"Hello nerds. Look at your game, now back to me, now back to your game, now back to me. Sadly, your game isn't me, but your game could look like me if it stopped using that crappy 2000s-era shader and started using shader 3.0."

That's what she would say if she could say things other than her pre-programmed voice-over. With the release of Halas Reborn today, many players will be undoubtedly checking out the frozen north's new content overhaul. However, Halas Reborn didn't just stop with a simple content update. The storyteller system was introduced in this update, and the game's graphics had new life breathed into it via Shader 3.0.

So today, in honor of nerd day, let's take a look at what exactly Shader 3.0 does with the game's graphics and if it's worth all the hype.

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.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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