Why the change in direction, you may be wondering, and whatever happened to my exiled ratonga wizard? Well, I've spent the last couple of weeks betraying him and have hit something of a roadblock, both on his betrayal quest and with regard to his leveling pace. Consequently, I figured, what better time to roll up what is likely to be the first of many alts and take a small break from my main? Character attention spans have never been my strong point, I'm afraid. Never fear, though; more ratty adventures are in the offing. For now, your captain (and mine) as we navigate the treacherous terrain of newbville is a dark elf shadowknight. Not the most original combination, I'll grant you, but he sure looks cool.
Without further ado, turn the page and let us dive deep into the Darklight Wood.
Introduced in May 2007, the Darklight Wood is an evil-aligned starting zone nestled in between Nektulos Forest and the Commonlands on the continent of Dlere. The Wood is something of a suburb to Neriak, the city of hate and racial capital of the Tier'dal (Norrath's version of the traditional dark elf). The Darklight was also the opening salvo of SOE's bid to revamp EverQuest II's starting experiences and, now that the option to start in Freeport has been removed, a likely destination for many evil newbs.
The zone itself is quite large and, though the terrain is fairly consistent throughout (i.e., you won't find anything other than forests), it manages to give a great sense of scale. Freshly minted characters will open their eyes in the small village of Hate's Envy in the zone's southeast corner. The tiny settlement has everything a growing adventurer needs, including equipment vendors, a bank, a mender (who will also start you on your first crafting assignment) and of course, quests galore.
Quests seem to be the operative buzzword for Darklight (and probably all of the newish starter zones, for that matter). In comparison to the Commonlands, Freeport, and Qeynos newb experiences that I recall from several years ago, there is markedly less mob grinding this time around. In fact, I dinged 20 without grinding once; my entire progression experience was quest-driven from start to finish. Once you finish up the quests scattered about inside Hate's Envy (as well as poke your head into the nearby cave called the Sablevein Tear), you'll want to head up the road a piece to T'vatar Post. Before you do though, be on the lookout for an elemental summoned core drop from the mobs just outside of Hate's Envy. Examining it will start you on your first Lore and Legend quest, which will ultimately lead to a special elemental attack as well as a lore book and trophy that can be placed in your house or guild hall.
Upon arrival at T'vatar Post you'll encounter a barrage of new quests. You'll also meet quite a lot of fully voiced NPCs with lengthy explanations (and even lengthier names, Dhaund Z'Kilndar, really?) for the errands they're sending you to complete. The lore here is a lot of fun, and though many players probably skip through the voice dialogue, it remains a nice touch that sets EQII apart from other MMORPGs (at least until The Old Republic debuts). Running through all of the available quests at T'vatar Post will carry you well past 10th level, and you should also start earning alternate advancement (AA) points at this time as well. Due to the quests and plentiful mobs throughout the zone, you may even want to adjust your XP slider to give you more AA points (and less XP). You can always mob grind near the top end of the zone if you come up a little short of level 20, and personally I prefer accumulating as much AA experience as fast as I possibly can. Your mileage may vary of course.
Once you've completed your duties at T'vatar Post, the dark elves will send you west towards Wanderlust Fair which is, you guessed it, the next quest hub. At this point, hopefully you're somewhere between levels 11 and 15. If not, spend a few moments mowing down the mobs around the Sableflame Crater, then head up the road to the northwest and prepare to top off your quest journal. From here, you'll journey back to the Crater, south to Nightshadow Bog, and north to the Nerian highlands (where you should find the werewolf Lore and Legend quest starter).
After Wanderlust Fair, you'll be directed further west and north to the Shadow Oak, which represents Darklight's final questing hub. You should be approaching 20 at this point, provided you haven't spent all your time maxing the AA slider. If you have, it's no big deal; you can mob grind a bit if the quests don't take you all the way. In addition to the quests at the Oak, you'll want to visit the Tower of Bone (to the south) for the skeleton Lore and Legend starter, and you can also take a peek at the Funnelweb Depths for some additional experience and quite a few creepy-crawly arachnids. I'm told by more seasoned players that none of the rewards here are particularly worthwhile, so once you hit 20 and are happy with your AAs, it's time to move on to Neriak (for which you should have a couple of delivery quests in your journal, if you've talked to everyone). From there, it's on to bigger and better adventures past the veil of the Darklight Wood.
At the end of the day, the Darklight Wood is a fantastic introduction to the world of Norrath, whether you're a true newb or a returning player. One thing to note is that the area is completely soloable, so if you've come to EQII to experience its vaunted group game, you may be initially disappointed (take heart though, as you still have 70 levels to go, and your choices beyond this point are numerous when it comes to play styles). Darklight is appropriately huge but also features a natural progression path that is extremely well-designed. By the time you've exhausted all of the quests, you'll likely be past 20th level, in possession of a good amount of AA points, and ready to take your first steps into the larger world.
Jef Reahard may be an eternal EverQuest II newb, but he writes a weekly column about the game anyway, through the eyes of a Ratonga Wizard (or any one of 3,720 other alts). If it has to do with the huge and ever-expanding world of EQII, it's been jotted down in The Tattered Notebook. Send Ratonga fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.