Mobhunter: Preview of the Buried Sea

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to walk through the new lands found within the thirteenth Everquest expansion, the Buried Sea, available 13 February 2007. Today I will discuss my experiences and discoveries as I walked the lands of the Buried Sea.

The Buried Sea contains seven new overland zones as well as over 60 instanced missions. The overland zones are huge, with some reports that crossing from one side to the other can take fifteen minutes or longer. The expansion's namesake zone, The Buried Sea, has seven islands spread across a large sea. Each of these islands acts as its own adventuring area with large boats and player-controlled rowboats shuttling players from island to island.

The expansion is split into two major areas, the pirate sea-faring area and the underwater Combine city of Katta Castrum. While many spend much attention on the pirate aspect of the expansion, I found the combine city to be the richer of the two areas - with ties to Rathe mountains, Luclin, and even Planes of Power.

The overland zones include a newly revamped Toxxulous Forest, The Buried Sea, Katta Castrum, the Jewel of Atiiki, Thalassius, Zhisza the Shissar Sanctuary, Silyssar, and the ultra-high-end Solteris - the Throne of Ro. The single-group zones range in difficulty from level 55 through Direwind, Valdeholm, Frost Crypt, Ashengate, and post-Ashengate in difficulty. Unlike The Serpent's Spine, the entirety of this expansion's content will focus on level 55+ characters.

The zones range in geography from islands among a great sea, to small pocket-environments encapsulated in magical shells deep under the water. The Buried Sea contains Egyptian-style ruins, ancient temples of the Shissar, a huge combine city that reminds us of Sanctus Seru, and the scorched homeworld of Solusek Ro.

Instanced missions make up most of the content within the Buried Sea. These six-person events range in duration from 30 minutes for sea-battles to 60 to 90 minutes for missions similar to the ones we saw in Dragons of Norrath and Depth's of Darkhollow. The missions start with lower-powered level 65 missions in the pirate area and escalate to level 70 and 75 missions in the Combine city. The Shissar missions will prove to be the most challenging set.

Like Dragons of Norrath and Lost Dungeons of Norrath, The Buried Sea will contain a point-based loot system. Players will earn points on each successful mission and can use these points to purchase new equipment and items at loot vendors in the pirate and combine areas. While the power of this armor is still changing, it looks like the most powerful set of armor purchasable from single group missions, once powered up with an Energeian powersource described below, will rival Anguish-level equipment.

The point system will be split into three tiers: pirates, Combine, and raid. Points earned on pirate missions can only be used to purchase lower-power items while Combine missions reward points used to purchase higher-powered equipment. There is a little overlap between the highest power pirate rewards and the lower powered Combine rewards.

The point rewards for these missions will also shift as missions become more or less popular. This will avoid bottom-feeding for points on the easiest or fastest missions like we saw on Creator missions in Dragons of Norrath.

This point system will also extend into the ultra-high-end raids in Solteris. Very powerful equipment can be purchased with points earned from these very difficult raids.

The Buried Sea includes a new type of equipment, the Energeian power source. This new inventory slot can contain a power source that can affect any of the new armor acquired in the Buried Sea expansion through drops or vendors. It is these power sources that add unique effects to the somewhat generic point-based loot.

The raids contained within the Buried Sea will focus almost entirely on difficulties above that found in The Serpent's Spine. The one raid zone, Solteris, is intended to be extremely challenging for current players. Giant beams of focused sunlight are able to scorch characters for over 100,000 damage. Solteris is built into tiers much like the islands in the original Plane of Sky raid zone. According to SOE, a raiding guild that makes it half way will have major bragging rights.

There are no monster missions in this expansion but SOE hasn't given up on them. We will see new monster missions entering the game in the future.

During the preview, SOE revealed that they are planning to release a new human model based on their work with the Drakkin model in The Serpent's Spine. This model will be seen on human NPCs in the Buried Sea. After this expansion's release, SOE plans to test the models out with the players and release them once they feel they are ready.

Two other new features round out this expansion: Fellowships and Guild Banners. Each of these features is targeted to a different play style.

Fellowships will help smaller groups of players with less time available get together faster and begin hunting. The fellowships will let three players in a group summon the other three directly to a hunting area. Fellowships also dedicate a chat channel for each fellowship even if ungrouped. It isn't clear what advantage this gives over traditional chat channels or group chat, but we will have to see it in action to judge. Upgraded fellowship campsites can also offer offensive effects, defensive effects, and even illusions to the fellowship. SOE hopes to extend the concept of fellowships but not before the expansion's release.

Guild Banners can be customized by guild leaders and can help a small set of guilded players summon the rest of a guild to a raiding area. Upgraded guild banners can also add beneficial area effects.

My preview of the Buried Sea surprised me. While I expected to see a lot of missions and a new point-based loot system, I didn't expect to see such large overland zones. The artwork in this expansion is excellent and helps bring back memories of our days in Luclin, Planes of Power, and even in the original lands.

It's a hard time to release a new Everquest expansion with all of the attention paid to the Burning Crusade. SOE wisely focused this expansion on Everquest's strength: dynamic mission-based group content. World of Warcraft's unfocused instances don't have the same focus on group missions found in Everquest. As a contrast to the strong static content found in the Serpent's Spine, the Buried Sea has a lot to offer veteran Everquest players.

And now, the screenshots.

Loral Ciriclight
3 February 2007