Updated Wed, Nov 30, 2011 by Ethec
The tour continued, and Emily pointed out that towering over Execution Plaza , the Overlord's Citadel has been restored to its lofty position in the sky. Down in the plaza, Lucan shows up every so often to execute traitors every so often by tossing them into a fiery pit. Tongue in cheek, I asked if this was what happened to Qeynos players caught sneaking into the city, but Emily explained that good players caught sneaking around would be tossed out on their can outside the city gates just like always.
As we pressed on toward the Militia House to explore the mercenary system, Emily conveyed a little backstory for what we just witnessed. EQ2 lorehounds know that Neriak's dark elf leadership was behind Lucan's kidnapping. Newly returned to power, Lucan keeps Freeport's drow on a very short leash, frequently making an example of suspected collaborators in the spectacle we just witnessed.
We entered the Militia House next to the Harbor, and Emily explained how mercenaries are a slightly different take on the AI-controlled sidekicks and henchmen available in other MMORPGs, including Guild Wars, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and ,of course, EQ2's forebearer, EverQuest. For starters, EQ2 mercs are quite a bit more demanding: they'll require a share of the loot and a regular salary or they'll simply walk out on you. Mercs will also take up a group spot and have a wide range of abilities even within their respective roles.
All the basic mercs can be found in Freeport and Qeynos, but (like most of EQ2's best features) is driven by collection. The rarest mercs are found SWTOR companion-style around Norrath. But since mercs are interchangeable, short-term companions, once you find a merc, they'll always be available for rehire in your capital city. Players can also customize their merc's clothing via the new mercenary tab in the persona window. Emily noted that when you rehire the merc later on, they'll still be wearing the same clothes.
Mercs must be hired in person and come in five categories: tanks, healers, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and support. Every mercenary you hire scales to match your level, learning more skills with higher levels, and each individual merc might have different skills . I noted that Stamper Geraulf, the Ratonga Archon merc with whom I chose to compliment my stag-powered DPS, had a broad selection of master-level skills, so it's likely that rarer mercs have more skills and spells, grand master level abilities, or both.
Emily clarified that, given a choice between adding another player or a companion to your group, players are still the obvious choice. Mercs are meant to take on empty spots or when you need a little extra help. As I put Stamper through his paces, I noted that new beastlords and other pet classes hoping to take on mercs might have something of a management challenge as mercs can only assist players (not warders), but Georgeson intimated that this feature might be added in time for launch.
One of the most touted features of EQ2's Age of Discovery is the new Dungeon Maker system. User-generated content has come into its own in recent years as an especially attractive way to revitalize aging games - City of Heroes' Mission Architect system is the current state of art - and Dungeon Maker mirrors Mission Architect in many ways. Dungeon leaderboards and a hall-of-fame, player ratings, challenge ratings, a trustee feature (that allows multiple players to build and edit a dungeon), and token-based rewards for both players and builders are tried and true user-generated content features that Dungeon Maker will make use of.
EverQuest II, however, puts its own spin on UGC in several ways. For one, instead of experiencing player-made dungeons as your own character, you'll play as an avatar. Avatars are culled from the enemies you face around Norrath and, you guessed it, also tie into the collections system. We spotted five in the demo: the Drolvarg Scourge-Knight, the Drachnid Widowmage, the Tidesilph Defouler, and the Terrok Assassin. Each has different abilities, allowing players to have a role-based, Left4Dead-esque episodic experience.
Emily took us into an empty dungeon layout based on Castle Mistmoore to demonstrate the sorts of handcrafted experiences players can create with Dungeon Maker. Mistmoore was a medium-sized layout - one of 14 layouts that will be available to players at AoD's launch - and consisted of about 5 rooms ranging from sewers to a sort of throne room.