The Tattered Notebook: EQII's hidden gems for low-level explorers

Forest Ruins
One of the things I've enjoyed with the new EverQuest II update is how fun it is to get out there and explore the new zones. The Withered Lands has lots of nooks to check out, like the Holgresh caves up along the cliffs and the ruins just outside the Combine Foothold. As much as I like epic storylines and lofty challenges, sometimes it's fun to just mount up and scout out some really interesting locations.

GU63, however, really doesn't offer any new content for lower-level players, and it's hard for someone under level 90 to get around the Withered Lands and Skyshrine safely. But one of the reasons there's not much new content at the lower levels is that past updates have added in so much already that there's almost too much to see and do. Queue up the Bud Light music, for in today's Tattered Notebook, we salute you, Mr. Low-Level Player. You tirelessly work through the Golden Path, but you deserve some cool hunting spots and gorgeous vistas. Below the cut are some of my favorites!

EQII Thundering Steppes
Thundering Steppes Bridge Keep

The wooden gate along the riverbed in the Thundering Steppes is a terrific example of how far we've come when it comes to travel. Previously, the gate would close every night, and players were locked out unless they learned to speak Barbarian to talk their way past the guards. Sure, you could bypass it by running along the riverbank to access some of the paths farther up, but that usually resulted in a parade of undead chasing you along the way. In a sense, I miss needing to watch the clock so I didn't get locked out, but at the same time, I'm glad I no longer have the long wait or the dangerous death-run when I did end up on the wrong side of the gate.

EQII Forest Ruins
Forest Ruins

Here's how much of a hidden gem this zone is: It's not even part of the bell system! The only way to get to it is to cross through Willow Wood and zone through the gate in the back of the zone. The Forest Ruins was one of a handful of starter hunting areas that have basically gone unused after the revamping of the starting cities and the rise of the Golden Path. But this zone is one of my favorites, and it's probably worth checking out if you haven't, since it could change or even disappear after the upcoming Qeynos revamp.

It's not a large zone, but it was a very dynamic zone for its time. In its heyday, it was full of players scrambling around killing mobs, seeking shinies, and harvesting nodes. But in the middle was a walled-off area of ruins, and you'd often see players exiting through the gate with a huge train of mobs running behind.

My favorite aspect of the zone, though, was that there were two looming threats that could completely change your hunting experience. One was the Basalt Watcher, a huge demon that sat on the wall in the middle of the ruins. The other was Captain Riplung and his Blackfurl pirates. At a certain point during the day, the Basalt Watcher would spring to life and attack anything near it in the ruins. And at night, the pirates would storm the beach and charge the gate, taking over the ruins until daybreak. The zone was pretty chaotic in general, but with these random dynamic events, you always had to stay on your toes.

EQII Fear
Feerott Shard of Fear portal

I wasn't ever a huge fan of the Feerott because the winding paths and dense jungle made it annoyingly difficult to get around, and even after the team streamlined the zone paths a bit, I tended to avoid the zone. But while I didn't approve of the twisty travel routes, I always felt SOE nailed the look and feel of the portal to Fear. Just as in the original EverQuest, the portal is tucked away through a hard-to-find entrance, and you have to get through a maze that's guarded by spectres. The portal itself really conveys that same sense of both awe and terror at what lies inside. While you can't bind-rush the EverQuest II version of the Shard of Fear, it's still a nice trip down memory lane.

EQII Zek
Zek catapult

What I always loved about Zek was that it was a change from the pastoral zones like Antonica and Enchanted Lands. You arrive inside a camp area with an immense wooden gate shielding you from the orcs on the other side, and as soon as you exit the relative safety of your confines, you're plunged into the middle of active, constant danger. But what I particuarly liked was the catapult in the fort, which would hurl you all the way across the zone to Deathfist Citadel. We've seen that mechanic used in other areas later on, like in the Moors, but this was the first time in EQII that I recall using Gnomish technology for risky travel, and it was definitely my first brush with flying in game.

EQII Mara
Island of Mara

This isn't a low-level zone per se, but the Village of Shin is a safe area, and since it's now used a lot by crafters of all levels, it's one of my favorite low-level spots to visit when I'm looking for a nice, scenic break. The content in the adventure pack has been somewhat overlooked, but I think it's one of the prettiest zones in game. The city layout and rice paddies give it a nice touch of feudal Japan, but my favorite spot is the pig race down along the river. I never win, but it's fun to watch the piglets stumble and wiggle their way to the finish line, and even though the rewards aren't that great, it's a fun little diversion from hunting.

These are just a few of my favorite nostalgic hidden gems, and while they might not give out amazing rewards, oodles of experience, or achievement unlocks, they were always fun areas when I was leveling up, and I think they show how far the game has come while sticking to its roots. What are your favorite places to explore in the early levels? Add your ideas below!

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.