Norrathian Notebook: First impressions of EQII's Altar of Malice

Norrathian Notebook:  First impressions of EQII's Altar of Malice

Although Altar of Malice has been available to All Access subscribers for two weeks, EverQuest II's 11th expansion just opened up to everyone on Tuesday. That makes this a great time to share my initial impressions of the new lands and new content. Mind you, these are literally only first impressions: I am not one to blow through the content at a break-neck speed just so I can consume it all in as little time as possible. That's relegated to pecan pie. MMOs aren't a race to me. I prefer to gradually savor the content, stretching it out so the experience lasts. I've actually also been holding myself back from doing too much so I can run through things with those who can finally join me now that the expansion is fully released. I will continue to poke though it at my pace while I continue my other endeavors (do you realize just how long it takes to decorate a house?!). As such, a full review of everything will have to come at a later date.

So what my thoughts as I amble amble my way through the land of the lost... er, jurassic park... I mean, Altar of Malice? EQII's dino-riffic expansion definitely has its highlights, like offering a heaping helping of nostalgia, but it has its disappointments as well. Here's my take.

To prowl around the expansion, I have three main characters I use regularly: One is a level 95 adventurer with no crafting, one is a level 95 crafter with low adventuring (15), and the other is level 95 in both crafting and adventuring. I utilized all three at different points to get a feel for approaching Altar of Malice in these different ways, although I did the most exploring on my high-level adventurers to try to save myself some equipment repair costs (which didn't always work).

"You have discovered Isle of Refuge"

If ever there was a system message that I didn't think I'd ever see again, it's the discovery of Isle of Refuge. And boy, did I have a silly grin on my face when that popped up! I know that I've probably belabored the point of this little piece of real estate returning to the game, but it really is a big deal to veterans. Although few have spent more than the merest fraction of their total game time on that little island, being able to return to where it all began is an ingrained part of our psyches. It's like going home -- except here, home just happens to have been blasted by some magical force. Sadly, one thing you won't see is a certain infamous shark that used to chomp newbies whole! You can, however, get a Bladefin plushie for only 50 SC in the Marketplace.

I honestly spent the first while just wandering and looking at things on the isle, smiling at the familiar sights. Believe it or not, I wasn't even distracted by shinies for a bit! The land is different as well, so you get to feel as if you are exploring and not just walking down memory lane. Of course, there are multiple other islands added here in the expansion, so there are plenty of new places to poke around in. And you know me -- poke I did! I didn't wait on the story to go visiting neat locations.

Deathweave Isle has a nice jungle feel, and it puts poor Feerrott to shame! You can definitely tell that there are advancements in the graphics. South Dshinn, where the dino creatures are, has a bit more of a tundra feel. Moving along to the Phantom Sea, you have North Dshinn, which sports a mountainous jungle feel but includes a region of barren hot springs. Grim Shales seems more old-growth foresty, and that's where you find the upside-down Ssraeshza Temple embedded in the land. You just know I had to go in that, whether or not I was ready! (Spoiler: I wasn't.) And finally, there's Kithacor Island; from a distance you can see the imposing Castle Highhold sitting proudly atop the highest peak. This forested mountain zone is also home to Ghorkaal, a city where the inhabitants are less than hospitable.

You can tell you are on different islands by both the visuals and the ambient sounds, However, with the exception of South Dshinn, the areas' color palletes are fairly similar. I do love how much verticality is emphasized in the expansion! Mountains are massive, imposing monuments that take time to scale and provide an impressive visual that utilizes more of your screen.

Graphics, however, are a disappointments. While checking out South Dshinn, I came across two-dimensional flowers. No joke, these painted bits of landscape literally disappeared when you moved to the side! That was a little bit too fake for me, considering that even in the oldest zones we have that same type of 2-D flora bunched on top and intersecting itself to give an illusion of 3-D. Looking up into the sky on Kithacor Island also offered a kaleidoscope of graphical glitches that make you dizzy if you spin the camera.

My next disappointment was expected, but still: With all these islands,and all this water to cross to visit them, why in Norrath do we not have little boats we can sail?! It doesn't have to be a big galleon -- I'd be happy with a little dinghy. Yes, I think flying is wonderful, but I want to sail from island to island. All that beautiful water has gone to waste.

The crafty side

To see how well non-adventuring crafters would fare, I started the crafting quest lines with my level 15. But before even delving into that, I was distracted by a message in a bottle delivered via mail from the Office of the Harbor Master. Note: Only my characters that had at least 10 levels in crafting received this, but you don't have to be max. This mail with its "Please take care not to litter our city's clean water," and the follow-up, "Please remember to keep our harbor clean, there is a fine mail system in Norrath that we encourage you to use," gave me a good chuckle. I got to travel to a little island, revive a shipwrecked Ratonga youngin', and get a taste of the story without being max level.

If you have a max level crafter, you also get a message from Captain Ethan Darani of the Far Seas Trading company, who sends you on the errand of investigating the Isle of Refuge. I really appreciate getting the chance to learn the story of what happened to the Isle of Refuge even without having a 95 adventurer; EQII excels in the way it allows crafting to be a completely viable gameplay option.

That said, I found some parts of this storyline to be more difficult to complete without corresponding adventuring levels. Cataloging the aggressive creatures was challenging and even frustrating; my little carpenter's equipment is now broken from all the deaths that step incurred. It had in fact actually dissuaded me from continuing the crafting for a bit, but I picked it back up later and have yet to finish.

There are enough little bits written in that make you chuckle that I look forward to what I am going to read next on the quest chain. Besides the mails, one of my favorites is when starting the quest line, you have to excavate a gnome at a dig site using explosives -- at the gnome's request. His matter-of-fact statement to you is, "I'm a gnome; of course high explosives is the best answer." Hah!

Another tidbit that gave me a smile was the name of one quest in particular: D.I.R.T.Y Work. It so encapsulates the essence of every themepark quest in MMOs! You, as the adventurer, are doing the dirty work of every NPC in-game. (The acronym stands for Dedicated Individuals Recovering technology of Yesteryear.)

One annoying bit of the crafting line was spending a great deal of time searching my bags for the first recipe needed. We're talking my crafter's bags here, so they were filled to the brim with raw materials and recently made goodies. I used the auto-search straight off when I didn't find it (the most awesome inventory feature ever!), but that yielded nothing. Apparently, these recipes are auto-scribing, so you don't have to do it manually. I am not saying change is necessarily bad, but a message of warning would have been nice; I wasted a lot of time searching for something that wasn't there. A message that it scribed would suffice.

Collateral experiences

I had a couple of other experiences related to the expansion I wanted to share that aren't covered by just crafting or adventuring. I dusted off my original main (who is the level 95/95) in order to send her through some of the expansion. Of course, she's not very geared, but that wasn't where I ran into problems. It turns out I was unable to take the new AoM quest! That's right -- my journal was full. You knew I was a packrat when it comes to inventory space; now imagine how I can't call it quits and delete any quest. So I needed to make room. While scrolling through my options I found one quest that I'd taken on August 7th, 2005! Whoa, the memories. I just couldn't bring myself to delete or even complete that one! Once I finish off a multitude of legend and lore quests I will be fine, but this experience was just an amusing testament to the name of the game.

My second experience is a regret. I came to realize that I never did accept and complete that quest to meet with Antonia Bayle oh-so-long ago (probably because I didn't have room!). I really regret that now because I wonder what the castle looked like from the inside way back then before the revamp. All I know is the spiffy new version that mirrors the guild halls. I am saddened that my focus on so much else made me miss that opportunity and memory. Do any of you have memories or screenshots of that meeting you'd be willing to share? I'd love to compare the castles!

And speaking of sharing, what are your thoughts about the expansion? Have you been in to play it any, or are you waiting until you are a higher level to dive in? Perhaps you've gobbled up all the content like a Thanksgiving Day buffet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running biweekly on Thursdays, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II. And keep an eye out for MJ's Massively TV adventures!