Kain and Calthine explore EQII's upcoming Sentinel's Fate expansion with the developers.
On the 22nd of January, 2010 Calthine and Kain were privileged to be invited on the EverQuest II Beta Tour for the new Sentinel's Fate expansion. Sentinel's Fate will have an early access launch on February 16 and will open for everyone February 22. Christine “Kiara” Renzetti, EQII Community Manager, did a good job of wrangling people into the right areas and explaining a little about each of them. Developers Carl “Gninja” Mora and Brett “Timetravelling” Scheinert were on-hand to give us a more in-depth information regarding each area, as they are responsible for the majority of the zone layouts and quests. Click on any picture for a full-sized image, or see the whole gallery.
Odus was an island continent in the original EverQuest, and fans have long wondered what happened to it in EverQuest II. Like Echoes of Faydwer, there is a lot of nostalgia for old EQ players in Sentinel's Fate. Several of us spent the tour going “I remember this” and “wow, do you remember....” The developers and artists have done a lovely job of incorporating the Odus we knew with Norrath some 500 years in the future. As you play the expansion you'll discover just what did happen to make it go missing.
With launch the Spire Network will also service Odus, which was pulled into Ultera; the players opened access to it during the Quellithulian Spire Event of Game Update 53. The storyline that was begun with the rebuilding of the Spires and continued through the recent Attack on the Crowns event continues as an overarching storyline, and it will come in Solo/Heroic and Raid forms. This means non-raiders have a chance to enjoy the storyline, which was very nice to hear!
When you arrive in the expansion you will be in the Sundered Frontier, which is the first overland zone within the Sentinel’s Fate. According to Timetravelling the zone is designed for level 80-85 players. We think you might be able to start there as early as level 78. There are around 150 quests in each of the two overland zones, so there's plenty to do. Sundered Frontier is a series of islands, one of which is a fairly major land-mass containing Toxxulia Forest, Paineel, Old Paineel, and The Hole. Paineel is where the heretic Erudites lived in EQ. They practiced necromancy and other dark arts, which is apparent as you explore. We have been told that Paineel is in its new location because of the Erudites playing around with the Underfoot seal. Veterans will also be impressed with how Kerra Isle developed.
Navigating around the Sundered Frontier is done either through teleporters or hovering pads, which will remind players of Kingdom of Sky Cloud Stations. The Highland Stalker mount is indeed a Collector's Edition exclusive: the quested mount for this expansion is a flying disk like the ones used to transport you between islands. The quests within this zone have you doing a lot of running around and some killing. They're fairly quick and easy for the most part, meaning you can actually feel like you accomplished quite a lot in a short space of time. Another nice feature is that the quests always seem to end in "safe" locations, meaning you can easily run a couple of quests when you have a few spare minutes and then logout without worrying about death.
We need to put in a word about the art. This is possibly the most jaw-droppingly fantastic expansion, visually speaking, in the whole game. The art department has surpassed itself in mob and zone design. On our tour people were able to run on extreme levels of quality in the instanced zones without issues – Kain reported he was getting 60fps – despite massive animations, particle and other visual effects and intricate art. Calthine's middle-of-the-road system had no issues whatsoever on “very high” graphics settings.
Our time in The Sundered Frontier was brief and we soon went to The Hole. Thank you Kiara for suggesting we jump straight into the zone from Paineel. It looked like a mass ritual suicide had taken place! The Hole comes in several versions: a contested dungeon (one of three contested zones in the expansion) and some instances. The contested dungeon is the one where we took a look around, and it has at least three separate wings. Timetravelling informed us that these wings are: Old Paineel, which has been invaded by the roekillik Caertaxian Legion; Dartain's Fortress, which is manned by the far outnumbered and now paranoid Erudites in his service; and the tower of Serillis, which is filled with elementals coming out from the faltering Underfoot Seal. You can thank the Erudites of Paineel for breaking it... it wasn't the gnomes for once! Despite haunting bits of lore connections and expansion names, we were told that the EQII story line is not trying to mesh with current EQ Live lore.
The developers have said the zone should be do-able by a small group of three right towards the start of the zone, progressing towards a full group the deeper you go. In that respect, the zone feels very much like Solusek's Eye to us, getting progressively harder but even small groups can head in and accomplish something. There are quests at the entrance you can pick up and run for faction, XP and AA. Also, the zone has its own shiny collection! This seems to vary depending on the actual wing of the zone that you are in, meaning there are approximately three different collection quests within the zone. Plenty of reason to keep coming back!
From The Hole we moved on to some of the other instanced areas. Our first stop was the Library of Erudin. This seemed to be pretty big and the artwork is just fantastic! It has a Clue-style murder mystery quest within it, and the solution will randomize every time you come into the zone. We're not entirely sure how it will change, but we know where the person dies, where the body might be hidden and the weapon used to do the dastardly deed are all possibilities. Speaking of the murder weapon, this zone also has a collection quest based on those murder weapons which is required to solve the mystery. EQ1 players will be pleased to know that Stephanie Young, the artist who designed the Erudin Library in EQ and EQOA, also had a hand in the new EQ2 version. Of note here is a giant spiral staircase made entirely of books, which should have home decorators drooling. Sadly, we were running out of time and mostly just got to "ooh" and "aah" at the pretty graphics, which are leaps and bounds ahead of anything in the previous expansions.
We were whisked off to one of the Vasty Deep instances, specifically the Conservatory, which, according to Kiara, is “where the Erudites did research and experiments with the sea creatures and plants in the Vasty Deep waters, to study the magical properties of the water.” The zone art is absolutely fantastic, thanks to SOE artist Tad Ehrlich. Timetravelling told us, “This zone is one of the easier ones. Erudin Palace and the Vigilant instances will be much meaner.” Here it was confirmed that there will be a shard reward system in the expansion, using “Mark of Manaar” as the new tokens. We ran into one of the “magical chests” in the beginning of the Conservatory, which implies there are also key mobs.
We had some time to ask questions after the tour. For a start, we got to look at the Battlegrounds gear. Tradeskillers will be able to make level 80 and level 90 versions of the armour to get people started on this new PvP content. After that, you collect various tokens within the zones to buy better armour. We noticed the armour has a new "toughness" attribute, which apparently helps lower the damage from other players rather than mobs. Timetravelling commented that this caps at 40%. Resists are gone from normal gear again, meaning we have to source resist specific gear and decide if we want survivability or DPS. It was also mentioned that adornments will help provide some resists.
The adornment system is also changing. Raid-level gear has the potential to have two adornments, termed White and Red. White is apparently "normal" adornments, similar to what we have now from what could be gathered. Red is the "raid-level" adornments. We couldn't get a specific answer, but it sounds like you would have to make those adornments from items found within raid instances. Despite them being "raid-level" adornments, they will work in any content. Set gear will be customizable by the player to a certain extent. “The new adornment system will actually allow us to give each class specific adornments instead of the set bonuses used previously,” said Timetravelling. “We also have 'large' armour sets that let Fyreflyte put a BUNCH of items in one set, so that you don't miss out on set bonuses when changing tiers.” Sorry, Adornments will still not be removable.
Mythicals will be receiving some attention. On the tour the devs didn't want to give us too much information, but did state there was an upgrade that would allow us to keep the effects of our current Mythicals. We have since learned that this will be in the form of a long quest series you can start when you have your Fabled epic, which will ultimately result in a clicky-spell version of the major epic effect, and house and appearance-only versions of the weapon itself.
In other news, we learned that both Shaders 3.0 and New Halas will be delayed until Game Update 56, for which we do not yet have an ETA.
Watch this space for more information about Sentinel's Fate and Game Update 55! We will be filling the EQII ZAM wikibase with what we've learned in Beta. We also recommend you tune into the first ever live streaming Beta tour on Ustream this afternoon, hosted by Alan “Brenlo” Crosby, EQII Senior Producer.
Amy "Calthine" Lanam, EQII ZAM Sr. CM
Neil "Kain" Wallis, EQII CM