EverQuest II Extended New Halas
It's been almost a year now since EverQuest II Extended was officially launched, and I've resented every minute of its existence. From the moment it was first announced, on the eve of Fan Faire 2010, EQ2X has been my own personal Newman of the MMO world. It dominated the discussions at Fan Faire and put a damper on everyone's fun. And once it launched, it always seemed to be at the root of every problem. New invites to our guild on the live server dropped to just one in eight months (and that one invite was a real-life friend of a guildmate). The promised marketing campaign for EQII live got the shaft in favor of pushing the new free-to-play service. Forum snafus during the Velious beta were all because of the EQ2X forums. While thousands and thousands crammed the Freeport server and frolicked for free, I languished on the live server and even began to empathize with the Grinch.

But now that EQ2X is almost a year old, I decided it's time for me to bury the hatchet and pay a visit to the free-to-play server. I rolled up a new character on a bronze account, and over the next several weeks, I'll be taking a close look at EverQuest II Extended. It's a journey in EQII free-to-play through the eyes of a longtime player. Read on for my first arrival!

Bronze newb

First off, I have to say that the streaming client that's available on the site is surprisingly fast and ran very smoothly. I've always used the Station Launcher for my SOE gaming, but any time I wanted to play a new game on my All-Access account, I'd have to wait hours for the complete download. The streaming client had me at the character select screen in just a couple of minutes, and getting players into the game that quickly is an important feature for free-to-play games.

I started my character selections and realized quickly that my first choice, Monk, was not included on my Bronze account. Basically, there are only two choices for each archetype: plate tanks and healers (Guardian/Berserker and Ttemplar/Inquisitor), Swashbuckler/Brigand for scouts, and Wizard/Warlock for mages. I've always preferred a more in-your-face style of combat, so I chose the Berserker.

EQ2X racial choicesAs for the races, I was limited to just four neutral races: Human, Barbarian, Erudite, and Half Elf. I've always liked the punky, rebellious quality of Half Elves, so I had no trouble with my decision. Next was the choice of starter cities, which were Neriak (home of the Dark Elves), Kelethin (Elven city in the trees), Gorowyn (original home of the Sarnak), and New Halas. You really can't go wrong with any of the four choices, but I chose New Halas because I like the quest line a little better and I feel it's easier to navigate. Last but certainly not least, I chose my character name: Mmognaut. With a click of a button I was off to play free!

As I zoned into the world and saw what my character looked like, I had my first urge to open up the Marketplace window and burn some Station Cash. The look of the starter gear is not horrible, but it's pretty bland overall. I resisted temptation, though, and instead found my nice green Journeyman's Cloak in the /claim window. For those new to EQII, there are actually quite a few nice items that you can claim right away, ranging from house items to helpful potions to the classy green cloak with a 25% run-speed buff.

The evil cash shop

I ran a few starter quests but finally broke down and decided to spend some time looking over the Marketplace. It's the main reason there's a wall between the Extended server and live servers -- it has a "more robust" offering of items. But could there ever be a way to reconcile the two Marketplaces to enable free-to-play and subscription servers to merge into one? Surprisingly, the primary source of conflict, stat-based gear, isn't even there. There's only appearance armor and weapons with stats so low that not even a newbie would wield them, and the only equipment listed is ammo (which did actually cause a furor when it was accidentally listed on the live server Marketplace at one time).

The mastercrafted armor that was once available was actually removed a few weeks ago in an attempt to prevent fraud that was associated with it. It's interesting that it's gone, and yet there's no hue and cry from the Extended community pining for its return. Life seems to go on quite well without it, and you almost have to wonder if it's better to keep things as is, for a couple of obvious reasons. One is that there's a pretty robust community there, and lots of crafters who can supply affordable mastercrafted armor to players, thus removing the need for the cash shop option. The other is that if there were ever a chance of merging the Extended servers with the live servers, the stat gear would have to go. Since it's gone already, that makes it that much more easier to do the deed.

The other major difference I noticed was that harvestables are for sale. This would probably cause a lot of drama if it were brought over to live servers because people would argue that it would undercut the market. But if you consider the fact that every day, tons of little harvest bots are being sent out by their guild hall owners to collect harvestables, it actually doesn't seem to be that big of an issue if it were available on the live servers.

EQ2X New Halas
Other than that, most of the rest of the marketplace is made up of vanity items, mounts, or consumables. Some of the consumables are already in the Live Server Marketplace, but others might pose problems, like research reducers and stat potions. If there were a merge of the two servers, some or all of these might need to go, at least for the short term. And then the question is, how much of a revenue hit would SOE take if it did remove them? How popular are they and how much would they be missed by the Extended community? And if they were brought over to the live servers, how many people would quit as a result?

So far in my time on the Extended server, being bronze (and I don't mean Jersey Shore bronze) isn't that much of an inconvenience, but we'll see next week. I have a feeling that inventory space will be an issue for me sooner rather than later if my live server bank is any indication. Right now with my starter bags I have one 24-slot bag and one four-slot bag. While I can upgrade both of those bags, I'm still limited to only two bag slots total, which can be a huge pain while out in the field. There's a tidal wave of stuff to collect, especially at the early levels, like harvesting materials, shinies, lore and legend items, spells, quest items, and regular loot.

I plan to continue my time on the Extended server over the course of the next several weeks and months, so if you've been curious about EQII and would like to check things out, look for me on Mmognaut. I'm the one with the bland armor who's face-down in the snow.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.