How do you top a classic like EverQuest? With EverQuest 2, that's how.

Sony has done it. They have managed to create a sequel to one of the most popular MMO games of all time, EverQuest, with the release of EverQuest 2. In the last five years we've seen a variety of games expand on the EverQuest formula with good results. The problem with an epic game such as this is that it's impossible or at least financially infeasible to keep up with the latest trends in the genre every year or so. But this sequel has benefited from observing exactly which new features have been embraced by the imitation games that it's spawned. By combining the best elements of past and present games, EverQuest 2 has also managed to come up with a few new additions that will serve it well into the future.

EverQuest 2 is the adventure that keeps on giving. You can sense that things are a little slower at the beginning which may annoy some of the old vets. New players are greeted by a tutorial which does a really good job of explaining life in the fantasy-based world of Norrath. Think of it like a surreal adult version of Sesame Street, full of strange characters where anything can happen. Most of the information you will require will be acquired through conversations and adventures as opposed to having to learn the entire story of an enchanted prince and his evil, magical uncle - and the forty other incidental characters that comprise the story. In EverQuest 2, you make up the story as you go along.

Characters can be heavily customized to your specifications. There are elves, dwarves, sorcerers, monsters and other strange beast-like creatures. Once you affiliate yourself with good or evil, after a few practice sessions, you will be transported to either the good or bad side of Norrath. Unlike the original where you would travel around looking for good or bad character, they all start at the same place based on their moral predilection. This tends to streamlines the quests for specific missions. Not to say the game is linear, there are hundreds of quests. It's just that you won't be wasting time on aimless journeys. The sense of freedom remains unhindered.

Quests, combat and exploring will earn you points and help to automatically level-up your character. Things are pretty slow at the beginning. It seems that all of the characters are much too similar at least up to the eighth or 10th level. Some could argue that the classes are well balanced. It's only until later with the implementation of Guilds that high level characters will be differentiated to any great extent. There is a lot more flexibility among classes to develop a variety of different skills - although you'll never be able to turn a sorcerer into a warrior.

Fighting has been made more interactive. It's still not in real time but at some specific intervals you can introduce new moves, items and abilities. Monsters have colored indicators over their heads to indicate their powers so that you can avoid ones that are superior. If you get locked into combat with a powerful one you can call for help. Otherwise you can take these more powerful creatures on by getting characters together in groups. It's great to be able to team up for combat but you can't team up for quests.

Spells and moves are now confined to one power bar. As long as you're healthy it's fairly easy to replenish. If you do manage to die, you will respawn close to your place of death. It will cost you some penalty points but you won't be completely powerless. You will still have some clothes but they will only be slightly deteriorated. It won't cost a lot to get back up and running. You can lesson the penalty points by following a temporarily highlighted trail back to the scene of your death, but you have to be quick.

There are lots of adventure and tons of NPCs to interact with. You can perform quests for them, get information or purchase upgrades from them. Conversations are more detailed. You can choose more branches from the bubble tree to steer conversations to your area of interest. Many of quests are fetch-related. Fortunately the quest items don't take up any of your inventory space which is already limited. You will end up doing a lot of walking back and forth since you have to explore to locate an item and then bring it back to where you started. At some points in the game you will be able to cover large distances with faster means of transport such as mass transit vehicles and teleportation.

You won't be able to appreciate the entire scope of the graphics until later in the future. While what we have here is amazing for such a huge game, you will need a bigger and better computer system to see everything at the maximum resolution. That's good planning.

The cities and towns are diverse and detailed. You can usually tell the quality of the graphics by how the skeletons in them look and animate. (Every fantasy game has to have a few skeletons). They have so many visible moving parts not to mention their individual ribs. Not only do the skeletons look fantastic but they produce intricate moving shadows which is the coup de grace.

Voiceovers add more personality to the game. One thing that was prevalent in the original was the feeling of isolation one experienced, despite the myriad of interactions with hundreds of thousands of characters. With voiceovers and the ability to team up with other characters there is more of a sense of community than ever before.

EverQuest 2 is poised to recapture the minds and souls of countless gamers from around the world where they will be held prisoner of their own volition. Turning them into helpless addicts feeding off the energy of an artificial world they help create which can sometimes be more real than the one they've left behind.

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System: PC
Dev: Sony
Pub: Sony
Release: Nov 2004
Players: Multi Player Online
Review by Stew XX