EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers Review

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Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2
Requirements: PlayStation 2 Network Adapter

In 1999, the PC game EverQuest launched and single-handedly redefined the massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre (MMORPG). In the years since its release, EverQuest has dominated other stateside subscription-based role-playing games and continues to expand its universe for hundreds of thousands of players. In the beginning of 2003, EQ took over the less crowded console MMORPG market as well by launching EverQuest: Online Adventures for the PlayStation 2. EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers (EQOA:F) is the second edition of the popular PS2 game, adding new features, environments, and characters, but retaining everything that is familiar and essential to a game labeled EverQuest.

Carrie Gouskos

The key to playing EQOA:F is figuring out how to play EQOA:F. That takes a lot of time, patience, and an initial outlay of cash, but is potentially very rewarding if you can make it through all the hullabaloo. Some of the first questions to ask when deciding whether to play EQOA:F include: Is it impossible for me to play a PC massively multiplayer online game (MMOG)? Do I have large blocks of free time? Will I be able to talk to other people through a text-based interface? Can I be happy without a definitive endgame? If you answered yes to these and/or you are allergic to personal computers, enjoy spending eight hours trying to find the right group for the Nasehir camp, can "ding" or "grats" with the best of them, and don't mind that after seventeen months you'll have nothing to show for your work except seven level 60 characters, then EQOA:F is the game for you!

Have Accessories For Your Console?

EQOA:F offers the same type of gameplay as the typical MMOG, addictive to what others may call a fault (but not you, never you), and time-intensive, group-centered leveling. Naturally, the PlayStation 2 does not facilitate massively multiplayer gaming as easily as a PC does. There are a lot of keys missing if you're stuck using the regular PS2 controller (this can be remedied for the price of a keyboard or special controller); there are a lot of people missing (which may or may not matter to you); it is more difficult to update and patch (which could be remedied with the introduction of the PS2 hard drive in the US – but not currently); and it lacks a significant amount of detail (ay, there's the rub). With those issues in mind, and noting that setting up and learning the game is a daunting task, it's a wonder that anyone is playing the game at all. If you're up for the challenge, it's totally worth it, assuming you're not on an overly tight budget.

One of the most important and often ignored aspects of a game is its value with respect to its cost. EQOA:F isn't as simple as owning a PS2, buying the game, and turning it on. The laundry list of other requirements includes: the network adapter, some method of attaching your internet/dialup to your PS2, cable or DSL (when you realize that dialup is too slow), a monthly fee of $9.99, half the space on your memory card, and a keyboard (once you discover how hard it is to communicate without one). Taking into account that a console MMOG is one of the more expensive gaming experiences this side of Steel Battalion, a lot is required of EQOA:F players. Ultimately, it can succeed, but it is simply not worth trying out for a little while to see if you'd like it. If you don't already have most of the aforementioned components and are unsure if you'd enjoy an EverQuest game, this is not the place to test the waters. That's a shame, because EQOA:F is a really good game.

There Are People at The Frontiers, But Some Look Alike

There are currently six servers up, but choosing one can be confusing. There's no way of determining which servers are the most populated – logic would say that the most populated are at the top, but at your first login, the last on the list, Proudpine Outpost, is the recommended server. I almost wrote off the game as completely barren before I discovered Castle Lightwolf and Diren Hold, two servers that have ample players at any hour of day or night. It is important to steer people into new servers to avoid overcrowding older ones, but playing alone is a completely different (and unenjoyable) game. There is little other difference between the servers and there are plenty of character slots on each one.

The character selection screen is the first place that the polish of a PC MMORPG is noticeably missing. Despite a wide range of class and race options, there is only as much character customization as one would expect on the PS2. This means some, but not nearly enough considering that you're going to see little clones of yourself all over the countryside (especially if you pick a human or elf class). Aesthetic choices include picking a gender, a selection of four different faces; and several hairstyle choices with different lengths and colors. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of classes (fifteen in all) divided into tanks, melee fighters, priests, and casters.

Fifteen Classes, and Four Flavors

The four categories create a perfect symbiosis when grouped, which is a good thing considering that four is the maximum number of players allowed in a group. At lower levels it is not too difficult to find a good combination of different classes anytime you're looking. Some games fall victim to severe class imbalances, where there will be an obvious abundance of one class (usually because it's particularly easy), but EQOA:F does not seem to suffer from that problem. There are clear positive and negative aspects of each class, but most people on the server are aware and accommodating of these shortcomings. For example, a tank should sustain all the damage during a fight. Since it is essential to their usefulness that all weapons and armor are kept in top shape, tank classes need repairs more often than anyone else. As a general, unwritten rule on each server, tanks are allowed to pick up more loot during a fight in order to pay off their greater expenses.

Before getting into the depths of grouping and leveling, you first have to figure out how to move around and what to do. You also have to learn all the unwritten rules, the chat shorthand, the useful locations, and how to stay alive when you're on your own. This takes five to twenty hours of playtime depending on your previous experience with MMOGs. The hardest thing to get used to is the interface and associated controls, especially if you have MMOG experience on the PC. The PS2 controller is comfortable for moving around, but very difficult to communicate with. The L2 button brings up a menu full of hotkeys for frequently used messages like "MEDIC! I need healing badly!" or "Low on health/power," so a keyboard is not essential if it's absolutely out of your budget. Other movements are easy to get accustomed to and even comfortable with the keyboard/controller combination. At first it seems like the controls are extremely restricted, but after surfing through the menus for a long time, you can learn how to hotkey many different commands to any button.

A Tight Package For a Console Audience

Commands include simple gestures, short phrases, assisting other characters, inviting people into groups, rolling for loot (gambling to see who gets good item drops), or automatically following a target, among many others. Although the total variety of commands is less than that in a PC game, you'll find (even if it takes you awhile) that they've included all the most important functions, and even a few that are unnecessary but luxurious. The menus also allow you to control a pet, if your class can control one, and communicate with other players via guild, group, public chat, or even e-mail. Favorite players can also be added to a buddy list so you can find them later on without needing to remember how to spell their name. If at anytime you wish to see who is playing in your area around your level, you can do so through the Community menu. One of the more interesting menu items is the Auction, which allows any player to sell an item eBay-style. Players bid for an item via proxy in order to acquire anything in the game that they want, if the price is right.

EQOA:F is an attractive game, but not too flashy. There are some camera issues that prevent total flexibility, but otherwise characters are generally free to (and required to, if they ever want to leave home) travel around the world and explore all the different areas. There aren't many ostentatious effects, which means that the game rarely suffers from frame rate issues except in very heavily populated areas. The music and sound effects reflect the action well and can often alert a player when someone in their group is being attacked, despite it occurring outside their vision. This smoothes over some of the camera's limitations, but the whole system would have been better if the camera had more freedom of movement and a button to center it behind the player at will.

Fast And Friendly Play, Once You Get Into It

For an MMOG, EQOA:F is VKTIP (very kind to its players). Food can be purchased to replenish health and drink is available to restore mana, eliminating downtime. Many MMOGs thrive on downtime, forcing players to rest up to regain lost power. Although it's much nicer not have to rest between every fight, it also seems somehow inappropriate to be able to constantly generate health and power by grabbing something out of your inventory. Unlike other games, spells can be cast at any time, so attacks do not have to be coordinated to keep monsters from interrupting healers and casters. Punishment for death is not so terrible: players don't have to fight their way back to their corpse to regain their money and items, there is simply an experience penalty and monetary fine. This whole process makes the game seem less rewarding because the levels are more easily earned. Of course, being an MMOG fan doesn't mean you have to be a glutton for punishment, so perhaps lesser difficulty isn't such a bad thing.

There is a distinct lack of quests in Frontiers beyond the first few levels – players receive them from their class masters almost exclusively and only every five levels or so. Since most classes can't successfully solo monsters, this focuses most of the game on group hunting (both hunting for groups and hunting with groups). This has its ups and downs. It can take a long time to get a group together, find a place to hunt, find a place to hunt that's empty, fight amongst each other for loot and drops, and wait for other members to run errands or go to the bathroom. It can take so much time that some sessions will be a complete waste. This is the nature of the beast.

EverQuest: Online Adventures: Frontiers is the kid sister of MMOGs. It is an excellent game on its own merits, but has a lot of room to grow, and could do with a few more hand-me-downs. Unfortunately, its potential can only be realized by people who are willing to dedicate time and money specifically to an MMOG, and it won't garner casual fans by accident. While attracting casual gamers has never been a serious objective of any MMOG, it should be an important element in designing one on a console, and hopefully future releases from the EQOA family will excel in this regard.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 11, 2004 8:29 PM.

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