EverQuest II

a game by Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews, 10 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.7/10 - 3 votes
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See also: EverQuest
EverQuest II
EverQuest II
EverQuest II
EverQuest II

Hi. My name is Kenny and I was an Everquest addict. I have spent more hours in the magical world of Norrath then I care to mention, doing adventurous tasks such as raiding, slaying, plundering, and baking pies in my off time. Not the most productive way to spend my free time, I'll admit, but I enjoyed almost every minute of it. However, I spent so much time in EQ, that after a while, I had seen all there was to be seen. With that realization, I hung up my daggers and called it quits, forgoing my virtual stomping grounds for all of eternity.

well, that is until EverQuest II came out. Now I find myself addicted all over again, with my feet planted in a world that feels so familiar, yet so estranged.

EverQuest II, unlike the first EverQuest, doesn't bring a whole lot of new features to the table. From the outset, you choose from the four standard classes: priest, caster, scout, or warrior. As you advance your character along the way (and bash in many a enemy's skull), you can then choose from a profession that specializes your ability set, and eventually, you can choose an even more defined sub-class.

Even if there weren't many revolutionary steps taken with EverQuest II, it does refine a lot of the core mechanics of the MMORPG genre. Combat, for example, is much more enjoyable than in most MMORPGS despite it still revolving around the stagnant auto-attack action. With a new combo system that's initiated through performing special abilities in a specified order, you can pull off a variety of powerful abilities. Better yet, the combo system flows over to the group setting, too, allowing you to pull off big combos with a coordinated effort from group mates.

Some things remain the same, however. Quests, by and large, are simplified fetch tasks, and aren't dynamic in any sense. The rewards are nice enough, sure, but you'll find yourself doing the quests with just the reward in mind ' not because they're actually any fun. PvP, likewise, is noticeably lacking in any shape or form, and if you delight in hearing your enemy's lament of agony after a hard-fought battle, you might want to steer clear of EverQuest II.

From a technical standpoint, EverQuest II looks amazing. Never before have I seen this much detail and care put into a MMORPG's visuals, and never before have I had to stop and just take in the sights of a virtual landscape. The textures, animation, and spell effects are all dazzling, but a lot of the wow factor comes from the smaller details, like the beautiful water or shadow effects. Some of the art direction might leave you a bit jaded ' a few of the character models especially - but in spite of that, EverQuest II is still a tremendous visual powerhouse.

Somewhere between sneaking into the cavernous lower levels of Blackburrow and trekking across the vast Commonlands, something clicked for me: I felt a fantastic feeling of adventure that I hadn't experienced since the first EverQuest. It was all propelled by the sense of interaction and community that only a MMORPG can offer up, and in the end, it helped setup a multitude of definitive MMORPG moments. However, that doesn't necessarily make EverQuest II the definitive MMORPG ' at least, not yet. There's still a lot to be seen (especially how the high end game will play out), but there's no denying that EverQuest II is doing most of the crucial things right. MMORPG veterans shouldn't be fearful to take a step into Norrath again, even if their trek through the first EverQuest left them unimpressed, and newcomers might find themselves dazzled by the new and improved Norrath, too.

Download EverQuest II

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Ominous rumbles echo throughout the Commonlands. Keyboard clasped firmly, you resolutely reach for the hotkey that conveys puzzlement. But before you or the rest of the party can react, a frothing clump of spherical objects bedecked in moss comes tumbling over the horizon. Could it be the errant result of a frost giant's bowel movement? Nay, there's an angry Earth elemental charging your way, and the only help at hand are two slovenly schoolmates currently posing as barbarian swordsmen. Crap in a hat... the blokes back at the guild never said adventuring would be this stressful.

Then again, they weren't fully acquainted with EverQuest II. Sequel to the online role-playing obsession that swallowed so many souls it might as well be a minor deity, this is a title poised on the brink of superstardom. With more than 400,000 subscribers to its predecessor's name, legions of Fan Faire conventions, and many a ruined marriage to the franchise's credit, it's a series that by all accounts has redefined gaming as we know it. And, in the US at least, the new game is set to launch. Which, as they say in the business, lads, is big freakin' news. Mercifully, the 45-strong development team knows a good thing when they see it. Therefore they aren't so much reworking the title as polishing the existing gameplay to a keen shine. So sweeping changes aren't high on Sony Online's list. With the impending PR nightmare sure to come from thousands of shut-ins who'll soon renounce religion (and bathing) for love of a computer game, who can blame the beggars?

Trading Spaces

What they have done an excellent job of, however, is reworking existing material to accompany the newly reset calendar. Although set once again in the world of Norrath, this latest escapade takes place several generations removed from the initial offering - specifically, during the Age of Destiny. As senior game designer Bill Trost explains: "The scale of the world is much larger than before... So much so that now, even familiar geographical features take on new life."

Both previously seen locales and play mechanics have received a comprehensive makeover. From blows that can now be targeted at specific portions of the anatomy to entire cities such as Freeport or Erudin reconstructed using a more logical layout, all that is old is once again new. And, as opposed to previous questing, everything is designed to be devoured in reasonable two-hour chunks. "We want people in and playing as soon as possible," suggests Trost.

But that doesn't mean once you've chosen one of 14 races (including newcomers such as the Thundercat-like Kerrans) it's off adventuring you go. Thanks to new trade skills, you can easily make a name for yourself taking part in a player-driven economy. Whether you're busy promoting parties, planning real-time weddings, or just strutting on the gladiatorial circuit, even those who never venture beyond the confines of 'save haven will inevitably find a lifetime's worth of entertainment in store.

The Great Beyond

Intrepid souls won't be disappointed, either. Should wanderlust beckon, you'll find a world of wonder lying out there. Having picked up a quest via a new system that allows for assignments to be gained anywhere, anytime, even through chance meetings with random strangers, stirring up excitement and/or trouble won't be a problem. Dozens of freshly introduced areas including the decrepit Fallen Gate, hideously malformed Castle Nektropos and staggeringly panoramic Grand Plateau await.

"As soon as the player enters the game, we hit them with tons of things to see and do," says Trost. "The first EverQuest was built piecemeal... we re taking the time to flesh out an entire world this go round.'' Needless to say. you will be surprised - and not just because low-level dungeons have become high-level challenges and vice-versa. Wandering through Bixie beehives, dark temple Cazic-Thule and Qeynos' familiar facade, a host of new challenges present themselves. And that's before you even take into account the baddies like zombies, void beasts and dragonfly faeries who still can't play nice with humanoid species.

Predictably, boss encounters serve as the coup de grace. Trigger a scripted battle and you may find yourself face to face with Darathar the Deceiver, a titanic dragon who belches flames like a Parisian tourist does crepes. Like general encounters, each is carefully placed by the design team to ensure players experience the game through a steady system of progression. Not that anyone's railroading you into any decisions at any time, since this is live role-playing at its most sophisticated and potentially liberating.

Ello, Sexy

Graphics-wise, it's a corker too. We can scarcely believe the game is actually powered by a new graphical engine that's unfettered by resolution capping, whereby picture quality can steadily be upped as basic end-user PC specs improve over time. Such tidbits become all the more impressive when you spot shadows shifting as the sun passes overhead or characters wearing clothes and armor that move independently of the body beneath.

Visual marvels are obviously a speciality. As night falls, torches are lit throughout cities and lights flicker. The sky itself turns a dark shade, filling with a host of unfamiliar stars. If it happens to be raining, even simple visibility becomes obscured by a cloudy haze that fast recedes when the morning sun creeps out. Impressive it is, oh yes, and incredibly atmospheric too. Best to keep an eye on the locals, though. Not all are friendly, but you can always make someone smile thanks to more than 110 emote animations, which are built into the interface. If the devil is in the details, let's just say the title is well on course to be sinfully delightful.

Final Fantasy

Not only cleaner and sharper looking, this is a product whose gameplay appears well on course to being every bit as dapper. For one, new systems make it easier to find and assemble a party. Political influence is more pronounced, so you can easily form allegiances with in-game factions like the Freeport militia Players can become sages, telling fortunes or even assigning individuals special quests. Overall, the structure emphasises teamwork above all else, as "the gist is now on co-operation... players working against the environment, not each other," says Trost. Joining forces, heroes from across the globe can perform miracles, slay monsters, and even stage the occasional poetry reading. Or just stay at 'home' (their individually tailored virtual domicile) and furnish the place with a brewer's still, blacksmith's forge or the odd piece of art. Just a sample of the many facets of the most comprehensive project Sony Online has undertaken to date. Happily for the fan community, each should be keenly balanced as well.

It's an issue the development team is especially sensitive about, given the unusually vocal nature of their clientele. "You can never understimate how many players you'll have on day one," laughs Trost. "It's the reason we're putting so much effort into making sure everything runs smoothly across the board. I hate to say it, but you don't know what trouble is until you've got a group of pissed off social outca... er, lifelong roleplayers banging at your door."

We started working on voiceovers about a year ago and didn't really know what to think about them. With most games that have voices you listen to them for ten minutes then turn them off. Right now though, it's at the point where if you interact with an NPC that doesn't have a voiceover, you get really frustrated. Andrew Sites, producer on EverQuest II, is looking out over the Everquest fans that have assembled in the Las Vegas Hilton, commenting on the reaction to the latest snippet of information released about the year's biggest MMOG title.

The voice acting was revealed just days before the fifth anniversary Fan Faire commenced, and any doubts as to whether the spoken word element would help or hinder the game have quickly been dispelled.

In A World...

Steve Danuser, EQII's community manager, agrees with Sites. It really surprised a lot of people just how much the voices add to the game's atmosphere. It makes the world feel more real'. Once you're playing the game and you see how real everything looks, hearing everything in voiceover too keeps the consistency high.

Of course, that consistency is dependent on the acting quality, something Sites became aware of early on. When we started we had each designer writing a quest wear a headset and record their own voices," he recalls. "That worked for about three days.

Instead the option to go with professional voice actors was given the green light and the difference is striking. Norrath now has a more vibrant, living feel to it. More of a believable world rather than a simple gaming environment.

A Faire Start

The Fan Faire is the team's first major chance to show how close they are to preparing the code for a public beta testing. It's also the first chance to expose it in a non-controlled environment, and our first chance to actually get a hands-on experience and see just how good it looks in operation. Early screenshots released to websites the world over hinted that this would be something special to behold and the video promos further cemented things. But nothing quite prepares you for just how visually striking EQII's 40-strong art team has made things.

Players enter the new Norrath aboard a small cargo ship heading for a training island (a la Morrowind's opening), having been plucked out of the sea with no memories. The boat is little more than a tutorial, with the captain giving you simple orders to familiarise you with the controls. That said, it's a tutorial that sees you fighting a rogue goblin and being menaced by a passing dragon who ignites most of the boat with an impressively realised fireball attack. As opening sequences go, this is the fantasy MMOG equivalent of a Bond film.

Milton Qeynos

We wanted players to be entertained from the beginning, to give them enough information to become familiar with it all and to be able to get into the game quickly. explains Sites. With a lot of previous games players are made pretty weak early on, and you only get to fight weak opponents like rats and spiders, adds Danuser. We want to make the player feel heroic right away, so that's why even on the tutorial island you end up with an 'epic' encounter - you go in and fight a boss.

From the boat we were dropped onto the Isle Of Refuge, where the initial decisions about character types are made. Although you select your race before you start out - complete with EVE Online-style facial tweaking - unlike EQ Live (as the first game is now called), the sequel doesn't lay down too many restrictions early on. To start you're simply asked which of four paths you want to follow (the standard wizard, fighter, cleric, rogue stereotypes) by an island guard, are given the appropriate pointers to helpful NPCs and sent on your way. This may sound like dumbing down, but in practice it has the effect of making things seem more streamlined and immediately accessible to the non-hardcore role-playing fans out there. Which of course is where EQII is being pitched. Nonetheless, as players ascend through the 50 initial levels, more varied class options become available, all tying in to the overriding story arc taking place.

The training island also demonstrates the design team's notions of making the game feel more heroic' right out. Early quests all have intriguing stories attached and initial levels are quickly reached. Within an hour or two we were already experimenting with impressive-looking spell and combat effects. The feeling is definitely not one of level grinding, but questing and feeling important.

Dungeon raiding still makes up a large part of the EQII experience, although with a maximum of six players per group, the team has borrowed an idea from one of the stable's other popular titles - PlanetSide - and introduced a 'platoon'-style feature that allows multiple groups to team together for greater rewards and tactical play.

Once we'd had our fill of the training island and its goblin invasion mini-story, we sought out the two immigration officers' and made the second of the EQII's big decisions - Qeynos or Freeport. The well-publicised background story tells of the partial destruction of Norrath, the levelling of the lands and the rise of the two remaining cities - one focused on notions of good', the other evil'.

Choosing citizenship sets you up for the rest of the game, pitching your loyalties and shaping your future development. We opted for an easier time of it and headed for the light side in Qeynos, immediately arriving in a bustling medieval-style market town - easily one of the most beautifully realised in a MMOG to date. Market traders to-ing and fro-ing. guards patrolling the streets, thieves and hustlers luring you into dark comers offering deals, gossipers, statues, fountains, temples, narrow streets, sprawling docksides... The more nefarious Freeport offers more of an Arabian city feel with less z pleasant overtones throughout. One thing readily apparent was that with only two central cities to start from, the EQII servers are going to capture a far more active' feel than the dozens of newbie locations offered in EQ Live.

Bring It Home

Sony still won't offer any concrete release schedules, although the guarded comments of Sites, Danuser and any other member of the team we pressed during our visit all pointed towards a beta within a month or two, and a release towards the end of the year - although possibly not as far along as Christmas.

But will the gamble pay off for the 80-man team and millions of dollars of investment? EQ Live is still one hell of a draw after all. Sites is under no illusions about the challenge.

Initially we had no idea that EQ Live was going to be as successful as it is, so we started x EQII as the game that would replace it," he confesses. "Shortly after development started, we realised we'd have to have a game that could co-exist instead. As we see now, five years later, EQ is as strong as it's ever been and now we're creating a game that ties in with all the lore and the history. It's definitely designed to stand alone, but still stand together with the mythology of the original.

It's just a matter of building the best, most fun game we can, Danuser concludes. That's always at the core of our game. That's always the final litmus test for whatever mechanic we add into the game - is it fun? If it is we keep it, if it isn't we chop it.

The Match Game

One New Feature That'll Make An Immediate Impression Is The heroic Effect' Wheel Providing You Speak runish'

When certain spells or skills are unleashed, a runic wheel pops up with a particular bonus on offer (anything from a power boost to protection). The key is to combine the just used effect with others that tie into the displayed runes to form a sort of Street Fighter-style combo attack. Get them all correct and the bonus is yours.

The clever part is that this is primarily a group effect. If you're questing with a team, any member can cast the appropriate spells to unleash the effect, encouraging teamwork and communication.

We'll see how it works out," muses Sites. Mainly it's designed to give more variety to combat, to give the player something more to do than just targeting and hitting auto-attack. There are a number of features similar to this that we've been trying out through the closed beta period that may or may not work out.

Getting combat right is one of the trickiest parts of any MMOG, something Danuser is well aware of. Yeah, it's kind of a fine line," he nods. We don't want to get things too much like a twitch-based console game but at the same time, just because you pick a fighter class it doesn't mean your job should be boring. We want it to always be a tactical experience, where you get rewards for playing your class well, taking advantage of opportunities and knowing how to make the most of your abilities.

Casting Call

So, Any Famous Cameos Popping Up In The New Norrath?

One benefit of working for Sony is that the team can call upon the company's film industry connections. With the use of professional voiceovers having been added to the mix, it doesn't take a genius to ask the obvious question. We did too.

We're working on a couple of names, says Sites rather guardedly, but haven't finalised any contracts yet. Hopefully we'll be announcing those in a month or two. Not even a hint? Well if everything goes through... a certain popular fantasy movie out recently - we might have actors from there.

Really? The stars of Beastmaster in EQII? One that's rather larger in scale and may have won numerous awards recently," corrects Danuser. But it's still up in the air, quickly adds Sites. Nonetheless it would be one hell of a coup if it comes off, one that Danuser is fully aware of. Our people know all the agents and can work on those contracts, he says ruefully. That's a huge advantage for us that we know other companies - ones without these links - will still have to try and compete with. Even if it's just the actors who played the orcs doing some growling, we'd be impressed.

Creating a sequel for the most successful online RPG to date was never going to be easy. Convincing EverOuest's existing subscribers to give up the incredible amount of time they have spent developing their characters is a pretty tall order, particularly since existing EverQuest characters will not be transferred to EQ2 when it goes live at the end of next year. But the simple truth is that EverQuest's sagging graphics are not getting any younger, and the only way Verant can keep up with the next generation of MMORPGs is to start afresh.

To soften the blow for its often fanatical fan base, Verant seems to have taken a long hard look at games like Anarchy Online and Asheron's Call and ripped out all the good bits for its sequel. This process also means that many of the worst things about the current game will not be making an appearance in the sequel. In particular, the huge amount of time it takes to achieve anything, and the horrible downtime (time spent with nothing to do because you have no health or mana, etc.) will allegedly be addressed in the new game. Anarchy Online made huge headway in this particular area, and if EQ2 follows suit then this is reason to be cheerful indeed for EverQuest fans.

Of more importance perhaps for the uninitiated, a brand new game engine has been designed from scratch by the EQ2 team. With any luck it will be a lot more flexible than the current one, allowing things that players ask to be put in the game to be implemented, and making the old excuse that the game engine 'does not support' new content and interface changes a thing of the past. Also out the window is the traditional EverQuest method of gaining experience and levels (i.e. kill monsters for hours on end and... well, that's it). A branching class structure that is definable by the player will put an end to all this, and should make for some truly unique characters. There is even the promise of a trade-skill class, which suggests you can gain experience and levels without even killing anything at all.

Graphically, as is evident from the shots on these pages, EQ2 looks stunning. The mind boggles as to what type of PC will be needed to run this in full detail when it's released, but it's a safe bet that a Pentium II with 64 megs of RAM will not do the trick.

Other highlights include player housing (this was very popular in Ultima Online), fully customisable character appearance (yes, you can mess about endlessly with your character's face, hair and physique until he/she looks a complete git) and varied forms of transport around the new and improved world of Norrath, including, we are told, horses and boats. Needless to say, EverOuest II looks set to be a huge success when it's released next year. We know this, because we always say things like that at the end of previews, so it must be true.

Size Isn't everything, it's what you do with it that counts, is the forlorn cry of the under-endowed male. It also happens to be the guiding principle behind Sony's return visit to the hallowed, some might say sacred, world of Norrath - a land that needs no introduction to the half a million EverQuest players who have been happily killing rats, orcs and goblins for the past five years.

"EverQuest II is getting back to basics. Small, intimate, meaningful play." So says Bill Trost, senior game designer and the man whom the aforementioned halfmillion gamers would happily fellate at the drop of a helmet, such is the pleasure he's given them over the years. Luckily, Trost's interests lie firmly with the sequel he and his team are busy attempting to create for early next year. "We're looking at small groups, four to six players getting together, having adventures and making a real impact on the world. The experience of EverQuest, as it has developed over the last five years, has been to expand into a more broad, more epic type of experience."

This involving experience means deep storylines and the kind of private encounter technology that's starting to make appearances in games like Mythica and Final Fantasy XI: Online. Except that Trost sees more uses for the tech than simple dungeon hacks.

"We're using that technology in quests, sure, but also in specific instances. Like for player housing," he explains, while taking us on a guided tour of the reworked city of Freeport. "We have free-standing structures that contain secure, private interiors. These are going to be highly sought after because they're limited in number. Buying them isn't just based on money though. You have to earn and maintain enough social status within the city to get one."

This is the other main area of change EverQuest II is introducing - social experience. Players can rise in rank and ability as much through contributing to the world and the betterment of their race, city and factions as they can by hitting things with magic sticks. "We're reinforcing to the player that they're part of this world, part of their society and, like any society, there are responsibilities associated that have to be maintained if they want to reap the benefits."

Jerusalem

With the new graphics engine now firmly in place, these benefits look better than ever. Trost concludes the tour of Freeport with a jaunt around a stunning-looking guild house. (Player guilds can also own property - the bigger and more flamboyant demonstrating the guild's standing within the city's structure.) Then he loads up the new Norrath's other major city, Qeynos.

"We wanted Freeport to feel very urban, with a definite Mediterranean style," says Trost, as the progress bar zips across the screen.

"Meanwhile Qeynos is more open, with a more pastoral, English countryside sort of feel to it." Although with all the ogres, trolls and gnomes potentially running about it's probably more akin to Leeds than Lincolnshire. A breathtaking Leeds though. The new Qeynos is like Simon Scharma's wet dream. Tudor buildings, village squares, ornate marble statues and bloody great castles and towers, reaching into the sky like the giant phallic symbols they are.

"We have a realistically modelled spatial sphere," says Trost, as he pans up along a particularly tall turret. "The sun moves through the sky and casts light on to the moon. The moon goes through phases, the constellations drift through the night sky." He's a proud man and it shows.

This kind of detail also helps out when adding content to the game world. "On certain days of the year there's a celestial event that happens in Qeynos," Trost says, coming to rest at the base of a marble figure. "If you stand in a way that the top of a statue's sword lines up with the central tower of the main castle, a I solar eclipse happens right at the tip. We'll be having a festival take place on these occasions in the city, and anyone who's here at that time will be able to earn social experience for participating."

Country Fayre

Time starts running out for our tour and Trost stops short at conjuring up a gang of zombies to show off the battle engine, partly because the combat system isn't fully in place yet and mostly because he knows he'll get mullered. "Encounters are made up from logical groupings of NPCs which can function and operate tactically as a unit," he explains by way of absence. "When a group of players engages them, that encounter locks down to that group exclusively. That lets us set up really tactical battle situations. We know what the capabilities of four to six players are and with the option of having others joining in at will no longer there, it enables us to explore lots of interesting tactics, along with making the abilities of the players much more tactical in their nature."

Tactics like this also depend a lot on the types of skills in which players choose to specialise. "You can combine skills and 'knowledges' to customise your characters," he says. "Combining long sword knowledge with high slashing techniques opens up an advanced fighting move that stuns your opponents along with damaging them."

Trost is hoping this more concentrated style of gameplay is what will draw those players who found EverQuest too daunting towards this sequel. Both games will still run side by side (more EQ expansions are on the way), but EQII is definitely emphasising content over sheer size. Women in general may not respond to such boasts, but gamers? That's another matter.

IT'S news to no one that EverQuest took the online world by storm. The first fully 3D online role-playing game, complete with goblins, orcs and all the other ne'er do wells that frequent games of this type, it knocked Ultima Online off its pedestal and has been growing ever since. The market is more crowded now, and everyone wants to take a swing at the champ, but things look unlikely to change when EQ2 is released at the end of next year. The disbeliefinspiring graphics already have the EQ community drooling, and thousands more converts are sure to follow.

Key features include a revamped character development system, whereby you can choose different paths of development as you advance, rather than being stuck with the specialised class you chose when you first joined the game and had no idea what you were doing. You'll also be able to own your own real estate and even lead a thoroughly peaceful life, as you can now advance your character through trades instead of combat, which is sure to prove popular given the number of keen tradesmen in the current game. Verant is also promising the opportunity to affect the development of the gameworld through your actions, but of , course all persistent-world k games promise this and none deliver. But who knows...

We'll be getting our hands on early code for EverQuest 2 in the very near future, but for now, rest assured this game is guing tu be biyyei than yuui mum's pants.

IT'S news to no one that Everquest took the online world by storm. The first fully 3D online role-playing game, complete with goblins, orcs and all the other ne'er do wells that frequent games of this type, it knocked Ultima Online off its pedestal and has been growing ever since. The market is more crowded now, and everyone wants to take a swing at the champ, but things look unlikely to change when EQ2 is released at the end of next year. The disbeliefinspiring graphics already have the EQ community drooling, and thousands more converts are sure to follow.

Key features include a revamped character development system, whereby you can choose different paths of development as you advance, rather than being stuck with the specialised class you chose when you first joined the game and had no idea what you were doing. You'll also be able to own your own real estate and even lead a thoroughly peaceful life, as you can now advance your character through trades instead of combat, which is sure to prove popular given the number of keen tradesmen in the current game. Verant is also promising the opportunity to affect the development of the gameworld through your actions, but of , course all persistent-world k games promise this and none deliver. But who knows...

We'll be getting our hands on early code for EverQuest 2 in the very near future, but for now, rest assured this game is guing tu be biyyei than yuui mum's pants.

If It Was Ultima Online that started the MMOG ball rolling, EverQuest was the game that picked it up, scored several touchdowns, slammed a handful of dunks and bagged a hatful of goals. For the past five years, nothing has been able to touch it - and the original doesn't look like stopping any time soon. Even with this sequel nearly done, threatening to steal its audience. That's not the plan, though. EQ 2 has been designed primarily to capture the attention of those who've already eschewed the original. It's focussed on short, sharp, immediate thrills - the epic adventure rather than the career as a melon farmer.

The two main cities in the new world of Norrath - Qeynos and Freeport - are at polar opposites when it comes to morals and ethics, and every race in the game is allied to one side or another. They're huge cities too, two of the largest fantasy cities ever made in a game, no less. Each has been designed along the game's D.I.M.E. system -standing for Deep, Intimate, Meaningful and Entertaining - a set of guiding principles for everything in the game.

Accordingly, the developers are at pains to stress that everything in the game has meaning, from the architecture to the kinds of creatures you'll encounter. Even when I attempt to catch them out by asking about some elephants seen in one area, their commitment to the cause doesn't waver and we learn they hunt in packs, are temtorial and interact with other creatures regardless of player interaction.

That's when you begin to realise why EverQuest has had the astonishing hold over its audience all this time. The developers genuinely believe in what they're doing and are straining every fibre in their being to make EverQuest II the ultimate massively multiplayer experience it can be.

Times Have Changed in Norrath. The land that houses fantasy epic EverQuest II isn't what it used to be. A visit to Sony Online's San Diego offices reveals sinister forces are at work... most notably the development team.

Adventuring in the new time period, which is known as the Age Of Destiny is the stuff of legend, but it's fraught with peril. Zones like the Fallen Gate, former home to a thriving Dark Elf community, is now a dungeon complex crawling with restless undead. Foreboding temple Cazic-Thule looks especially evil in its newly bedecked malevolence, and features giant eyeballs that track your every movement. And we reckon the new areas might even be scary enough to frighten the pants off bosses like the mighty dragon, Darathar the Deceiver. Castle Nektropos, for one, looks particularly twisted; scarred by wicked wizardry, its winding corridors feature the most disturbing geometry this side of a HP Lovecraft yarn. The Bixie beehive isn't so inviting either, with mysterious, glowing honeycombs host to a halfhuman menagerie.

Pretty though the newly created 3D engine is, it's been put to horrific use. For every lovely vista you'll spot, there's an equally creepy temple or tomb in store. EverQuest II is dreadful news for perpetually cheerful faeries, but deliciously tempting for the rest of us evil necromancers...

Last month, we went over the basics of setting up a character in 989 Studios' hot online game, Ever-Quest. This month, we get into the fun stuff: bloodshed. Here are some tidbits to keep in mind as you hack your way across Norrath's beautiful countryside.

Notable Notes

Two of the first possessions you'll notice are scrolls. The first scroll will get you into your class guild--be it bard, paladin, ranger, or whatever you choose. You'll also get five free practices with the guildmaster when joining the guild of your choice. We recommend that you pour all your training into one basic attack--IH piercing, slashing, or blunt You should also check your default weapon to learn which attack is your primary one. For instance, it won't do a ranger any good to practice archery skills right away, because you don't have a bow and you won't be able to afford one for some time. Keep in mind that when your character's experience level goes up, you'll get more time to practice your skills at the guild.

The second scroll is the PK scroll, which stands for "player killing"--a little bounty-hunter side culture that almost ruined games like Diablo and Ultima Online. Fortunately, Everquest solves the problem neatly: If you want to engage in the dangerous, exciting world of slaying other players, deliver that scroll to the appropriate destination in order to be added to the pool of PKers. If you'd rather not worry about real-life assassins, destroy the PK note and they'll never touch you--it's that simple. But you should know what kind of game you want to play before you start tromping all over the place.

You Got Skillz?

It's important to understand that your skills are separate from your victories. Even if you lose a fight, you're building up basic skills like offense, defense, and proficiency in the weapon of your choice. There's glory in killing big monsters, but, early on, a handful of bats and rats will actually help you more because they're easy kills that boost your skills. By the same token, once you acquire more weapons, try switching evenly between them to work on your kicking, slashing, piercing, and blunt weapons. Other skills you can hone during a skirmish are sense-heading (crucial for navigating Norrath) and taunt Neither skill will interrupt your combat so you can build them up with a few-simple mouse clicks during any fight.

Thrill Kill

When you're fighting a monster, switch your camera angle to one of the chase views. Quite often, a second monster will come along and decide to double-team you--now you'll see who's hitting you and from where. Similarly, watch for two monsters to go at it (spiders and rats tend to get into scuffles), then sneak up and take out the weakened winner when their fight is over. It's a cheap victory, but who cares?

Keep in mind that different monsters yield different rewards. For instance, because skeletons were once human beings, they often carry money or weapons that you can take when you defeat them. Fire beetles' eyes are luminescent and can be used to light your way. All monsters can give you some sort of booty to use or sell--and "can" is the operative word, for you won't necessarily earn a material reward every time. You never know what you'll get until you've struck the killing blow.

Saving Others' Lives ... and Yuor Own

One of the biggest mistakes newbies make is jumping in on someone else's battle thinking they're being helpful, when, in feet, they're really interrupting that person's fight If you see someone fighting a monster and feel you should intervene, first check their health bar to see how they're faring, then ask if they need assistance before targeting or taunting their attacker. They might sit there for 10 minutes fighting the same baddie, but it's completely possible that they want a long, slow fight to build their skills. If you really want to lend a hand, nobody will say no to a healing spell from a spectator.

There's also another side to this etiquette equation. If someone comes to your rescue while you're getting hammered, don't be a jerk by yelling at them--be polite and thank them for saving your ass. It's not a bad idea to set up a macro with a simple "Help me!" comment on your six-squared sidebar.

Sometimes you'll find yourself outmatched and have to run for your life. Flee to the nearest guard station, but be careful who and what you pass along the way. Monsters will often latch on to the nearest live target, and its not cool to lead a giant mammoth past some unsuspecting first-level newbie. It's definitely funny, but it's just not right.

It's My Party and I'll Die If I Want To

This brings us to our next point partying. In short do it Banding together with your fellow adventurers benefits everyone. Plus, you won't have to worry about evenly splitting the loot and experience points--the game takes care of those details. Besides, it's just more fun to get a party together and take off for realms unknown. Make sure you set your corpse to lootable, however--that way, when you die, your friends can pick up your stuff and move on while you regenerate and catch up.

Next issue, the EverQuest guide wraps up with the third and final installment, covering the wonderful world of magic.. .and we ain't talkin' about pullin' rabbits from hats.

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