Everquest : Ruins Of Kunark

Everquest mission pack reviewed

- Verant / Sony UK Publisher - UbiSoft

System Requirements -   Pentium 200 or equivalent   64Mb RAM   600Mb Hard Drive space   2x CD-Rom drive   Direct3D compatible video card   DirectX compatible sound card   Internet connection

Expanding

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A regular crowd

When Everquest was released all the way back in March 1999, executives at Sony and Verant lit their cigars with glee as the subscribers, and their accompanying cash, flowed in like so many tsuamis of money.

Today Everquest is one of the world's leading massively multiplayer RPGs, with around 250,000 paying subscribers. However, the setting was becoming stagnant. All of the high level zones had been explored and charted, barely anything new was ever being discovered, and newbie zones were full to bursting point as overcrowding occured on a scale not normally seen outside of Bangladesh. Something had to be done, and on the 7th of April this year, something was done...

The "Ruins Of Kunark" expansion pack was released to stem the tide of bored players that were leaving the game, and it seemed to do the trick. Subscribers hit an all-time high when it was released, and over half of the existing players had ordered it in advance.

Promised for the new expansion were enhanced graphics as well as more items and enemies. Most importantly though, there was a whole new continent to be explored, mapped-out, and ravaged by hordes of blood-hungry adventurers, complete with a new playable race, the Iksar; a lizard-like race that is native to the new continent of Kunark.

With so much promised, could the expansion deliver?

Visual Feast

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A dirty big statue, yesterday

The improvements to the game's presentation were probably the most hyped aspects of the upgrade, with graphics enhancements to lure shallow eye-candy obsessed gamers into the lands of Norrath.

The zones of the new continent are lush and loaded with details, a far cry from the sterile atmosphere of a few of the old zones. A good example of this is one of the low-to-medium level zones, the "Field of Bone". This region is festooned with monoliths and decaying buildings, showing that, unlike a lot of the game, designers seemed to actually spend some time on the realisation of the ideas.

Compare this to zones such as Lesser Faydark and Nektulous Forest on the old northern continent, which showed the graphic artists to be suffering from something of a burnout, with the same landscape used throughout, scant scenery, and an overall lack of imagination.

Basically, the entire island of Kunark seems well-polished, and a showcase as to what the artists have been doing in the year-and-a-bit since Everquest hit the stores. The graphics engine, although inadequate by today's standards, has been admirably employed to the best of Verant's ability.

Unfortunately, these picturesque delights come at a price. Noticeable slowdowns are present in almost all of the Kunark zones that I have explored. Landscape special effects such as waving trees and flowing rivers may sound good around a board meeting table, but don't really pan out in what is basically a dated engine. Some of the features had to be removed, and those that remain will only truly be appreciated by those with high-end systems.

My only complaint about the presentation (and it's been a long running one) is that when switching between Full-Screen and Toolbar View in any resolution other than 640x480, the Toolbar View screen is either shrunk to fit 640x680 pixels, or in order to get full-screen the monitor resolution has to change, seriously slowing gameplay. This could have been fixed with the Kunark CD, although Verant claim that it was "deeply embedded in code".

New Stuff

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Hm, he'd make a nice suitcase...

The main reason that half of the existing Everquest players immediately poured yet more coins into Verant's sagging pockets was the numerous new enemies to fight in the extra continent, and the chance to play as an Iksar.

The new enemies are fairly imaginative, and certainly the new level 50-60 zones create a nice challenge for those players at the pinnacle of their EverQuest career. Many are finding themselves drawn to the continent from the old zones due to the lashings of loot available from the loathsome enemies.

Scores of new items are available, many of them much more powerful and rarer than anything that vanilla EverQuest had to offer, and in this respect Kunark excels. There's something to keep the jaded old players interested, and the riches entice younger players to stay on and persevere.

Conversely, some cynics feel that these trinkets were all confined to Kunark in order to convince spendthrift gamers to upgrade. Still, this extra revenue for Verant will enable them to fix a lot of errors in the game, and include many new things as time goes by.

Problems

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This poor guy has been waiting for tech support for so long that he's wasted away...

Or will it? Unfortunately Verant's reputation as cold-hearted buffoons who like to rule their customers like kings has been seemingly cemented over recent weeks.

On player verus player servers, where players of different races and alignments are engaged in warfare, a bug allows Enchanters under illusion to cast a Stun spell that will never wear off. Instead of fixing the faulty code, Verant has instead removed the Enchanter's ability to attack while under illusion. As an Enchanter who loves sneaking around the streets of Freeport in disguise eliminating Humans, never exploiting the bug, needless to say I am rather disappointed.

Also, some of the game's special abilities for players are faulty, or at best flawed. Alchemy, a shaman skill allowing one to brew potions, has many bugs and is officially certified "broken" by Verant. The same goes for the Poison skill posessed by rogues. Both have been "undergoing maintainance" for several months now, with frequent reminders that the patch fixing them is just around the corner, which, needless to say, it never is.

It seems that whenever Verant have a problem with the game they present an impractical workaround, say that they're going to do something but then decide not to bother, or just plain lie about it and pretend there's nothing wrong. A pretty shabby display considering the amount of money that they rake in each month...

Conclusion

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This has to be bad news...

Fortunately for Verant though, Everquest is one of the most addictive RPGs I have ever played. I've dedicated over 4 weeks of my life to Norrath, and most players have spent even longer there, some up to 8 months .. and that's just the time actually spent connected to the server!

It might be daunting for the uninitiated and poorly supported, but there's just something about it that draws countless thousands to the servers each night. The variety of enemies to fight, skills to learn, and people to meet have a pulling power that most games can only dream of.

Despite the game's problems I know I'll keep on coming back, simply because the game itself, preferably when played in a group, is so much fun. And isn't that what games are all about?

8 / 10

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