I remember the first time I hit the level cap in an MMO. For months I had dreamed of this magical moment when I would join the elite, the proud, the few. I would take on the biggest raids and grind rep for all the factions. When it finally happened, nothing changed. My outlook remained the same; I didn't become a raiding monster or a rep grinder. What happened was I missed the leveling process and started an alt instead. Having done this a couple of times, I came to realize the value of seeing the endgame as a beginning. I've now stuck with my main characters in each of my MMOs. I'm even quite happy repeating quests for no other reason than to make a faction vendor sell me more stuff. Eventually, however, even this wears thin and players cry out for new lands to conquer and levels to ding. So what happens then? Expansion time!
Sony Online Entertainment loves expansions. Everquest and Everquest II have been turning them out once a year in gnomelike clockwork fashion. However, 2009 saw a break from this routine and no EQII expansion arrived. 'Sentinel's Fate', the sixth expansion, was put back until this year. For the first time in Norrath's history, the release came when it was ready instead of arriving by a strict deadline. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating that if a bit of a wait means a bit more polish, then that's fine with me.
So what did we get for our money? Well, as with all Sony expansions, we get access to all previously released content - which is good value for money. Simply buy the most recent version and you have the whole thing. When compared to the expansion practices of some of its competitors SOE comes off very well.
We also got contention from the players. SOE has had a notorious history when it comes to marketing its games - something it now recognizes and is promising to change. To increase the visibility of the game, the retail version came out a week earlier than the digital download. The idea is that stores will get more pre-orders and maybe realize that MMOs aren't only WoW or this month's new "WoW killer". Great news if shops in your area stock it but if you weren't stateside, you had to wait out a week, knowing that your some of your guildies were gathering up loot without you. Failing that, you could have had it shipped over. Despite normally being able to find reasonable shipping rates across the Atlantic for other goods, I was unable to find a good price for this. Personally, it wasn't much of an issue for me. MMOs are a long term time investment so one week lost didn't really irk me very much, but it's easy to see how it can stick in the craw of some players.
In-game features were more welcome. We had a level cap increase to the tune of ten, moving the endgame to level 90. The previous expansion, 'The Shadow Odyssey', didn't add new levels, so this is overdue. The cap for alternative advancements (EQII's talents, quirks, feats or whatever they may be called in your native MMO) was raised to 250 with more abilities available to spend your points on.
The expansion re-introduced the continent of Odus and also two new overland zones, The Sundered Frontier and Stone Brunt Highlands. The Sundered Frontier is the first zone players will stomp around in, designed to take characters from the high 70s to level 85. From there players will travel to Stone Brunt Highlands which will take players to level 90. Two zones may not sound like a lot for a new expansion and to cover 10 levels, but as EQII players will already know, zones in Norrath are massive. If you do all the quests in a zone's timeline, you will easily reach beyond its level range.
Along with the new continent comes a new city: The cliff hugging city of Paineel. The city is located above The Hole. The bottom of The Hole was the location of the original Paineel, home of a heretical faction of Erudites, practicing the art of necromancy.