The EverQuest franchise is moving forward in a big way, with EverQuest Next looming as the Next Big Thing. But that doesn’t mean the older entries in the franchise aren’t still getting some love. EverQuest II turns 10 years old on Nov. 4, and Altar of Malice is its 11th expansion, coming out Nov. 25 – Nov. 11 for All-Access members. Last week we got a dev-hosted preview of the new areas that Norrathian adventurers will get to explore when the expansion goes live next month.
The basics first: Altar of Malice will add a new race, the aerakyn (which we can’t discuss until the embargo lifts early next month), 15 heroic zones, and six raid zones, as well as raising the level cap from 95 to 100. The game recently got a performance upgrade, too, so you can jump in right now to experience the shininess as you prepare for the infusion of new content.
There are the usual slew of gameplay upgrades coming with the expansion, like new PvP gear, new tradeskill gear, new mercs, and so on. One of the notable changes is in how critical hits work. As Senior Producer Holly Longdale told us, crit bonuses were so common that everyone was critting pretty much all the time, which made crits… well, less than critical. Enter additional levels of critical hits: legendary, fabled, and mythical crits, which do what every MMO player loves: make bigger numbers appear over the other guy’s head.
To balance against those bigger numbers ruining your day, there will also be some changes to how mitigation and resistances work, letting you survive a bit longer, and an interface to help you switch more easily between gear sets. Also, select grandmaster spells have been upgraded to ancient spells, which sounds cool even if you’ve never played EQ2.
Do you sea what I sea?
Our tour proper started on the Isle of Refuge, located in the idyllic Tranquil Sea, which was originally an EQ2 starting area. A giant mage’s tower used to be the – er, the tower was huge, not the mage – but it’s been all blown up and Captain Greymast of the Far Seas Trading Company has taken charge of things. It’s up to the players to figure out what he’s up to and what catastrophe befell the tower.
We moved on to Deathweave Isle, which is inhabited by the urzarach, bear/spider hybrids that are sure to give you nightmares. The urzarach are being manipulated by the Broken Skull Pirates, led by the Captain Krasnok, the boss from an old EverQuest expansion. Their town of Broken Skull Bay is a visual delight, with that “pirate cove” look supplemented by usable ziplines to help you get around town faster, and a few hidden areas that should keep players with an exploratory bent busy for a while.
Next up was the Island of Dshinn, populated by a tribe of happy, peaceful pygmies who worship not-quite-dinosaurs called deinodons and occasionally allow themselves to be sacrificed to the allu’thoa, a race of lizard men who infest the area’s first dungeon, Zavith’loa. The dungeon has a very “Journey to the Center of the Earth”-type look to it, with overgrown mushrooms and vast pools of lava – fitting, since the dungeon is located in the heart of an active volcano. Here you’ll learn about the allu’thoa gods and why the race was driven to the surface. I’m betting that their air conditioning bills were just too high.
Our journey then took us to the adjoining Phantom Sea, home to the lushly forested Kithicor Island, which was notorious in EQ1 days as a place where the undead come out at night. That much, at least, hasn’t changed. Still, a village of dark elves ekes out a living on the island, even as they live in the shadow of the Ossuary of Malevolence, a dungeon I only got a look at from the outside, but that was enough to creep me out. Think of a church made out of bones instead of stone.
Finally, we briefly visited another dungeon: Castle Highhold, the HQ of the Far Seas Trading Company, which was occupied by the four-armed akhevans. Then it was on to Grim Shales, an island that was formed when a piece of Luclin, one of Norrath’s moons, fell to the surface. (Wait a second, shouldn’t that have done a hell of a lot more than just make an island? Ah, static MMO worlds, how I <3 you.)
Grim Shales was home to my favorite part of the tour, an innovative dungeon called Ssraeshza Temple – and yes, I have confirmed spelling of this and all the wacky terms in this article. Ssraeshza Temple also fell from the sky, but landed upside-down, so you’ll find yourself fighting on the ceiling and dropping down from doorway entrances onto the floors – I mean ceilings – of high-roofed – or is it low-floored? – chambers. It’s a fairly simple tweak, the kind of which an older MMO like EQ2 needs to keep itself looking fresh after a decade in development.
II legit II quit
EverQuest II might not be a huge game any more, but it’s nice to see SOE not quite willing to let it slip into complete irrelevance. Where other MMO companies might relegate older MMOs to “maintenance mode,” updating only infrequently, or outright end the game altogether, SOE continues to produce chunky new content for the game, showing fans that there’s still a reason to commit your time and dollars to it. Games do need to be canceled from time to time, and SOE hasn’t been shy about pulling the plug on underperforming titles this year, but nothing is more disingenuous to me than saying you’re still supporting a game and never following through with any new content.
It may not be a modern-day, action-combat, dynamic-event adrenaline-fest, but EQ2 is still loved by thousands, and by continuing to pump out expansions, even as SOE prepares for the next iteration of the epic franchise, the company shows a commitment to its players that will echo far into the future. Through this example, it’s reasonable to think that 10 years after it comes out, EverQuest Next will probably still be getting attention from its makers, even if it appears old and dated in the mid-2020s. Very few new games can offer that kind of assurance.