Everquest II (Hands On Preview)

Last weekend, while sitting in the local Cineplex, I was dazzled and amazed to see a preview for an epic adventure full of swords and sorcery, and daring and danger. As I listened to the voice over (that sounded suspiciously like Cate Blanchette’s from The Lord of the Rings movies) I thought I was in store for another Peter Jackson masterpiece, yet, lo and behold, I was treated to a gorgeous trailer for Sony Online Entertainment’s Everquest II. Now, I’ve read the online previews and seen the screenshots, but nothing prepared me for the luscious eye-candy I bore witness to. Suddenly I was no longer merely curious about Everquest II – I now desperately wanted to play it.

Thank goodness I work for a gaming website. Recently the opportunity came my way to actually play in the beta of EQII, and I must say that I (a relative newcomer to the world of MMORPGs) found myself sucked into the game in rapid time.

For those not familiar with Everquest or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) it’s quite simply a game where you can kick back, create a seemingly adorable little character and kill some monsters with a few thousand complete strangers. I started my gaming experience by simply trying out different character types in the generation screen. The sheer variety of customization options concerning appearance, clothing, and race was staggering compared with the relatively limited character options I’ve found in other RPGs. I actually spent a good half hour tweaking the facial features of different species just to see what I could do – and, believe me, you can make some pretty scary looking characters if you put your mind to it.

At long last I decided to break my 27-year moratorium on playing Gnomes, and created a particularly evil young lass with bed-head hair and a monocle. With more than ten other races to choose from, I’m not certain why I chose the smallest and cutest of the bunch other than they didn’t have fur and they weren’t b*****d Halflings. Then, when the little Gnome was set to my desired specifications, I was whisked away for a whirlwind tutorial on a boat. Though initially infantile I found the entire process invaluable as it taught me how to speak and interact with NPCs, change my inventory, and smite rats. I’ve never played in an online RPG with such an extensive tutorial, and it truly aided my learning of the game’s systems. As an added bonus, more experienced players can skip the tutorial on the boat, incurring only a minimal loss in collected goodies.

The tutorial highlighted the ease and fundamental simplicity of EQII’s gameplay. Everything can be accomplished through a series of mouse clicks or hot key commands. Even with minimal and frustrating prior MMORPG familiarity I soon found myself navigating through menus and surviving combat with relative ease. As the game progressed from the most basic tutorial I found my Gnome on a refugee island where I could learn the remainder of Everquest’s systems alongside fellow newbies.

Once surrounded by other online players and given my choice of character classes and missions, I felt a wee bit overwhelmed. I was also surprised that, right off the bat, I could only choose from four character classes: fighter, rogue, mage, or priest. Luckily, as my character advances, I will have the choice of many different sub-classes to further define my character’s abilities. So, bearing that in mind, and knowing that I have always been fond of smiting opposing forces with (un)holy power, I opted for priest.

Running around as a priest I rapidly discovered the one traditionally annoying aspect of EQ’s gameplay – character death. In fact, my one and only beef about this game’s play is the death mechanic. While EQII’s system is vastly superior to the

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