Mobhunter: Depths of Darkhollow Preview

I just returned from the preview of Depths of Darkhollow, the tenth Everquest expansion. It is with cramped hand and full bladder that I bring you latest details on this exciting expansion. The expansion has three major aspects; play as a monster, intelligent items, and the traditional expansion zones and missions. SOE will release Depths of Darkhollow on 13 September 2005. Let's dig right in.

Play as a Monster

The most exciting feature of Depths of Darkhollow lets players select monsters as play characters. Anyone who remembers Project M remembers how much fun it was to jump into the body of a moss snake and pwn newbs. The Play as a Monster features improves on this idea in many directions.

There are two ways to play as a monster: within missions and using a system called the Spirit Shroud.

Using the Spirit Shroud, players can select lower level beasts to hunt with lower level friends in old-world zones. This meets a long-standing problem where friends of mixed levels could not hunt together. Though high level players may pick lower level monsters, the experience gained will improve both their primary play character and their selected beast. The creatures a player can polymorph into are limited by the infamous global memory file; a large file containing all of the player models, armor, weapons, pets, and other common world-wide models.

The second method of playing as a monster lets players jump into missions as any monster within the dark minds of the SOE designers and artists. Players can jump into a variety of missions with a variety of different monster PC models. We heard whispers of a lower guk mission with the PC playing the Froglok assassin or Froglok Shin Lord fighting the hoards of beasts from Cazic Thule’s armies.

These missions offer unlimited potential for historical EQ battles fought from the other side. Players might play as Nagafen and eat raids full of NPCs who wish to slay the great red beast. Using spirit shrouds, players of high-end guilds can switch to a pack of level 50 beasts and hunt Lord Nagafen once again.

This feature alone fixes many outstanding difficulties in massive online games. It lets players play with lower-level friends. It helps players hunt even if they are missing a required class archetype. It helps revitalize old-world content by making any zone lower than a player huntable once again.

Since missions, this is the most exciting feature I have ever seen added to EQ.

Zones and Graphics

The expansion itself will include seven large static zones and fifteen instanced missions. This number doesn't include a large raid-level instance of the final zones, Darkspire, intended to offer a large amount of content for current high-end raiders who quickly run out of existing raid content. This high-end zone will offer uninstanced single-group hunting as well as single-group and raid missions.

From the screenshots we see large dark forests inhabited by ghost-white werewolves (perhaps that's your friend Bob! Hey Bob!). We see huge bottomless caverns full of criss-crossing walkways between giant stalactites. We see the giant cathedral of the Darkspire. We see the twisted cities of the Illithid-Liches (Nanyea says they're called "Alhoon"). The first shot of the large forest is called "Nektulos". Could a zone revamp of our favorite dark forest be in our future? Further rumors say "yes" and you heard it here first - we will see a revamp of Nektulos Forest!

The zones look beautiful and it sounds like they'll have a lot of content for a lot of players.

The monsters themselves, both PCs and NPCs look excellent including werewolves, the liches mentioned above, eels, big mushrooms, minotaurs, gnomish lockwork rogues, orcs, and drachnids.

Intelligent Items

The final feature discussed during our preview of Depths of Darkhollow were Intelligent items, also referred to as "Evolving Items" and "Smart Items". Did you ever read the R.A Salvatore Legacy of the Drow books? Remember Dantag Banere’s intelligent demonic sword, Khazid'hea? Imagine that in EQ. Swords will insult their slain masters and desire the expert hand of another. These weapons earn experience as though they were characters, growing in power as their master (or servant?) wields them. The possibilities are endless.

During the last three days, Craig Knapp, Everquest producer describes his visions of Everquest growing in depth instead of breadth. His philosophy seems to be both metaphor and literal at the same time. Depths of Darkhollow looks to take Everquest into whole new directions. Most importantly, the features of Depths of Darkhollow clearly define Everquest as a continued force in a fiercely competitive world.

Now go check out the Depths of Darkhollow screenshots.