In November this year, EverQuest II will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a two-fold party involving some revamped content and their eleventh expansion, entitled Altar of Malice. We sat down with System Designer Akil Hooper and Senior Producer Holly Longdale to discuss what was in store for their game. The first question we asked was how much the expansion would cost, and Longdale replied that it would be a standard rate for expansions, although a specific dollar amount was not cited. The expansion will launch for All Access members November 11 later this year with everyone else gaining access later this year. We were also informed that it was not likely that SOE would do preorders for the expansion, their intention was to simply have it available for players to immediately purchase and play. While all the goodies haven't been locked down for buying the Collector's Edition, the notion of a mount, perhaps a housing item, or a mercenary.
Turning to the actual content due to go with the expansion, Akil Hooper discussed their new dungeons. He said there would be two versions of certain dungeons, a leveling version, and then a player could go back at the new level cap of 100 and do it again with a harder tuning and perhaps some new boss encounters. Later on, we discussed the level-agnostic dungeons announced in the keynote. Hooper pointed out that groups of varying levels would experience no real difference how their character played. If a lower-level character got healed by a higher-level character, the heal would scale based on the target's level. A lower-level character attacking the boss would see their attack scale for the boss's level. From a player's perspective, it would seem as if they were all on the same level, and this would all be handled on the back end.
We then turned to one of the intriguing concepts introduced, which was their intention of putting certain rare epic loot on merchants to purchase. We asked them whether they believed that there would be a backlash from players who might be upset that someone could just buy loot that they had earned the regular way. The system was only set for certain pieces of jewelry to be purchasable, but both Hooper and Longdale were quick to point out that this gear was intended for leveling, so it wouldn't be the highest gear available in the game. They're aware of the issue of balance, of making sure achievements such as taking down a dungeon boss still matter versus erring on the side of being a bit more generous and open with gear. They also recognized that it would be a helpful sink for some of the money in the economy.
We also discussed their new PVP deathmatch arena that very much looked like a jazzed up chessboard where two teams of six would go up against each other and the environment. There would be damaging traps that would ruin a player's day and there would also be boosts and powerups available to help turn things around. When asked about it, we were told that the intention was to keep the chessboard feel to things, that there would not be much, if any, vertical gameplay. It's set in an arena that originally appeared in EverQuest II's sixth expansion, Sentinel's Fate. They haven't decided exactly how crazy or chaotic the traps and powerups would shift around, but said they were still in the tuning process.
Other news coming out of the interview included the news that 10-year veterans of the game will receive a free Isle of Refuge prestige home, complete with a starter population pack. The island will be unpopulated, so players will be able to do whatever they want within that space, such as drop down their crafting tables and get to work. We also expanded upon another piece of news from the keynote, which was that there will be cross-server dungeons via the group finder. Holly Longdale pointed out that there would be a means to properly /ignore a player who acted dishonorably during a cross-server dungeon run, unlike other games which only let you /ignore local players due to system limitations. When posed the question whether this was laying the groundwork for a megaserver like DC Universe Online had, Akil Hooper stated that there were differing design philosophies at work. He is a fan of server economies, and he wants to have some separation amongst the player populations to see where they go with those local economies. However, he was also firm on wanting to maintain some sort of home identity for players, so they could point to their server name and call it home.
With the new expansion, players will see not only the level cap increasing to 100, but also the tradeskill level would go to 100, and guilds can also level to 100. Altar of Malice will feature 14 heroic zones, 6 raids, 6 advanced solo zones, 2 contested zones, 2 overlands, 4 new avatars of the gods, and a new playable race: the Aerakyn. They're winged humanoids similar to elves with horns. Their animations will include wing-attacks and when an Aerakyn reaches level 85, he or she will be able to actually fly under their own power.
As with any EverQuest II expansion, there is a new mountain of lore to climb. We're going to meet a race of pygmies in various places, some of whom worship dinosaurs. There is a strong love of dinosaurs in the SOE office apparently, considering how often they keep adding them to the game. There will be pirates to fight, the Farsea Trading Company (patterned after the East India Tea Company), and the core of the expansion is a zone called the Ossuary of Malevolence. It is not a happy place. Akil Hooper explained that they are aiming for a bone cathedral of Europe sort of vibe with the look of the zone and the mobs and enemies that players will encounter there.
In all, EverQuest II seems to be on track for a strong fourth quarter, building on the progress they've been making since January as a build up to the anniversary and new expansion. Even during SOE Live, where players were shouting for their favorite games in turn, EQ2 players got a hefty volume versus some of the other SOE franchises, so it's still doing quite well for itself.