Updated Wed, Nov 30, 2011 by Ethec
SOE just announced that EverQuest II's eighth expansion, Age of Discovery, will launch on December 6th. For a closer look at just what this feature-driven expansion has to offer, Executive Producer David "Smokejumper" Georgeson, Associate Producer Emily Taylor, and Community Relations Manager Jennifer Bridges offered Ten Ton Hammer a hands-on tour.
I logged in to find a shiny new level 50 Beastlord awaiting me, and Associate Producer Emily Taylor explained that EverQuest II's 25th class is a mix of old and new. "In Everquest, Beastlords were loosely based on a combination of a Shaman and a Monk. In EQ2, we've tried to keep them based on the same sort of combination, but one of our goals was to experiment with a new playstyle."
Central to the new Beastlord playstyle is the Warder. "Beastlords react and interact with their warder pets" Emily explained. Using a method similar to EverQuest II's heroic opportunities mechanic (something I feel should have become a staple combat system across MMOs), Beastlords can match up abilities from their "Advantages" bar to deliver extra damage and other negative effects on the target. At higher levels, properly executed advantages earn points which fund extra-powerful Primal abilities. Emily summed up the class design by saying "Beastlords are more reactive and interactive in playstyle than any of our other classes."
Beastlords get a "starter" warder, one unique to each race, then players can tame new warders just about anywhere in Norrath, choosing the Warder appearance and abilities that suits the player best. Sixteen different families of Warders are available for taming - from canines to felines to birds and snakes - and each has different offensive and defensive abilities.
In addition to the normal abilities, warders spot weaknesses in enemies, which appear as a symbol above the enemy on the player's screen. Using a method similar to EverQuest II's heroic opportunities mechanic (something I feel should have become a staple for group-based MMO combat), Beastlords can match up abilities from their "Advantages" bar to deliver extra damage and other negative effects on the target. At higher levels, properly executed advantages earn points which fund extra-powerful Primal abilities.
In the spirit of the season - hunting season, that is (or maybe because we were using too many cat references) - I tamed a stag, not the most powerful warder around, but easily the one with the doughiest eyes. Since the stag immediately shrank to half the size upon taming, I asked if the warder would grow over time. Jennifer explained: "Warders won't grow in size, but will grow in power as they level with you." Jennifer noted that in addition to new abilities, warders also have an "Affinity" stat. As you increase your affinity for a particular family - felines, for example - then the feline abilities will grow in relative rank from apprentice-level spells to, eventually, grand master level spells.
Beastlords can also choose the specific appearance that they like within a family. If you tame a snow leopard, for example, the next time you summon a warder from the feline family, you'll summon a snow leopard. Changing appearance is as simple as taming another feline. Players can also customize the abilities of their warders by spending AA-like points on specific abilities, or simply level up their affinity with a given family.
Finally, Emily noted that SOE is "fully supporting" the Beastlord by adding in all the class quests, class armor, and an epic quest just like all the other classes have.
While not officially part of the features-only expansion, Game Update 62 features a total revamp of Freeport, the capital city for Norrath's evil players that will be free to all players on December 6th as well. On that date, SOE recently announced that the game's hybrid experiment between a subscription-based model, free-to-play model, and cash-for-virtual-items store would be simplified into an all-server, all-encompassing freemium model as well.
We arrived in a noticably more gilded and fiery Freeport. "Lucan D'Lere has revitalized Freeport in a bid to attract more followers and to show off his renewed power," Jennifer explained. "We wanted to move away from the idea of evil being dirty and grimy." Accordingly, the new Freeport portrays a more powerful, refined sort of evil - a concept reinforced by new questlines for levels 1 through 90 that let players explore the city's fancified maliciousness. As for other content, the old racial neighborhoods become instanced, scalable-by-level quest zones, and a new public quest available outside Freeport for players from level 20 to 30.