Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a call and play the beta version of Everquest 2’s upcoming Age of Discovery Expansion. Attending for the SOE folks were EQ2’s Producer Dave Georgeson, Community Manager Jennifer Bridges, and Public Relations Manager Amelia Lukiman. On the gamer side sat Kotaku’s Mike Fahey and I. Scheduled to launch in unison with the Age of Discovery is Game Update 62 which brings a host of improvements to players along with the visual and gameplay overhaul of the city of Freeport. Mike and I had the chance to taste a bit of everything EQ2’s December has in store: from the Beastlord to the New Freeport, Mercenaries, and the Dungeon Maker to boot.
Fans of the original Evequest will undoubtedly be pleased by the Beastlord’s return. In EQ the class was a mix of both the Shaman and the Monk classes. That idea holds true in EQ2’s version, only folks familiar with EQ will notice just how differently the Beastlord plays from other classes. There are less buttons to press, with a focus on more active and reactive skills in combat all around. In addition to plenty of attack and support skills, the Beastlord comes equipped with his trusty Warder: an animal of many different varieties that can fill in the role of a tank for the player, DPS, and so forth.
Players will be able to tame just about anything in the world, and you’ll use a handy skill that you get around level 20 with Alternate Advancement points to pinpoint just what animals can be tamed and which can’t. Called “Beastlord Sight”, this skill will force nearby animals to emit a blue glow of sorts that will let you know they’re able to be tamed. Every family of pets is different from the next, so the cat we were first shown had different abilities than the stag we trained later and so on.
The Beastlord is a fully-featured new class to the game, not just a new set of mechanics or some cheap blend of existing classes. Meaning it will come with all the goodies players of EQ2 have long since expected: epic quests, unique sets of armor, and all the other trimmings. In my brief time hunting beasties at level 50, I found Tailtinker the Ratonga Beastlord really engrossing and as a fan of pet-classes in general, one I plan on playing. Though you’ll have to have Age of Discovery to play as one, it may certainly be worth the price of admission.
The New Freeport
The redesigned Freeport isn’t a part of the expansion, but rather a part of Game Update 62, launching at the same time. All players will have access to the newly redesigned content therein, and just about everyone will quickly agree that this new evil player capitol city is way better than the original. There are hundreds of new quests littered throughout the area, and climbing from level one to the max. Familiar locales are still there, just polished up and made “shinier”. For instance, the Docks are still a major part of Freeport; they’re just a much less grimy place to hang out. The design goal was to take the city and turn it from the mud-ridden hovel it was into a “cool evil” lair sort of place. Lucan D’Lere (The Overlord) is back from his hiatus, and his first order of business has been to make Freeport the shining beacon of delicious evil it was always supposed to be.
Gone is the seemingly endless “zoning” in and out portals, from one section of the city to the next. Instead Freeport is one seamless neighborhood of gold metal and black stone. Stylistically, it looks phenomenal, even on EQ2’s aging engine. We stumbled perchance (I’m sure it wasn’t planned or anything) upon Lucan performing a public execution. We watched as the NPCs played out a scene and dropped a prisoner into the execution pit in public fashion. It’s really an execution pit too as Mr. Fahey found out… he jumped in on accident and died. What’s best about this new Freeport? All those really cool but seldom used Christopher Lee voiceovers are back and out in the open for everyone to hear.
Next we were walked down to the Docks, where the Mercenaries hang out in Seafarer’s Roost (the main inn of Freeport). The Mercenaries are a pretty snazzy new feature with Age of Discovery. Essentially, they’re hirable NPC companions that charge by the hour and have varying degrees of usefulness. Some are great tanks, other fantastic pocket-healers, and some are just great to help you kill things quicker. They take up a slot in a party, and while they obviously won’t be as good as a real player, that can fill in if you find yourself in a pinch.
Once you have one on contract (a larger fee to start), they cost a much more manageable fee to keep with you for hours at a time. They level up with you, and as such they cost more per hour as they level higher. Anytime you want to employ the services of one of these guys, they can be found at the Seafarer’s Roost. Though you might find them out in the wild initially as a part of your adventures, once you’ve contracted them they’ll always be waiting for you in Freeport (or Qeynos). What’s also really cool about these guys is that they employ a version of the cosmetic item system. You can take any gear you own and equip the look of that gear to the Mercenary. You won’t lose the item; it just copies over the cosmetic look. Want an ogre in a robe with a giant axe? You can do it.
There are even Rare Mercenaries that spawn randomly and seldom throughout the world. They’ll work with you for a long while, but not permanently like the others. Comparatively however, they are very strong allies and can really doll out the punishment or heals when needed. They look really unique, behave uniquely, and work only for as long as they feel they should. If they respect you, they’ll deem you able of hiring them, but not before. Like rare mob spawns in the old EQ, these guys will certainly be sought after by the collectors.
The Dungeon Maker
Lastly we were shown Age of Discovery’s crown jewel: The Dungeon Maker. This is EQ2’s answer to features offered in games like City of Heroes, where players will create, publish, and adventure in their own dungeons. There are rewards for creators and players alike, leader-boards for favorite dungeons, even a Hall of Fame for the most popular and well-received dungeons of all time. Players can work together to build these dungeons when the main creator “underwrites” players of his choosing to be able to edit the dungeon too. It’s co-op dungeon making at its finest!
The dungeons themselves will come in three basic flavors (themes) at ship, with fourteen layouts to choose from: Crushbone Keep, Lair of Scale, and Mistmoore Manor are the themes, with a few unique layouts each. I asked Dave why they don’t allow players to design their own layouts, and he said for the shipping version of the DM, they didn’t want to overwhelm people. If the feature is as successful as they hope, and becomes as popular as they expect, they’ll definitely revisit allowing players to make their own corridors and design their own rooms for use in the maker.
The tools themselves are very robust and easy to pick up and use. You enter one of the 14 layouts as your character, much like you would your house, and begin placing objects, mobs, and modifiers as you would decorations in your Norrathian hovel. You can set AI paths, spawn points, patrols, and drop objects that leave effects on the mobs within (buffs and behaviors). You can script dialog and actions so that there’s a story to your work. There’s even a full catalog of furniture and random objects to place in each dungeon you make, and there are hundreds more to unlock and collect throughout the game. Players and creators alike will earn tokens they can spend on gear and more objects to place in their dungeons, alongside the experience points and AAs players receive just for participating in the content.
Previous expansions to Everquest 2 have been about adding new zones, new level increases, and new dungeons. Age of Discovery is clearly focused on beefing up the entire experience as EQ2 enters its new life as a F2P game. There are more new features and additions in this expansion than many games have at launch. All of it covers the gamut from starting player to seasoned veteran: the new class is something almost anyone will enjoy, the mercenaries can make solo players quite happy, and the Dungeon Maker should keep things fresh for folks at the endgame for months on end if SOE keeps adding to the building blocks within. Age of Discovery may just be the most under-hyped MMO release this holiday season. Do yourself a favor and check it out when it launches in early December.