EverQuest II Extended Review: NeverQuest?
Neil Kewn (Murxidon) - OnRPG Journalist
EverQuest Online Adventures has its own special place in the annals of MMO history. The MMORPG that defined a genre, Sony's historic title paved the way for online multiplayer games for years to come. Fans were naturally excited when its long awaited sequel hit shelves in 2005, but EverQuest II has failed to generate the same level of interest and sales when compared to other games in its class. With the market for pay-to-play MMOs notoriously hard to stay profitable in, many games are switching to payment free models. EverQuest II Extended follows suit by offering adventurers a cost-free route into Norrath 2.0, but is it worth your time?
Firstly, "cost-free" may be a little misleading. It's important to note that EverQuest II hasn't gone free to play. Those wanting to experience everything the game has to offer (and there is a lot) will still need to subscribe to one of Sony's many subscription plans. Extended offers a portion of the game at no charge, with the developers hoping you're drawn in enough to take out your credit card. Thankfully you don't need to enter any payment details to play, and the streaming download service does an amicable job of getting you into Norrath quickly and pain-free.
One of the most appealing features of EverQuest II is the sheer number of different race and class combinations you can choose from. Whilst these are restricted in Extended, four class archetypes are still available (Fighter, Priest, Mage and Scout). These split into a number of different actual classes, two of each archetype are available to free players. Race selection is also limited. Races are split into Good, Evil and Neutral, but free players only have access to the Neutral tree, which houses just four different races. Luckily the game's deep customization is kept intact, with a whole host of different sliders and options enabling you to shape and mould your own uniquely identifiable character.
Sony is still looking to make a buck or two off Extended. The company's notorious virtual currency, titled Station Cash, is plastered all over the game, and the monthly subscription fee has been replaced with a cash shop. As is standard with most free MMOs, a variety of premium items, perks and enhancements are up for sale. You need to top up your "wallet" by purchasing blocks of Station Cash to gain access to the store, but the implementation of the system is so obtrusive that it acts more of a distraction than an incentive. Advertisements appear before you launch the game, during your actual play session, and even when you exit the client. You are force fed information on Sony's membership plans (all four of them) and many of the game's features are unavailable until you pay out. It does very little to encourage you to play, never mind pay.
There is still fun to be had, though. EverQuest's interface is intuitive and easy to get to grips with, anyone who has played an MMO before won't have much need for the tutorial that appears upon creating a character. Helpful hints appear at different stages of the early levels, detailing game and combat mechanics that are unique to the game.
At first glance, levelling a character in EverQuest II may seem familiar almost to point of imitation. You have to look further into the game to realize that this isn't just another fantasy MMO. Weight has an effect on your character, meaning you won't be carrying massive amounts of loot around all the time. Spell effects aren't just dependant on your level and gear either, and can be upgraded using scrolls you find scattered around the world. Complaints regarding repetition and grinding in the original game have been addressed, and the implementation of a "mini ding" (restoring full health and power every 10% of your experience bar) is a welcome bonus for those in the early levels. Heroic Opportunities also add another element to the game's combat system. These short mini-games award buffs and other advantages through the successful completion of spell and ability chains. It's a small addition, but it makes combat a tad more interesting.
Crafting is an important part of the EverQuest II experience, and any player can choose to become a "Tradeskiller". There are a large number of different skills you can choose to specialize in, split into three archetypes. The Craftsmen Tradeskill has classes that help you build wooden weapons and armour, rustle up food and drinks and design furniture for player's homes. Outfitters forge heavy armour and metal weapons, and Scholars specialize in alchemy, spell upgrades and jewellery. The materials needed are often found in the world of Norrath itself, and your character can choose to "harvest" elements from the world around them. Fallen trees, rocks, plants, animal dens and throngs of fish are yours for the taking, and the Mining, Foresting, Fishing, Gathering and Trapping skills determine how well you gather these materials.
Once you have the necessary recipe, you're ready to craft. The crafting process in EverQuest II is more than just the click-and-wait affair found in other MMOs, with players having to put some thought into their crafting in order to keep the quality of their output high. Your goal is to craft the item as quickly as possible whilst keeping the quality and durability of it at a respectable level. During the crafting process you must respond to different events in real-time, failure to do so will increase the chances of your finished product being a complete dud, wasting your materials and fuel. Often these events can be beneficial, adding a perk or buff to your item. This process works well on the whole, and the crafting mechanics themselves are deep, well implemented and most importantly, enjoyable.
One of the most redeemable factors of EverQuest II is its sound direction. The game probably has one of the best selections of music in any MMO. It is filled with impressive ambient tunes that seamlessly fade in and out during play, and most tracks are a pleasure to listen whilst you adventure. The sound effects are also a triumph. Armed combat is satisfying, thanks to the varied and meaty sounds that echo after each blow, and environmental sounds that accompany you on your travels (rustling grass and loud, tweeting birds to name just two) can make for a very atmospheric game at times.
EverQuest II is a very solid MMORPG. Sony has created a beautiful world dripping with atmosphere, a world that is both sadly underrated and overlooked. I would make no hesitation in recommending the game's approachable and intuitive gameplay to anyone looking for a more refined MMORPG, but Extended's approach to advertising and its heavy use of a cash shop makes it very hard to warrant a download. Extended isn't a free-to-play MMORPG, it's nothing more than an extremely restricted trial of a pay-to-play one. It merely acts an introduction to a bigger, better game, and those wishing to spend time in Norrath will find that their money is better spent purchasing the full game and a monthly subscription.
Beautiful, varied world to explore
Novel ideas add depth to combat
Deep crafting mechanics
Character development is crippled unless you pay
Annoying, distracting advertisements
Confusing payment model