The original EverQuest has served as the flagship for the MMORPG genre, and its solid, addictive gameplay has earned it numerous fans. Nonetheless, there had always been some nagging grievances against the title; grievances that were not fully addressed in the game's multiple expansion sets. With EverQuest II, Verant and Sony aim to give their loyal fans what they're looking for, and maybe show up the rest of the PC industry while they're at it.
MMORPG stories are always hard pressed to find that balance of equal opportunity among players and "epicness." This frustrating problem is solved in EQII, as in other MMORPGs, by destroying the world. Norrath (land of the EverQuesters) undergoes a catastrophe when pieces of the moon rain down, causing no end of destruction. It's up to each player to do their bit to rebuild the world and to stake their own claim in it. In doing so, they will come across areas both new and familiar, yet changed from their incarnations in the original EverQuest and its prequel, EverQuest Online Adventures.
In addition to building the world, players will finally get the chance to build their characters to an acceptable degree. EverQuest had only a paltry selection of avatars to choose from, one that has become embarrassing in light of its competitors' more recent offerings. The developers have taken steps to ensure that EQII does not fall behind in the near future. Not only are players treated to a whole boatload of customization options, where even the eyebrows can be specified, but they also get a whole new development system. Once having chosen their avatar's race, name, physicality, and "archetype," players are thrust directly into the gameplay. It is their actions and choices, in relation to their archetype, that determines their eventual class. There are five archetypes: Fighter, Mage, Priest, Scout, and Artisan, and the classes they develop into have been designed to be balanced and fun for all. For example, there are more locked doors then ever before, making the lock-picking Rogues a necessity, and Craftsmen have the opportunity to make items for other classes, and with experience, craft otherwise unobtainable items. This is clearly part of EverQuest's ever-ongoing quest to add more community and teamwork to the experience.
This "jump right in" method of class determination should prove to be a welcome contrast to the exhaustive selections involving the character's physical attributes. Avatars undergo more drastic changes as play continues, though. They can age and even get their own house, replete with customized decoration, storage, and perhaps a brewery.
The dungeons and combat have also been reformed, again to facilitate balance. Dungeons now function as little mini-servers, so that the whole world isn't coming in and cramping a party's scene. Also, teams can now make use of combination attacks - an idea that has been overlooked far too long in these games. Even more interesting to some fans are the rumors of items being sacrificed in the place of character death. The EQ series has long struggled with options regarding what happens when the avatar dies, and maybe this is finally the answer. Another interesting innovation is that certain spells have a higher effect depending on the time of day or year they are cast.
The day/night transition has never looked so good, either. If EQII's graphics are not mind-blowing, then they are at least top-notch, thanks to a new engine developed in-house. EQII features fantastic natural areas and smooth, motion-captured character animation. The experience is further augmented with scripted events in certain areas, such as caverns that shake and crumble. Hmm... crumbling.
One of the more scathing criticisms against EverQuest and MMORPGs in general has to do with the banal bestiaries offered by these titles. GMR Magazine's Game Geezer writes that he was spending too much time "hitting snakes with a stick" (GMR Issue 6, July 2003). As hinted at in the screenshots, EQII features a creative array of monsters and creatures that are all the more impressive in motion.
The music is the final touch to the game's "back to nature" motif. From the available tracks, it consists of tribal-style drums mixed in with airy electronic elements. Together with the superior character and facial animation, the developers are hoping for an emotional immersion unlike any other MMORPG.
The original EverQuest is a tough act to follow, and there is pressure from all sides. Verant has made numerous improvements, but only time will tell if the series' title will stay safe.