What is Shader 3.0 and why do I care?
So, let's talk about shaders for a second. To simplify matters without getting into technical jargon, a shader is a small program in your video card that helps determine how pixels are rendered on your screen. In EverQuest II, shaders are responsible for many things, including the lighting and shadows of the game. They determine how light falls onto a surface, or how a shadow looms in a corner from your current perspective.
Shader 3.0 is, obviously, a more updated version of Shader 1.0, which was introduced with video cards back during the nVidia Geforce 3 series. It's a bit more complex and allows developers to use more advanced coding to get certain things across in the game. Shader 3.0 can handle functions that Shader 1.0 cannot, and that makes your game look better.
Right now, in EQII, only the lighting has been updated. GPU shadows, reflections, water, spells and other elements aren't updated with the new code yet, but will be down the line.
Lastly, you care because this allows developers to do fancier graphical options in later updates. And everybody loves fancy graphics.
Does it really upgrade the game's look?
In my personal opinion -- yes. Yes it does. The effects it has on the look of the game range from subtle to staggeringly gorgeous, and it almost always makes an old area pop instead of look like a flat surface. Shader 3.0 adds that slight definition, that slight edge to everything that makes it very much appealing to look at.
One of my favorite aspects of Shader 3.0 is the lack of reduction of definition due to draw distance. No matter how far you are, Shader 3.0 will still render the same way, giving you a beautiful set of lighting, which in turn gives far away objects much more definition than they had before.
Take this picture of the crashed citadel in Freeport, for example.
Even when standing quite far away, the brickwork on the citadel is still apparent. The shadowing of the walls is also improved via the new lighting, as you can really get some nice dark spots next to the flames on the right hand side of the tower.
The most interesting thing here is that this tower is literally the same tower -- the same artwork. Nothing was updated except the lighting, yet these subtle tweaks make the game look much better than normal when it draws at a distance.
Sometimes, however, the difference between Shader 3.0 and 1.0 is almost negligible. Take this picture of an ogre standing in Freeport, for example.
While his main armor has some enhanced definition and the shadows on his face have been cleaned up, the differences are negligible. The most interesting thing in this picture (to me, at least) isn't the change on the ogre himself, but on the wall behind him. Once again, you can see the improvement of rendering under Shader 3.0 versus 1.0 -- the lack of detail loss to distance.
Is it all that and a bag of chips?
From what I've been playing with so far, I have to say I'm impressed. While, sure, it doesn't improve the graphics when you're up close to an object, it improves something far more important: the background.
When I'm playing a game, I want to be immersed in the setting. I want to feel like everything is alive, and EverQuest II
has always had the tendency to look "muddy" when it came to anything in the distance. This change brings out the details that always existed in the game, and increases the modernity of the game as a whole. I personally think it rivals Age of Conan
now, to some degree, and that makes me a happy, happy player.
Plus, I'm eager to see what they do with the other shaders down the road -- especially the water, spells, and GPU shadows. If a lighting update makes the game appear this much better, I'm excited to see what other tricks the EQII
team has up their sleeve.
||Massively's dark elf reporter around town, Seccia Ravenloft, is a committed follower of the Overlord. When not adventuring, Seccia prefers a large ale and the company of kittens. She can be reached in Norrath via the Norrathian Express Mail (Server: Lucan D'Lere), or via her human friend, Seraphina Brennan, at seraphina AT massively DOT com.