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Everquest: The Planes of Power

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Media: CD/2
Players: 1000's

Graphics & Sound:

If you follow video games at all, it's a pretty sure bet that you've heard of a little game by Sony Online Entertainment called Everquest. Everquest is known as an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). Thousands of players inhabit the same fantasy world at any one time, fighting, learning, and just having a plain old good time. This game doesn't stop when you leave it. Everyone else is playing as well, and they'll still be playing when you turn off your computer. Everquest has been doing very well for the past few years, and is still the Number 1 MMORPG in America. About once a year a new expansion is released, giving players access to a new part of the Everquest 'world' to explore, as well as adding a few new bells and whistles.

The most recent expansion has been dubbed Everquest: Planes of Power, and is focused around content for the more powerful players. The overall arching theme revolves around players visiting the 'Planes of Power', alternate realms of reality that are also the home of the gods. The expansion also comes with the original Everquest content. This decision perplexes me somewhat as there is very little to do in Planes of Power for someone who would just be starting the game.

Everquest was starting to show it's age a year or so ago, and received a much needed face lift in the last expansion The Shadows of Luclin. This increased the minimum requirements for the game considerably, at least in the Luclin areas. Due to the addition of new character models, there was also a slight spec increase for the remaining areas of the game. Planes of Power continues to use Luclin's graphics engine, and the specs have remained the same.

The graphics in Planes of Power are definitely attractive. They aren't quite as good as other new games, but this is to be expected as in an MMORPG, you usually have a lot more objects on the screen than in single player games. SOE (Sony Online Entertainment) also added a new particle effects engine just before the release of Planes of Power. The new engine is considerably faster than the old one and causes a lot less slowdown. However, I still have serious problems with their spell effects. For one they are still too 'big', for lack of a better term. If you are in a big fight requiring many people, you simply have to turn them off. If you don't, you will be unable to see anything during the fight as your screen will be filled up with spell effects. They have added some options to help this, but they don't seem to work very well in practice. Also, many people complain that most of the new spell effects look too 'cartoony'. On the whole, the graphics of Planes of Power are absolutely delightful, and effectively create the sense of overwhelming power and magic one would find when visiting the realms of gods.

The sound effects in Planes of Power aren't really too different from the one's found in the rest of the Everquest world. Battle sounds are appropriately informative without being irritating. It's the ambient and background noises that are really the most pleasing. You can hear the sound of pages being turned inside the library of the Plane of Knowledge, and loads of mechanical noises such as steam and ticking in the Plane of Innovation.

One of the biggest changes seen in Planes of Power has been the introduction of a new music engine. While the previous Everquest games have used MIDI for their music, Planes of Power introduces the first MP3 music. This has helped to vastly improve the quality of Everquest's previously lackluster music. The music in the Plane of Nightmares definitely made my skin crawl. Of course, fighting things called 'Blood Ravens', and 'Virulent Arachnids' certainly didn't help.


The gameplay of Everquest has always revolved around 3 activities: learning tradeskills, doing quests, and fighting monsters. Every successive expansion has been more successful than the last in integrating these three activities together. I'll cover tradeskills first. While Planes of Power does not introduce any new tradeskills, it certainly adds many new things to create at the higher skill levels. The Plane of Innovation, especially, has added countless new dimensions to the gnomish tinkering skill. While players were before only allowed to bring a single tradeskill past 200 up to 250, new 'Alternate Abilities' allow players to bring several more up to the higher maximum. Far more quests are now also requiring the creation of tradeskill items to complete them. Many ingredients can also not be store bought; you are going to have to find them in the various planes or buy them from other player characters.

Now I'll move on to quests, and there is a plethora to be found in Planes of Power. The Plane of Knowledge, which is the only plane accessible to characters under level 46, contains a host of new quests to be completed by players. However, the level ranges of the quests are very diverse, so players may want to exercise discretion before spending hours trying to do a quest. Lower level characters may find they are suddenly far too weak to kill a necessary creature, and high level characters may spend a few hours on a relatively simple quest to find that the rewards are not something worthwhile for them. You will also find that the Plane of Knowledge is the most abundant source of game lore ever seen in Everquest. A person can spend hours just talking to NPC's and reading books, learning about the more obscure portions of Norrath's history.

While the Plane of Knowledge contains various quests of all level ranges, the Plane of Tranquility is the epicenter of the high level quests, and the overall plot they relate to. Wait, did I say plot? I sure did. Planes of Power is, bar none, the most impressive presentation of an actual plot in an MMORPG I have ever seen. Almost every NPC you will come across in Planes of Power has quite a bit to say, and in some instances even more that they want you to do. One of the new 'bells and whistles' included with Planes of Power was added to help make the completion of quests feel more natural. Players can now be 'flagged' after completing an objective, and NPC's will be able to tell that a player has done their task. This eliminates the necessity to have to use items to mark a player's progress. You won't need to haul back a list of items to prove to an NPC that you've done your task, they'll just know. That's not to say you won't still be handing in items for some quests, but now you don't 'have' to.

Well, just walking around talking back and forth between NPC's would certainly get boring now wouldn't it? The core of Everquest's gameplay lies in fighting, and SOE has taken steps to ensure that the battles in Planes of Power would be lots of fun. There was a problem with the last expansion, Shadows of Luclin. It seemed SOE's creativity got stifled and all of the high-end encounters were essentially hour-long endurance tests. Players would just have to try to stay alive long enough to whittle down the extremely bloated HP level of all the bosses. This usually wasn't terribly fun. Thankfully, it seems SOE made a few changes before the expansion was released, as well as upped the level cap from 60 to 65. They've promised that these new fights would be far more varied, and we'd see more quick action 'do or die' fights. So far, it seems as if they've followed through on that promise. Many people claim that Everquest is a game you can never finish. I disagree. While there is certainly always something to do, there is also always a sense of progression in each expansion that leads up to an encounter that can very easily be called 'the end'. While you may never be able to 'complete' the game, there is always a sense of 'completion' of an expansion when you finish these encounters. With such a natural feeling of progression through a story, via the quests, I have a feeling you will definitely feel as though you have completed not just Planes of Power, but Everquest as a whole, by the time you are done, at least until the next expansion.


Planes of Power was made to cater towards the more powerful player base. As such, the difficulty of the encounters in this expansion is very high, perhaps too high in certain cases. The box says it's intended for player's level 46 and higher. It likely says this because you have to be level 46 to enter any alternate planes. However, the easiest content found in Planes of Power is far too difficult for anyone less than level 50. In fact, it would be safe to say that anyone under level 53 is going to have a very hard time finding a group, unless they make it themselves, and if you do, you're going to need at least a few level 55+ players to get much done. Now, this may change in the future, but at the moment of this writing, this is how it is. You are only allowed to enter 4 'fighting' zones at the beginning. I think it would have been more appropriate to have one or two of these zones be appropriate for level 46-50 people. Instead, the easy area of the Plane of Innovation (arguably the 2nd easiest area) has normal enemies that hit harder and faster than some boss dragons found in older game content. People are paying money for this game under the (advertised) assumption that players in the high 40's can get something out of it. There is only one small area they can fight successfully in (TIP: It's the entrance area of the Plane of Justice), and one zone for tradeskills and quests (the Plane of Knowledge). There are approximately 20 new zones in this expansion. If you're told an expansion is for someone of your level, 1 out of 20 isn't acceptable.

Game Mechanics:

Planes of Power probably has some of the most interesting changes in game mechanics of any expansion. First of all, the Plane of Knowledge contains an intricate portal system to all of the other cities in the game. This will help make travel for lower level characters much easier. Aside from also raising the level cap to 65, Planes of Power also expands upon the 'Alternate Advancement' concept seen in Shadows of Luclin. Players can choose to have their experience go towards 'AA points' rather than normal leveling. They can then spend this AA points on things such as magic resistance increases, interesting upgrades to spells/skills, etc.

Another pretty important addition in Planes of Power is the ability to form organized raiding parties using in-game menus. Before, raids were an organized mass of 6-person groups. This new tool will assist raid leaders in keeping things organized. It also allows entire raids to be flagged for completing a task at the same time. No longer will high-level guilds need to kill the same creature over and over again to advance everyone. Where SOE deems it appropriate, they will only have to kill a creature once (or twice) to continue forward in the plot. Probably one of the most player-loved additions is the 'graveyard' feature found in Planes of Power zones. Due to the extreme difficulty of much of the content and the way some of the more 'interesting' encounters work, all player corpses will now be sent to the entrance of zone after a few minutes. This will make corpse retrieval after a failed attempt much easier. It's not like it was ever fun to begin with.

All in all, Planes of Power is a wonderful expansion. It proves once and for all that you 'can' have a story in an MMORPG. My only warning is that due to the fact that the content is substantially harder than previous expansions, players under level 53 may have a hard time fighting.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium II 400 or AMD K6 or equivalent, 256MB of RAM, 128MB of RAM without new models, Direct3D card with 16MB of RAM, and hardware T&L, DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card, 28.8k+ Internet connection, 4x CD-ROM, 450MB+ Hard Drive Space

Test System:

Windows 98, Pentium II 400, 160MB of RAM, Nvidia TNT2 with 32MB of RAM, Sound Blaster Live card, ADSL, 32x CD-ROM, 10GB+ Hard Drive Space

Microsoft Xbox WWF Raw Nintendo GameBoy Advance Davis Cup Tennis

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated