EverQuest 2 expands again on November 13 with “Rise of Kunark,” which SOE debuted at a recent press event in San Francisco. In this expansion, SOE continues to bring back areas and stories from the original game, but with a new twist.
The Sarnak were an NPC race in the original EverQuest, but in the sequel these “dragon people” become fully playable. They’re a race created in ancient times by dragons as their servants. They’re bipedal and do not have wings, but most definitely can breathe fire. In between the two games, the Sarnak followed in the path of their creators and engineered what was to have been a servant race of magical warriors. This race – unaware of its true origins – is what players play, while the original creators are NPCs called the Sarnak’dizok.
The Sarnak and other neutral races have the option to begin the game in Timorous Deep. This is the third in a series of three newbie zones that support levels one to 20 in hub-based progression. That means the quests help players explore the entire area as they advance in level. Largely, this area follows the same mold as the other newbie areas. “[Timorous Deep is] just different scenery,” EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark Lead Designer Akil Hooper told us.
Like the other newbie areas, this one also connects to a brand new city. The Sarnak city of Gorowyn is a steam-powered, mechanical city built in the bowels of a volcano. The shops of the city delve into the volcano’s inner walls, which creates for some epic sightlines. It truly feels massive in scale but remains navigable; after all, the entire city is practically visible.
The meat of the expansion, though, is for veteran players. The Kylong Plaines offer level 70-plus content so players can take advantage of the 10 new levels RoK unlocks (there are also more achievement points to collect).
“Instead of having a single zone with a single theme to it, we combined four zones into one larger zone so you can move into different areas without a loading screen,” Hooper said of Kylong, and he wasn’t kidding.
As he walked through this epic zone – of which there are four, with a total of 10 major unique regions – he took us seamlessly up a mountainside and out of a jungle into the snow. It looked natural – if compressed – and there seemed to be no trickery, as he turned to look down from those snowy peaks into the jungle below.
Another new zone is the Fens of Nathsar. Here, they attempted to show the cataclysm of Norrath that took place between the first and second game with a bit more clarity, something Hooper said he does not believe they have always done well. He showed us the ruined city of Cabilis, a real place in EQ, which is now scattered in ruins after shifting tectonic plates ripped it in half. At the bottom of the cliff is debris, while pieces of the city can still be seen high above. Each of these epic new maps also includes some smaller points of interest that also carry a unique style. For example, in the Fans of Nathsar is The Field of Bone, where the body of a slain dragon lays buried, just as it did in the previous game.
But the new zones aren’t just rehashes of old ones. “We like to get some original dungeons in so everything is not just retooled from EQ1,” Hooper said. One entirely new dungeon is Chelsith, an epic alien dungeon in the Kunzar Jungle. It contains a race of fish-men who worship a Behemoth. It has strong alien and horror influences and a bright, wacky color palette that is unlike much of EQ2, but definitely “fits.” There are eyeballs in the floors, tentacles, pools of ooze, etc. Unfortunately, Hooper was not able to show us the Behemoth, but did say that in a raid, he can be fought.
He also showed us the Sebilis dungeon and its Babylonian-inspired theme, which once again harkens back to EQ1.
The big cherry on top of Rise of Kunark for elite achievers is Trakanon. We didn’t see it at the event, but this is an epic series of raids, the culmination of their raid progression. There are six raid zones with 12 raids in the final zone. And yes, Sarnak do get to meet their old creators, as the big enchilada here is an epic dragon.
To make raiding a bit more accessible, SOE has recently added the ability to save. This means players can progress through an area for a time and then take a break. They’ll have a finite amount of real-world days to finish, a number the developers can tweak on a zone-by-zone basis. Players can also invite in new people, for those who can never get their healers online in time. This is a feature they hope to eventually retroactively include in all their raid content, but at the very least, is available in each new raid they unleash.
Rise of Kunark is the first in their new annual expansion strategy where they take more time to do bigger and more polished updates, a move SOE said comes at the request of their community who felt, at times, overwhelmed at the rate of new updates. Both EverQuest 2 and the original plan to update each year, ideally on November 13.