The Tattered Notebook: Changes in EverQuest II's Dark(light)

The Tattered Notebook  Changes in the Darklight
EverQuest II's Qeynos update is due in just a few weeks. In recent editions of The Tattered Notebook, we've looked at some of the bigger changes, like "play as your avatar" and "level agnosticism" in the dungeon maker as well as the Qeynos city revamp. But in the build-up to the patch's due date, there has been a quiet change at the low levels. The new-player experience received yet another reworking with a few small, yet potentially significant, changes.

In this week's Tattered Notebook, we'll spend some time looking at what's new for newbies in EverQuest II!

New choices

Over the years, there have been many changes to available starting areas for newly created characters. Originally, everyone started on the Isle of Refuge, but then it was split into a Freeport version (Outpost of the Overlord) and a Qeynos version (Queen's Colony). Then there were four new starting cities: Kelethin, Gorowyn, Neriak, and New Halas, so the old islands were removed and players were given the choice of starting area based on whether they chose to align with Qeynos or Freeport.

With the recent update, there are now only two starting-area choices for first-time players: New Halas for Qeynos-aligned characters, and Neriak for the Freeport-aligned. This seems to be SOE's way of bringing the new players together to build community. New players will still be able to choose from all of the starting cities with each additional character they create, so the devs aren't removing the cities, just consolidating the new player population into two zones rather than scattering newbies among all of the starting areas.

The Tattered Notebook  Changes in the Darklight
Because of the change, the team members did a little touch-up of Darklight Woods. They posted:
In Darklight Woods we did a fairly quick art pass -- because it wasn't up to the team's standards -- which in just a week has given it a lot more ambiance and character. This came about through a quick conversation where an artist and designer volunteered to take a week to see how we could bring a bit more sparkle to the newbie experiences. Itemization is improved and a new armor set was created for each area.
In fact, both Darklight and New Halas have received new armor sets for players who complete the questlines in each respective zone, which might even bring back veteran players looking for a fresh look for their characters.

Dark and light

Darklight Woods was not one of EQII's original zones; neither was Neriak, the Dark Elf starting city. In fact, the two zones didn't go live until after Echoes of Faydwer as a free content update. To me, both Darklight and Neriak are symbolic of the dichotomy within EQII. When the game launched, it seemed to try to distance itself from the familiar names and zones of EverQuest, so the low-level dungeon Fallen Gate was supposed to be the crumbled ruins of Neriak. Meanwhile, Nektulos Forest, the traditional stomping grounds of the EQ Dark Elves, was originally in the game, but it's Darklight, not Nek, that's now recognized as the Dark Elf starter area.

The Tattered Notebook  Changes in the Darklight
Darklight Woods already has a nicely tuned questline, so it didn't really need any content revamping, but it did have a newbie atmosphere that never seemed to tie in well with the malevolent qualities of the Dark Elves. The zone was actually well-laid out for new players; it's compact, flat, and open enough that you can move easily through the area and not get lost or hung up on a wall (something that Nektulos has been famous for in the past). But those newbie-friendly qualities made it almost too tame, so it's been touched up to give it a more sinister look.

Change in the air

The common landmarks and waypoints of the zone remain, but the environment has changed quite a bit. The woods are no longer empty areas with rotting tree trunks; they're now full of Kunark-style trees that give it an air of mystery and make the zone feel a bit larger. You can also see changes to the lighting in the zone, and the team has added environmental effects to certain notable landmarks. The undead area just outside the city, for example, is now surrounded by a haze of fog. And the mushroom bog has a sickly-green tinge in the air. I also noticed some ambient sounds that I hadn't come across before, such as the music when you arrive at the Wanderlust Fair. As for the armor vendors, there's one by the Wanderlust Fair in Darklight and one in town in New Halas, and they appear once you've completed the questlines. The new touches are nice, and I think for the amount of time the team spent on Darklight, it was worth it. It puts the zone on par with New Halas for look and feel. The art changes to Darklight and the new armor to these two starting areas should make both zones popular with new characters and hopefully make the zones feel more active and populated.

The Tattered Notebook  Changes in the Darklight
EQII has several years under its belt, so the fact that the team is still mindful of improving the starting experience is a nice sign of SOE's confidence in the game to still attract and retain players. The free-to-play transition brought in a wave of people looking to give the game a try, and even though it's probably subsided a bit, you still see new characters making their way around the starting zones. Things like art touch-ups and nice looking low-level armor might seem like minor tweaks, but these are nice "quality of life" improvements that don't require a ton of time and resources and can really improve the experience in game.

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.