EverQuest 2's The Shadow Odyssey Reviewed

The world of Norrath has impressed the hearts and minds of so many over the years. EverQuest and EverQuest 2 have given thousands of people their first taste of MMOG bliss thereby bolstering an entire genre of gaming.  EverQuest 2 has seen interesting milestones since its launch in 2004 but their fifth expansion, The Shadow Odyssey, marks a turning point.  Released around their fourth year anniversary, SOE has proven with EverQuest 2: The Shadow Odyssey that they can make a game that not only raises controversy but survives the test of time.

When I sat down to write this review, I had to ask myself: “How do you provide a fair review for a game that is the oldest of the modern MMOG generation?” This isn't the same market it was four years ago and so much has changed, the fact it's still popular, continues to amaze many.  I will openly confess that I was a veteran of EQ2 from launch until very early in the prior Rise of Kunark expansion.  Having witnessed everything from hardcore raiding to player vs. player, I returned home with high hopes and caution. I'm a firm believer in the idea that "you can never go home" when it comes to PC games, but would EQ2 and The Shadow Odyssey change my mind? 

If you are a veteran of EverQuest Live, it's difficult to read the box and not get excited about the inclusion of areas like Najena, Innothule, Guk, and Befallen.  The addition of two more deities, mission based instance runs, and more heritage quests were also certainly enticing.  While there was no level increase, the Achievement Point cap was raised, which allows players to further diversify their skills and create new strategies.    

If you are a considering a return to Norrath or haven't played before, the game does include all the EQ2 content released so far.  What you might not know is that this most recent expansion is meant for the end game.  Now sure, all the new instances scale to level 50, so if you have an entire group of similar levels you'll be golden. However, you won't be able to appreciate the equipment that’s dropped until you are 80 or the new Moors overland zone and instance missions until you are 75.   

It took a few days for me to get from level 70 to 75, but thanks to the beefy earlier expansions this was not only painless but enjoyable.  After completing my goal, the first impulse was to consider how SOE was going to get me to the Moors.  With every dock in the game already home to at least one boat or half a dozen transportation bells, where could they possibly fit another?  A quick trip to Sinking Sands answered my question as a huge airship platform loomed atop a cliff in the distance. 

What interested me the most about the Moors was that it restricted lower level players from accessing it.  If you aren't at least 72, you aren't eligible for the quest to get off the airship dock.  Much like the overland zones in Rise of Kunark, the Moors is a large area and offers more than 200 quests within its confines. While it does feel you like you are a little more directed than in zones like Fens of Nathsar or Kylong Plains, there was still plenty of running around to do.  Separated into two different progressing areas, I saw enough content for at least a few levels or a dozen Achievement Points. 

I can hear the question forming on your lips now: “Is there really just one new zone in the entire expansion?” Not quite my friend as there are an entire new series of instances to take into consideration.  Included are seven different locations that will take you everywhere from the Commonlands to the Loping Plains.  At each of these locations are two or three different instance selections that provide a variety of options for your grouping pleasure.  If that wasn't enough, the instances will progress in difficulty and believe me when I tell you that these can become challenging.  

The first of my dungeon adventures took place in the Cavern of the Afflicted, the easiest selection in the Commonlands.  Filled with undead, undead, and a few more undead this took a group 30-45 minutes to complete and while it was enjoyable, having access to missions would have been considerably more fun.  I also managed to visit both Evernight Abbey in Loping Plains and Miragul's Phylactery in Everfrost which provided fairly satisfying experiences not to mention great gear drops.   

My only disappointment with TSO, is the Shard rewards for missions and instances are traded for level 80 gear.  While the number required for the better pieces is considerable, it would still be nice to have something available a little earlier on in the leveling progression.  If nothing else this gives endgame players plenty of reasons to run these instances as frequently as they can. 

While I couldn't use the rewards, I certainly did look and they are quite droolworthy. There are at least two different tiers with numerous options, and each complete a set that grants bonuses to certain skills and abilities. Including cloaks and jewelry, EQ2 players will find plenty of items to work for and reasons to show them off.  

The Achievements in TSO mark the first time since Kingdom of Sky that I've noticed groundbreaking additions for all classes. In the past there were always places to put your points that might make a marginal difference on a rarely used skill. These new ones, however, directly affect your key abilities and are a vast improvement over what was previously implemented.   

This expansion is a solid addition to the EQ2 world and should please anyone who is currently playing or left during Rise of Kunark.  For those returning from other MMOGs, you may find the game a little complex and more challenging than you remember. This is not the streamlined UI and combat you might have become accustomed to. With strategic combat and dozens of buttons, it can feel a bit archaic and overwhelming at times.  It's much like riding a bike, although this bike would have 40 controls and swerve while giant evil icicles tried to bite you.  I found with a little patience and a number of understanding friends, you can get back in the swing of things and become a contributing member of your group.  If you are looking for a break from what you are currently playing or have gotten bored with the lack of challenge in other games, The Shadow Odyssey should provide refreshing change. 

(4 / 5 Hammers)

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