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EQII: Desert of Flames: Desert of Flames Heats Things Up

Back in November 2004, Everquest II was released with one of the smoothest launches in MMORPG history. Since that time Sony Online Entertainment and the Everquest II team have really shown their stuff by not only polishing up and fixing various aspects of the game, but also having some of the largest and most impressive additions of content ever seen in a pre-expansion MMORPG. In addition to the various free zones, dungeons, and instances provided, Everquest II also has two downloadable content patches called Adventure Packs. While all of this new content was great, it was high time for the first official expansion, and now it?s almost here. Desert of Flames will be the first major comprehensive addition of content into the Everquest II world and will also coincide with a major overhaul of the game?s combat system.

Taking place in the area of the original Everquest called The Desert of Ro, the arid landscapes of Desert of Flames have changed dramatically in the last 500 years. Players, now able to increase their level to the new cap of 60, will arrive in this new land at the serpentine docks of an area called the Sinking Sands. If there?s one thing you?ll see a lot of in this area, as well as just about every area of Desert of Flames it's sand, lots and lots of sand. That doesn?t mean the landscapes are boring by any stretch of the imagination. Far from being the Sahara, Desert of Flames is full of cliffs, many of which you will be able to climb, desert flora, and many varied oases. Once players reach the shores of this Arabian paradise, they will be able to either further explore the surrounding lands in search of adventure or take a flying carpet straight to the nearby city of Maj'Dul.

While not as big as the major metropolitan areas of Qeynos or Freeport, Maj'Dul is by no means a tiny hamlet. While it is also a very large city, Ma'Dul?s truly dubious distinction is that this city is almost as dangerous as the areas outside. Don?t think for a moment that you?re safe in this jewel of the desert - climb the wrong rooftop or walk down the wrong alley and you may soon find yourself beset by all measures of dark characters, bandits, thieves, and overzealous beggars (with surprising strength) who may make quick work of you if you are not careful. Also, unlike the two starting cities, players will be able to engage anything in the city for battle - every merchant, every animal, and every guard will be killable. Players should beware, however, as the Sha'ir, Maj'Dul?s wizard guards, constantly patrol the city on their carpets. Suffice it to say, the Sha'ir can easily take down all but the most well equipped players.

One of the major reasons for all of this lawlessness is that the sultan of Maj?Dul has recently passed on and three factions are vying for power over the city, The Court of Blades, The Court of Coins, and The Court of Truth. Players will be able to choose to join one of these factions and perform a series of missions to increase their standing. Faction members can actually alter which areas of the city are controlled by which faction, and this can affect quests and adventure opportunities available to players. If one faction controls the entire city, it will create a raid event in the city that the other two factions can engage to "reset" the city. There is also a fourth court, The Court of Tears, but not much is known about them and their intentions are currently shrouded in mystery.

Aside from the faction wars, the other major draw of the city is the arena. Here players can engage in Player vs. Player combat. While players can now duel anywhere (though I advise not doing this in Maj?Dul as the Sha?ir don?t approve), the real action happens in this arena. Players can engage in three different types of contests, including Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Destroy the Idols. Players can also choose to either fight themselves or use creatures known as arena champions. While the expansion as a whole is intended for players level 45-60, lower level players can have fun fighting in the arena with arena champions. Arena champions come with their own set of stats and skills and can require play styles that are wildly different from what players are used to. You can purchase a large assortment of champions from the arena merchant, but there are many available only as quest rewards and from monsters. They come in wide varieties, from skeletons and wisps, to moppets and specters.

Far from being a standard type of PvP environment, the arena competitions also include some "arcade" style power ups. Vials of health and power are scattered all over the arena for players to pick up, as well as some very powerful one-use skills players can pick up that do things like increase attack power, defense power, or can knock enemies around.

The Sinking Sands is full of interesting hotspots. The first one Everquest fans are likely to notice is the specter tower from the old Oasis of Marr. A little worse for the wear, the tower itself is now just a ruin, but our old friends the specters still hover around it in droves. Not surprisingly, our old buds the crocs and caimans are still hanging around, and adventurous players may even find Lockjaw hanging out down below in the rivers. Further east you can find the Twin Tears, a pair of oases that house the local gnoll and lizardman populations.

Beyond that, players will run into the other major outdoor zone in Desert of Flames, the Pillars of Flame. Far more dangerous than the Sinking Sands, players will probably not be doing a lot here until at least level 55. Filled with naga, sand giants, harpies, and all manner of unpleasant creatures, the Pillars of Flame are also home to the Ashen Order, a guild of monks that made their home in Freeport before The Rending. An arena named after the infamous Sand Giant Cazel can also be found here. The Pillars of Flame are also home to the twin dragons Barakah and Siyamak, whose true natures and purpose remain a mystery.

Desert of Flames has plenty of dungeons too. The Clefts of Rujark are home to the rujarkian orcs, stronger and hardier than their deathfist counterparts, the battle prowess of these orcs is not to be underestimated. Deep beneath the sands lay the ruins of an ancient city. The Living Tombs and The Silent City are remnants of this fallen civilization. Why exactly the city fell into ruin is unknown, but its halls are now filled with undead of every possible description. Some of these dungeons may be filled with fun devices like the repulsor sentinels, jewel-like devices that will rocket players through the air if they get too close. They will have to be used intelligently for players to reach new areas they could not otherwise get to.

Floating high above the skies of Maj?Dul is the Shimmer Citadel. Situated on an island that has somehow made its way to Norrath from the Plane of Sky, the citadel is the home of the Djinni Lord. Players will have to fight their way through the undead infested innards of the island to make their way to the citadel above. Its halls must be tread very carefully, for while it doesn?t appear dangerous at first glance, things are not always what they seem and friendly denizens may attack at a moments notice. If you can solve the mysteries of the citadel, you will have earned the chance to work through even more in the Poet?s Palace.

All is not battle and bloodshed in Desert of Flames and there are plenty of new, fun things for players to find. In addition to the new crafter recipes, players can also find new housing within the walls of this desert city. New armored mounts will be a welcome change of pace from the wild and parade options currently available to players. Other more exotic styles of mount may also be discovered by intrepid players. Some other fun faction rewards also include pets, such as sphinxes, and new dress armor.

Keep checking back for a full review once Desert of Flames hits stores.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

Sony PlayStation 2 Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves Sony PlayStation 2 Genji: Dawn of the Samurai

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