Last week I had the chance to explore EverQuest’s new expansion, Secret of Faydwer, with the best tour guide a player could ask for: Travis “Rashere” McGeathy, lead designer of EQ and one of the minds behind the expansion.
“Secrets of Faydwer,” Rashere explained to us as the tour began, “is in many ways a thorwback to the expansions of old.” If the name “Faydwer” sounds familiar to you EverQuesters it’s because it’s one of the original EQ continents, home to elves, dwarves, and gnomes. As the name suggests, this expansion reveals some of the secrets of Faydwer.
The expansion targets higher level players. “We’ve built the expansion mainly for the players in the top tier of the game, level 70+, and have designed things so that there are multiple tiers of difficulty within the expansion,” Rashere continued. “This allows us to not only provide more gameplay for top tier players, but also give much more significant improvements to the characters as they progress.” That being said, the first stop on our tour was the one lower-end zone from this expansion: Steamfont, a zone from the original EQ which was revamped with Secrets of Faydwer.
The changes to Steamfont were mostly graphical, and the layout remained the same (something I like in revamped zones). There were a few changes, though, up in the northeast corner: Rashere explained, “As the story goes, Meldrath the Malignant, evil gnomish necromancer that he is, has returned to these lands and built a factory within one of the mountains. Starting this weekend, events will begin to unfold on live servers that will culminate with that mountain literally lifting into the air on the power of the steamwork devices within and Meldrath will lay siege to Ak’Anon. The tunnels left behind lead the way to the areas beyond the mountain.”
From Steamfont, players can enter the new zones Dragonscale Hills or the Loping Plains. Rashere told us that both zones were on the original internal map, but were only now being added to the game.
We first headed to Dragonscale, an outdoor zone with 70-ish content. The zone was mostly made up of farmland and hills, but with a few special points of interest. “At the conclusion of the live events, Meldrath’s flying fortress takes a devastating blow and limps away across the mountains, spewing parts all around. You’ll see lots of cogs and gears lying about and one particular denizen that fell off the flying mansion, the Mechamatic Guardian.
“The Guardian is actually a giant walking zone, a clockwork creature so big that you can venture inside of it and fight your way though its innards.” Rashere left us for a moment to go track the behemoth down – the trouble with moving zones, he told us, is that you never know where you’ll find ‘em! The good news is that the Guardian is trackable, as well as very massive and hard to miss.
The Guardian is actually an instanced zone - if you get close to the Guardian without the instance mission (as I of course had to try) he’ll kick you through the air. Note that
this is not an advised activity if you aren’t a very beefy tank or a GM – the kick resulted in 13k falling damage! If you have the instance task, you get a popup window asking if you want to zone in.
After visiting the Guardian, Rashere took us to the home of the brownies in Dragonscale. While brownies were former lower level denizens of Lesser Faydark, these brownies were much more organized and much more powerful.
Our next stop was the Loping Plains. “This area, like Dragonscale, is in the first tier of difficulty and meant to be the entry point to the expansion,” said Rashere. “This area used to be home to elves and some humans, but that’s all ruins at this point.” Nowadays, the ruins of Loping Plains are home to a new breed of orc. These orcs are infected with lycanthropy – in other words, they’re wereorcs! As you fight them, they transform into their wereform, growing fur and becoming considerably stronger.
We took a small tour of the Plains, passing points of interest such as an old spooky amphitheatre and a carnival area haunted by a ghost named Wirlem who gives out several missions and serves as a raid target. Not many monsters summon in this outdoor zone, so expect to see plenty of Wizards, Druids, Mages and Necromancers soloing.
From the ruins in Loping Plains players can zone into Bloodmoon, the home base of the Bloodmoon Wereorcs. When you first enter Bloodmoon it looks like pretty, harmless ruins: old Elven buildings covered with vines. Monarch butterflies flutter across the courtyard, and birds are chirping. Then you notice the bloodsplatters on the wall.
“This is one of the first steps into the second tier of difficulty,” Rashere told us. “Hills of Shade, a nearby zone that [isn’t] on the tour, is another. [Bloodmoon] is a pretty extensive dungeon…this used to be an Elven keep and the spirits of the elves still reside in some areas of it.” Rashere then transported us deep within the keep to meet several Elven ghosts who give quests and missions out to visitors. I should also mention that the ghosts are all new models and look great!
Several of the missions that players can get in Bloodmoon are designed for two groups, aiming to bring smaller groups into higher-end gameplay. Bloodmoon also offers an instanced raid for progression.
One of the recurring themes of Secrets of Faydwer is the presence of Faycite crystals: special crystals that are used to power magic and mechanical devices. In Bloodmoon we saw our first Faycite harvesting area, where large circles of crystals were being pulled out of the ground. It looked pretty cool, but other than a visual tie in to other zones, I’m not really sure how the crystals work or effect players.
At this point in the tour we had to backtrack to Dragonscale, where Rashere showed us an odd, cannon-like machine. “About half of the expansion takes place in the area of Faydwer hidden beyond the Steamfont Mountains,” Rashere explained. “The other half is on Meldrath’s Flying Fortress where we’re heading now. This machine here is actually the zone line to the flying fortress.” By running up into the cannon, I triggered the cannon to shoot me out into the area where I started zoning. For everyone who’s ever wanted to shoot a gnome out of a catapult, your wishes have come true: the only way to the Fortress is via the cannon/catapult machine.
Rashere summed up a description of Meldrath: “To put it plainly, Meldrath is both brilliant and completely insane.” The floating fortress is strewn about with clockwork machines and soldiers; there’s even a giant mechanical spider wandering the area.
Rashere continued, “Floating off this fortress are three other buildings, the two Gyrospires and the S.H.I.P. Workshop. You can see them if you get close to the edge. All three are playable dungeons and home to many missions, but I’m going to take us to the workshop.”
S.H.I.P. stands for “Somewhat Hazardous Industrial Prototype,” and the Workshop is a giant floating laboratory for the mad Meldrath. To reach the two Gyrospires, players get to take more gnomish catapults. For the S.H.I.P. Workshop, though, players get to walk across a long chain leading from the center Fortress.
Next we returned to the main Fortress, and headed deep inside to the Steam Factory. This area (as well as Meldrath’s Mansion) are in the third tier of difficulty for this expansion. This area is deep inside of the floating mountain, where Meldrath built his clockwork army. “You’ll note that he has both minotaur and brownies as slave workers,” Rashere pointed out the Faydwer monsters who had been abducted on the flying Fortress. And where brownies are, you’re bound to find plenty of small passages; even ducking, my Drakkin avatar couldn’t make it into a good portion of the area.
Also in the Steam Factory area, players can find a hole blasted in the side of the factory. “When the mountain is assaulting Ak’Anon, the gnomes manage to destroy one of the engines, blowing a hole in the mountain and crippling the fortress.” This was where the Mechamatic Guardian fell out while the Fortress was taking off.
Finally, we made our way to Meldrath’s Majestic Mansion, home of the mad necromancer himself. “As you would expect, Meldrath has some wacky devices.” Rashere explained as he brought us into a new area. “This is one of my favorite rooms…I’ve just dubbed it the disco, but it’s actually a combat arena.” In this room there was a giant game board that (to me at least) resembled a giant twister board. “There are events that take place in this room using the game pieces and the board itself in some cases.” While Rashere wouldn’t give us game details, he described the game as “chess-ish.” The mansion is home to many of the top end raid encounters in Secrets of Faydwer.
Our final stop on the tour was the zone Crystallos, Lair of the Awakened, where players will once again face Kerafrym (the dragon awakened in Velious’ Sleeper’s Tomb). “[Kerafryrm] fled here where she’s been rebuilding her power and drawing draconic allies to her cause. The entire area is covered in her prismatic breath,” Rashere pointed out; the walls were coated with a very funky moving texture. Compared to the other zones of this expansion, Crystallos is the fourth and final tier of difficulty. “[Crystallos] is the ultimate dungeon in the game.” Rashere told us. “This dungeon is also massive, made up of four separate wings.” Each of the four wings is tied to one of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Each of the wings has monsters to fight as well as environmental puzzles, like Indiana-Jones style boulders in the earth wing and gusts of wind pushing you backwards in air.
That concluded our tour, but I ended our session with a few more EverQuest questions for Rashere. First off: some more news on the expansion. New zones and monsters weren’t the only thing added with Secrets of Faydwer…the expansion also brings 5 more levels (75-80) and new AAs and spells.
The expansion also introduces a new item system called Heroic Items. Heroic Items are special items with new stats called…you guessed it…Heroic Stats. “if you’ve played EQ at all,” said Rashere, “you know that most players have been at their stat cap for quite a while.” The Heroic Stats not only add to your stat cap, but they give the user additional effects from your statistics. For example, Heroic Strength grants you additional bonuses to damage and raises your effectiveness with shields.
Speaking of new items, I had to ask Rashere about the new item window. “The item window had to be redone to fit the new information, but we’re not happy with the current layout and will be making some changes post-launch.” Rejoice Norrathians, it’s not permanent!