Released nearly three months ago, The Splitpaw Saga is Sony Online Entertainment's second adventure pack for EverQuest II. Since that initial launch, several nasty bugs have been sorted - including one particularly nasty bug that would cause an entire 'zone' to crash - to go along with some minor general changes.
It is important that one understands an adventure pack is not the same as an expansion pack. Adventure packs introduce a decent amount of content, with some new gameplay elements, for a nominal charge. Thus, players are never really 'forced' into buying these adventure packs, as the core gameplay and zones are more than sufficient to level a character throughout their entire career and satiate the thirst for content for most players. Adventure packs give a player more options, with new storylines and new content. They keep things fresh. With that said, let us look at what players get with this adventure pack.
The basic storyline, very simply and without giving anything away, is that the Splitpaw gnolls who have lived peacefully beneath the Thundering Steppes have recently started causing trouble above-ground. You must venture down and earn their trust to solve the problems.
A big draw of this adventure pack is the introduction of interactive environments. Typically, when a player travels around the world or dungeons everything is, for the most part, fairly linear. There is always a set route from point A to point B. Want to see what's up on that ledge over there? Well, without a path already implemented to it, you cannot. With the Splitpaw Saga Sony aims to change this.
Scattered throughout the new zones players find various crates, boards, and barrels that they can move around and stack to reach previously inaccessible areas. The system is done the same way one places and arranges furniture in their home; select an object to move, and you are taken into a first-person view where you can move around and place the object when its outline becomes green. Although it takes a bit to get used to, the system is implemented fairly well; although it should be noted that you can defy the laws of gravity and build a stairway of crates.
The inclusion of explosive barrels is another nice touch. Occasionally, players run across noticeably discolored, cracked walls. If they move the explosive barrel over to the wall and select the 'detonate' option the barrel and the wall nearby explodes, revealing a new passage and hidden adventure.
Additionally, players can use the explosive barrels to aid them in combat, which can at times be necessary. When a barrel explodes, it damages everything in a small radius, including friendly characters and enemies. A sneaky character can therefore walk right into the middle of a group of enemies and lead off with a highly-damaging attack that effects the entire group, while crafty players can set up their own 'traps', helping to finish off those last few gnolls when things start to turn sour.
Although these changes lend the appearance of players carving out their own adventures, the dungeons really remain quite linear. There is only one real path that leads to your intended goal, however several side passages in some of the zones lead to extra quests. This is a nice addition, leaving the possibility for players to find more in a zone they've already played through.
Another intriguing aspect of the Splitpaw Saga is that players can never grow too strong for a dungeon. The enemies in the zone will always be aggressive and give you experience, thanks to encounters scaling based on the level of the players involved. So if a particular enemy is 'white' or even strength to you, and you come back five levels later, that enemy will still be 'white'. That is, unless you chose to change the difficulty level.
This brings us to the next neat feature: difficulty levels. Player can now choose how difficult the zone is from three choices: normal, hard, and very hard. Normal difficulty is well scaled to most players, presenting players with enemies that are one or two levels above or below their own. Hard and very hard amp up the difficulty by making all enemies equal to or several levels above the player What is more, they add heroic versions of the enemies. These levels are perfect for groups, but in certain solo zones, these difficulty settings could prove insurmountable for certain characters.
The ease at which some classes complete a zone versus others is one major drawback of this adventure pack. My well-equipped Ranger, for instance, a medium-armor wearing class, suffered through some of the zones that featured particularly hard hitting gnolls, while an ill-equipped Berserker or Templar are able to tear through the hard difficulty levels. The inclusion of an easier setting would have served the adventure pack well. Nonetheless, most zones can be overcome by any class, as long as they play intelligently and possibly change their tactics.
The Ark of Harclave is a zone of particular note. Any player who visits this zone (and most will, as it is one of several you can choose from to earn the gnolls trust) and reaches the Ark becomes a veritable killing machine. Once opened, the Ark imbues the player with various powers, allowing them to kill enemies they would normally be powerless against. Additionally, due to a convenient spawning of more powerful enemies, which the player can easily defeat, players earn large quantities of experience in this zone. You can spend upwards of two hours running through this zone, clearing everything in your path, before you complete the quest. In the meantime, players rake up large amounts of treasure and experience for little to no effort.
For an adventure pack, the new graphical touches are nice. They include changes to all gnolls in the world. The Splitpaw gnolls are truly unique and evil looking, but the majority of the enemies you will encounter are nothing special. Since all of the zones are in caves, there is little new to comment on in regards to environment.
The Splitpaw Saga is definitely the more popular of the two adventure packs released thus far. Although the in-game economy has suffered some problems since its release (one example: treasure chests of loot are extremely common, often including adept versions of skills, making Sages less sought after) all players who have reached level 20 or above can enjoy this adventure pack. It introduces numerous new zones, most notably content tailored specifically for solo players, groups and raids. Everyone gets something out of the Splitpaw Saga. For a set of content costing only $7.99, little more than half of a month's subscription fee, which can last your character their entire career, it is definitely worth the price.