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Developer:
Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 08, 2004

by Nick May




About MMORPGs...

Forgive the digression, there's something I have to explain.


An elf rounds the bend, chased by a couple of orcs. He's wounded and his demise is imminent. Heroically, you leap into the fray. You dispatch the orcs and heal the grateful elf. The elf thanks you and you stand for a moment in discussion of the dangers of the forest. Then you go your own separate ways. Will you meet again? Will the elf one day turn out to be your greatest ally? The future is clouded and mysterious…


If only every role-playing game was like that, eh? Unfortunately, that kind of complex encounter requires a carefully designed script and a well-written dialogue. And if there is to be an element of choice, then there needs to be a separate version written and designed for each additional option given to the player.


As such, complex encounters are rare events in single-player games. I'll never forget spying on Fargoth from the lighthouse in Morrowind (still to my mind the best single-player RPG). But it was a showcase quest; the quests rapidly became more humdrum.


This brings us to MMORPGs - and Everquest 2. In an MMORPG, the elf described above is another player. Rather than putting every event on train tracks, in an MMORPG the designer's aim is to cause things to happen to players and let the players sort it out.


Combine this with a vast world (bigger than the largest single-player worlds, and crammed full of content), more quests than you can ever hope to complete, a healthy dose of number crunching, and a plethora of flashy graphics, and you have the Holy Grail of role-playing.


If only it were so simple…


Setting


Everquest 2 is a high-fantasy MMORPG set in the world of Norrath. Earthquakes and cataclysms have torn through the world, disintegrating the continents into islands. Players of the first Everquest will find the world physically very different, though with many familiar names and locations.


Good and evil are divided into two cities: Qeynos and Freeport. There are sixteen races, all along the standard fantasy lines. Although some races have to start in a particular city, it’s possible to betray and become, say, a goodie dark elf.


Sound and Graphics


Everquest 2 looks pretty good. It attempts a mixture of realism and spectacle and pulls it off quite well. But check the minimum specifications. If you can't meet them, forget it. If you can't exceed them, you should probably forget it - the lag will be infuriating.


There are two holes in Everquest 2’s graphics. The first is that the character models - often derided as 'clay models' - leave something to be desired. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re detailed and highly customisable. They just don’t look that good. The second is that there's a visible lack of variety in armour appearances, something that is being belatedly and partially addressed with expansions and patches.


The sound in Everquest 2 is adequate. Swords swish and spells explode in a satisfactory manner. The music gets repetitive after a while, but if you're smart like me, you'll turn it off and put some of your own music on instead. NPCs are fully voiced and, aside from a few slightly suspicious accents, the actors are okay.


Gameplay


Everquest 2 has solid gameplay. At release, Everquest 2 possessed a number of annoyances (such as not being able to choose your class until level 20, or not being able to heal someone who wasn’t in your party), but these have largely been removed or tweaked to provide a much more well-rounded game.


You will not run out of things to do. There are countless quests. I started off trying to complete them all, but it's just not possible. In the words of the infamous X-wing pilot, “There’s… ah… too many of them!” A fair number of quests are of the "kill 10 goblins" type, but many of the quests are pretty engaging.


The combat meets the par for current RPG design. You press buttons, your character performs special attacks or casts spells. It's smooth and enjoyable, but it's not particularly innovative. The game includes a system of ‘heroic opportunities,’ a sort of group whack-a-mole that can further damage your opponents, but in my experience it’s slightly irrelevant and too irritating to bother with.


Tradeskills (such as alchemy, carpentry, or weapon-making) are extensive and fairly well designed. A major revamp of tradeskills has recently been implemented which makes them very accessible even to mugs like myself. The system is now a little lacking in depth, but further improvements are expected.


A problem in other MMORPGs has been the barrier of entry to get anything done. Everquest 2 addresses this neatly. Firstly, the number of people you need to defeat encounters has been scaled back. Although 6 is the common group size, 3 well-chosen characters can be very effective. The most people you will ever need to coordinate for raiding is 24 and there are a large number of quests that can be done solo.


Everquest 2 runs an archetype system of classes, which allows a lot of flexibility and reduces the annoyance of waiting around for a healer to show up, yet still manages to retain enough difference in the classes for them to feel unique.


Features


I’ll run through these swiftly...


Mounts – tick! (horses and flying carpets so far). Player housing – tick! Fully customisable UI – tick! Fast travel (on flying griffons, no less) – tick! No armour dyes, unfortunately, so expect to spend at least some of your adventuring time dressed in pink, yellow, or lime green.


Flavour & Immersion


The lore is extensive. Aside from NPCs relating lengthy accounts, which test your attention span, there’s also a large number of books, many of which are acquired through quests.


The immersion is a little more problematic. Everquest 2 just doesn't feel that big. It is big. It's enormous. But you'll find that just a few areas are suitable for your level. Rather than travel the world, you tend to get stuck in one or two dungeons, do them to death and then move on to the next tier. However, this is a minor complaint. Some gamers may not notice, and though it's a failing, it's by no means game-breaking.


Role-playing support is limited. You’re provided with the usual range of emotes but there’s no sitting on chairs and a fairly limited wardrobe. As in other MMORPGs, role-playing interaction is largely in the hands (and imaginations) of the players.


Ongoing Development


This is an area where Everquest 2 shines. When an MMORPG fails to receive adequate investment, improvements start coming at a snail's pace, bugs go unfixed and the game starts to fall apart. Everquest 2 presently has an impressive development team. Highly rated and innovative expansions are still coming out, and each patch carries a slew of improvements and fixes. What's more, the developers aren't afraid of making big changes. While this infuriates some players, having seen what inertia can do to an MMORPG, I regard it as an immeasurable asset.


Overall


Everquest 2 is an entertaining game. Every MMORPG to date (including Everquest 2) has had a few annoying flaws. On balance, I regard Everquest 2 as the least flawed of all the MMORPGs presently out. This is a somewhat personal choice, but if you consider easily accessible gameplay and world that doesn't look like a Disney cartoon to be essentials, then Everquest 2 is probably for you.


Final Grade: 90%


Comment in the Just RPG Forums


System Requirements:
-Operating System: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
-Processor: 1GHz or greater
-RAM: 512 MB
-Video Card: DirectX 9 compatible. Pixel shader
and vertex shader compatible hardware with 64 MB of texture memory
-Sound Card: DirectSound compatible audio hardware

Price:
$19.99 + $14.99 monthly subscription




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