EverQuest’s Veil of Alaris Expansion – A Hands-On Preview

SOE’s Eric Cleaver takes us on a hands-on tour  of the newly unveiled continent, new guild housing,  and lore surrounding EverQuest’s 18th expansion, Veil of Alaris.
Due out in mid-November, EverQuest’s eighteenth expansion will expand the 12 year old game into Alaris, a primal continent revealed through the events of last year’s expansion. In addition to a level cap raise from 90 to 95, players will quest through more than 10 new elder game zones and raids, enjoy new UI features, guild tools, and will also see the introduction of guild housing and guild trophies in Veil of Alaris.

EverQuest’s Eric “Piestro” Cleaver joined me in the red-skied Plane of Fear in the midst of the live event going on now.  The god of little people and dark places, Brell Serillis, has commissioned the gnomes to build a giant airship to take players to the new continent of Alaris. Since the gnomes and their player helpers haven’t finished their task yet, Eric had to work some GM magic to transport us to the first zone of the expansion: Argath, Bastion of Ildara, a battle-scarred mountain fortress dedicated to the Alaran god of war and battle.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
Soon, Gnomish airships will link Norrath with Alaris

Understanding the factions and furor in Argath requires a bit of backstory. In the course of EverQuest’s last expansion, House of Thule, players managed to permanently defeat the Norrathian god of fear, Cazic Thule. This marked a major change in the relationship between players and gods in the game’s story, as players had never been able to gain the upper hand in the power balance between players and gods before. As Cazic Thule’s power was swept away from him, a continent previously hidden by Norrath’s dragons was “unveiled”.  

Thus, EverQuest’s next expansion centers on the mysteries of this new continent and how Cazic Thule was killed, and why. A full cast of characters – players, NPC factions, and gods both old and new – is involved, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Eric went on to explain that the culture clash, political imbalances, and xenophobia resulting from the influx of Old Norrathians plays a huge role in the story of the expansion, but the two cultures have one thing in common: belief in some of their most revered gods is on the wane. Case in point: years of war have reduced the Argathian’s appetite for battle, and the citizenry has focused more on trade in recent years. This development is more significant for the Alaran gods; while the Norrathian gods derive their power from the planes, the Alaran gods require belief.

All of this intrigue creates a particular problem for the fortress city of Argath. The neighboring city of Erlonn, City of Bronze, has seized upon the confusion of the Norrathian influx to attack. With their god weakened, the Argathians are forced to turn to outside help. Eric took me to the entranceway to Argath, where Erlonn occasionally launches sorties against the city. I asked Eric if this might be the first instance of public quests in EverQuest, but he responded in the negative.  Instead, a massive invasion from Erlonn forms the crux of the Argath raid, and Eric noted that every zone in the expansion will host at least one raid.

One novel new system tied to questing in Veil of Alaris, however, is the Alaran language.  Unlike other EverQuest languages, players won’t be able to teach each other the new language, instead, learning the language is tied to questing and story development. Players can explore every corner of Alaris, but content is gated by language proficiency, which is an interesting twist on a bread-and-butter EverQuest concept.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
Solusek Ro could ruin any besieger’s day

Moving on, Eric took me to the Valley of Lunanyn, the bread basket of Argath. Here, surprisingly, we found the terrifying presence of Solusek Ro occasionally summoning fireballs to set the City of Bronze’s encampments ablaze. Preferring a more direct approach than Brell Serelis, Solusek Ro and his faction of Norrathian gods have shown up to prevent the deicidal antics that began with Cazic Thule’s downfall from spreading.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
East Domain shows how Norrath is starting to cross-pollinate with Alaris

In the next area, East Domain, Eric showed off what SOE’s artists have been up to in the latest EQ expansion. Stretching an already bargain-basement minspec (Pentium 3 500 Mhz with 256 megs of RAM and a GeForce 2 / Radeon 7500), they’ve mingled the visual style of Norrath with Alaris. Eric pointed out some classic Norrathian trees with bright splashes of ivy-like growth on them, and a raptor out with several Alaran traits – glowing eyes and neon coloration.

Not only that, but the game looks far more visually crisp than I remember. Of particular note was the movable UI. Eric noted that the hotbars got another pass this expansion. Players have far more options in customizing and resizing hotbars, plus with the Veil of Alaris expansion, players can create custom cooldown timer-enabled macros with icons of their choosing. .

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
The Resplendent Temple is easily Alaris’s biggest visual landmark.

Pointing into the distance, Eric let me feast my eyes on the Resplendent Temple. “The first time I saw this, I couldn’t believe it was the same game,” he extolled, and I couldn’t disagree. A huge, fully explorable temple dedicated to the Alaran god of beauty, the temple features a pit in the center into which the Alarans throw anything which isn’t perfect or beautiful. In the depths of the pit live a race of pig people that worship the people above for the gifts they bestow upon them. From that dual existance comes a lot of fun content, Eric quipped.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
The visually striking Temple of the Sea fills the inside of a gigantic conch shell

We skipped over the port city of Seris in order to check out the giant conch shell turned temple in its harbor. The Temple of the Sea, called Rubek Oseka, blended seashell glossy-walls with muscle fiber “carpet”, a sandy, gem-laden floor, and a giant pearl altar at its base, I’m hard pressed to recall a more striking visual environment in any expansion from the last 5 years, let alone 12. As Eric and I journeyed down the spiral, he explained that the two factions of sea worshippers here have yet another language that players must learn in order to progress through the Rubek Oseka story.  

Our final stop in Alaris was the Sepulcher of Order, a “megachurch” with temples to each of the Alaran deities. “It was so big that we ended up having to split it into three separate zones,” Eric explained. “Each of the gods has a raid associated with it. Players will be spending a lot of time here with many, many, many quests.”

In an era of shrinking raid sizes, I was glad to hear that EQ has stayed true to its roots. I asked Eric what a typical raid comprises in EverQuest nowadays, my wood elf ranger main  long retired, and he stated that 50+ people fighting through “a dozen or so mechanics” (whether that means one boss or many) for around 45 minutes was common.  

The “all or nothing” (and usually nothing) nature of EQ raiding is on its way out as well in this EQ expansion; Eric wouldn’t go into specifics but explained that if players were really focused on getting a specific item, they would have an alternate means of doing so through raiding. I asked if this would be a token system similar to what we find in other MMOs (no-drop, no-trade tokens are acquired by most if not all raid goers, and stacks of tokens can be traded for gear), but Eric wouldn’t comment.

For something completely different, Eric introduced me to guild housing. Another new feature in Veil of Alaris. In the last EverQuest expansion, House of Thule, players gained the ability to enter a neighborhood, buy a plot of land, build a house, decorate their yard and the interior, and place any trophies they’ve acquired inside.  Guildhalls expand on that concept with more communal space and tools to help guilds stay organized and share resources.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
Decorate your EQ guildhall with concept art. It’s so… cyclical

The guild lobby is a hub of player activity. “Any time, day or night, you’ll probably see about a hundred players milling around in here, but this is also the gateway to the player neighborhoods,” Eric explained. Every location has its own unique address – a fun, neighborhood-y touch – and inside the medium guildhall Eric created was a veritable doll’s house of furniture and fixtures, all of which could be purchased either in-game, through the SOE marketplace, or are available as rewards from the Legends of Norrath digital trading card game.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris preview
Dinner party of 54, please.

From a feasting hall that could “seat” dozens, to a library, to an NPC courier to send out items, to a crafting area, to a guild teleporter so that the guild could travel as one, Eric explained that the goal was to create a big enough space so that everyone could participate in decorating and enjoying the space. Even better, with the advent of guild halls, SOE can dole out guild trophies for various guild level achievements for working through content and defeating different bosses.

As with houses, the guild must pay upkeep for guild halls. The guild must maintain a certain number of players to keep a guildhall of a certain size. Other guild niceties are in the works for Veil of Alaris; every guild can name its ranks however they like and assign individual permission levels for the guild bank.

EverQuest: Veil of Alaris is due out on November 15th, 2011. Thanks to Eric Cleaver and the SOE team for showing us around!

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