Is New Halas Really New?
First impressions count. Most of us have set foot inside that shop. You know the one where the owner sits behind the counter and glares at you for having the nerve to set foot inside his establishment, and woe betide anyone who dares to ask a question or touch any of the precious things of the shop. Usually, when I’m in a place like that, I find I’m the only one in there and I never come back.
As in real life, so it is with games. I’ve been known to judge a game, fairly or not, based on the first couple of hours, and judging by the many forum posts I’ve read I’m not the only one. So it’s important to hook players from the very beginning.
Earlier this year, New Halas, the latest starter zone for EQII, went live. SOE described this as the best new player experience – a bold claim. It’s not clear if this means it has everything that a newcomer to mmos needs to become hooked, or if it’s the best of all the newbie zones from any mmo, or if it means that it has the best levelling progression of all EQII’s zones. SOE is keen on pulling new players into the world of Norrath with the new free to play EQII Extended server, so I decided to investigate what new players would find upon washing up on their shores.
The first thing I noticed, although new players won’t really care so much, is the new UI. A lot has already been written about this so I won’t go into detail except to say that I like it. I like it when any mmo changes it’s look slightly, it’s like doing a bit of redecoration around the house; the familiar seems fresh again.
As is the case with pretty much all mmos, you start out right in front of your first quest giver. This NPC has nursed your character back to health after you have become shipwrecked following an Orc attack. EQII subscribes to the old-school variety of Orc. These aren’t misunderstood or noble savages; they are mad bad and dangerous to know. They are a second scabbard; somewhere else to store the pointy end of my sword.
Anyway, racial disposition aside, the starter area is pretty...well pretty. New Halas and its surrounding islands are frigid lands. Ice and snow is the theme here, and despite being predominantly white, designers have managed to make it look very striking without being bleached out. The only drawback I found was that I almost missed out on one or two quests as the quill marker over NPCs’ heads to denote the start of a mission was nearly invisible against the pale background.
It’s not just the scenery that looks good, the mobs have to be some of the best looking I’ve seen, particularly the humanoid ones (if you can ever consider an Orc to be good looking). EQII has come in for some flak over the years due to its visuals. On its release, you needed a pretty high end computer to be able to appreciate the scenery. Now, however, anyone with even a half decent rig can be wowed by some of the finest graphics that the devs have created to date.
The first quest hub is pretty small and a couple of quests are all it takes for you to become familiar with the lay of the land. Pretty much everything you need to learn to play the game happens here. SOE have added a few more tutorial screens that pop up when new aspects of gameplay occur. However, this doesn’t happen for all events so players who are brand new to mmos may find themselves clueless when it comes to things like banking. The info is all there if you are willing to speak to all the NPCs you find, but if a tutorial holds your hand a lot, it stands out at the times when it lets go.
The initial isle sets the trend for the kind of levelling you will expect to find. Progression comes fast and there is more than enough content here for you to out-level some of the quests. In fact, I don’t recall ever being given a quest that was above my level and by the time I had passed level 10 quests started being a level or two below mine. Staying ahead of the curve carries on throughout the whole zone. It is designed to take characters to level 20, but players should have no problems getting to the mid-twenties before reaching New Halas itself.
The initial island gives you your first taste of crafting with a simple quest to gather some materials and then form them into a trinket for you to equip. However, there is nowhere to craft until you get to New Halas. This could throw new players a curve ball, being introduced to an aspect of the game that they can’t work on until hours later. There is also the drawback of the difference between your adventure level and your crafting one. By the time you reach a forge or stove, you will be creating items that you have already out-levelled.
Outside of XP, other quest rewards come thick and fast. Before long, I had upgraded my beginners’ outfit with all new threads. And I have to say that here the graphics hit the spot again. There are some great armour models to be had here. I also received quite a lot of housing items which was great, however, as with the crafting introduction, this comes a little too early. I found the limited space I had was being taken over by furniture. Of course, how I could fit even one table or chair in my backpack stretches belief. If you have played pretty much any RPG over the years, you’ll be used to this kind of oversight when it comes to inventories.
Overall the new player experience strikes a pretty good balance. On the one hand there is enough information to get new players started out. If you are new to EQII but have played mmos before, you will be on the lookout for bigger bags, banks and mats for crafting right from the start. If you are brand new to online gaming, there is more than enough information in the tutorial screens to get you started and questing like a veteran. If you have already played EQII and are thinking of returning or even if you are rolling an alt, then New Halas offers a pretty speedy and smooth start on the path to level 90.