The continent of Kunark holds special memories for long-time EverQuest players. It was the focus of the first expansion of the original game, The Ruins of Kunark, and it opened up the world of Norrath in many new ways. It introduced the first level cap increase, the first zones dedicated to raid content and the best class weapons in the game through epic quests, some of which took over nine months to fully discover.
EverQuest II is looking to recapture that magic with their fourth major expansion, The Rise of Kunark. And from the tour of the new expansions lands I had last week, I would say they've done a damn fine job.
You've probably already heard about the level cap increase from 70 to 80, the new playable Sarnak race with a new starting city, the new Rhino mount and the return of Epic Weapons. But there may be a few things you haven't yet learned. Things revealed to me when Community Manager Grimwell led me into the jungles of continent both familiar and strange.
Sarnak Character Creation
Before my tour began, I had to create a Sarnak avatar. Simple right? Oh no, my friend, there was far too much fun to be had to skip over the character customization quickly. Being a dragon race, there were not only the expected scale, coloring and horn options, but there were size and position options for four different sets of facial horns. I spent a great deal of enjoyable time trying all the options until my new avatar looked just right.
Also notable in the character creation screen for the Sarnak: the females are significantly taller than the males. It's true of many species, why not these?
I finally tore myself away from customizing my avatar and logged in to Timorous Deep, a chain of islands off the north-west coast of Kunark. This is the home of the new playable race, the Sarnak. They are a magically created race of dragon-kind. The islands contain their home base and new Evil starting city in the game, Gorowyn. Any newly created evil or neutral race may start here.
The islands also contain the Spirocs, a strange man-bird race bent on taking what the Sarnak have built. But the Sarnak are a race in search of answers. Questions about their creation and their place in the world drive them, and the quest line for players who play one, throughout the entire continent. And this quest for knowledge will put them into conflict with Kunark's current overlords, the Iksar.
In the Sarnak starting area, Grimwell introduced us to a couple of interesting game mechanics. The first was the concept of zone blending. Essentially, the designers took two to four zones and put them into one large zone. As you move about the area you'll encounter no zone lines. The transition between areas will be seamless.
To demonstrate this, Grimwell took us to a high cliff on the island. Across the way we saw another island with activity on it. Even though that other island was technically in "another zone" we could swim straight there with no load screen if we chose.
This led to an explanation of another interesting design choice. Developers wanted to make sure you know where to go for adventure so many points of interest can be seen from a distance. Catch a glimpse of a ruin in the distance? Head on over and discover an instanced dungeon. See that spire beyond the hill? It's the location of an enemy encampment. No more wandering aimlessly looking for the next chunk of content.
Grimwell whisked us out of the new level one to twenty starter zone and brought us to the entry point for level 65+ players. We found ourselves on a dock in the Kylong Plains. For you old school EQ types, Kylong Plains is the Dreadlands. But now it includes the frozen Ryjesium Peaks, the forest of Stonewood and the beach of Kunzar Bay.
At the docks is a waystation with basic services for players such as vendors and bankers. This waystation is accessible to players immediately when they get off the boat from Qeynos or Freeport. But the other waystations sprinkled throughout Kunark will require some faction building on the players part before they can use the services provided.
When I asked if Druid and Sorcerers would be able have teleportation access in Kunark, I was told the Druid rings would work, but there was no confirmation on the spires necessary for Wizards and Warlocks to transport themselves or groups to the new lands.
Immediately from the docks, you can see a large tower in the distance that we know so well from days of old: Karnor's Castle. As I ran to it, I saw an example of the zone blending technology Grimwell mentioned. From afar, the Castle looked gloomy with a cloudy sky. But as I ran up to the front gates, the clouds dissolved away smoothly and the atmosphere changed to be a little brighter. I had passed over an invisible zoneline, but the blending of the two different environments was natural and well done.
I entered the Castle to see what had happened to it 500 years later since I last trained a long line of mobs to the zone line, sacrificing so many to save my own life. It used to be the home of a raid target, the Iksar Necromancer Venril Sathir, but he has moved on to Sebilis and the Drolvarg that once roamed the outer halls have now taken over the entire residence. My brief run through of the zone confirmed that the layout is exactly the same as in EverQuest, including the moat and stables, but sadly, no gigantic hands.
This zone is for levels 72-76 and is non-instanced, but capable of handling multiple groups comfortably. Which is good thing, because every level capped player in the game is going to be hitting this dungeon first on launch day.
Next, Grimwell took me through the Kunzar Jungle. This is a combination of the old Emerald Jungle and Trakanon's Teeth. The City of Mists was in the distance, but I didn't get a chance to check it out. Instead, I was led through one of those faction-based waystations and down into the depths of Iksar infested jungle ruins. There I found the entrance to another dungeon, the level 75-80 tuned Sebilis.
Sebilis was the the hardest 1 group zone in EverQuest. And at the end of its froglok-riddled corridors, lying in wait, was the undead dragon, Trakanon. This beast had taken Sebilis from the Iksar, but the lizard-folk have taken it back with the help of Venril Sathir.
It remains to be seen what new horrors lurk in the retaken Iksar capital as well as what has befallen Trakanon. You know, other than getting whacked every 3 days when he respawned in a room full of waiting and eager raiders. I'm looking at you, epic weapon seeking bards.
Next, we were taken to the Jarsath Wastes. This is a large, outdoor megazone for level 77-80 players. It contains the Skyfire Mountains, the Goblin Straits and the tomb city of Charasis, which holds the remains of Venril's wife, Drusella.
Running through the wastelands, I came across a fallen dragon. Carrion birds were circling it's carcass in a wild, free-wheeling pattern. Then, a bolt of flame ripped across the sky, hit the bird and it fell to my feet in a writhing mass of fire and feathers. WTF?
The dead dragon's corpse is next to a large fortification that's under assault. The defenders of the fort fire upon the birds as well as the amphibious force moving against it. It was an amazing display of surprising environmental design. I highly recommend taking a look. If you don't get eaten by a cactus.
Finally, I was taken to the most difficult raid zone in the expansion, the fabled Veeshan's Peak. This was also the ultimate raiding zone in the old world and now more so than ever. For not only does it hold many dragon raid targets, but it is also the new home of Venril Sathir. And due to Venril's assault on the children of the Wurm goddess, Trakanon has left Sebilis to defend Veeshan's Peak from the Iksar Legion.
From a design standpoint, this instanced raid zone is split into three wings. And it takes advantage of recent instancing technology Everquest II implemented in the Estate of Unrest. Essentially, the zone remembers how far you have cleared into it so that you may log out and return on another day to continue right where you left off.
SoE has recognized that not all players have 8 hours at a time to clear an entire zone. And they have applied this technology to 1 group instances as well. God bless them.
That was the end of my tour. But before Grimwell departed, I inquired about the Epic Weapon quests. These are a very long chain of quests that result in the ultimate weapon for every class. That's a tall order for a game that has 24 classes. Plus, there is a base version of each weapon attainable by 1 group and an enhanced version attainable by a raid party.
Sadly, I was told, the Epic Weapons will not be in the expansion when it launches on November 13. But considering players will probably have to be level 80 to even start the quests, SoE has some leeway to put the final polish on the quest lines before implementing them.
There were many zones, dungeons and raid instances I did not see as well as the new Sarnak player city Gorowyn. I'm looking forward to this expansion when it goes live not only for the nostalgia of revisiting places I enjoyed years ago in EverQuest, but to see what new and dangerous twists 500 years have added.
EverQuest II set a very high bar for excellence in their last major expansion, Echoes of Faydwer, and I expect nothing less from Rise of Kunark.