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In two weeks, the bold, the adventurous, the magical and the nerdy will descend on Las Vegas. And while Vegas is a city that prides itself on catering to strange individuals and eccentric behavior, they ain't seen nothin' yet. What is this fearsome plague? It's the Everquest Fan Faire.
Fans from around the world show up to... well... talk about Everquest, I guess. Many of them get dressed up as their characters, and Sony certainly encourages them. It's not surprising that they do, since Sony has made a huge pile of money off the very successful Everquest game, all thanks to fans like these.
For those of you living under the Rock of Oblivion, Everquest is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). You play online in a world populated by thousands of other human players. You can join up to adventure together, or trade for goods, or argue, or fight, or just about anything. On top of the regular game price, you also must pay $10 per month for your account. With 400,000 EQ players, that's a lot of cash every month.
Sony hopes to move that success over to the PS2 with Everquest Online Adventures. This is a totally separate game and you do not play in the same world with the PC players. In fact, there are quite a few differences between them.
Everquest Online Adventures (EOA) takes place in the world of Norrath, only 400 years before the world of the PC game. Veterans of EQ will recognize many of the landmarks of the continent of Antonica, which is called Tunaria in the time of EOA. But don't expect to find everything the same; a lot can change in 400 years and that horrifying, evil dungeon you are familiar with may have once been a thriving city.
There are many minor rule changes, too may to be explained here, but most of the role playing elements in EOA will be very familiar; in fact, little has changed since Gary Gygax first got his hands on a Xerox machine. Pick a character, kill some orcs, become more powerful. You can choose to be one of ten different races, although four of those are different sorts of humans and two are elves. For some height variation, you can also try your hand at playing a tiny gnome or a huge troll.
Fourteen different classes await you as well, from fighters, rangers, monks and rogues to magicians, enchanters, shamans and clerics. I will never understand why there is always a bard, but every game has them, including this one.
Once you have decided who you are, it's off to the fray! Well, not quite yet, because EOA features an excellent tutorial for new players where you learn the basics of the controls and the gameplay mechanics. Exactly what you need before you get dropped in front of some angry lizards.
And the control is surprisingly good, considering the PC version gets to use the whole keyboard. You move with the left stick and control the camera with the right. Attacking spells, targeting and special abilities are all mapped out smartly using every button on the PS2 controller. But there's one thing you can do with a keyboard that you can't do with a controller: type.
EOA is a very social game, and you won't get far without friends. In some ways it's just a very, very complex chatroom. But your chatting will be sharply limited by the dozen or so quick phrases you can choose with the L2 button. You can bring up a "virtual keyboard" to laboriously type in messages, but what you really need is an actual keyboard. Fortunately, you can plug any USB keyboard into the PS2 and the game recognizes it immediately.
There is no remedy for the graphics, however. The game just doesn't look very good. The textures are bland and the characters look blocky, but the landscapes are the worst, barren and boring. Things get a little better underground, but this is still not a pretty game. One improvement over the PC version, though, is that there are no loading times when you change "areas." The graphics stream in continuously, no matter how far you travel.
But that may be EOA's only advantage over its PC cousin. It's what's missing from the game that really hurts. There are no skills other than those related to combat. You cannot make armor or swords, you cannot learn to cook, craft a necklace, or weave a beautiful garment. So fighting things is the only game in town.
And you cannot fight other players, either. EOA is completely non-PVP (player vs. player). That means no player can hurt another player anywhere, anytime (Note to self: Send this suggestion to the UN.) What good is a rogue who cannot steal? I know that most of the Everquest PC servers are also non-PVP, but it's the threat of violence, no matter how distant, that keeps MMORPG games fun in the long run.
Sadly, there is really no threat at all in EOA. There is no way to lose your possessions, power or abilities, and the penalties for death are very minor. You simply acquire an "experience debt" that can be quickly paid off.
Speaking of which, you'll need a nice chunk of change to get EOA up and running. Even if you already have the Network Adapter and a USB keyboard, you still need to fork over the retail cost of the game, then an additional 10 bucks a month. That's a serious commitment to a not-serious-enough game.
Everquest Online Adventures is really just "Everquest Lite." It's not a bad game and I give it credit for being the first true console MMORPG, but it gets boring to play since you can only go forward. It's for people who never want to be presented with any real frustrations or creative challenges. It's a shallow world, with far fewer of the life options that made Norrath so engrossing. Take the depth out of Everquest, and you just end up with Statbuilder.