Without a doubt, EverQuest as a franchise is living up to its namesake for Sony. It has attracted one of the largest online crowds for the longest time. And there are no signs it is ever going to slow down. With this momentum behind them, Sony Online Entertainment crafted a real-time strategy title using the folk and lore of the EverQuest world. While they undoubtedly have some of the mechanics down right, some fundamental oversights and a lack of tie-in with the EverQuest framework turns Lords of EverQuest into a ship that never quite reaches either ends of the shore.
Let's begin with one of the more unique features of Lords of EverQuest. The lords part of the title stands for characters you can choose to hone and develop. Each faction offers not one but a series of interchangeable characters. In one game, you could be playing with a fighter with his/her special skills being enhanced melee skills. In another game, you could be playing the campaign with a sorceress with her special skills being additional spells. Furthermore, these characters are improvable. By eliminating enemies, they gain experience points, which can be used to "level up". They can also pick up and use items to enhance their core competencies. Your lord is carried from mission to mission, so time spent developing your character isn't wasted.
This part of the game reminds me a lot of Warlords: Battlecry, a real-time strategy title based on a product of another genre. Lords of EverQuest builds on this by letting you improve the experience of your troops. Veteran troops will have better statistics in combat and also negate the need to produce mass hordes of units. But for the most part of the game, Lords of EverQuest favors fewer troops and more tactical control. This makes producing units a lot like building an adventurer's party. Similar to Warcraft III, a good mix of healers, ranged and melee units is more effective than a horde of homogenous units.
Lords of EverQuest is no slouch when it comes to variety. It leverages the folk and lore of the online product to present a cast of unique characters. There are instances of duplicity, though. Once you have a healer and some ranged units, the melee characters become pretty much interchangeable.
Individual units can be promoted to knight status and have reduced functions of a lord. During the single player campaign, you're also allowed to transfer units from one mission to another. Points are allotted to control abuse of this function. But too often, to keep the game challenging, the design prevents you from transferring more than a few veteran units. Since you'll want to keep these veteran units alive, it makes further development of any new troops a moot point. This part could have been executed a lot better.
The campaign that comes with Lords of EverQuest is a mixed bag. The three factions have their story tied together. But often their actual forays, which are always preceded with a cinematic sequence using the in-game engine, are not that interesting. It has the usual raid and defend missions. Never, however, did I encounter any sense of urgency in the unscripted build and conquer missions or the scripted scenarios.
Lords of EverQuest gets most of the fundamentals right but one of the most infuriating things is the unit's artificial intelligence. They never really attack or defend when you want them to. Sometimes they over pursue their enemies. Sometimes they don't pursue at all. Often times, in enclosed spaces, ranged units will get in front of the melee troops or units will awkwardly position themselves out of range while the front ranks are being decimated. I can't stress how this type of issue crawls into the skin of most strategy buffs.
When EverQuest was first released, everyone noted how advanced the visuals were. The same statement can be applied to this real-time strategy release. It delivers a decent engine that may not be groundbreaking but is on par with all the other titles out there. With a competent soundtrack, Lords of EverQuest doesn't cop out with superfluous techno tracks associated with Real-time strategy titles of yesteryear. That's not bad considering this is a freshman product.
The other thing Lords of EverQuest did right is take the no monthly fee structure of Blizzard's Battle.net and apply it on their product. You can play online skirmishes without paying a monthly fee and Sony Online
Entertainment provides a few amenities. Already, I'm receiving megs of updates every time I hit the SOEGames.net button. EverQuest players will be happy to know that they have a chance to enter the beta for the next iteration of the online role playing game. Computer players can also fill in on LAN skirmishes.
Still, I felt there wasn't enough being done by the developers to truly leverage EverQuest. Beyond the folk and lore, there aren't any more tie-ins with the EverQuest world. For example, why couldn't we import our EverQuest items and characters into the Lords of EverQuest game? What about using the currency of the EverQuest characters to purchase amenities in Lords of EverQuest? While there is no persistent environment for this strategy title, the developers could at least provide some episodic features to keep the game going on; perhaps even episodes that reflect the current state of EverQuest.
Sony ostensibly wants to grow its flagship online franchise in other ways. Rather than making EverQuest a deeper product in its own right, it is seeking to make it a wider more accessible franchise. You can play your EverQuest on consoles. You can play your EverQuest on handhelds. Now you can strategize EverQuest on the PC as well. But like the first release of EverQuest, there are some notable flaws. If Sony's devotion to EverQuest is any sign to follow on, there will be ample improvements to come for Lords of EverQuest.
And if EverQuest fans are providing any signs to follow on, they just might bite on this one.