Name your character and you are nearly on your way. Your first difficult task: trying to not skip through the painfully dull intro. The watercolor artwork is lovely, sure, but they do not contribute much in the way of crafting a storybook mysticism (which was certainly their intention). The intro fails to convey a sense of fairytale, and the narration is so textbook in nature that it dries out the creation of legend.
Regardless, this ain’t your grandma’s Norrath. The gods grew jealous of humanity and withdrew from the world but left behind avatars to carry forth their wishes nonetheless. With the absence of divine providence, the orcs and trolls built up an unstoppable horde. They nearly commit genocide on the Frogloks, but the noble frog-like race retreated into the depths of Guk. The barbarians of the north were overwhelmed and sought refuge amongst the southern peoples, until Qeynos and Freeport stood as the last bastions against the relentless horde. Only then did the gods intervene—deus ex machina—to save the doomed cities. Cataclysms rocked the planet’s surface, oceans and continents shifted, the moon of Luclin was torn asunder, and fire rained down upon Norrath.
Finally, as the ashes settled and the oceans calmed, the two cities sent forth ships to gather refugees. The blameless Antonia Bayle wished to gather a scattered people and mend a shattered world, while the ruthless Lucan D’lere (delirious?) set out to forge followers into his agenda of ruthless expansionism.
The tutorial places you onboard the swaying deck of The Far Journey, one such ship sent out to gather refugees. A competent narrator guides you through movement, combat, and trading basics by interacting with NPCs, or non-player characters. The astonishing level of spoken dialogue is accompanied by comic book chat balloons emanating from each character, said dialogue also appearing within the formal chat box should your attention be fixed elsewhere.
Still the most customizable interface you’re going to find, virtually every popup box, every window, every icon and every hotbutton is movable and often resizable. Each window can elegantly fade in and out as you mouse over their locations. While a seemingly minor point, this unmatched level of customization is still a much appreciated feature of the EQ universe. You don’t have to fight to get the viewpoint you want.
The combat animations are nicely choreographed. The movements are captured smoothly, and the deft dodging of certain attacks shows a tip-toed sidestep or a dexterous drop to the ground. But a real treat is seeing a wooden staff in the hands of a skilled warrior. The martial arts-inspired movement captured with this weapon is a dramatic shift from typical hack-n-slashing. Even mages move with an agility to put Gandalf-styled “finger wigglers” into a showy and combative category. Too bad your character looks like a stiff-armed Barbie when it’s time to run, also sporting a floaty jump even Master Chief would admire.
The creative stride slowed down further during artistic conception. Yes, the textures are detailed, yes, every surface is smooth or shiny or rusted or gruff. But there is little here to shock and awe you. They played their realism card so well that many locales are mundane—dull within minutes. Rarely is there a breathtaking sight to make you just stop and admire the view. Instead of shoving you into a realm of fantasy, EQ2 is inserting fantasy characters into perfectly normal, geographically authentic (read: boring) landscapes. When hitting you with their latest catchphrase “You’re in our NEW world now!” Sony has only proven how far we don’t have to travel. Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality? Perhaps. If you prefer your plate of fantasy served up lukewarm.
But, warming up the entire experience is the caliber of voice acting. Ranging from excellent to mildly embarrassing, the sheer amount of voiceover acting donates generously to the level of immersion. Nearly every character connected to your Hallmark (main) quest is fully voiced, with an impressive number of random NPCs also contributing. Bringing in the big guns, it is pleasing to hear Felicity Shagwell and Saruman as the opposing rulers of Norrath’s two rival cities: Qeynos and Freeport. Heather Graham voices Antonia Bayle, Queen of Qeynos, and Christopher Lee lends his guttural intonation to Lucan D’lere, Overlord of Freeport.
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