SOE Live went off this past weekend in Las Vegas and, in my typical hope in the face of reality sort of way, I tuned in to watch several of the live streams with the idea that SOE might have some magic potion that would tempt me back to one of their games… or would tell me something about the one I was looking forward to.
So the keynotes for EverQuest, EverQuest II, and EverQuest Next were on my list, as well as a couple of the follow up panels and the main keynote. Norrath is clearly what draws me to SOE.
However, the one thing I did not do was take notes while watching the streams. Why would I? Any normal company doing big announcements for various products which they had been working on for weeks, and which obviously had time to get press briefing packs complete with graphics and what not together, surely would have all of that information posted on their web site shortly after the respective keynotes. Right? I mean Blizzard had everything from their Thursday morning live stream up for the world to see on their main page by early afternoon the same day. SOE had all the information together. It should have been tee’d up so that after each keynote, somebody pressed a button to update the respective site so that all of your user facing media is delivering the same message.
But no, this is SOE.
As of my writing this, there is none of the information from SOE Live on the respective sites or forums as though none of this had happened. So I had to thrash around looking for what other people wrote to get details that I would have written down had I not forgotten yet again how SOE runs their railroad.
EverQuest – A Return to Pirates
The EverQuest announcement focused on the upcoming expansion, as one would expect. This time around SOE is returning to the nautical theme last visited with The Buried Sea expansion. This time it is The Darkened Sea, which will launch on October 26 for All Access Pass members and on November 11 for the unwashed free to play masses.
The level cap goes up from 100 to 105 with this expansion. There are more zones, access to the bazaar from outside of the bazaar, and a few other goodies. As essentially an outsider to EverQuest content after… well… The Planes of Power really, though I have gone back for a couple of runs since… it is tough to find something to get excited about here. Even Bhagpuss seems relatively calm in his words, tucked in at the end of a long post about SOE Live. EverQuest is catering to the installed base, we have long known that. But even then, I don’t recall The Buried Sea being a fan favorite back in the day. The blog review of it over at the past version of Mobhunter, when Loral was writing it (internet archive for the win, I miss Loral) seemed to be lukewarm at best.
But there it is.
EverQuest II – And Malice Towards None
Is EverQuest II the current standard bearer for Norrath? I cannot tell if it is more popular than EverQuest or not.
Anyway, there was a small disturbance in the community force a few weeks back as the EQII forum dwellers started getting a bit testy about SOE’s trend towards social media and streaming and what not, to the point that information that would normally be in the forums first was falling all over the place. I have long complained that SOE has favored their forums and used them as their primary method of information distribution as opposed to the web site they allegedly maintain for that purpose, and which is the first point of contact for any new player. But at least with their forum bias they were concentrating in one spot, so at a minimum I knew I had to dive into the forums if I wanted current information. Now I am not sure where to find things.
Or I wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for Feldon over at EQ2 Wire. He keeps on top of that game like no other. So it was a bit disappointing to see that SOE left him off the list of sites to be fed information in advance of Altar of Malice expansion announcement at SOE Live. The embargo on that news dropped five hours before the EverQuest II keynote, so anybody paying attention knew all the details before the presentation.
So, yes, a new expansion, the Altar of Malice.
The expansion brings in a new race… the Aerakyn, another one with built-in wings that can fly, though unlike that vampire race from a few years back, you won’t have to pay $80 to unlock all of its abilities… new dungeons, new raids, new overland zones, and a boost to 100 for most flavors of levels. (adventure, trade skill, guild)
The interesting bit for me are the level agnostic dungeons. These run from level 20 to 89 and are suppose to make the process of leveling up to the more recent content… and the main mass of the player base… more fulfilling or some such. I think the phrase was “not wasted.” Currently, with the the state of abilities, both alternate advancement related and otherwise, jumping up through the first 60 or so levels tends to be challenging mostly in the form of figuring out what some of the outdated quest text really means. So I gather that this is suppose to be more of a challenge so as to make game play fun.
Sounds good to me. A pity that our past run in with EverQuest II with the instance group ended up with it on the banned list, as that sounds kind of like what we needed back then.
And, on the sea theme from EverQuest, there are also some islands involved, including the long lost Isle of Refuge, where we all used to start back in the day via the shipwrecked survivor video game trope. There is also an island with dinosaurs.
Then there are all the other details. Rabbit mounts. A revamp of the extraneous deity system. Another rank or two for spell/skill quality. And a cross-server dungeon finder. I am curious as to how dungeon finder works for EverQuest II, though not curious enough to actually go ruin somebody elses’ day by logging in a queuing up myself.
This all goes live on November 11, which is going to make for a busy week. The EverQuest expansion above goes live for everybody that same day and just two days later, Warlords of Draenor launches. (And then Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire come out less than two weeks after that. Where will I find the time?)
EverQuest Next – Dark Elf Disco
EverQuest Next is where my hopes truly lie. The idea that SOE could miracle their way into something that would tempt me back to the two remaining members of the Norrathian franchise (out of what, a dozen total EverQuest games according to Georgeons?) has always been a forlorn hope.
But EverQuest Next is the future. The lack of news on that front has banked the flames of passion for that title, they remain aglow, waiting for the day when we get something tangible. This was the keynote to which I paid the most attention, and which was both the most interesting and the least satisfying at the same time.
We got a look at some architecture, especially some of the dark elf stuff in its moody, pointed glory, some of which came from the fan base via Landmark. SOE’s crowdsourcing/exploitation pays off. They also showed some examples of the dark elf character models. Dark elves are apparently the most popular race in both EverQuest and EverQuest II at this point, so it is important to get them right. (Screen grabs from the stream.)
The art all looked very good and very much made me want to go there… wherever “there” was… and explore.
Then the devs introduced the wizard, warrior, and cleric classes and went through some combat situations with them. This was by far the most impressive bit. Each was a quick run through of some combat encounters, followed by a step by step replay where he described what was going on at each point. The combat looked fluid and dynamic and exciting. Various moves flashed or blurred or exploded in very satisfying ways and there were no little damage numbers popping up, which helped with the visceral feel of the combat. The little kid inside of me was shouting, “Oooh! Oooh! Let me try that! I want to do that!”
I recommend watching the replay of the keynote, which is available on YouTube. The combat segment picks up at about the 29 minute mark and runs for about 20 minutes.
Of course, the downside to all of this was that there is no date in sight for EverQuest Next. Speculation is that a launch is at least two years away. Certainly they have to get all of Landmark nailed down first, as it represents the foundation on which EverQuest Next will be built. So until Landmark is solid and stable and fully featured and live there can be no EverQuest Next.
David Georgeson invited us all to go read the ebooks that are being used to build up the lore for the game to tide us over… which I was honestly tempted to do after the combat stuff… but publicly SOE still seems most focused on Landmark and likely will remain so for some time.
Return to Norrath?
So while I found bits and pieces of all of the presentations interesting, is there anything that would make me focus on EverQuest or EverQuest II as my primary game?
I am in the odd duck position of having been away too long for both titles at this point, so the new stuff being piled on top of the level curve is so far away as to be effectively unreachable given my reserve of patience, but the old stuff I would have to work through… well, it didn’t interested me enough when it was new stuff to work through it. The 20-89 level agnostic dungeons in EverQuest II are interesting, though I probably wouldn’t bother with them until level 40 or so, as the 1-40 game is the heart of my nostalgia for the game.
But who knows.
With the autumn I always seem to be hit with a bout of video game nostalgia. Maybe I will heed Norrath’s call yet again? Though unless Warlords of Draenor slips, it seems unlikely.
How about you? Is Norrath in your future?