In the second of several articles from SOE's New York Gamer Day, we look at EverQuest II. At the event, we heard a presentation from SOE and sat down for an interview/demo with Executive Producer Scott Hartsman to learn a bit more about the upcoming Update 35 and the just-announced Rise of Kunark expansion pack. Here's what we learned:
Based on presentations, interview/demo with Scott Hartsman (Exec. Producer)
Article by Dana Massey
At the event in New York, SOE highlighted each of the existing games in their broad massively multi player portfolio, including current standard bearer EverQuest II. Their desire to grow MMOs into mainstream entertainment does not mean they've forgotten those titles that pay the bills. In an effort to provide users with more free content - and I would imagine preserve the sanity of EQII developers - the team recently announced they've slowed from two expansions a year to one. In place of that extra expansion, they intend to provide more and higher quality free content. At SOE Gamer Day, Executive Producer Scott Hartsman told us about Risk of Kunark - the next expansion - and showed us what's to come in this month's free content update.
Later this month, SOE is doing something virtually unheard of for them. They're releasing significant content absolutely free. Players will get a brand new starting city and playable race in what is affectionately known as Update 35. The Arasai are a race of "evil Fae" - a counterpoint to the race introduced in the last expansion. This petite race, it was explained, are a corrupted version of the Fae after years in captivity under the thumb of Darf Elf Queen and demi-goddess Cristanos in the city of Neriak, the other jewel of the coming update.
SOE still has an eye on growing the subscriber numbers of EverQuest II and this update is part of that ongoing effort. Neriak is a city familiar to many who enjoyed the original EverQuest and gives the game a fourth, and second evil starting city. The Dark Elf city is in sections a completely faithful recreation of the original, in terms of layout. Luckily, in the intervening years between the two games, the citizens of Neriak found time to make everything bigger, scarier and - of course - more neon blue. The addition of Neriak gives them four newbie areas - two good and two evil - for players to explore and according to Hartsman adds replay and nostalgia value.
Newbie areas have been one of the hardest things EverQuest II has had to nail down and in this update, Hartsman feels they've gotten better. He pointed out that unlike most "starting" areas, this one is actually a level 1 to 20 zone, roughly the same size as Greater Faydwerk (big) and that these adventure areas are almost entirely original content (the city is where the nostalgia lives). He also explained their desire to always keep something on the horizon - literally - to keep people playing. For example, in the areas we saw, there was a pit with souls flying out of it just over the hill. He indicated that at every turn there would be some point of interest to keep the player's attention focused.
The update also contains their largest effort to include original music and voice over work that they've done in a free update. This is great news for the quality of the update, if not the size of the update's physical patch.
The trip down memory lane continues with this fall's expansion pack, Rise of Kunark. The "spiritual successor" to one of the original EverQuest's most enduring expansion packs, Rise of Kunark takes players back to the jungle islands of the original game, but with a twist. They promise a mix of nostalgic and brand new zones for players to explore. This is a careful balance for the EQII team, Hartsman told us. On one hand, they're hoping to bring in more of the old EverQuest players, but on the other, it cannot be such a throw back that new players get lost. In many ways, the nostalgia is like an Easter egg for longtime fans who will get a kick of seeing brand new versions of areas they loved, while brand new players will just wander on through and enjoy the new content for what it is.
The expansion introduces like the Sarnak, a dragon-like race that inhabits the jungle isles. They're a quarrelsome people who - in a true tip to the history of the game - are "on a quest to rediscover their past". How much do you want to bet that past is roughly the time of EverQuest? Hartsman also revealed that the expansion would chronicle the "rise of the Iksar Empire".
Rise of Kunark represents the culmination of their plans to round out the newbie experience in EverQuest II. Hartsman described his goal as having two evil cities (which they'll have with the Neriak update), two good cities (which they already have) and one neutral city. The fifth piece of the puzzle snaps into place in Rise of Kunark with Timorous Deep. This is a place where Humans, Gnomes, Kerra, Half-Elves, Barbarians, Erudites and Sarnak can mingle in what Hartsman hopes will become EverQuest II's melting pot.
Also on tap for Kunark is a level cap increase from 70 to 80, a guild level bump, a new mount and a brand new retail box that includes every single expansion to date.
The next expansion launches on November 13th, just on time for Christmas. While this is nearly a year to the day after the previous one, this marks the official start of their one expansion per year cycle. Hartsman explained that this was an optimal time to get back in stores each year. It just so happens that this one times out perfectly to fit in with the newly announced policy.
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