Spinoffs of EverQuest.
It was four years ago that I first studied the Tome of the Dead as a necromancer and gave the land of Norrath a small taste of my pet zombies. Since that time, EverQuest has become America and Europe's number one Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Aside from having about 400,000 subscribers forking their hard earned cash over to Sony every month, EQ has become a merchandising juggernaut only one step below the likes of Lara Croft and Mario.
We can zip right past the ubiquitous T-shirts and baseball caps and go straight to the line of action figures. There's a dozen online fan comics, plus a legit comic book published by DC Comics. Would you like a custom portrait of your EQ character? Coming right up! For hardcore geeks, there's a pen-and-paper version of the game complete with D20s. There's even a book on the 'making of" EverQuest. But best of all is the EverQuest Fan Faire, which provides us every year with a wealth of embarrassing photos. Lots of 'em.
So it comes as little surprise that, like Frasier riding the success of Cheers, the spun-off Lords of EverQuest tries to find itself a prime-time slot. And like any good spinoff, you'll find some familiar characters and some new ones all tossed together in an entirely new setting. Our Boston bar has been replaced by a snazzy Seattle apartment, and our MMORPG has a new real-time strategy cousin.
Basically, LoE takes many of the familiar races and classes from EQ - trolls, shadownights, paladins, dark elves, ogres, erudites, necromancers, froglocks, etc. - and tosses them into the Warcraft III setting. There are a few differences between the two games, but they're minor. However, if LoE is just EverQuest-flavored Warcraft, at least it's well made. Unlike the recent, bland War of the Ring, LoE manages to add a little extra spice to the genre.
The graphics, for example, are slightly better with some very nice textures that give a little life to the unit's immobile faces. Your little soldiers are well animated, with several different attacks and even some nice fidgeting when they're just standing around. Some of the huge units, like dragons (which you can only see in the single-player campaigns) look great.
The sound is also good, with all the clangs, crunches and spellcasting sizzles you would expect from a good battle. The score is generic orchestral battlefield music; you'll barely notice it's there. Voice-acting is mixed, with some of the lords and units excellently portrayed, while others, such as the ogres, sound just plain bad.
Speaking of the speaking lords, this game's not called Lords of EverQuest for nothing. There are three sides to the battle: the Dawn Brotherhood, the Elddar Alliance, and the Shadowrealm, and each one has a selection of five lords. While you can only have one lord down on the battlefield with your troops, like Warcraft, your lord is your most powerful unit and has a positive effect on all the soldiers around him or her.
Every one of your units gains experience and levels from combat, so it behooves you to keep them alive for as long as possible. Your Lord's level also affects the level of all new units produced by your buildings. You can take a couple of your favorite units with you from campaign to campaign, but it has little effect on the game since by the time you get to the next campaign, your newly produced units are at about the same experience level as your combat veterans.
One nice innovation is the ability to move all your control panels around and open or minimize them, just like in Windows. They're fine in their traditional spot at the bottom of the screen, but it's always nice to be able to customize your own interface to suit your individual play style.
The 35-mission single player campaign is long and difficult, mostly due to the low levels of platinum, the game's only resource. You'll have to be an efficient commander to win, and not just build up the biggest pile of cannon-fodder. When you're done with that, the multiplayer game works fine through Sony's new matchmaking service and supports up to 12 players.
However, some of the irritating legacy of Warcraft is here, too. Why can I only have twelve units in a group? And the unit AI can be frustratingly stupid. In confined spaces, like a narrow pass or between the buildings of your base, units will belligerently stand in each other's way and traffic jams are common.
I was really hoping for more RPG flavor out of LoE since it has such lofty RPG origins. But alas, your lord has very few stats and you can't customize him in any way; he just gets more powerful as he goes up levels. I would have also liked to be able to set individual unit AIs, like putting all my healers in a defensive mode so they didn't keep rushing to the front to get killed. Instead, my only option is to tell them to 'stand in place' no matter what, an order they immediately forget the next time you move them.
There was an underrated game that came out a couple years ago called Warlords: Battlecry that had all of these innovations and more. It was a terrifically designed game that would have made more of a splash if it weren't for its lame graphics. It's a shame that game wasn't the inspiration for LoE.
Don't get me wrong, LoE is a decent game in its own right and it should temporarily satisfy two groups: EQ junkies who just can't get enough, and Warcraft junkies who've already played the hell out of The Frozen Throne.
In the end, this spinoff won't rank up there with the classics like Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, or The Jeffersons, or even the great game spinoffs, like Heroes of Might and Magic. Instead, like Joanie Loves Chachi, The Facts of Life, or Trapper John M.D., Lords of EverQuest is there to fill a programming void until next season's lineup. Now if only there were a way to stop Friends from spinning off any shows…