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Everquest II: Desert of Flames

Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1000\'s

Graphics & Sound:

Sand dunes, flying carpets, snake charmers, and viziers, these are not common things to find in a fantasy MMORPG, but all can now be seen in Everquest II's first expansion, Desert of Flames. Taking place on the Isle of Ro, which encompasses the areas of the Desert of Ro and the Oasis of Marr from the original Everquest, Desert of Flames leads players into a new series of adventures through dangerous cities, perilous canyons, and even floating islands.

From a technical standing, very little has changed visually in the Everquest II world of Norrath. As the game engine was designed to scale up with technology over the next few years, this shouldn?t come as a major surprise. That said, the creatures and environments of Desert of Flame look vastly different from what players have come to expect and lend new life and dimensions to the game. Tired of the same old skeletons, nightbloods, and lizardmen? Now you can test your steel against djinni, nagas (giant snakes with the faces of women), Egyptian style mummies, and lizardmen. Oh wait, we already had lizardmen didn't we, but now they're wearing bones!

At the original release, many players complained that the game?s coloring was too subdued and in response, Ryan 'Blackguard' Shwayder, the community manager for Everquest II, has said that the development team is focused on making the game more 'colorful'. Well the proof is in the pudding. From the dervish city of Maj?Dul and especially the gaudy and vibrant courtyard of the Shimmering Citadel, Desert of Flames ushers in vibrant new life into the game. Not all is posies and rainbows however, and Everquest II still suffers from an unnecessary amount of blindingly reflective surfaces. I can believe the surfaces from a floating palace being so shiny they can blind me, but not the dirt and stone streets of a city.

One of the most impressive aspects of the original Everquest II release was its orchestral soundtrack. Desert of Flames continues this tradition with a rich soundtrack. In keeping with the Arabian Night's theme of the expansion, the new musical score is very different from what fans have come to expect. Gone are the majestic and sweeping fantasy pieces, replaced with more modern sounding desert rhythms. It's easy to see the Persian and Egyptian influences on the music and the theme of Maj'Dul is just as rich and appropriate as that of Qeynos or Freeport.

When the original game first launched, Sony Online Entertainment did not hesitate to market the fact that Everquest II was going to be the first MMORPG to utilize voice acting. While the amount of actual voices disappeared once you got past the mid-level areas of the game, there was still an impressive amount of voice-over. Oddly enough, voices seem all but non-existent in Desert of Flames. The only new NPC voice-overs I have heard are the battle cries of some of the new monsters.

I specify NPC voice-overs because I have certainly heard a lot of mouthing off from the other player characters. With the release of Desert of Flames, players can really 'speak' their minds. Certain character emotes (commands you can enter to make your character do things like wave, say hello, or do rude things with their hands) are now accompanied by clever and entertaining voices. Not just one voice either. Depending on your race and gender, you can pick from a list of voice types to lend to your character; some of these choices include things like barbaric, intellectual, snotty, and flirtatious.


The story of Maj'Dul and its surrounding lands is an interesting one. The city was originally a fortress for a man named Akhari. As the various dervish tribes that lived in the Desert of Ro joined his city, he would become its first ruler. The story goes that he recently went mad and threw himself from the palace walls. Given that he had a Vizier, and we all know Viziers always mean trouble, I think we know who we can really blame for his untimely death. Akhari had three sons and as no one could decide which should rule the city, they each formed their own court to rule over their personal followers. These are the Court of Blades, Coins, and Truth. There also seems to be a subversive fourth court, called the Court of Tears; they engage in such fun things as bribery and protection.

Newcomers to Maj'Dul will find themselves tolerated by each of the courts, but if you want to enjoy any of the finer aspects of the city (such as purchasable skills, new pets, and armored mounts) you must pledge your allegiance to a specific court. You can raise your standing with the court by doing jobs for them or killing members of the other courts. Either way, you'll soon find your high standing comes at a price, and the city will become all the more dangerous for you as the rival court members begin hunting you down.

Aside from the endless deserts outside, the two other major epicenters of activity on the Isle of Ro are the ruined city of Akhet'Aken and the Shimmering Citadel. Akhet'Aken, also known as The Living Tombs and The Silent City, was a hidden city known as the city of everlasting life during its golden years. Unfortunately, these golden years were over 1000 years ago when the Desert of Ro was still the Elddar Forest. The city was long ago swallowed up by the earth, and now all that remains are ancient mummies, ghostly specters, and a vicious clan of gnolls.

While The Silent City may have been hidden, the floating island of the Shimmering Citadel advertises it's location from the sky. Almost immediately upon arriving in the Sinking Sands, Desert of Flames' entry point, you will be able to see this majestic fortress in the sky. Sharp-eyed players from the original Everquest may notice the chains hanging from the island and realize what it really is. The Shimmering Citadel is one of the floating islands from the Plane of Sky and seems to have found its way into Norrath. The Djinni and Sphinxes inside speak of coming to Norrath to escape horrible events that have left the Plane of Sky in ruins. Look too closely and you may hear tales of twin dragons who also sought refuge with the djinn master who makes the palace on the island his home. The dragons themselves seem awfully upset at the djinni and appear to have been cursed with mortal forms. I'll keep their secret and let you discover them on your own.

In addition to the new creatures and environments that come with any expansion, the release of Desert of Flames coincides with another major change to the Everquest II, a complete overhaul of the combat system. The first thing players will notice is that their skill set has probably changed dramatically. Priest classes with a plethora of group heals may find that these are no longer in their repertoire. The brawler classes have had their foci shifted from dealing damage to taking it (which makes more sense anyway given their fighter classifications). And many scout classes may find that they do a bit more damage than they did before. The list of changes is far too large to get into detail here, but the overall result has been a more balanced skill set and more challenging gameplay. One major oversight I feel compelled to mention is that many of the more epic encounters from the original release don't appear to have been retuned for these changes, leaving the vast majority of them impossible to undertake. While there is no doubt that they will, in time, be addressed, I think it is unfortunate that they were not taken care of sooner.


Desert of Flames also ushered in the obligatory level cap increase, raising the maximum level of both adventurers and crafters from 50 to 60, and MMO players without lots of extra time on their hands will be happy to hear that the leveling curve from 50 to 60 is nothing like it was in the original Everquest. While that grind was akin to leveling from 1 to 50, in Desert of Flames this jump is far smoother and more casual players will be able to make a large chunk of the trip just by exploring and doing various quests. For those with extremely short chunks of time, soloing is also very rewarding in the expansion, but as usual, grouping with other players to fight stronger monsters will always net you better experience.

While the various denizens that inhabit the inhospitable Isle of Ro are higher level than the creatures in other parts of the world, they actually seem easier than the older mobs (easier for their level, that is). This might be a by-product of the recent combat changes, so we may see changes in the near future to make some of these creatures more difficult.

Because of the relatively small scope of the expansion, most of the content is geared for higher level players from 45-60, though anyone can enjoy fighting in the Maj'Dul arena, which I will talk about in more detail shortly.

Game Mechanics:

Desert of Flames has also added some changes to the mechanics of a few aspects of the game, specifically to guild functionality. The most radical change has been the removal of the patron system. Rather than having a few select members who contribute to the guild experience, now every member of the guild can contribute status points to the guild level. A guild bank function has also been added to help facilitate the distribution of items such as tradeskill ingredients, skill scrolls and rare equipment.

Another major addition to the world of Everquest II is Player vs. Player combat. Players can use the command /duel, or /duelbet if you want to wager, to instigate a fight or accept a challenge. The players must then duke it out within the confines of a glowing combat ring. Lose all of your hitpoints, or stay out of the ring for too long, and you lose the fight.

While dueling is entertaining, the real action is found in the Maj'Dul arena. Rather than just being a space for free-for-all melees, the arena contests are far more ordered and include games such as team deathmatch, capture the flag, and destroy the idols. Only two teams are allowed, but you can also enter as an observer to just watch the action. There are two different ways to fight in the arena. You can fight as your normal player character or you can also use monsters called arena champions (or kadarens) to do your fighting for you. A merchant outside the arena sells some basic champions, but you can find more from exclusive court merchants and quests. There is one final twist put on the competition with the inclusion of powerup abilities. The various different arena layouts are lined with health and power potions and larger, more powerful powerups can be obtained in various nooks and crannies. These powerups can range from rooting your opponent in place, knocking them away, or increasing your damage output by 70% (my personal favorite.).

All of these interesting additions may come at a price however. There's no getting around the fact that this expansion feels oddly small in scale. For example, Ruins of Kunark, the first expansion for the original Everquest, boasted around 26 new zones. In contrast, Desert of Flames has around 7 major zones with a smattering of smaller instances. One may argue that Kunark was filled with a lot of empty space, but that doesn't change the fact that Desert of Flames just feels small. This may not bother some players, but for those looking for a grand and epic stage upon which to play, that feeling just isn't here.

It is true that there has been a significant amount of free content released for the game as well as two adventure packs, but many of these were just a repeat of zones and instances filled with new monsters. Part of me would have preferred new zones even if they had those large quantities of empty space. It may be that SOE plans on releasing a larger quantity of 'smaller' expansions, but as far as I'm concerned, nothing can beat the big sweeping adventures that were Kunark, Velious, and Planes of Power.

Far from being just a standard 'new monsters and new zones' expansion, Desert of Flames represents a significant addition to the game in various ways. Personal preferences for feelings of 'scope and scale' aside, Desert of Flames is a must buy for any high-level Everquest II player.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP, Pentium III 1Ghz or greater, 512 MB of RAM, DirectX 9 compatible video card, pixel shader and vertex shader compatible hardware with 64MB of texture memory

Test System:

Windows XP, Pentium IV 2.8 Ghz, 1024 MB of RAM, Radeon 9800 Pro with 256 MB of memory

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