Reviewed: December 22, 2003
Released: December 1, 2003
It isn’t often that a game world transcends the misty borders of its genre, as such a bold move can often prove to be a risky endeavor – what will fans think when the game they love changes shape and becomes something entirely different than what they knew? It is an enterprise that typically results in resounding success or festering defeat, and with Lords of EverQuest as an example, sometimes ends up somewhere in between.
EverQuest needs no introduction, as it won millions of loyal fans and sparked the current MMORPG craze, but Lords is a bit different. Steeped in EverQuest mythology and built upon the foundations of a genre that could be called massively multiplayer in its own right, Lords of EverQuest is an RTS game from bow to stern. In fact, it is because it makes absolutely no attempt to deviate from the formula of its predecessors that it fails to rouse anything but ambivalence in those who would play it.
First, a few questions: Did you play Starcraft ‘till your eyes shut down and refused to work? Do you ever find yourself micromanaging the change in your pocket to maximize the effectiveness of your next purchase? Do you issue random commands to your friends in the interests of gathering the necessary resources to build massive armies? You are an RTS veteran, and let me assure you – you’ve played this game before. It may have been called something else, it may have been set in a different world, but you’ve been here before. Chances are, you had more fun the first few times around than you will with this game.
You need not play through the tutorial – though if you are new to the genre, it serves as a decent introduction to the mechanics of the game. Instead, you can jump right into the single player mode, where you will be confronted with three opposing factions and a unique set of missions for each to choose from.
First is the Shadowrealm, an alliance of Norrath’s uglier races such as trolls, ogres, Iksar and malevolent gnome wizards. To guide such monsters you need a good leader, or as the title on the box indicates, a Lord. You will have five to choose from, for every faction. The choices are varied in both appearance and power, and will also have a bearing on difficulty. These units are the focus of the game and share much in common with Warcraft III’s hero units.
The Lord you choose will remain at your behest through the entire mission set, so choose wisely. Should mischief and mayhem not suit you, you can align yourself with the Elddar Alliance or the Dawn Brotherhood, the other two factions. These are composed of fantasy favorites such as dwarves and elves, as well as frogloks and beastlords.
Once you’ve decided, a series of scripted sequences will introduce you to your goal for that mission, and ultimately, for the entire campaign. The standard control scheme is put to use here – left click to select a unit, right click to send it moving to a destination, drag and click to select a group. Stances and special abilities can be invoked via windows that line the edges of the game interface, which are easy enough to use. These windows can also be moved or removed altogether, which is useful since a couple of them are unnecessary. Other staple features, such as designating control groups, setting rally points, and upgrading units and buildings were also included.
So now you’re familiar with the basic structure you will find here, nothing new, right? That feeling will prevail throughout the rest of the game. At this point, most of us can recite the formula in our sleep – gather resources, build units, upgrade, build more units and send them off to battle. Of course, in many RTS games it is actually much more complex than that, but unfortunately, not in this one.
The first problem is the Lords themselves, they’re far too powerful. At all times they emit a beneficial aura that affects teammates within close proximity, as well as a second aura that has a negative effect upon enemy units. In addition to this, Lords are granted four abilities, gained one by one as you advance through missions. Unlike Warcraft III, not only do Lords gain experience and raise levels, but so do the ordinary units.
EverQuest fans will recognize the signature “ding” as units level up and increase their power. Much of this leveling fails to impress, as your Lord is often so powerful that he/she can handle most enemies alone. If your Lord manages to fall in battle, however, you’ll need a special kind of unit to resurrect him.
Not that your enemies will pose much of a threat, as they will not target your key units in battle, nor will they show up at your doorstep with an immense force to rival your own. Many a time they will simply stand and wait for your arrival, moments later they will lie dead as you travel onward to your next victory. Of course, if your group is particularly numerous, you will find many of your units simply refuse to participate in battle. Instead they stand on the fringes and watch their compatriots duke it out. At least you can devote your full attention to such indolence, since there is only one resource to gather.
Much like the real world, currency is the only thing that matters. Platinum mines will provide you with all you need to conquer your foes, and collecting it is a simple matter of sending your gatherers to the mine and letting them take it from there.
You couldn’t call it strategy if all units were the same, though it is doubtful that you will find enough variety in Lords to satisfy your needs. Every faction has warriors, healers, spellcasters and so on, and combining units with complementary abilities is a surefire way to win almost any battle. Healers are particularly useful, so much so that including a squadron of them everywhere you go is basically all the strategizing you need to do. It’s disappointing that the difference between a Shadowrealm and Elddar healer is purely artificial, as it would’ve been much more challenging to counter an enemy’s ability rather than reproduce it.
The gameplay is, in the end, where the ball was truly dropped. It relies too heavily on the conventions of earlier games, and yet fails to include some of the integral aspects that made those games so much fun. The genre has been repeatedly accused of growing stagnant over the years, and games like this do nothing but aid such an allegation.
Multiplayer options are rife with this game, and Sony even provides a new online matching service that is comparable to Battle.net. There are numerous modes of play, from last man standing to body harvest, and they alleviate some of the tedium experienced in the single player mode. Though I did not encounter many players, a group of friends looking for some online carnage will find everything they need here to jump right into a match.
Again you’ll be reminded of previous games here, but Lords is visually appealing. Though the environments come off as a bit plastic, the building and unit models are intricate. Minor animations accompany most structures, without becoming a burden. Units are often adorned in decorative armor, and you will notice little things like the coating of blood on a hammerskull’s weapon. Rich artistry is something to be expected from a game of EverQuest ilk, and Lords delivers. There is a decent variety of terrain, and the interface menus are done tastefully.
Considering that this game is average in almost every way, it was surprising to find the talents of actors like John Rhys-Davies (LoTR), Fairuza Balk (The Craft), and Katey Sagal (Married with Children) put to use here. Though their performances fall short of stellar, familiar voices are always welcome. Beyond their presence, everything else about the sound is forgettable. Everything, that is, except the catchphrases that spew out every time you command a unit. The music is standard fantasy fare, and the other sounds do little to evoke images of epic battles and grandiose struggles.
As much as I hate to recommend against the purchase of game, since that is the only way to adequately reward the long hours spent toiling over a creation such as this, there are far better RTS games to spend your money on. Lords comes at the full retail price, and even if I were to see it in a budget bin, I would feel no more compelled to pick it up.
Whether you’re a diehard EverQuest fan, or RTS veteran, it is unlikely that you will squeeze fifty dollars worth of enjoyment from this title. If games like Age of Mythology and Warcraft III never came to fruition, perhaps I could endorse this game, but as it stands, I cannot. On the other hand, the multiplayer features live up to the sticker price, and anyone itching to delve deeper into the history of EverQuest would not be entirely displeased with Lords.
If I had to distill this entire review into one word, it would be “bleh”. Though I’ve tangled with far worse games in my time, this one simply didn’t pull me in. It only made me more aware of the things I don’t like about the genre, at times it seemed like little more than a brazen attempt at emulating other successful RTS titles.
I spent the vast majority of the game sending units off into the darkness with little fear of death and all the tactics of a street brawl. What at first seemed like an interesting twist on the source material eventually revealed itself as attractive wrapping on a boring gift. Blizzard will soon make their first foray into the world where EverQuest reigns supreme, and let us hope that they do not make the same folly that Lords did.