Microcosms: EverQuest 2 Extended – Open Borders

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year--the transition from summer to winter, the leaves painting the canvas of our lawns with their orange and gold hues, football in full swing and the stores setting up their Christmas displays. Yes, this truly is a wonderful time (although the weather here in California refuses to co-operate). Fall is also usually a time of quiet before the storm in the gaming world, as most developers are getting set to launch their hopeful blockbusters just in time for holiday shopping. It’s this time of year that often finds me feeling reminiscent and longing to rekindle the fires of a burning gaming obsession of years past. Normally this is also a fairly expensive time of year for me as well, as I re-subscribe to several old MMOGs only to play them for a couple weeks before I get pulled back into my current game. This year is shaping up to be similar to years past as I return to The Lord of the Rings Online and  EverQuest2, but with both games now available to play for free, I may actually be able to keep enough cash in the bank to buy the wife a Christmas gift. 

Nexon looks to steal some thunder from the AAA boys with the release of Vindictus, a beautiful 3D title that takes place in the Mabinogi universe. Check out our preview here, and let us know what you think. The folks over at gPotato have also been hinting at what they have been up to as they work diligently on the next game patch for Allods. If you are socially connected, you can get up to the minute communications from the Allods team by adding them to your bevy of friends on Facebook.

The concept of a fallback game is one we speak of from time to time here at The Hammer, and one I’m sure most of you veteran MMOG players have experienced on your own. My personal fallback game has always been a variant of EverQuest; the original kept the light on for me in my early days, while EQ2 has done the same in the past few years. I have few regrets in regards to gaming, but my biggest has always been that I never got to lose myself in EQ2 and explore it completely.

Returning to Halas is even more breathtaking when it's done for free.
With the release of EQ2X coinciding perfectly with the typical down cycle of MMOGs, that odd time where we wait for new releases or new expansions, it seemed like fate had finally intervened on my behalf. Under the guise of researching and covering free-to-play titles I was able to fully immerse myself in the goodness of EQ2X without having to fear the threats of divorce that ended my previous love affair with the game back in 2004. I did not squander this precious allotment of time, dear readers; I took advantage of every second of it to bring you my impressions of this new microtransaction-driven version.

EverQuest2 Extended uses a separate launcher than the other servers and takes place in its own little world called, appropriately enough, Freeport. I tried to initially access it through the station launcher and grew frustrated at not being able to find it there. If you’re like me, let me spare you the frustration – head straight to the official site and grab the launcher there. Install was a breeze because this new client only downloads the bare bones of the game and fills in the other 11.2 gigs in an as-needed fashion or in the background while you play. I noticed almost no performance hits, but I did make it easy on the client as I stayed exclusively in one area from level 1 to 20. I suspect that if you are new to EQ2 and want to explore you may run into some issues.

The entire world is yours
 to explore.
The last time I played a brand new character I was forced to play through the game’s original newbie area, Isle of Boredoom, or something along those lines. (I may have made up the name; it’s all a bit fuzzy) and was immensely pleased to find it has gone the way of the Dodo bird. Admittedly, it may have been removed long before EQ2X came to be. Selecting a Barbarian Berzerker I was given a choice of several starting cities and, despite the temptation of some of the more exotic sounding locales, I decided to stay true to my roots and begin my adventure in New Halas. So, why did I chose a Berzerker you ask? Excellent question, it leads right into the first discovery I made in EQ2X.

Man, you’re like school on a Saturday…no class

Races can be unlocked via Station Cash.
Unlike the line from Fat Albert, EQ2X doesn’t have “no class” – but it certainly limits their availability to those who don’t pay. I found most of the more interesting classes were locked unless I decided to jump up to a monthly fee or unlock them with Station Cash purchases. The move is certain to ruffle a few feathers, but when one considers the fact that EQ2 features some really cool classes, it makes a lot of business sense. Now this isn’t to say they those available to the free-to-play crowd are awful, I would have picked the Berzerker regardless of what else was available, but most of the hybrids and interesting casters are walled off. New players will still have plenty of variety in their choices, and all the necessary group roles are available.

With my class choice squared away, I set out to explore the frosty environs and to get reacquainted with Norrath. What struck me almost immediately was the excellent pace and flow of the quests, something that carried through to every hub I was shunted to throughout the first 20 levels. Quest rewards were well itemized and when combined with random drops they kept my ‘zerker one step ahead of the nasties I was asked to kill. In fact loot was so plentiful that between items and the overwhelming number of crafting materials and collectibles I came across, I soon found my second major issue with EQ2X – bag space.

It’s in the bag

Inventory room is a pretty common conundrum for any MMOG, especially for new characters, but EQ2X compounds the issue by only allowing access to 3 of the 7 available bag slots to the subscriptionless. Unlike the class and race lockdowns, however, bag slots can’t be added ala carte, you must bump up to a gold or platinum to unlock them. You can mitigate the dilemma a bit by using the item shop to purchase 3 huge bags, but you will still find yourself having to make some hard choices of items to dump if you don’t remember to sell of the excess in between quest hubs. One other item of note when it comes to items, if you aren’t a paying player you will find certain items unavailable to equip based on their rarity and quality – something that won’t bother lower level characters as much as it will those above level 50.

If you wanna play you gotta pay

Makin' bacon
Monetization has become the single most important element in MMOGs lately. While it has always been about making money, it becomes even more critical in tough economic times. SOE has been among the best at identifying and monetizing key features and elements in their games, without skewing the balance of power to only those with deep wallets. I purchased a mount pretty early on from the item shop and upgraded myself to the silver membership level with a one time fee of 1,000 Station Cash ($10.00 USD). Both purchases made sense to me as I wanted to move about a bit quicker and I wanted access to chat channels and some of the other silver level features. While I couldn’t have obtained the chat functionality any other way, I could have waited a few levels for the mount because I also received one as a quest reward. I guarantee that if you enjoy this game you will end up using the item shop, and if you don’t like it you will be able to walk away scott free – which is exactly what a well made free-to-play should be about.

The first 20 levels of EQ2X have been an absolute blast so far, encapsulating the full spectrum of what makes EQ2 such a great game. Combat, crafting, questing and community have all been top notch thus far and I look forward to continuing the adventure. I would encourage anyone who enjoys fantasy MMOGs to check out EQ2X, and don’t be a stranger if you bump into a Barbarian named Medawky.

Just a boy and his.....well...don't touch it if you want to keep all your fingers.

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