The Shadow Odyssey , EverQuest II’s fifth expansion is a radical shift from SOE’s last expansion , Rise of Kunark. While RoK was largely about solo play, TSO goes in the other direction and focuses largely on group-based content.
The expansion has quite a bit to offer. I’ll attempt to hit most of the major points below:
Under the hood
TSO brings with it a host of new game features. Chief among these are the new map system and the new Achievement lines. The new map system is more robust, more detailed and I daresay more efficient. SOE wisely also continued its ongoing partnership with the EQ2Maps mod, which will allow players to located quest givers and goals with ease and precision. The map takes a bit of getting used to, and resizing the mini map can be a bit of a chore. However, gone are the days of little blacked out section of inaccessible areas of the map and , presumably, so are the other annoyances of the old system (not enough space to render POIs – duplicate or irrelevant POIs etc)
The new Achievement lines almost make up for the lack of a level cap increase. It seems SOE is determined to stick to its “raise the cap every other year” pattern, meaning we should see lvl 100 content around 2011. (I WILL kill you Nagafen!). Each line has been designed to address both weak spots in specific classes (yes, they heard you, Shadow knights, so pleeeeeease let it go now), as well as enhance the basic functionality of the general class… tanks get tanking enhancements , healers get better heals, etc.
Content Quests and Adventures
TSO offers a wide variety of new content and does a rather nice job of motivating players to revisit older zones as well.
For raiders , there are 4 new , and rather difficult , raid zones. These are the toughest of the tough, and as of this writing not all had been yet conquered on all servers. For those that enjoy grouping, congratulations, you got the most developer love this time around. The heart of this new expansion is the new instanced group zones, over 20 in all, which are largely based on scripted encounters. Scripted encounters (those that require an actual strategy to beat, as opposed to the more traditional “tank and spank” system of combat) are new in EQ2 at the group-level of adventuring. Previously these types of encounters have been restricted to raid level zones. The new tactics-based areas and style of play has caused some early frustration among the community, as players are choosing to run these zones with either raid geared, or very familiar group mates, making pickup groups even harder to find for the casual player.
Additionally – if you long for the days of 2 and 3 manning instances, SOE hasn’t made it any easier – go in with 6, or die trying. However, as the correct tactics become known, and the instances are repeated over and over, it should become less of a chore. The instances themselves are well designed with a nice mix of puzzle solving and new tactical challenges. The upside being that you can kind of consider these zones as “raid training”, as it appears that is what SOE is setting us up for. Most of the zones can be done once per day, and as a reward you receive a “shard” which is a form of currency used to either purchase or have crafted the new and better armor added to the game. With each armor piece costing between 9 and 20 shards, plan on spending a LOT of time visiting these zones over and over.
As an aside, a lot of these zones scale from 50-80, which is a nice touch. However, for some of them – you still have to travel overland in the T8 area to reach the quest giver or zone in – so players without a guild rally flag or someone to teleport them there may have a bit of a tough time reaching a few areas. “But what about us soloists?!!” you say? Not to worry , there are over 100 new quests for you to do and a good portion of them are actual storylines, although the tired “go kill 10 of this, come back, now go kill 10 of that” quests do , sadly, remain prominent. The storylines however are interesting and often funny. One glaring omission however, is the lack of a solo option for players who are seeking their shards. One would hope SOE corrects this oversight sometime soon.
Look and feel
The expansion differs in appearance , style and story quite a bit from what has come before. This is both good and bad, as some elements don’t seem to mesh well with the established parameters of the world of Norrath.
For example, they have added a lot of “steampunk” technology to the game. Instead of griffons, sokokars , or magic carpets , we get interminably slow, steam powered balloons. These are rather nifty looking, and allow for some breathtaking views of the new zone. However, over time, these become somewhat of a hindrance as getting from one part of the zone to another often requires a substantial amount of time spent “balloon hopping” from one station to the next. If ever a zone cried out for a free-form flying mount, the Moors of Ykesha is it.
Graphically , the game has added several new models of creatures to fight. And even dressed up some of the old. A new type of Shadowmen, brought in in the live events preceding the launch of TSO has also given the whole expansion a cohesive feel. These are events affecting all of Norrath, not just one zone, and so it makes for an immersive, and entertaining experience. More new models would have been nice, as more than half of your opponents expansion wide are based on models we have seen preciously. The instances are very varied in their look and feel. From battling live (and occasionally undead) frogloks to vampires and zombies that attack in waves, the expansion has done a nice job of varying the look, feel, and types of opponents you will battle.
One group , however, seems a bit out of place, the pirates. Why out of place? Well, with a great storyline, some humorous elements and a large area to battle them in, it seems like it would be kind of neat. But pirates without ships is like ninjas without masks. It just doesn’t make sense to me to have a ton of pirate adventures that are land based. Id much rather have preferred some shipboard scripted battles or at least some sort of sailing option if there are going to be pirates. Alternatively, since it’s the troll model being used, they could simply have been a gang of trolls and not specifically pirates. An odd design choice, and yes, a bit nitpicky on my part but it did strike me as out of place.
TSO is absolutely one of the most visually stunning expansions. Gone are the days of “this is the fire zone” and this is the “ice zone” . With TSO – the large zone covers ruins, swamps, cliffs, the sea, caves , tunnels, and much more. The transitions from area to area are well thought out and barriers to overland travel are few and far between.
Crafters have been given a bit of attention too. With the addition of lootable recipes and some new and varied crafting missions break up a bit of the grind. The ability of crafters to make the shard armor, and at a slightly lower cost was a welcome addition for many of the crafters and makes them somewhat viable to high end players again. Now if I can just get them to increase the drop rate.
SOE has taken a large step forward with this expansion and has shown that it isn’t afraid to take some risks. While not everything feels as though it belongs in the world, it doesn’t appear to be glaringly out of place either. If you are a hardcore player, this expansion offers a wonderful amount of content , new challenges and tons of new items that you can actually USE. If you are among the more casual, log in on the weekend and look for a pickup group type player, you have a fairly steep learning curve.
The addition of puzzles, tactics and new rewards, as well as the motivation to repeat areas time and again, allows for those casual players to catch up, and improve their skills and gear. Overall TSO is a win for both SOE and , more importantly, the player base. As with any MMO, the average player has at least one level capped character. With xp bonuses for lower level alts, SOE has made it clear that catering to the level capped player is where they need to go.
Most importantly, it has returned the game to what an MMO should be, a social and interactive experience. RoK was a soloists dream, TSO , while challenging, is a welcome recognition and reward for the player that loves to group.