The world of Everquest moves ever onward. Last week, under the careful guidance of Rashere, Everquest's lead designer, I was able to preview the strange new worlds found in the Secrets of Faydwer, Everquest's fourteenth expansion. Overall the expansion looks strong. It contains many new zones, over thirty missions, multiple tiers of equipment progression, five new levels, and a focus on single group hunting. The clockwork theme may either excite players or leave them cold, but the design looks excellent. Whether it includes enough to hold players for an entire year, especially in this post WoW world, remains to be seen.
The story of Secrets of Faydwer involves the gnomish necromancer, Meldrath the Malignant, who unveils a floating fortress over the lost lands of Faydwer. Were-orcs, powerful undead, brownies, and the mechanical creations of Meldrath all threaten those who enter the lost lands. Secrets of Faydwer also continues the story of the Sleeper, the dragon Kerafyrm lost since the last days of Velious.
Graphically, the new expansion looks excellent. The brownie village and the new Crushbone-like dungeon of were-orcs feels like something you would see in Everquest 2, not Everquest. This game has come so far since the low-resolution flat textures of the original release in 1999. Like other expansions, Secrets also upgrades one of the older zones, this time Steamfont Mountains. The graphics of the new draconic zone is beautiful but still remains true to the artwork and architecture of previous draconic zones such as Skyshrine and the Sleeper's Tomb.
SOE chose to remain conservative with the expansion of Everquest. This is a smart move considering the general negativity of the massive changes to Star Wars Galaxies. Everquest has evolved quite a bit over the years, but each evolution is a small change to the larger and consistent game built eight years ago. Secrets of Faydwer includes many refinements implemented in previous expansions including single group instanced missions and a tiered spell system. Secrets of Faydwer doesn't include any specific new gameplay features, but rather chooses to focus on enough zones, missions, equipment upgrades, and character level improvements to keep players busy for the next year.
Remaining conservative with Secrets of Faydwer is a good move considering the recent radical inclusion of a collectable virtual card game in both Everquest and Everquest 2. Attempts at revolution can still take place, but with as much hanging on the line as there is for Secrets of Faydwer, it is best to focus on the areas that have clearly worked and keep the radical ideas in the incubator a while longer.
Secrets of Faydwer marks the end of the six month development cycle for Everquest expansions. Instead of continual progression every six months, we now have a twelve month period of time until the next large set of content comes out. Secrets of Faydwer is built to give enough content for both raiders and non-raiders to, hopefully, fill those twelve months. Five new levels and a multi-tiered equipment progression system are two ways they hope to keep people playing over this period.
While The Serpent's Spine was intended to rebuild the lower and mid-level game of Everquest, Secrets of Faydwer focuses on the high level game. Secrets includes four tiers of content for players who prefer single-group hunting and high-end raids beyond the power of the current highest power raid zone, Solteris. While most Everquest expansions offered zones, encounters, and equipment for both raiders and single group hunters, the lead designer's description of Secrets of Faydwer focuses on high level single group play.
However, Secrets will contain twenty eight new high-end raids many above the current top raid zones for those few guilds who have cleared such areas. Secrets of Faydwer includes two raid zones with multiple progressive raids all above the Solteris level.
Equipment progression is one of the few main differences between Secrets of Faydwer and previous expansions. Equipment power will go up in large amounts in order to build tiers that require a certain power of equipment before one can proceed. In order to ensure players cannot jump a tier, the power of this gear will have to be high. No specific numbers were mentioned, but expect to see much higher power equipment than in previous expansions which leaned towards more conservative gains. This tiered equipment power level is a cornerstone in ensuring that Secrets will keep players busy for a whole year.
This expansion also marks a turning point in SOE's marketing for Everquest. Rather than releasing a single stand-alone expansion, SOE will release only a compilation pack that includes the basic game and all expansions. This is a dizzying amount of content in a single box; over four hundred unique zones and instances. If one considers the cost of the original game and $30 for each expansion, it includes over $400 worth of expansions for $40. However, for those of us who actually bought every expansion, this $40 pack is the only way to purchase it. That's a $10 price jump over the traditional expansions. Given the amount of time people spend in game, that's still not a lot, but at this price point one must consider it against the equally priced Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft.
One sure way to ensure the success of an expansion is to include a character level increase. Secrets of Faydwer takes characters from level 75 to level 80 including all of the spells, disciplines, and alternate ability increases included with any level increase. These levels should take roughly the same amount of time as leveling from level 70 to level 75. Each time the level limit increases, older spells and equipment falls out of power. Focus effects on previous high-end raid equipment will become reduced or go out completely. All of this helps to push players forward into newer and more powerful areas but sometimes not without complaint.
Secrets of Faydwer has a lot to offer and, with the need to keep players involved for a year, it better be good. SOE took the best pieces of previous expansions and built it into a single large expansion with a focus on high-end single group play. Multiple tiers of loot, five new levels, and new high-end raids should keep players busy but, with a new Warcraft expansion on the horizon and the strength of Warcraft overall, SOE has an uphill battle to keep what players it has and to bring any new players in. From everything seen in the preview, however, Secrets of Faydwer looks to be a strong expansion.
4 November 2007