Darkness Dawns takes the EverQuest II story to new heights today

EQII  embargo Tue  1 pm edt

While many eyes are turned toward Las Vegas in anticipation of big reveals next week, EverQuest II fans get to sink their teeth into a meaty update to help them pass the time until the convention. Darkness Dawns, the continuation of the story developed throughout the previous Scars of the Awakened update, hits servers today.

What in GU67 could possibly distract players from thoughts of SOE Live? How about four fabled Desert of Flames dungeons retooled for the max-level crowd, a more flexible AA system, new PvP rewards, more tradeskill apprentice items, three new contested god avatars, a special raid arena, improved inventory management (yay for personal depots!), daily objectives, and -- in the words of Producer Holly Longdale -- "one of most epic events in game."

Sounds like a bit to take in, doesn't it? And that's just scratching the surface. Thanks to a tour hosted by Longdale, Creative Director Akil Hooper, Lead Designer Kyle Vallee, and Designer Carlos Mora, I was treated to a preview of EQII's newest features and learned a few extra tidbits to pass along as well as the update trailer (which you can see here as well!).

Working together for Norrath
A signature story of strange bedfellows

Did you ever think you'd actually see Overlord Lucan D'Lere and Queen Antonia Bayle collaborating? Together? Well, you've heard the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"; thanks to the threat from The Awakened, the great prismatic dragon Kerafyrm (just wait until you see the size of him!) whom The Ages End Prophesy foretold would destroy the world, the two band together with other rulers to lead the new Combine army in the defense of Norrath.

In the the expanded signature storyline of Darkness Dawns, players will get to meet these leaders of the army upon delivering a crucial item of power. The moment, however, is interrupted by an uninvited guest and players get to witness the game's epic event mentioned earlier. Longdale noted that it took three months to nail down the animations in that event alone, so when you reach it, take note and enjoy the details!

Revisiting old haunts

Besides a signature storyline that moves players forward, GU 67 also takes players back -- back to the first expansion, specifically. Darkness Dawns reintroduces four familiar dungeons from Desert of Flames, refurbished as fabled dungeons for the highest of levels. Who says you can't go back again? But don't think nostalgia alone is the reason players will head back to long-forgotten lands; these new instances will provide level-appropriate loot, including upgraded gear based on the original pieces.

Walk down memory lane in fabled versions of Clefts of Rujark, Scornfeather's Roost, Pedestal of Sky (which is geared towards raiders), and Djinn Masters Prism. The former two are accessed via Sinking Sands and Pillars of Flame, whereas the latter two must be entered through the Fabled Dungeon Portal located in Pillars of Flame. Don't forget to grab some souvenirs/loot while you're there!

Avatars of the gods
Choose your (deity) battles

In addition to these features, players will also have access to a new raid arena where 24-man forces will get to contend against the avatars of the gods -- one at a time, of course! Vallee explained that as not all guilds engaged and defeated the contested god avatars, the devs created the Arena of the Gods to give more players a chance at the experience. In this arena mode, groups can select which avatar to summon and face. Once one is dispatched, the group can select another and continue. A five-day lockout timer is initiated once the group leaves the arena.

Raiders who may be worried about having the accomplishment of conquering a contested avatar diminished needn't be; the loot tables between the arena and the contested avatars are completely different with no cross-over. For instance, the both contested and arena avatars have their own tradeskill apprentice drop. And think of it this way: more people learning the battles may result in the contested avatars actually being contested again!

Speaking of contested god avatars, the new update introduces three more -- Prexus, Solusek Ro, and Drinal -- bringing the total number of raid targets to nine. Defeating the contested avatars will give players items that can be taken to heralds in the cities. The heralds will then give rewards and broadcast your guild's name as well as give buffs (in your name) to everyone who enters the city.

Character Advancement Templates
The CAT is out of the bag

The next part of the tour focused on Character Achievement Templates, or CATs. Previously, players had access to only two achievement templates without resorting to respeccing, and that's only if the player owned an Achievement Mirror to store one in. Hooper detailed the new system which gives players much more flexibility and the ability to use different builds on the fly.

There are three types of templates available to players: Server templates built by the team (separated into group, solo, and PvP, and geared toward those leveling up), personal server templates (those of a player's own making), and templates stored on the players' hard drive. The templates can be now saved and sent to friends. This could be especially helpful to new or returning players who may like some guidance on where to focus their AA points.

An important distinction about this new system is that there is now a build mode so that players can see exactly where all their points can go before actually spending them without going to a third-party site. Templates can also be changed anytime, anywhere, allowing players to tailor their build to their current needs without needing to travel back home to their mirrors. Another bonus -- unlimited free respecs! And extra extra good news: your current template/s carry over to the new system so you don't have to reallocate points like after previous changes in the system. Thank the heavens!


An objective a day

Next up was a focus on the new daily objective system. Vallee described this new system, which is found located in a fourth tab in the quest journal. There, players can see the various tasks that can be completed for reward. To complete the daily objective, players must complete two out of any of the adventure crafting, or PvP choices offered.

The idea of these objectives is that they should be completed in the course of regular daily play. They are very generic and designed to be completed without players going too far out of their way. As Longdale put it, "We want to reward players simply for playing." The reward is loyalty points, which can be exchanged for various goodies like popular veteran rewards and old rewards from live events.

If you just suddenly froze at the idea of doing daily objectives on 15 different alts, you can relax; the objectives and the loyalty tokens are account-wide, meaning that all characters can work to achieve the two necessary objectives and all can spend the tokens. In other words, if you have one toon that crafts, s/he can complete a crafting objective, and then you can log into an alt to complete a PvP objective to equal the two needed for the day. If by chance you have only part of the objectives finished, the whole kit and kaboodle will roll over to the next day awaiting completion.

My inventory thanks you!

And finally, among the other odds and ends of new PvP rewards and new high-end tradeskill apprentice goodies and a new Heritage Quest (all of which are detailed in the patch notes), one other very welcome change is being added today: personal depots! Already available for guilds, these specialized boxes will give individuals the ability to clear their bags and banks of certain items and put them all in one place in their home. Six different personal depots will be available, making storage of white adornments, ammo, collectables, food and drink, lore and legend items, fuel, and poison, potion and totems that much easier. Those of us who have whole alts dedicated to holding any of these items are now free to use the bank and bag space for other goods and merchandise, like loot from the new dungeons!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
This article was originally published on Massively.