When you get right down to it, MMO worlds are really messed-up places. I mean, you’ve got marauding bands of orcs terrorizing villages, dragons turning farmland into charcoal mines, evil wizards threatening to rupture the space-time continuum and make the universe collapse in on itself… they’re really not nice places to live or visit.
That was the impression I got watching SOE’s press-only preview of The Darkened Sea, EverQuest’s 21st expansion, coming Oct. 28 to All Access members and Nov. 11 to everyone else. It’s a big expansion, which is how the team plans to go from here on out. They tried “an experiment” with smaller bits of content, doled out over the course of the year, but that wasn’t popular with the players, so they went back to the older approach.
The Darkened Sea revisits some older areas of the game and presents new challenges – and by “challenges,” I mean that everything is pretty well and truly f***ed up and it’s up to the players to fix things. Here’s an area-by-area breakdown of the places we saw and the impressions I – an admitted EverQuest neophyte – had of what was going on:
The devs said this area used to be an “island paradise,” but if that’s the case, all the travel brochures are full of lies now now. Here were some of the quotes used to describe the zone’s goings-on:
“Lightning volcano,” “perfect storm,” “magical singularity,” “spewing out rock and magma,” “the island itself has been fragmented.”
Thanks, I’ll stick to Bermuda. They don’t have any lightning volcanoes there (that I’m aware of).
Katta Castrum is a reworking of a zone from a 2006 expansion that’s also not faring very well these days. Again, some direct quotes from the dev team:
“Their city had been plunged to the bottom of the ocean,” “kidnapped the emperor,” “cracked the dome,” “on top of the problems they already have.”
I’m starting to think these developers are George R.R. Martin-esque writers, who create characters and places just to see them suffer and burn.
Brother Island is the sister island to Sister Island… or is Sister Island the brother island to…?
Anyway, Brother Island is occupied by the shipwrecked victims of seductive sirens, who lured sailors to their near-doom. As such, their opinion of women is worse than your most harassment-happy GamerGater, and it’s up to the players to “show them the error of their ways,” probably via Twitter.
On the island lies the Caverns of Endless Song, an underwater grotto inhabited by the jealous siren queen (guess she’s just been doxxed!) who’s stealing the voices of the other sirens and caterwauling like a moonstruck lovebird – which is basically what she his, having lost her true love. Although we didn’t have sound for our preview, we were told that the soundtrack for the area is a haunting melody… but was it an Unchained Melody?
Degmar, the Lost Castle
Hey, we found it!
Degmar is a dwarven castle pulled from the overworld by magic (of course) and placed underwater by a group called the Combine who like to preserve peoples and races even if they don’t want to be preserved. The elven ambassadors, who were stuck in the castle when it was ‘ported, haven’t taken that well and have “gone a little crazy,” fighting the dwarves and anyone else who happens to wander through.
Again, we’re solidly keeping up with the theme of “Why did I leave my nice comfortable city to come to this place?” But hey, it’s not like there are dinosaurs running around or anything really weird like that!
Going for a “Land of the Lost” vibe, Jurassic Pa – I mean, Thuliasaur Island, is populated by a race of lizard men who have lost their religion, and no, not like the REM song. There are lots of temples and jungle ruins to explore, as well as large dinosaurs roaming the island, ready to eat you. Or maybe they’re herbivores. Someone should tell Herb.
Our next stop was the lovely Combine Dredge, which was basically a strip mine being excavated by the Combine using magical means, which I suppose is a little more humane than having an army of frogloks working 14 hours a day with pickaxes. Though it’s definitely less fun. For us, not the frogloks.
Our final destination was the Combine’s floating city of Arx Mentis. Ah, finally, a nice and serene bastion of civilization to rest our weary – wait, what? “Taken over by the splinter faction”? An “army of cultists”?
In all seriousness, though, it’s really amazing that SOE is still putting this much energy and development time into an aging game, especially as its successor is waiting in the wings. The zones show plenty of creativity and the team takes the engine to the limit in making a 15-year-old game look as good as it can. And even this far along, there are conveniences to be had, like the “mount keyring” that will make it easier for players to manage their travel options while freeing up that all-important bag space.
But see if I ever give the Norrathian Travel Agency any of my money again.