Freeport Rain
For months, EverQuest II fans have been patiently waiting for the launch date of the latest expansion, Age of Discovery. Fortunately, the wait is over: SOE has announced that Tuesday, December 6th is the official live date for EQII's free-to-play transition, the Age of Discovery, and the Freeport Reborn game update (GU62). Executive Producer Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson and EQII Associate Producer Emily "Domino" Taylor both took time to give Massively a tour of some of the new features, so read on for an up-close look at Beastlords, the new Freeport, mercenaries, and the dungeon maker, and check out some new screenshots in our gallery below! Beastlords

According to Georgeson, Beastlords are re-imagined from EQ, with more activity and interactivity. The team wanted to experiment with a more active style, one in which players have to watch combat more closely. The devs also wanted to make sure that the 25th class is significantly different enough to make it fresh. It's basically a cross between the Shaman and Monk classes, and it uses chainmail. What really makes it stand out, though, is that most of its combat centers around the warder.

Warder gameplay is based on two things: taming and training. You tame creatures in the wild and then spend time training them; the only critters you can't tame are insects, named mobs, and sentient creatures. Beastlords can use the ability Beastmaster's Sight to see what's tame-able. Critters that are eligible are outlined with a blue aura. To tame an animal, you have to attack it, get its attention, knock it down to half health, and then use the tame warder ability.

Once the creature is tamed, you get an ability to summon that creature from its family. Within each family, there are several different creatures, and when you tame a new creature from that family, your warder will then take on that appearance. There are 16 different families, and each family has special abilities to help you with whatever role you might need. The longer you spend time with each family, the more affinity you build up with it, making its creatures stronger.

In addition, there are warder specializations that you pick up over time (similar to AAs). The more that you use a warder, the more points you'll accrue. You can then spend those points on new abilities.

In combat, you can assign pet-type commands, like attack and defend. But the warder will also look for weaknesses on the target, and once it does, it will emit a special effect. You now have the ability to use the advantages on your hotbar; they do more damage and build up savagery. Once that savagery gets to a certain level, you can use your primal attacks. The longer you wait before using the primal, the more powerful it becomes. So if you're patient, and the fight is long, you can really unleash some powerful primals.

Beastlord fighting naga
Freeport

Next, Georgeson and Taylor took me to Freeport to show me the revamp. A quick look at the map shows that all the areas of Freeport are now combined into a single zone. In addition, the team did texture and lighting overhauls to make it a hub that people will keep coming back to, while still maintaining the qualities that made Freeport familiar.

In addition, the devs revamped the city's content, making it scale dynamically and tying it more closely to the storyline of Lucan's return. There are unique race and archetype quests so that players can replay arcs on alts and still see new content and fresh storylines. The hamlets are now instanced zones, so as you do the quests, the neighborhoods react to your choices and change as a result. The citadel has now been repaired and is accompanied by some smaller "overwatch" towers that serve as Lucan's eye on the sky. They can be seen in Freeport and even out in the Commonlands, giving Freeport even more of a presence.

Just outside Freeport in the Commonlands is new a level 20 public quest, which gives new players a chance to participate in the open-group style of dynamic gameplay that higher-level players have experienced in Velious.

Mercenaries

There are five different types of mercenaries: tank, melee DPS, healer, caster DPS, and support. But the types of mercenaries also differ based on where and which ones you hire. So you could hire a healer who might have a lot of buffs and heals but not a rez, or another one that might not have as many buffs but can rez. To see what a mercenary has, you can see the icons of the mercenary's abilities in a window; it's wise to shop around since you can only hire one of them at a time. Once you hire a mercenary, you pay by the hour, and he does take a cut of the loot, but you can keep him indefinitely as long as you have the money. You can suspend him and bring him back or fire him and hire another one.

Mercenaries will greatly aid solo and small group content in the game. They were added to EQII for the same reasons they were added to EQ: They will help new players who are leveling up but might not be able to find a full group, and they will help solo players who might have trouble with more challenging content. You can change the merc's name and customize his look by opening up your character window and dragging items onto the paperdoll window for your mercenary. And don't worry about losing gear if you dismiss the merc -- you are not actually giving the items, just the appearance. And if you re-summon the merc, he'll appear with the same clothes you put on him before. Mercs can't enter Battlegrounds yet, but that's something the team intends to do. As for dueling, we gave it a try with our mercenaries and had mixed results. Georgeson's level 90 merc happily smacked me down, but my level 50 merc refused to attack, possibly because of the level difference.

As for the concern about mercs stealing groups from players, Georgeson said that mercs were designed to be less skilled than players, so that they'll be helpful in a pinch but won't outplay people. Mercs are available in town, but there are also special mercenaries found out in the world, mercs that appear only for a certain amount of time and can be hired for a very high price. They'll be characters from the lore of the game who show up as mercs for an adventure or two and then disappear. In the future, players might even come across mercenaries in dungeons or in raids. And some of the more powerful NPCs will require players to be a certain level or faction before they'll agree to hang around and work for them.

EQII dungeon maker
Dungeon maker

Georgeson explained that a big part of this expansion will be customizability, and that's probably best demonstrated through the new dungeon maker feature. Players can open a window that allows them to access dungeon map layouts, and then enter them and add decorations, mob spawners, and special features. You can set access similar to houses, so players can set each other as trustees and work together to build a dungeon. Players have a "toolbox" that includes spawners, effects, and decor objects. To decorate, you select the item and place it just as you would an item in your home. When asked about whether players will be able to craft items to place in dungeons, Georgeson said the team plans to add that in the future, but for now you get items from dungeon maker vendors.

Spawners give lots of options, and when you select a mob, you can choose from static, roamer, and patrol. Static mobs stay where they're placed, taming mobs wander the area near their placement, and patrolling mobs will path between their placement point and a patrol point that you mark with a banner (the banner disappears once you mark the spot). In essence, you can bring a room to life. All dungeon maker dungeons are at the same level but will scale up and down depending on the number of players who enter the dungeon.

Effect objects give the designers a chance to tweak the challenge of their dungeons. The campfire that I added to our dungeon, for example, changed the range at which mobs will assist each other, basically establishing social aggro for that encounter. You can also place the exit object anywhere in your dungeon, and players will only receive rewards when they reach the exit object. That means players can abbreviate the dungeon if they choose to, but as Georgeson pointed out, the decorative objects have collision, so players can make it quite a challenge for participants to reach the end. If you publish a dungeon and make a mistake, you can choose to unpublish it, edit it, and republish it, but you'll lose any ranks that you've accumulated, and if you had hall of fame status, you'll drop off until you get back on the leaderboard for at least a day. For the rankings, people need to continuously go back to it and rate it, and they will be able to vote on a number of categories (similar to the housing leaderboard). In addition, each dungeon will be assigned challenge rating points based on the values of the various mobs, decor, and effects that you place inside (and location will affect their value as well).

Players will start with three basic layouts and can collect new maps by finding them out in the world. Players who successfully complete a dungeon will earn special dungeon tokens, which can be used in the marketplace just for dungeon maker items, including consumable potions, weapons, armor. In addition, builders get rewards based on how many people have gone through their dungeon and how popular it is. They can purchase new spawners, new layouts, gear for their characters, etc. Players will be able to access that from the regular marketplace interface under a new category named "Dungeon Maker." Eventually there will be SC items, but right now they'll only be purchased with tokens.

We finished the tour by playing part of a dungeon as one of the various adventurers whom you become while you're in the dungeon. Each adventurer has certain skills in which he specializes, and once you choose one, you can't switch until you exit. Georgeson said the team is still looking into ways to allow players to play as themselves, but the main issue is balance. The devs needed to have everything scale to a single level, but because the mentoring system isn't really balanced, they would have needed to either revamp the entire mentoring system or find a way to make it fair to everyone, regardless of level. They're looking into ways to do that and said they have plans to tackle it in the future.

Many thanks to Dave Georgeson and Emily Taylor for showing us some of the new features in Age of Discovery! Launch date is December 6th, and you can find pre-order details at the EverQuest II official site.

This article was originally published on Massively.