Desert Of Flames is a reward for the EQ faithful and it actually plays like one. by Mike Chasselwaite

March 7, 2006 - EverQuest may have reached its peak years ago. There seems to be less people to interact with each week. This expansion pack, EverQuest II: Desert of Flames was developed to reward faithful fans rather than as a dumbed-down recruitment tool for new players. Those players that have already leveled their characters to the ceiling will appreciate the extra 10 levels which can extend the replay value anywhere from months to years depending on your commitment to this massive online multi-player role game.

Extending the cap from 50 to 60 will be of little interest to new players. In fact it's almost a deterrent since you won't be able to interact on the same level with many of the hardcore players that have been at this game for years. There have been numerous expansion packs, patches, maps, races, quests and other downloadable content that has helped to evolve the game, but at the same time making it less accessible for newbies. Desert of Flames is not so much concerned with new players as it is in delivering new and deeper features. I must admit that some of it falls a little bit short and despite the new map, player vs. player and being able to scale heights vertically, I can see how things would tend to get repetitious and even a little boring after a time.

Living a virtual life in EverQuest is a bit like living in a large fishbowl. There are restrictions to where you can and can't go. Some of these restrictions are conveniently constructed as enemy territory where you don't want to venture if you value your virtual life. In an effort to make things seem a bit more open, vertical movement has been added that lets you move up and down some areas of the environment such as in mountainous regions found on the Isle of Ro. This island has a mid-Eastern flair. You can reach the island by using a flying carpet. There are vast expanses of desert wasteland waiting to be explored and exploited but the jewel in the crown is the city of Maj'Dul.

Upon reaching the island there are two distinct gameplay options that you can choose from, but you can toggle between them at anytime. Player vs. player frag matches takes place in the arena where games such as Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are offered. The third game is called Destroy the Idol in which each team defends an idol located in their territory. The opposite team takes shots at the other team's idol in anticipation of destroying it by reducing the hit points. These arena battles can be played as your character or through Arena Champions which are monster avatars that you purchase outside the arena. They come with different attributes to suit various styles of play.

The arena matches are a good addition to the series but for the majority of players it's nothing more than a novelty. At least it will give newbies something to do while they desperately attempt to reach the 45-plus level where most of the action is.

There are three warring factions on the island and shortly after you arrive you are going to have to choose one. They include the Court of Coin, Court of Blade and Court of Truth which correspond to finance, military and legislative, respectively, as their core structure. Each faction resides in a different area of the city where their influence is at it strongest. You may find yourself under attack should you decide to venture into other regions so it's advised that you remain in your adopted territory.

Unique quests are available for each of the different factions. There are hundreds of them. Other more generic quests are available when you run out of the main ones. Killing NPCs will result in a greater standing in your community. Fallen enemies will leave behind tokens which you give to friendly NPCs to gain favor. Some of the NPCs will actually attack you depending on your ranking. These skirmishes will take place in the open but you have to be mindful of the law enforcement officers which fly around on magic carpets. They will give you a stern warning and if unheeded they can make any character's life miserable regardless of how high his or her level is.

Getting into the 50s is a sheer grind. It was a long hard battle to get beyond 40. The months of vitality that players saved while luxuriating at the former cap are now in danger of using it all up in pursuit of reaching the new cap. Sure the challenge is artificially inflated, but you've got little choice if you want to spend more of your life in this virtual universe.

Graphically the game looks much too familiar. It borrows sights and sounds from the original sequel although some new monsters, characters and locations have been added. There is an Arabian theme that is reflected in the environments with generous sandy and tiled textures, palm trees and various mid-Eastern influenced architecture which is displayed in the citadels, domes and minarets. Colors are more vibrant and backgrounds are more realistic looking than ever. The animation is still a little jerky in places but the commands are instantaneous for the most part. I'll give the server the benefit of the doubt and blame my slightly-out-of-date PC for any latency.

The best advice I can give beginners and lower-level players would be to ignore this expansion pack and start at the beginning, or at least at the first sequel. There just won't be enough for you to do and racking up points in this version can be an absolute grind.

By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Everquest II: Desert Of Flames (PC)
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Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
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Play Value
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Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PC
Dev: Sony
Pub: Sony
Release: Sept 2005
Players: Multi online
Review by Mike

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best