While we have to wait a bit longer to hear more about the Aerakyn (the new winged dragonkind race) and what special goodies will be included in the collector's edition, the tour of the zones allowed me to bask in the beauty of the artwork while weaving through dinosaurs, pygmies, and my favorite-yet-long-lost starting zone. And it definitely made me even more excited for the upcoming release of Altar of Malice!
A whole new world
Although Norrath is still Norrath, this next expansion actually gives the feeling that it is a new world. That's because of the enhanced graphical quality that was made possible thanks to advancements in technology, specifically the new terrain tool the devs are using. "There are a few features that have been missing for a number of years graphically that we are also tuning again now that we have them: things like sun shafts and point lights," Longdale told me. "We're really excited. It really makes a difference to the zones and how they appear; it feels like a different game."
As we skimmed over the zones during the tour, I really could see the improvements; the environments built with this new terrain tool were definitely more realistic-looking. While flitting over the isle of Dshinn, I admired the color and depth of the terrain and the flora as it swayed in the breeze as the dinosaur-esque behemoths lumbered along. Refering to the region we were in, Longdale explained, "Here, one thing that you don't see in our other zones is our ability to paint blends and variety like you see here. These are all really detail painted by our artists and gives us a lot more realistic-looking environments. The flora also [devs] paint, which is an ability we never had [before]. We're excited for people to explore here."
Like previous expansions, AoM will build up a new signature storyline, and the first place players will visit in that story is where it all began way back in the day: the Isle of Refuge. Old-time vets have many a memory of this place, and my excitement to see that long-lost land was palpable. I was not disappointed. There were plenty of familiar features still in this place, from stone arches to the island's paths. Even the mages tower is still present, albeit in an eery and exploded state. And therein lies the whole story!
One wonderful result of all this is that AoM ties up an annoying loose end; the reasoning for why players no longer travel through the Isle of Refuge is finally explained. That may not be a big deal for some, but it is definitely welcome to some of us. it as bad enough to have a beloved place disappear, but the lack of any inkling about why made it all the worse.
Pirates, pygmies, and dinosaurs, oh my!
With two overland zones, six solo dungeons, six raids, and 15 heroic dungeons, there's much more to AoM than just a return to Isle of Refuge. I got a brief glimpse of many of these new areas that were filled with dancing Troll Pirates, the spider-bear urzarachs, and the lumbering dinosaur-esque deinodons along with the Pygmies that worship (and are food for) them. Some places we buzzed by on the tour included Brokenskull Bay, the city of Ghorkoll in Kithacor, and Grimshales, a massive shard of Luclin that landed upside down in the sea and houses Ssraeshza Temple. Just wait until you see the entrance to the Ossuary of Malevolence, aka the Cathedral of Bone. Hooper noted how it was based off the bone churches of eastern Europe, and it is definitely perfect for this Halloween season.
One of the highlights was the usable zip lines in Brokenskull Bay. We already knew that the area would capitalize on verticality, but Hooper emphasized that there were places that can be access only via these zip lines, exploring, and dropping down from various ledges. In fact, apparently there is hidden stuff (including a painting of a dev who worked on the zone!) that can be discovered only by exploring in this way. If folks think this zone is a bit confusing, know that it was designed specifically that way to amp up the exploration value of the zone. Also of note? Brokenskull Bay is just one of the two contested zones.
As mush as my Swashbuckler-y self can't wait to dive into that den of pirates, I am also eager to explore the dungeon Zavith'loa: The Lost Caverns more on my own. In the words of Hooper, it's a "Journey to the Center of the Earth-type dungeon." There are no shrooms larger than the shrooms in this zone! Hooper also described how the residents of this dungeon are lavamancers, using magic and lava to carve out their living spaces.
During the tour, Hooper and Longdale also mentioned the changes coming to the crit system, reminding me that crits will be getting legendary, mythical, and fabled levels. In essence, players are getting critical crits. In addition, the expansion is bringing tons of independent, stand-alone tradeskill quest lines that help augment the main story.
Decorators will likely be happy with the new housing items, including a replica of that massive glove that depicts the world of Norrath. Sadly, when the devs tried to show it off in game, the globe was not there! Bug report number one for the tour.
Other additions coming to the game but not necessarily in the expansion are a way to swap between gear sets with a single button press, more mercenaries, and the next tier of spells: ancient.
Does this new expansion sound intriguing to you? You don't have to take my word for it; you can dive in and experience some of it for yourself right now. Although the expansion is not available on live servers until November 11th for All Access members (before it releases to the public on November 25th), All-Access players can jump into the beta right now to test things out. By testing, players have the chance to earn a fiery hellhound mount for their live accounts. The current focus in testing, if you're wondering, is on the overland areas and solo dungeons, so go give them a spin!