Reviewed: April 9, 2004
Released: November 17, 2003
Sony Online Entertainment has accomplished quite a feat in game design with its delivery of Everquest Online Adventures. With this title, Sony has delivered the persistent-world MMOG experience to console gamers via the Playstation 2’s network adapter. For $9.99 a month, players can explore the world Norrath from their couches, without the tangle of menus and complicated interfaces that are associated with EQ:OA’s PC based brethren.
With 10 races, 15 character classes, well designed starting areas for new players, a superior interface and, in my opinion, a tradeskill system that puts the PC version to shame, Everquest Online Adventures: Frontiers, a bundle of the original game and it’s first expansion, makes a compelling addition to the rapidly developing console based online gaming scene.
After you get your network settings and account set up you get to pick a server and create your first character. One note however is that if you are planning to join friends in the game make sure you are creating characters on the same server. After you have chosen a race, class, face, hairstyle and name, the game begins, depositing you in one of the game’s bustling cities and through a series of tutorial quests, getting you prepared to enter the wilderness of Norrath in search of fortune and glory.
Interaction with NPC’s is done by pressing the “Square” button and reading the text box that pops up. Some NPC’s are merchants and tradesmen who will offer you goods or services in exchange for your hard won Tunares, the game currency. There are also bankers that can hold your cash and give you access to the auction system that allows you to sell the spoils of your travels to other players while you go rake in more spoils. That phrase does bring up what is perhaps the biggest hit against this title in the gameplay department, repetition.
While there are tons of quests to discover and playing cooperatively with others thousands of miles away is cool, there isn’t a lot of variety to be found. You kill some stuff, loot some stuff, sell some stuff to buy or make some better stuff so you can go and kill… more stuff, all the while getting stronger, so that you can kill… bigger stuff. While there are a few variations on this theme, it’s just not a very compelling model to my eyes. You will want to take that in to consideration if you are someone who gets bored easily, before you begin paying your monthly subscription.
Combat is turn-based but moves at a fast pace leaving you to only hold down the attack button and maneuver to keep your target in range. The D-pad allows you to scroll through the spells your character has memorized and “Circle” casts them. Assuming you slay your adversary, you will be awarded experience points and have a opportunity to check the corpse for dropped items that can be used for quests, crafted in to something useful or sold at the nearest merchant.
Once you are out in the wilds chances are you will die, a lot, and unlike it’s PC counter part, EQOA doesn’t make you go find your corpse every time you expire and respawn at your bind point. Instead, you will incur an “experience debt,” meaning that you will only get to keep 50% of the XP that you earn until the debt is paid off.
While on the topic of good ideas and design, the control pad lay out is very slick, allowing you to have quick access to virtually any feature or menu you need to see in just a few button presses. It’s all the little things like this, that show how much effort was involved in making sure that console gamers could join in the Everquest experience without succumbing to massive culture shock.
Communication with other players can be effected using an on screen keyboard, or you can plug any USB keyboard into your PS2 for a much smoother, less frustrating experience. Though voice support would have been nice, I get the willies thinking about that capability in the hands of the d00ds that frequently populate online games.
EQOA has visuals that, when compared to other PS2 titles, are fairly underwhelming, low resolution, angular, blocky looking affairs. The thing is look at what SOE has delivered, a console-based MMOG with a robust feature set that runs smoothly and can be patched without the need for a hard drive. In addition, I prefer the look of EQOA: Frontiers over the original, the graphics, animations, lighting, expansive environments and the flavor of the various locals, to my eye anyway are really more than adequate for this title even if they don’t keep up with the other games on the system.
The infrequent loading screens also mostly negate my wish that the game supported the PS2 hard drive, though that would allow potentially for better textures and perhaps allow for more sweeping updates to the game’s features.
The music of EQOA: Frontiers is done, at least to my way of thinking, just right. Each city in the game has its own unique cultural flavor that is greatly enhanced by the orchestrated tunes that play during your visit. Once you venture out into the field however, the music fades away leaving you to enjoy the fresh, earthy ambient sounds of the weather and local fauna. One of several battle themes strikes up anytime you engage an enemy, but I think this is probably a blessing given that the sounds of battle and spell casting sound a little flat and repetitive to my ear.
With any MMOG it can be difficult to quantify the enduring value in the product. In this case I think that at a price point around $30 and a $9.99 monthly subscription rate, Everquest Online Adventures is a pretty fair value. The facts that the gameplay is so repetitious and the need to potentially obtain a PS2 network adapter and a USB keyboard to get the most out of your gameplay hurt this game’s score some; but its streamlined interface, highly developed design and the fact that SOE seems bound and determined to continue providing fresh content, make it easier take a chance on this one.
Everquest Online Adventures seems, at least to me, like an ideal title for people who’ve never partaken in the MMOG scene to use to test the waters. Like most of the other entries in the genre, it is a leveling treadmill, but it is a really well designed one. The technical merits aside, for thirty bucks it may be worth while picking it up and using the free month to see if the player interaction and accumulation of in-game wealth are enough to keep you interested.