Massively tours EverQuest's House of Thule expansion

The House of Thule. Not to be confused with the Summer Cottage of Thule, or the Awkwardly-Small-Yet-Expensive Inner City Apartment of Thule. Thule's house is a scary place, and it's a place that all denizens of Norrath shall soon be intimately familiar with.

Sony Online Entertainment recently gave us a deep tour of its 17th EverQuest expansion, and it's the first time I've set foot in pre-EQII Norrath in years. Luckily I can report that Sony isn't letting EverQuest lie on its laurels. While this next expansion may not sound like much (it's just a house... or is it?), it's packed with enough content to send me through a two-and-a-half hour long developer tour. Plus, I should mention that I only got to see about half of the new zones, and none of the new raids.

But why should we stand outside of this lovely home when there's so much madness hidden within? Come, journey with me, and lose all sense of what is reality.

But first, we introduce you to a smaller home -- yours!

So before we go visit Thule and get tips on how to control a transdimentional rift inside of our home, we need to start with one of the most important new features in this expansion pack: player housing.

It's surprising to me that EQ hasn't gotten some form of player housing before this expansion, but the devs have certainly gone of out their way to make up for it. EQ's new housing system is connected to the game's guild hall and offers players the chance to purchase a lot and decorate it as they wish. Everything from homes, to items, to pets, to other types of decor can be placed. If you're creative enough, you can even use the building blocks to create something else entirely! It's like big legos.

Each neighborhood in the game is a separate instance where you can purchase a lot in the middle of a zone. Lots are placed throughout the zone, so you can easily live next to a couple of your guildmates or next to people you've never met before in your life! Once you've purchased a plot (which can be paid for in platinum or in other types of in-game reputation marks) you're free to place items inside the borders of the plot as you wish. (During the tour, my plot cost 1,260 platinum, so you guys get an idea for pricing.)

Once a home is placed, you can decorate the inside very much like you can decorate the outside of your home. Homes currently come in only two varieties, a one-room and a three-room version. While I do think the lack of options for houses isn't so hot, what you can do with the inside of the homes is. Plus, we can be certain that SOE will be expanding the list of houses as the game continues to evolve.

Cribs special edition: Cazic-Thule

So, enough talk on the new housing options. Let's talk about the brand-new zones and how they're arranged. The expansion's story is centered on the leaders of the world falling into comas and brave adventurers trying to figure out what's wrong. The answers to this new plight are hidden in the mysterious (and creepy) House of Thule.

The House of Thule is truly the hub zone of this new expansion, so get use to navigating its hallways and finding all the hidden twists and turns within. Each one of the new raids and areas is accessed through different levels of the house, and that means completing quests and defeating monsters to access the more advanced levels of Cazic-Thule's home.

The design of the house combines the feel of a classic haunted house with touches of the surreal. The first floor of the house seems to fall flat with stereotypical repeating wallpaper and architecture until you realize that it actually holds a deadlier secret: hidden passageways. Because these sliding walls and hidden openings are made just like the rest of the house, it's very easy to get lost. The place is built like a maze, and a few sliding walls can easily throw off your sense of direction. I was briefly trapped in a hallway during the tour, as a wall had slid over the door I had entered through, making it look like another normal wall in the hallway. That was very, very cool, and a well-placed mouse-click to slide the wall back soon freed me from the accidental secret passage that I had walked through.

The upper levels of the house, though, begin to meld into the infinite expanse of time and space, leading to hallways that would make Salvador Dali proud. One hallway broke off into a floating expanse of stone and a mysterious glowing doorway while another darkened hallway played the infamous "never-ending hallway" joke on me. (I'll admit, I walked down it for quite a time until I realized I was constantly shoved backwards, but the visuals are done well enough to make it look like the door is moving farther away from you.)

Each one of these hallways leads into the dreams, er, nightmares of one of EverQuest's leaders. During the tour we were able to visit a variety of dreamscapes, and they were most impressive.

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