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Everquest II: Rise of Kunark (PC) artwork

Everquest II: Rise of Kunark (PC) review


"Even when you leave the lush vegetation of Timorous Deep it becomes clear that the aspect of soloing is especially strong within the Everquest II universe, meaning you donít need to scourge for a party before you try to take on even the simplest task. Itís an option that a lot more MMOs could do with including."



EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark made a lot of promises, some of which it didn't keep, so we'll get that out of the way now. Those following the title will recall the much-touted epic weapon quests which earned their italic tags through pure, unbridled hype. But they weren't ready by time of the expansion's release, so expect them to be plugged hard until the next one.

With that said, what did make it in is more than enough to make amends. But first! The fruits of my extensive research!

The original Everquest was released back in 1999 and played by people with a PC out powering a stopwatch which, sadly, disinclined me. But to hide my inexperience, I've spent several hours kidnapping key members of the old community and holding them captive in a leaking basement until they spilled the exclusive details that made the game so addictive. Turns out I only had to show a passing interest for many of them to chew my ear off on the subject.

I'm told that Everquest was a patriarch to the huge MMO craze the world suffers from now. It offered almost limitless characterisation for a would-be player's avatar and plopped them smack in the middle of a seemingly-borderless world. These players would rant and rave about the hours they spent raiding the distinctly-different environments and the adventures they had would outnumber even the amounts of times I've hyphen-linked adjectives in this paragraph. Then I'd mention Everquest 2 and their tones would change.

"Oh. That."

Icy.

Everquest 2 did not endear itself early to many returning players. Although key areas were much grander in scale, the world itself felt claustrophobic when compared to the forever spawning scale of its predecessor. It didnít help that new players were forced to make an initial selection between a quintet of base characters to expand rather than a slew of classes and professions to peruse at your leisure. The game was modern; it was shiny and it had bells. But it didnít have heart.

Sony Online Entertainment then went out of their way to fix this with a slew of expansions that brought back to life some of the most revered locations from the original. The base character system was dropped in favour of allowing players to actually choose their starting class rather than slowly build towards it while the huge open areas that Everquest II employed where stretched, slowly allowing the kind of endless scope that the first game thrived on. And as the game grew and grew, more old players were drawn back to see the environments they loved roaming in 1999 get the next-gen treatment. Rise of Kunark takes that idea and runs with it; the expansion throws in a new race of dragonmen called the Sarnak as well as a host of new and revamped locations.

The Sarnak are, by all accounts, an odd bunch. The original game saw them all but wiped out at the hands of the Iskar, but the second game sees them at war with the Spiroc, a race of very angry lizard-parrots that served as cannon-fodder for another old Everquest stage, the Plane of Sky.


Nothing says fear like ĎLizard-Parrot with Swordí


The new stage this race starts in, Timorous Deep, is a gathering of jungle-chocked islands that the Sarnak call home and the Spirok have taken a liking to. This is where I started, and once I got over the surrealistic fact that I was slaughtering walking parrots with an eight-foot dragon covered in boney spikes, it was easy to see just how well the newbie quests were made. While some challenges were a bit touch-and-go at points, I managed to see them off while the game dropped just enough new armour and weapons at my feet to keep me on the line between getting raped and overkill.

Even when you leave the lush vegetation of Timorous Deep it becomes clear that the aspect of soloing is especially strong within the Everquest II universe, meaning you donít need to scourge for a party before you try to take on even the simplest task. Itís an option that a lot more MMOs could do with including.

By the time you reach the twentieth or so stage of the Deep, youíll find delving deeper into the Asian-inspired ruins is not possible at your level, forcing you to strike outside your starter stage until you buff yourself a bit. Here, youíll stop trading blows with angry and brightly-plumed walking birds and explore a grand and massive stage thatís been slowly built up over three expansions packs into a world of truly mammoth scope. This is, of course, where the returning players will find themselves anyway, but even here they have plenty of new areas to explore and, handily, new NPCs to point out where they actually are. This beats wandering around aimlessly for hours on end.

When I finally let my captive Everquest players out of the basement, sullen and blinking into the sunlight, I was good enough to let them play a little Rise of Kunark in return for not reporting me to the authorities. I now need to employ a crowbar to wrench some of them away. For returning fans, the latest expansion, when bundled with the others, presents a world nearing completion and one able to stand toe-to-toe with the previous game that has always held it captive within its expansive shadow. For new players like myself? Thereís never been a better time to jump in.

Eventually, I was able to take my buffed Sarnak back to Timorous Deep and delve further into the sunlight-chocked forests and, under the criss-crossing trunks of long-petrified trees, and gut the hollowed ruins of ancient temples and crumbling forts. Within I discover the fate of the mysterious Iskar, the machinations of the Spirok and, above all, adventure. If thatís not a fantastic case of tying up loose ends and an indication of attention to detail second to none, then I donít know what is. Everquest II may have started as a rushed job to update its predecessor but in their attempt to improve the franchise, SOEís efforts have been nothing short of a labour of love.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 12, 2008)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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