I began my trip to Test by making my way to the Withered Lands. It's a simple trip thanks to the travel bells, and once you make it to Thurgadin, you can get a flight from the Combine Flight Master on the dock. At first glance, the Withered Lands are a far cry from the Wakening Lands of EverQuest. Gone are the dense jungles, replaced now by bare trees, their branches jutting out like spikes. On the map, the zone resembles a curvy snake, but it actually feels a lot more open than you'd think. There's a lot more use of the vertical space compared to Velious, and there were lots of nooks and grottoes that caught my eye as I flew through the zone. The Holgresh, for example, have dotted the cliffs with little cave-like homes. And as you venture farther out, the treetops are lined with drakes and other aggressive species, making it hard to set your direction and then go AFK to grab a soda while on autopilot.
Dragons, dragons, everywhere!
The zone is clearly affected by something evil, but there are a few pockets of calm where you can stop by and pick up quests. Also, near the New Combine Foothold where you first drop in, there's an open-world dungeon, called the K'Val Ruins, and it looks like it's designed for small hunting parties. It's guarded by Giants, and inside are a few nameds. Again, the dungeon makes great use of flight, and there are several shafts where you can fly up and down to various levels of the temple. You can fly safely through the zone because even though the giants inside are massive, the halls and rooms are even more impressive.
I left the ruins and made my way to the Eastern end of the zone, where Holgresh Pass snakes along and opens up into a swampy area called the Tears of Tunare. Up on a cliff nearby is another Sanctuary, and as I was heading over to get the discovery, I saw a gigantic flying dragon cross the sky and land on a cliff on the other side of the valley. I immediately did the logical thing: I flew straight toward it to get a better look. But all of a sudden I was thrown to the ground and unable to get back up in the air. I thought at first that I had aggroed a mob, but it seemed to actually come from the rainstorm that had moved in because I was getting hit with lightning, which caused a curse, and I kept getting a message that the skies aren't safe. I can't verify this for sure, but my best assumption is that it was the storm that prevented me from flying.
Of course, now that I was on the ground, things got a lot more dangerous, but little did I know exactly how treacherous it would get! Just a short distance away, I spotted Honvar the Earthcrasher, a X4 raid mob. My first reaction was "Yay! Overland raids are back!" followed by "I wonder how close I can get before he squishes me." I managed to get pretty darn close, and I even lived to get a few screenshots and slip away safely. He seems a bit stodgier than the dragons I'm used to seeing in EQ
and actually reminded me of a certain portly dragon from my other favorite game
. Nonetheless, he's a pretty good-looking dragon, and I'm hoping that his big belly means a bigger loot table.
The search for Skyshrine
I made my way back toward the Combine Foothold, stopping briefly at a spot called The Queen's Hives. These bees weren't the typical honey-bee breed that makes round little hives, like those we've seen in Drafling's Tower or in Kunark. These were more like cicada killer wasps
, and sure enough, there was a little tunnel leading down into the ground where they had burrowed their nest. I nearly went in but decided instead to search out Skyshrine.
You can see Skyshrine jutting out from the cliffs, and it's an impressive sight. But getting there isn't as clear. You actually need to get across the zone, and down in the Southeast area is an outpost called Alivan. From there, you can hail the Griffin master and ride a drake up to the zone in. Of course, you can fly across the Withered Lands to Alivan, but if you're afraid of getting thrown to the ground, you can also hail the stable masters at the various sanctuaries and ride on horse to Holgresh Pass, which is fairly close to Alivan.
If you're familiar with EverQuest's
Skyshrine, you probably have (not-so) fond memories of getting horribly lost in the maze-like dungeon. The zig-zag corridors are back, only this time, it's the site of turmoil, so everything's in disrepair and everywhere you turn there's an active battle going on. It's an enormous zone, and I felt like I had explored only a small amount of Skyshrine when I finally camped. There are three wings in all, and according to the official announcement, there is content for soloers, groups, and even raid parties. With all of that new content, this zone will probably be pretty popular when it goes live.
When the subject of Update 63 comes up, the usual questions tend to bubble up. What will gear look like? Are the new prestige points any good? What will tradeskillers get? How will the level increase affect content? While all of those are valid, I think what's notable is that the Withered Lands and Skyshrine will bring some real excitement for explorers like me. There are lots of interesting spots to investigate, and I love the fact that the team has made use of our ability to fly by putting pockets of content on cliffs and caves along the zone walls. We're starting to get more and more details revealed as launch date approaches, but in the meantime, I'm happy just poking around some really neat looking zones.
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 email@example.com.