In two weeks, Sony Online Entertainment will release the eleventh expansion for Everquest: Prophecy of Ro. Three days ago I had the opportunity to walk across the new lands offered in this expansion and discuss its new features with Everquest's lead designer, Travis McGeathy, also known as Rashere.
The release of Prophecy of Ro includes the largest single release of rebuilt old-world zones. All of Freeport and the entire Desert of Ro will be redone in the style of later expansions using newer graphical techniques. Previously seamed polygonal landscapes now become rolling dunes of sand and rock.
The rebuild of Freeport not only updates the appearance and layout but also shows how the city has grown over the years. The factions that split the city have become even more aggravated. The alleys of East Freeport grow darker while high walls and armed guards protect the sanctity of the Temple of Marr in the west. The Tower of the Arcane rises high above the wooden buildings around it. SOE paid attention to both the vast scope of the city and the intricate details found in every corner.
The content available in Freeport and Ro is still the same. The level ranges of the zones have not changed. New quests have been added, including a new faction quest in Freeport that, when earned, lets players walk freely through both sides of Freeport without harassment. While the difficulty of this quest is not yet known, it will not be as severe as a "collect 10,000 cloth caps" quest.
SOE will release these four zones, replacing six old-world zones, to all players regardless of whether they purchase the expansion or not. While the new missions in these zones are only available to purchasers of Prophecy of Ro, some new quests in these zones will be available to everyone.
The new zones of Prophecy of Ro are split into three sets: Takish Hiz, Plane of Magic, and Plane of Rage. Each of these sets includes two large static zones as well as individual missions. This does not include a final unique zone, the Theater of Blood, discussed later.
An overarching storyline connects the players through these new zones. Mayong Mistmoore has become a demi-god and now threatens the pantheon. Druzzil Ro, goddess of Magic, is unable to directly interfere with these plans but is able to call upon the adventurers of Norrath to help thwart Mistmoore's plans. She opens gateways to the Plane of Magic, the Plane of Rage, and with the help of Tunare and Karana, sends adventurers back into the glory days of the elven cities of Tunaria.
The winds of Karana have uncovered the ruins of Takish Hiz. Players will remember exploring some of this city in Lost Dungeons of Norrath, but that prepares them little for what they face now. In the first of the three zone sets, adventurers will explore the ruins of Takish Hiz and transport back to the time before the fall of Elddar Forest.
The ruined city of Takish Hiz is a large static hunting zone tuned for level 50 to level 65 characters. Players will face creatures lost under the sands for centuries. Deeper within the zone, adventurers will find access through Druzzil's magic to the forest of Elddar.
The second zone in each zone-set is tuned for higher levels than the first. Elddar Forest is tuned for level 70s at roughly the same difficulty as the Hive. Powerful treants, huge intelligent forest giants, and other great beasts roam the massive trees of the elven city. The city layout of Takish Hiz remains consistent across both the Elddar and Ruins of Takish Hiz zone, showing adventurers how the city has changed.
The Plane of Magic is home to the creations of Druzzil Ro. It consists of two zones, Arcstone and Relic. Arcstone represents the more chaotic and natural aspects of Druzzil's magic. Powerful spirits rule over the land and the landscape itself changes drastically depending on which spirit controls the area. A camp of lost travelers gives new adventurers a place to ground themselves as they explore the strange land. Arcstone is tuned for level 60 to level 70 at around the same difficulty as the Muramite Proving Grounds.
Relic represents the antithesis of Arcstone. Relic is itself a vast artifact of great power, huge both physically and in planar strength. A great spire, the Skylance, pins Arcstone and Relic together like a spindle between two platforms. Looking up the spire in either of the two zones shows you the surface of the other. Gravity pulls outward in both zones like a sphere instead of down as we are used to, so the surfaces of the two lands face each other instead of being stacked on top of one another, with the Skylance holding them together.
Relic is much more orderly than Arcstone. Druzzil Ro's minions wander the strange metallic platforms and walkways in strange, twisted, and sometimes horrifying shapes. Walkways lead far up into the higher platforms where large bowls of elemental magic fuel the great artifact. Huge dragons of fire, storm, and water act as guardians of these sources for the vast engine of magic.
The Plane of Rage makes up the final set of base zones for Prophecy of Ro, with Devastation and the Stronghold of Rage. Devastation is a land in constant conflict. Nine armies endlessly war against one another in an attempt to control the Stronghold of Rage in the center of the land. A wall of twisted and agonized creatures rings the battlefield. Those who commit murder out of anger find themselves trapped in the wall after their death. Only after centuries fighting through the other murderous beings on the wall do they earn the right to fight for Sullon Zek and possession of the Stronghold.
Devastation is tuned for levels 60 to 70 and includes much of the destructible terrain mentioned in the Prophecy press release. Players can crush walls, catapults, doors, and ballistae down to rubble. The armies continually war with one another and the results of these wars lead to that army controlling the Stronghold. During our tour, powerful drachnids held the center of this chaotic world while roving bands of orcs, kobolds, armored skeletal knights, and werewolves prowled the landscape.
Death in Devastation is different than death anywhere else. Death results in a respawn in Devastation with equipment intact and an unequipped body at the site of the death. There is no way out of Devastation save those of magical means. Even death does not allow escape from this world.
The Stronghold of Rage is a fortress built by the Bolvirk, the oldest natives of the Plane of Rage who appear as strange runed giants. The zone is tuned for high-end level 70 players and consists of the wartorn inner sanctum of the Stronghold.
Upon achieving greater power, Mayong Mistmoore captured his own world and twisted it towards his own evil will. This resulted in the Theater of Blood, the dark world of the vampire demi-god. This plane is designed for the highest power single group adventurers. There is no zone connection to this world. Only by following the path throughout the other lands will players find themselves here. This zone was modeled after the Plane of Fear back in the old days of Norrath. It is very dangerous and very difficult but with powerful rewards. Non-raiders will find themselves hunting in groups of two or three against the denizens of this world while high-end raiders will find challenges deeper in. Mistmoore's Tower, Deathknell, spears up from the center of this dark land.
These descriptions do not include the wide array of missions, monster missions, quests, and raids available in Prophecy of Ro. Prophecy of Ro includes over thirty missions with a dozen monster missions, the first ever monster raid, many single-group overland quests such as the spirit hunter missions in Arcstone, and six missions for level 45+ in the new Freeport.
Within the focus on level 50 and above, Prophecy of Ro has a lot to offer players of almost any play style. Level 50 to 60 players receive six new missions in Freeport and can hunt in the Takish Hiz overland zone. 60 to 70 players receive more missions and at least three huntable static zones. High-end level 70 players will find hunting in all six of the primary zones and, given enough effort, should find it possible to hunt in the Theater of Blood. The new monster missions in Prophecy of Ro are available to all players of all levels assuming they can reach the mission itself.
Prophecy includes a lot of raid content across all of the new zones. Each of the zones includes at least one Anguish level raid with two raid-instances similar to the Demiplane of Blood. Prophecy also includes events for 18 to 36 Time-level raiders as well.
Prophecy of Ro takes a different path than Depths of Darkhollow or Dragons of Norrath. Prophecy focuses more on static content than instanced dynamic content. Competition will return, for good or for ill, on some of this content. The return to a large static Plane of Fear style zone might show us how accurate our nostalgia really is for the days of old. We will know in a few months how well this works.
Prophecy of Ro also includes an array of new features. Players can now block certain buffs from ever landing on them, freeing up slots for the buff they desire most. Some classes will receive traps that let them blast attacking creatures with a variety of effects. Areas of influence, including player auras and zone-specific storms of magic, alter how battles are fought. Every class will receive either a trap or an aura. Some will receive both.
Prophecy of Ro looks to be a large expansion mixing elements of many previous expansions. The planar focus of the zones and the storyline follow much of the same lines as Planes of Power. The focus of static hunting zones follows much of the success of Omens of War. Prophecy adds new missions and monster missions in the manner of Dragons of Norrath and Depths of Darkhollow.
How good will this expansion be? It often takes a month or two after release to say for sure. All of the right pieces are here, although we will have to see how players respond to more static content after the previous two heavily-instanced expansions. Much of the success also depends on the rewards. Players always follow the greatest reward for their time spent.
With some excellent visuals, nice features, and a lot of strong static huntable content, Prophecy of Ro has all of the requirements for a very strong expansion. In a short three weeks, the adventurers of Norrath will, once again, find themselves in strange and exciting new worlds.
6 February 2006