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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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EverQuest II: The Shadow Odyssey

One man to a void.

When you sink - or invest, I should say - hundreds of hours into a character, you wish the levels passed more quickly. You want more abilities, more points to spend on more skill trees. When you get buffed from Level 1 to 80 in an instant, however, and are assaulted by EverQuest II's bewildering and immense collection of abilities, you realise why they make it take so long. It's to stop your tongue from falling out of your mouth, and your brain evacuating itself out of a tear duct. You need that long to let things sift in gently. 

I don't even bother trying to tidy up my hot bars. I've been sent on a Virtual Package Tour of EverQuest II's fifth expansion, The Shadow Oddyssey, an area that'll eventually be uncovered by the second phase of the D.I.R.T.Y. excavation in the Sinking Sands. This tour wasn't a time for deep questions. There were no developers present, and our thoroughly charming tour guide was elegantly coy about questions like "will we get to kill that dragon please", and equally reluctant to respond to the follow-up of "no really, kill the dragon, it would be so cool".

We start off in Innothule. This is the only place in the expansion where you'll see sky - if you don't count the rubble-strewn swirls of the void as sky. Innothule is where the airships arrive and depart, and it's the hub from which you'll access that void.  There's not much going on at the moment, but we're assured that the courtyard we're in will be packed with vendors and over 400 quests, including the new crafting quest chain. These quests will also take seasoned craftsmen to locations from previous expansions - our guide admits that it's "rather involved" - but there's unique armour and jewellery in it for anyone putting the hours in. If you're not a crafter, then don't swim into the bleakest pits of despair. There's also an actual Unicorn to be obtained by crafters and adventurers alike. No-one's explaining that process, but if we were forced to guess, the phrase "rather involved" might pop up.

Players' heads follow nearby objects, as if to say "hello", or "don't just stand there taking bloody photos"

We're invited to run around and have a look at Innothule, and "soak in the Gnomish influences", but nobody moves an inch. Either that, or they're all looking around with their left mouse button down, to prevent turning their avatar. I wonder if there's some kind of etiquette at play, here? Don't crane your necks and gawp at the Gnomish influences, like a dumb tourist?

Unsurprisingly for a game with a long history, The Shadow Odyssey slips more than occasionally into nostalgia. Players of the first EverQuest might like to slip in a pair of misty pink contacts: our first destination is Lower Guk. It was infested with undead frogs in EQ1, and it's infested with undead frogs now - but graphics have happened since then, and there's a light mist of spores in the air. I'm almost immediately snared by a trap, which had no noticeable visual cues. This is annoying, but it wasn't in combat, so I see the funny side - and we meet a minotaur called Aruun Vleeze. Aruun is slain by the GM god-hammer, and his death triggers a set of platforms.

The staircase to Najena's laboratories: you have to drain the lava first

They call it a puzzle, but that's a flattering name for dodgy platforming in a genre that really wasn't designed for it. However, there are no lethal drops, so it's more light relief and a time to heckle the guy who keeps missing the jumps. "Come on mate, the instance resets in 12 hours." There's a little bit more EQ1 nostalgia as we come across a massive reanimated hand, thoughtfully scratching itself, and after being pointed towards a strange alliance between Ykeshan trolls and undead Frogloks, we're off to Befallen.