EverQuest

a game by Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 4 reviews
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Just like every good role-playing adventure, the realm of online RPGs also needs a hero. Online pioneers--Origin's Ultima Online, 3DO's Meridian 59--were launched amid great splashes of hype and riveted the attention of role-playing buffs who were drawn to the possibilities of massive multiplayer online worlds. The success of those titles was limited at best: Interest in M59 has waned as its scant gameplay options bescome boring, and Ultima Online's buggy release has saddled Origin with a dass-L action lawsuit from unhappy cus-fllL tomers. Nevertheless, Sony is pushing forward on the trail these games blazed, hoping to fulfill the amazing poten tial of a persistent-world online RPG. EverQuest, designed by 989 Studios and bankrolled by A Sony's deep pockets, if looks to be the deepest, rich est, and most graphically advanced of any online RPG yet.

Bigger Is Better

One thing that EverQuest's designers hope will set their game apart is its sheer size: EverQuest's gameplay will evolve over five continents. Norrath, the setting of the fantasy world in which gamers meet, spans five vast islands that will take ages to fully explore or map. Each continent contains its own ecosystems, climates, and terrain, ranging from arid desert to wind-blasted snowscape.

"We wanted to make a world that felt huge, one you really had to travel through to explore," says EverQuest's project leader Brad McQuaid. As players wander through Norrath, they'll have to devote a lot of time just getting from place to place, because a very realistic system of roads and overseas ship transportation will be in place. Other elements adding to the game's realism will be weather conditions, like rain and snow, that affect gameplay and law-abiding towns that will send troops after any character who misbehaves while in civilized society.

Much Ado About Gaming

With such a large stage, the game's designers are making sure there's plenty to do. Gamers will be able to choose from 14 races and 12 character classes, running the gamut from magic-using intellectual Erudites to single-minded, dub-swinging trolls (not that there's anything wrong with that). The important thing is that no matter what gamers choose to play as, they will find cooperation and team-building are necessary tools for success.

'The game is designed for parties that complement each other," says McQuaid. "Balancing strengths and weaknesses is the key to finishing quests." The attack skills of warriors and wizards will have to be matched with the healing powers of clerics and the thieving skills of rogues. All the party's members share evenly in experience points gained whether they clobber bad guys or not--in other words, the healer who keeps a warrior from collapsing will share in the experience points gained by the warrior's slaying of a beast.

Another aspect of EverQuest that will make it espe-daily fun to play is that the actions of your party members will actually help script the realm's destiny. You'll live in a very realistic market economy and political system, and your decisions can impart how these structures function. For example, if you demolish an important silver mine, there may be a shortage of quality weapons for the rest of the world to buy. If you organize a bunch of people into a guild, you can apply to have your Guild Hall designed into the game (including your own art for logos and such). Sony will employ a number of full-time "gamemasters" to help steer stories by initiating quests, instigating problems, and generally keeping the wheels of drama turning.

Pretty Past

EverQuest looks to not only be the most ambitious design for an online RPG, but also the most ambitious visually. Everything will be fully 3D and seen from a choice of many camera angles. In fact, switching camera angles is recommended, as different views help the gameplay in varying ways. The third-person chase view provides the best look at combat, enabling you to see the entire battlefield and to keep an eye on your back, while the first-person view is best for exploring, giving you a closer look at details and clues you may have missed from above. In any view, the 3D-rendered environments will dazzle, thanks to such treats as rippling effects, reflective ocean surfaces, fully destructible trees, slippery gravel slopes, and even individual raindrops that splatter in your eye if you look skyward during a rainstorm.

Party On

Gathering a party of strangers and striking out to explore new i worlds is the heart of any online role-playing adventure--but r diehard RPG fans are just waiting for a game to do it right. EverQuest may be that game. Sony has - already launched the beta\test and plans to have EverQuest completely operational by February. Online role-players, get ready to ram the castle walls!

Game Reviews

BEFORE YOU FIRE up 989 Studios' red-hot online RPG, EverQuest. consider this: The real world is.easier to survive than EverQuest's online realm of Norrath, Want some proof? I) In the real world, you're given a decade or two before you have to fight for your life. 2) In the real world, very few giant bats and absolutely no decaying skeletons attack you offline. 3) In the real world, there's no lag time.

So, some assistance is in order. Before you start exploring the lands of Nor-rath, keep these tips and suggestions in mind.

Dancin' with My Elf

Building your character is the first challenge you'll face, and we suggest that you log on to EverQuests Web site to do some research into each race before you make your final choice. We recommend you start as a human character: They're the least interesting race in the fantasy realm, but' they're the most flexible. Unlike some of the other characters, like trolls, humans can enter any town in Norrath and can be almost any character class. Half-elves are a good character to start as, too, because they have excellent night vision (humans will need a torch or a lantern right away). Of course, if you're unhappy with your personage, you can always start over or, if you like, create a second character.

As for your protagonist's name, keep in mind that all Norrath citizens have fantasy-style nomenclatures: Mike the Barbarian or Larry the Thief ain't gonna cut it here. EverQuest will randomly generate an appropriate-sounding name for your character if you like--but if you want to be creative, you can take your existing name and rearrange the letters. Fantasy-style anagrams of "Dan Elektro" include Telkandore. Kanetrolde. and Drakentole. Then again. Lakerodent comes up. too, so use discretion.

The Facts of Online Life

Once you enter EverQuests world, cake a moment to marvel at its beauty. Forsooth, it is pretty. Now realize the following harsh truth: You will die here. Maybe right away. Sooner or later, you will tangle with a creature or a monster who'll kick your ass but good--and once you're resurrected, you'll have to find your corpse to get your stuff back. Norrath is a dangerous place, and sometimes you lose. If you accept that, the rest of the game is much more enjoyable.

The next order of business is organization. The six-squared control panel in the lower-left corner of the screen is yours to customize--its one of the handiest tools in the game as it makes navigating through EverQuest a lot less confusing.-Simply hold down Control and left-click the button you want to copy to the panel. You have six pages to program to your liking; once you've customized your controls, you'll have easy access to basic commands like Sit/Stand and Walk/Run, your Persona details, common chat phrases, and other important details.

To Protect and To Serve

Before setting up your interface, head to a safe area--when you enter a new town, find a guard and chill near him while you fiddle with your controls. Its also best if your character sits while you configure your controls because you recover health at a faster rate--whenever your red health and yellow stamina bars get low, plop down next to a guard station. Similarly, walking will prove less strenuous than running, so if you're pooped and can't find a guard station, click off Run and stroll to your destination instead.

The guards of Norratb are there to enforce the law-(for instance, they'll gc after you if you're an unrepentant pickpocket), but they'll also assist you when you're in danger. If you find yourself losing a battle, turn tail and flee to the nearest guard station--the guards will open a can of Ye Olde Whup Ass on the bothersome beastie. Just be aware of other players who might be between you and the guards--sometimes monsters will simply attack the closest target, and your cowardly retreat might get someone killed when they weren't even looking for a fight.

The Never-Ending Strtegy Guide

Norraths a big place. Check back next month for some helpful hints on fighting, building your character, and other interesting ways to avoid dying.

ProTips:

  • Elves have night vision, which gives other creatures a reddish glow.
  • Beetles look small enough for a newbie to take, but they're actually pretty fierce. Be prepared to flee or to die.
  • Town guards are EverQuest's version of The Man.
  • Humans and half-elves make good choices for a starting character.
  • Characters with green names are game masters-the folks who keep the game running. Treat them with respect and don't be afraid to ask them questions.
  • Get to know that six-square panel in the lower left corner of the screen-it's a llfesaver.
  • Guards will readily put the smack down on troublesome beasties.
  • If you want to see the names of the creatures and characters you encounter, click the "NPC Names" box in the EverQuest options menu.
  • Norrath's an equal opportunity realm; you can choose male or female characters of every race.

Some eye of newt, some frogs wart, a sprinkle of magic beans--okay, so that's more like the recipe for a stomachache at Ei Torito. If you want to succeed in your quest to conquer Norrath wearing only the robes (or, in the case of a druid, the vines) of a magic-user, you'll need to understand some basic concepts about magic and its place in the world of EverQuest, 989 Studios' online game. Hint Leave the eye of newt in the cupboard.

Go to school

You must first decide what type of spellcaster your character is going to be and which school they will attend. (Yes, you have to go to school for magic.)

Clerics, druids, enchanters, magicians, necromancers (yuck), shaman, and wizards can all cast spells (Shadow Knights will have some magical powers, but aren't considered magic-users as a rule). The schools of magic break down into the offensive, defensive, healing, transportation, and enchantment disciplines.

Clerics are devoted primarily to healing, which makes them a vital and necessary member of any adventuring party. Wizards and magicians are able to take up much of the offensive slack, crafting area attacks and projectile spells aimed at knocking your enemy silly. Shaman and druids are masters of defensive spells, which will help make your party a tough nut to crack. Enchanters take normal everyday items and imbue them with magical power. Necromancers control the dead (and the undead), which makes them an intriguing--if somewhat disgusting--factor in Norrath's magical hierarchy.

Divvy It Up

An important thing to remember is that your magic-using character should not be the only one in the party with mystic powers. In fact, the presence of just one mage in any party is usually a bad sign. The key is to diwy up the magical chores between a few characters with different spellcasting specialties.

As mentioned before, clerics are a must for your party. Position them at the back of the pack, out of harm's way, and use them to heal wounded fighters. This is a tried-and-true strategy that's worked since Gary Gygax first scribbled down the Dungeons & Dragons rule books--so adhere to it As a rule of thumb, you should also have a wizard or a magician in your party who can cast offensive spells. They have the ability to learn excellent spells, such as a single-target fireball or a super attack, like area-effecting lightning bolts.

If you feel the need for a third spellcaster, an enchanter is your next logical choice. Why? Because they can turn a common, worthless dagger into a magical weapon of considerable power. Enchanters can perform this feat for almost anyone in the party, and they're only restricted by the amount of mana they have available.

It's About Mana, Man

Speaking of which, mana must become a part of your vocabulary (if it isn't already). Norrath's magical currents are dictated by the flow of a force called mana, which magic-users draw from to cast their spells. Mana is represented on your character sheet as a finite amount of spellcasting energy that you have stored up. Each spell your magic-user casts will deplete that reserve by a specified amount. Beware: When your spellcaster's mana level dips too low, it's kaput for their spellcasting abilities--they'll be just another person with a pointy hat and a stick.

Keep in mind that magic-users are to be used as a weapon of last resort during combat--think of them as the atom bomb in your party's arsenal. If the grunts can handle a pair of giant rats, there's no reason for Otto the Obscure to waste mana by casting fireballs at them. Besides, you'll wish you had that extra mana when you stumble onto the path of some genuinely tough opponent. It's very important that your magic-user has his or her chambers loaded when such a situation presents itself.

So Where Do I Get My Spells?

Ah, yes, ever-acquisitive is the mage. Your spellcaster begins the game with only a few common spells--the rest they'll have to learn as you go. Adding spells to their spell book is an easy process; the hard part is finding the darn things. Most spells that come your way during your early adventures come in the form of scrolls, which you will find from time to time after wasting monsters or finding treasure. You must then read the scroll and "scribe" it (or transfer the scroll) into your spell book Once that's been done, the scroll disappears from your inventory anc reappears as a new spell in your magic-users spell book.

As your spellcasters progress, its possible for them to join a mage's guild to learn new spells through study (and tuition). Once they've gained some knowledge, they can then be taught advanced spells that aren't typically found drifting around on loose scrolls.

Remember: Your magic-user can keep only eight spells "loaded" in their spell book at any given time. They have to memorize the spells prior to using them, which limits the choices they'll have in combat--it's important to always have your favorite ones handy. Happy casting!

ProTips:

  • Just because your mage stands at the rear of the party doesn't mean you have to let your guard down. Frequently check your six while in combat.
  • What are the benefits of area-effect spells! Three ice goblins can get beat down by a single spell from a well-prepared wizard.
  • Take no guff from these skeletal swine. Even a physically outmatched spellcasting elf can handle the minions of death when she has a fireball to cook up.
  • Turn Undead is a vital spell that provides the best weapon against skeletons like these.
  • Spells with area-effect range are particularly effective in closed-in places like dungeons and tunnels.
  • You'll need to reach deep in your bag for help in a crunch like this!
  • Be advised-some of the beasts in Norrath are also magic-users.

Overview

This is an online massively multiplayer RPG. You create a character from one of several different races, types, starting locations, and abilities then you can play on several different servers, with several characters in each. It’s best to play in a group with other people, rather than alone, as fighting and exploring is much more enjoyable in an adventuring party with a wide range of character types. Your world is Norrath -- a huge map with three major continents and a few islands scattered around. Fight monsters, go exploring, go on quests, or hang around a city and make money as a crafter. Lots to do and see in a very complex game.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Gameplay takes place in a 3D environment, which you can see from any of five different views -- first person to overhead. Your playfield is surrounded by a huge control panel with a chat window, action keys and inventory buttons. Movement is via keyboard commands and, while hot keys can be used for common tasks, you’ll still need to use your mouse for a lot -- which is kind of a pain. You can also choose to lose most or all of the control panel and play in a full-screen mode, which allows for a less-cluttered field of vision. There is an enormous range of ways you can approach the game -- it’s definitely more than making a decision between playing a mage or a warrior. They also (thank goodness) have a Player-vs-Player switch,which allows you to exempt yourself from PVP action, so you can run around the countryside relatively safely and worry more about getting nailed by a troll or something instead of an anti-social fellow player who prefers to think of the game as Medieval Quake. They also don’t allow other players to loot your corpse, unless you’re playing PVP, so if you can find your body, you can retrieve armor, weapons, etc. from it. In earlier levels, your body doesn’t stick around long, but after level four it will still be there up to a week later. A very, very good idea. The online nature allows for continuous update patches to be sent out on a regular basis (the initial patch download can take awhile) and the developers actually ask for, and respond to, player suggestions about the game by including little surveys that pop up now and then upon login.

The one thing that’s not terribly good right now is the economy. They’re fixing a lot of problems with it, but playing a strictly economic character still isn’t terribly easy or useful, and merchant prices for some things are really outrageous, compared to monster loot and other forms of income. (Honestly, three silver pieces for a flask of water?!?!) They also need to improve their banking system -- banks and bankers are rather hard to find unless you already know where to look.

Navigation is also less-than-easy. Using the maps included in the playguide isn’t helpful (go find better maps on the player-run websites) and it’s very easy to get lost, even when wandering around in the cities, as many of them are very maze-like. Getting lost in a city isn’t a huge deal, but if you’re a newbie out to knock off a few bats and skeletons, venturing out of sight of the city limits can be suicide unless you follow a path or have higher-level characters in your party. Using the "sense heading" skill and taking very close note of your surroundings is essential.

Everquest has a high learning curve, but it should feel familiar if you’re any sort of RPG’er at all, or have played similar games, like Ultima Online.

I would have appreciated more character customization -- more ability to pick visual features for your character- there’s a bit too much similarity in characters of the same race, even when they’re wearing armor. I realize that this is partly a limitation of graphics, however.

Multiplayer Experience

This is a game that exists primarily to allow play with other people. There’s a lot of well-done pushes to get you to socialize and form adventuring parties with others. You can play on your own for the first few levels of the game, as you’re learning, but beyond level four or so, playing by yourself is actually considerably less fun. The monsters required to advance further levels will kick your butt if you are on your own then, and it’s kind of a pain to have to go find your body each time you die to retrieve your stuff -- especially if you ended up croaking in a spawn area and get whacked again by the same baddies.

Room for Improvement

Three minor annoyances: Having to agree to the EULA every time you start the game (even if you haven’t downloaded patches), spelling and grammar errors all over the documentation and in the game itself, and the fact that you have to click six times to exit the game (including a little warning box: "are you sure you want to quit?" Sheesh -- after clicking on exit that many times -- yes, I am sure!). They should have an option when you first fire up the game to play your last character on the last server you were on -- saving a lot of time-wasting steps to get into the game, too.

Originality/Cool Features

They’ve definitely set a new standard for online games -- especially with the 3D environments. There are other games waiting in the wings, most notably Asheron’s Call (due to be released later this fall) and it should be interesting to see whether or not the lessons taught by EQ’s success (and some of its failures) are learned by other producers.

Graphics

The 3D environments are quite good (if you have the machine to run them) although I have seen better. Character movement is a little robotic but not too bad. The environments are artistically really nice, as you can see from some of the screen shots. I also love having the ability to look in all directions, including above (there’s plenty of reason to do so) and there’s a very wide range of territory to explore and play in. I do have a rant with how the characters are drawn, however. When I first got the game, I was annoyed to find that even the box itself was well-endowed -- with an embossed image of a female character that looked like a High Elf version of Nicole Kidman, barely wearing some sort of "I Dream of Jeannie" type costume. In the game itself, most of the other female characters are similarly nearly naked, not to mention that they all have breasts that would make any L.A. plastic surgeon proud. While I’m grateful for the inclusion of female characters at all, and the fact that they don’t limit them to certain character types, they do seem to be designed somewhat like decorative items. I don’t think a certain amount of suggestiveness in fantasy games like this is bad -- heck I’m as much a Xena fan as the next person -- but in this case, it is kind of over-the-top. Even the female Ogres and Trolls are wearing bikinis and g-strings! I eventually got annoyed and started playing male characters instead. Some of the male characters are also kind of sexy-looking, and a few are shirtless, but none are anywhere near as naked as the women. (Though I personally think the half-elf I’m playing would look quite good in deerskin speedos.) This type of game especially tends to draw female players and it’s a shame that the characters we’re expected to play look more like Barbie than warriors. If nothing else, it’s an annoying distraction in an otherwise good game.

Audio

No cheesy music to get in the way of hearing your surrounding sounds, which is very useful considering that sound can help you find your way around when you’re getting lost not to mention warn you when you’re about to get nailed by an Orc or some other nasty beastie. A good sound card is helpful but not terribly necessary.

System Requirements

One of my major pet peeves with this game is the minimum requirements listed: Windows 95 or 98, Pentium 166, with a Direct 3D or Glide compliant 3D card and 32 MB of RAM. I originally tried to play the game on a system meeting those specs and was absolutely unable to. The 3D was ugly as heck that way and movement was so slow and jerky as to be unplayable. Sure, the game will start up and run but in a game that sometimes requires fast reactions and smooth navigation, it’s a major disappointment to try to play. While I kind of liked having an excuse to upgrade my system, I shouldn’t have had to. They really need to modify the system requirements listed on the box. The system I’m now running it on is beyond their "recommended" specs (P200 or above and 64MB of RAM,) and the game works well on it. I’d advise not playing it at all if you have a punier system -- you’ll just end up frustrated.

Documentation

There is a cursory playguide, which is about as useful as the tutorial in actually playing the game. EQ is another in a huge string of games that have come out recently that don’t have a usable playguide in the box. Instead, you have to go drop 15 bucks or so on an "official playguide" that the game’s publisher offers separately. Considering that you’ve just spent $40 on the game itself and then you sign your life and credit card away to get the online account, having to drop even more money to learn how to play the game is a real swindle. I’d recommend avoiding the official stuff anyway -- the game changes so much that anything printed is easily outdated before it even goes to press. The best resources for this type of game are still player-run websites -- primarily the ones run by Stratics. Go digging there before you even sign up for your online account, so you don’t waste precious time and money trying to figure out what you’re doing by just playing.

Parental Warning

This game is rated T (Teen) with good reason. There’s a fair amount of maturity needed to play it well for one. Though it’s centered, of course, around fantasy violence, there’s not a lot in the way of gore, which is nice. ESRB also notes "suggestive themes" since the female characters running around nearly naked may be rather more soft-core porn-like than younger kids should be seeing. They’re bright enough to disallow vulgar character names and there isn’t a lot of cursing going on in the chats, but it’s still a rather adult game all the way around.

Bottom Line

An ambitious and mostly well-executed effort. It’s fun to play and addictive as all heck. Aside from the complaints I’ve listed, it’s not a bad game at all and is certainly better than the other games of this type that are currently out there. It’s obvious that the folks at 989 listened to the complaints about the other games and made sure that those issues were fully addressed in_ EQ_. There is, however, a very high learning curve to the game, which I guess isn’t surprising considering how complex it is. The tutorial gives you only the minimum of basics and there are very few in-the-game resources for learning. You do get 30 days of free play when you sign up, but you will more than use that time getting your system tweaked in the precise way to make it run well, and figuring out simple navigation and gameplay. If you’re not a patient person, or you don’t have a lot of time or energy to devote to getting into the game, you’ll find EQ boring and frustrating. If, however, you have no outside life to speak of and don’t have a spouse or partner who will get mad at you for staying up until 3:00AM skill-building and harassing goblins, go for it. There’s a rewarding, intricate and beautiful game to be played once you get past the first few levels.

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