned the look of Dastrene after my wife (hubba hubba!), I found my character in game and on board a ship as it moved across a heaving sea. This served as a tutorial that introduced movement, targeting, inventory management and combat as I moved around the ship, meeting NPCs and having them speak to me. When I say speak, they really spoke. Every line of dialog was voiced by an actor. This feature adds quite a bit to the suspension of disbelief. Also, in the version I played, the game screen defaults to a mode where a black bar runs across part of the top and bottom of the screen, called Letter Box. This feature can be turned off for full screen game play, but I found it made it easier to manage my action buttons and the chat screen used for interacting with other players.

Following an introduction to the basic game elements, our small ship sailed into port and I was instructed by the captain to talk to the dock master. In the process of introducing myself to him, I was able to choose which career path I was going to follow. I was given the choice of the normal list of adventure schools such as priest, warrior and mage, but I also had the chance to designate myself solely as an artisan. It is said that there are forty eight different classes to choose from but at this point I had only four at my disposal. After setting Dastrene on the path of a Priest and receiving instruction from the dock master to see if they needed any help in town, I made my way into the fishing village. As I made my way into the center of the village, I caught bits of conversation between NPC's who were going about their business or merchants trying to get my attention to come look at their wares. I have to admit; the voice overs make a much bigger impact and add so much more to the game world than just seeing lines of conversation spill out on the chat window as it does in other games.

I soon found a local NPC priest that wanted my help fending off goblins that were trying to raid the city. I accepted her request for help and made my way to the edge of the town that was barricaded against the invading goblins. It was marked clearly on my map so I had no problem finding my way through the village. As I approached the barricades, I saw town guards engaged in combat with the goblins as they threw themselves in small groups at the town entrance. I also saw other fellow adventures pass around the log barricades to engage goblins or move off deeper into the wilderness.

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