Amazingly, Everquest will be receiving its eighteenth expansion this month in the form of Veil of Alaris. Now in its thirteenth year, EQ continues to see a steady influx of expansions and updates, which are collectively a pretty convincing testament to Sony Online Entertainment's commitment to the game, as well as the player base's interest in new content. The folks at SOE were nice enough to give us a tour of the new areas and features for the upcoming expansion, which delves into the new continent of Alaris.
Our tour first took us to the Plane of Fear, which is the endpoint of the previous expansion, House of Thule. Littered with boogey-men, spiders, and ominous looking trees, and overcast with a crimson sky, the bleak Plane of Fear will be familiar to players that encountered the god of fear in the seventeenth expansion. EQ fans interested in the deep and complex storyline from House of Thule will be happy to see the story continue in Veil of Alaris, in which the deities of Norrath have caused the Veil separating the sixth continent of Alaris from the rest of the world to be destroyed.
We then ventured to Argath, the entry city to the new expansion. Argath is the first place that players will encounter the Alarans, who resemble Norrathians in being bipedal humanoids, but otherwise look pretty alien. Argath has historically been dedicated to the god of battle, although the city's denizens have been moving away from warfare and towards commerce - until the arrival of the Norrathians, which has upset their balance (thanks a lot, players). It's a city under siege, which can be seen clearly from the molten steel from Argath's forges spilling hotly onto the battlefield. Players will start out on an airship dock and venture into Alara from there, and while everyone in the beginning area can speak Norrathian, intrepid adventurers will have to learn to speak Alaran to pick up quests and interact with NPCs deeper in the continent.
Our tour then headed to the Valley of Lunanyn, a neutral area and the continent's breadbasket, which is now a battlefield. The Norrathian gods, not content to sit on their laurels while pesky humanoids duke it out with sticks, have come to battle with the forces of Alaris, and the farmlands and forests of the Valley of Lunanyn have now become a warzone. From our vantage, we were able to see Solusek Ro, the god of fire and sun, with his fire elementals, and his warcamp is certainly no joke.
We were also given a glimpse of the Beasts' Domain, a zone dedicated to the god of beasts. In the Beasts' Domain, Alaran and Norrathian flora and fauna have grown symbiotically alongside each other, which you can see clearly from the fluorescent, alien looking growths on the trees and the hybrid animals. We encountered a goral hunter, which is a pink wolf-dog alien thing, and a Norrathian hunter that most EQ veterans will recognize instantly as a classic raptor with more Alaran features. Overall, the Beasts' Domain is very graphically impressive, colorful, and shows off how the SOE team has progressively implemented new graphical upgrades with their content updates.
I asked our guides about SOE's philosophy behind updating EQ with new features that are common to modern MMOs, and they mentioned that their design philosophy is based on three aspects:
- Stay true to what makes Everquest the game that it is.
- Introduce new systems that are good for the game
These three aspects are clearly evident in Veil of Alaris' new features, which include the new Guild Halls and improved hotbars.
We were first shown the Guild Lobby, which is the same hub for the player housing neighborhoods introduced in House of Thule. Players can purchase their own neighborhoods and use giant springs to move - or bounce - around them, and guilds can now build and customize guild halls. All of the guild halls are built upon extra large plots, but the buildings themselves will have different sizes with commensurate initial costs and upkeep. The gray brick-and-stone one we saw was medium-sized and looked both homey and defensible, and like all guild halls, could be customized with items and decorations on the exterior as well as interior. Inside the building we could see how the SOE devs had gone to town with decorations, with cover art from previous EQ expansions adorning the walls and hundreds of items placed carefully throughout the place, including a jacuzzi that can teleport guild members around the world as a group.
Yes, you read that correctly. TELEPORT JACUZZI.
The improved hotbars are another addition to EQ that SOE is confident will be even more customizable than similar features in most modern MMOs. The EQ user interface is already very customizable, but SOE has decided to implement additional hotbars with more buttons and give you the ability to add cool-down timers, assign icons to buttons, and link-click items from your hotbar.
The hotbar changes are only one of several updates coming alongside the content in Veil of Alaris, including the ability to mail items between characters. In addition to the new Guild Halls, improved hotbars, and parcel and coin delivery system, the full range of features include a level cap increase from 90 to 95, a new guild rank-based permission system, guild trophies, 800+ Alternate Advancements, 13 raids, 12 zones, over 500 spells, and a lot more.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the amount of content Sony Online Entertainment has in store for Veil of Alaris and by the team's commitment to supporting Everquest with new content and updates. Thanks again to SOE for our tour, which has us intrigued to see more when the expansion launches on November 15.
Will you be playing Veil of Alaris? Let us know in the comments below!