EverQuest: Ruins of Kunark

Despite anyone's expectations, EverQuest is still going strong even a year after its release. To commemorate the success of their ground-breaking online RPG, Verant Interactive and Sony bring you EverQuest: Ruins of Kunark, an expansion set that shows just how far EverQuest has come in a year.

If you've been living in a cave the past few months, here's the deal: you log onto an EverQuest server, create a character from 13 races (from ogres to elves) and 14 classes (from warriors to bards), and go out into the online world of Norrath in search of adventure. While you're there, you'll fight slimy goblins, cruel gnolls, and treacherous humans as you constantly strive for the next level. If you're not in for fighting, you can just hang out with friends, fish on the docks, and watch the sun come up over the Butcherblock Mountains. Verant's slogan says, "You're in our world now", but it's really all yours.

Ruins of Kunark adds an entire continent to the already massive world of Norrath, and it introduces a new player race of lizard men, called the Iksar. They're a great example of what Verant can do if given half a chance -- the Iksar themselves flesh out very nicely, and their city is definitely one of the most complete regarding quests and things to do. Every class of Iksar has a series of "newbie quests" for lower-level characters to complete, making young life in Kunark seem much less like a game of "rat hunter 3D" than almost anywhere else in Norrath.

Ruins of Kunark has slightly more stringent hardware requirements than the original EverQuest, simply because the new continent is visually much more complex, with its more detailed textures and animated environment. Trees sway lightly in the breeze, and monster textures look much better than they ever did -- and that's saying a lot. The only problem with the expansion so far is the massive patch that downloads the first time one logs on (took over five hours on a 56Kbps modem) and the immense overcrowding of the Kunark newbie zones, as everyone and their mothers all rush to try out the Iksar at the same time. Periodic connectivity problems and lag spikes detract a bit from the overall experience, but patient gamers will always find a reason to log back on after getting bumped off.

Of course, the rest of Norrath is more or less the same, with the added bonus that players can now reach level 60, rather than the previous limit of 50. From level 51 up, spellcasters gain a handful of spells at each level, and melee classes can learn "disciplines", which allow them to customise their fighting styles.

Fans of EverQuest probably already have Ruins of Kunark, simply because it's more fuel for their obsession. If you've ever thought of coming to visit Norrath for the first time, now's a great time. If Ruins of Kunark is any example of what Verant can do, then EQ fans should have a lot to look forward to in EverQuest's future.

Product: EverQuest: Ruins of Kunark

Publisher: Verant Interactive

URL: www.station.sony.com/everquest/kunarkTips:

If you're an Iksar necromancer, try to start out in the Lake of Ill Omen zone, located through a cave behind the warriors' guild in West Cabilis. That zone contains both decayed skeletons, who drop bone chips for summoning your skeletal pets, and sarnak hatchlings, whose brains you'll need for your first newbie quest.

If you're in trouble, don't just /shout "Help!" to the entire zone; no one will be able to find you in time. Instead, type /yell, a command which sends a directional cry for help to all players within a certain range.

Iksar class quests often require certain trade skills in order to complete their criteria. Necromancers need to learn Tailoring to solve their second class quest, while shamans will want to practise Alchemy as soon as they can to pass some of their own tests.

Contrary to popular belief, EverQuest is not all about killing, looting and levelling. Find a good group of people and just hang around and roleplay, or assist newbies with their early quests once you get a few levels under your belt. You'll find that playing EQ with friends is much better than just killing stuff and getting that next level.

Remember that the Iksar are not well-liked outside of their own city. If you want to do some travelling early on, choose the necromancer class, which can learn an invisibility spell at level 8. Once you have that, you can explore more freely, but be warned -- certain creatures like undead can still see you while invisible.

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