EverQuest II has been through quite a few evolutions since its initial release in 2004. The first major shift occurred with the release of the game's second expansion, Kingdom of Sky, and continued through Echoes of Faydwer and Rise of Kunark, its third and fourth expansions respectively. Now SOE is poised to introduce another layer of content to the game via its fifth expansion pack, titled The Shadow Odyssey.
We were very interested in hearing more about The Shadow Odyssey beyond what's available in its press release, so with the title now announced at SOE's annual fanfaire, we had a chance to chat with EverQuest II's Senior Producer -- Bruce Ferguson. Bruce was kind enough to talk with us for nearly 20 minutes, and was able to answer many of our questions.
Curse: Could you give us a quick overview of your role at SOE for our readers?
BF: My name is Bruce Ferguson, I've been a member of SOE for coming up I guess on 8 years. I started off on an unpublished project and have been working on EQ2 off and on several times. Currently the Senior Producer, and I'm having a blast; I enjoy it.
Curse: Alright, so this is your first expansion cycle as Senior Producer for EverQuest II. What has the transition been like for you personally and the team as a whole?
BF: It's actually been a lot of fun. I was the Producer on EverQuest II way back when, when it was launched originally, with John Blakely and Andy Sites. I did a couple expansions and then left the team do to some other work here at SOE. Coming back and with Scott leaving it kind of fell in my lap, but I think the team has done an outstanding job. We're very excited about this expansion, it's got a lot of great stuff in it, and we're really looking forward to showing the world.
Curse: Tell us a little bit about The Shadow Odyssey and how it advances EverQuest II beyond the Kunark expansion.
BF: Well, we have basically 20 new zones... a little over 20, with a central area called Innothule which you may remember if you were an EverQuest player. We've kind of re-imagined it into our own world -- made it fit within the EverQuest II genre. And lots of semi-familiar dungeons like Guk and Najena, and it's really kind of exciting. We have a level range from 50 to 80 for some of this stuff, and we're pretty excited.
Curse: Great to hear about the wide level range. What kind of art direction can players expect with The Shadow Odyssey? Will we see a stark contrast to Echoes of Faydwer and Rise of Kunark?
BF: No, I think the art direction is very similar. We've got a pretty solid core of people here working on stuff, and you know... some new creatures, some new areas, I think it's more great stuff. We're not deviating significantly -- it's been successful so far -- so we've decided to not go with the cartoon look. We're sticking with the true EverQuest II look and we think it has turned out very, very effectively as you'll see in some of the videos that are coming out [related to the expansion].
Curse: There's mention of the achievement level cap increase, but how about the level cap itself? Can players expect to be able to level beyond 80, or is that remaining the cap for this expansion cycle?
BF: That is indeed remaining the cap for this expansion cycle. We're working with the achievements on this particular cycle to add to the depth of the gameplay experience but not the actual level cap itself.
Curse: So then my followup question... were there any specific reasons for that, or just a simple decision to have players go through content as more of a gameplay experience than a level grind?
BF: [laughs] Now you're putting words in my mouth! It really was a decision that we took very carefully, and it was just a question of 'Where can we focus the attention? What is it that our players are looking for?' And since we'd done a level raise on the experience cap last time, we thought that we would take the opportunity this time to concentrate on some other areas. That doesn't mean that we're never going to raise the level cap again, it's just that you only have a certain amount of time that you can put into a game and we wanted to focus on some other things rather than just the normal adventure experience. And it gives us an opportunity to tell some good stories, and give some directed experience... so we were kind of excited by the opportunity.
Curse: I think it's a nice break to give people a chance to experience more of the story, rather than just leveling up.
BF: There is a certain category of people who are very concerned about being at the very top end no matter what, and don't pay any attention to the lore, and we like to mix it up a bit. But having said that, one of the things we're trying to be conscious of is giving a wide range of experience to a lot of people. It's something that we're trying to make sure that we're not catering to a single style of gameplay. There's a lot of tradeskilling stuff in here as well; the achievement stuff goes across the board; there's opportunities for every style of gameplay, it's not just the raider who's getting the love here, we're trying to give a little bit to everybody because we feel like there's a group of people for each kind of gameplay style that are excited.
Curse: Will there be any new spells and abilities introduced in The Shadow Odyssey?
BF: Only through the achievements, but not specifically spells, no.
Curse: How will the new achievements build upon and strengthen current and new expansion achievements?
BF: Well, it's more similar stuff like we have currently. You're going to be seeing improved crit damage or crit mitigation. We'll have opportunities to have pet buffing be a little bit easier and different. We're going to add things like shield blocks with riposte and deflection riposte; just an extension of the current stuff that is just better.
Curse: With the 60 point increase in the achievement cap, will this allow players to obtain all of the new achievements, or will they still have to pick and choose?
BF: They'll still have to pick and choose. The thing is that everyone wants to feel different than someone else, so if you and I both play a Brawler, and we're both at the endgame at level 80, we shouldn't be exactly the same... we should have the opportunity to choose our path. You might be different with some skills that give you more power to hit, whereas I'm probably a better tank than you are, so we can both fulfill different roles in the group.
Curse: And to clarify, because I know a lot of people will probably ask this after seeing the the news: is the entire 60 point cap increase being focused on the class-specific achievement tree, or is it being split to increase both achievement tree caps to 100?
BF: I think it's both. We're working on disciplines so we want you to focus on a particular area, but you'll be able to go up through the general archtype, the class and the sub-class.
Curse: The release mentions themes such as Najena, which you talked about, and Mistmoore. But also 18 goal-based dungeons such as the Ruins of Guk and Befallen. What exactly is the difference between the two, or are they the same?
BF: They're basically the same, it's two ways of saying the same thing. It's just interesting places to go, interesting places to hunt... a different feel. We're trying to do a little nostalgia work, a little bit of 'Hey this is new and cool' kind of thing, and so we're trying to give you some areas that you may have some familiarity with an area if you were an old time EQ player. But if you're not, it's still an interesting place. You'll have an engaging gameplay experience, and there are opportunities to not just run through in a small group -- we're going to have versions for larger groups -- and of course raids.
Curse: Is this more of a dungeon expansion? I notice Innothule Swamp is the only overland zone mentioned. Can players expect to do a lot of dungeon delving in The Shadow Odyssey?
BF: Absolutely. Most of the additional areas, other than Innothule, are indeed dungeons.
Curse: Speaking of Dungeon Delving, it's a new feature mentioned for the expansion. Can you go into a bit of detail on what exactly that is, and how players will be replaying content with new experiences?
BF: What we're trying to do is, we're trying to get away from the concept that you have to go and attack a single creature 50 times before you get the drop off of the creature -- the super rare drop that, you know, you really want because it's for your particular class. So we're introducing an opportunity for people to go in and get value points that they will spend at a merchant at some point in time. It's not just money, but it's a different kind of value. And then they can go through and can kill the things, and not have to do the same thing over, and over, and over to get the value.
They go back to the merchant and say 'Hey, this item I want and I have achieved this many points so I can go and get this item,' along with the gold or the plat that it costs, and then they get what they need without having to spend a month doing the same thing over and over again. They can do all of the content and get these points, rather than having to go back to the same creature to get that rare drop.
Curse: For players unfamiliar with Desert of Flames lore, can you explain Anashti Sul briefly, and why you brought her back into the spotlight this expansion?
BF: So I'm not as familiar with who Anashti is as some people may be, so I would hate to give you some incorrect information but we're kind of going through the whole process of bringing back different people each time, and trying to find things that are interesting to people, and Anashti Sul is one of the ones that came up. And there were a lot of people on our boards and in other places where we talk to our players who had expressed interest in knowing a little bit more about Anashti Sul, so that was one of the ones we chose to bring forward.
Curse: This will probably be another question that a lot of players have considering the deity system, because of alignment and everything. Is Anashti Sul considered good, evil, or neutral in terms of alignment?
BF: She really is a dichotomy of both good and evil. In her desire to grant eternal life to all of the universe, she unwittingly released the forces of undeath, for which she was sentenced to non-existence in the void. Due to her part in bringing undead to life, she is worshiped by anti-healers, morticians, the undead themselves, and vampires. In short, there really isn't an simple answer to the question. Like many other things in life, the truth of her alignment falls somewhere between good and evil.
Curse: In terms of quests, can players expect any types of new mechanics or dynamics to questing in the expansion?
BF: There will be a lot of similar stuff, but there certainly... as we continue to gain more experience we're trying to do different things. We're also creating the new mission system, basically which allows us to put in 'daily' quests that allow people to do a daily kind of rotating or changing mission system that goes on. We're also putting in a different chest trap system which will make opening chests a little more stranger and a little more interesting... a little more dangerous, shall we say?
So we're constantly learning on response from our players as to what they like, and how we can change our current efforts to match what they enjoy doing.
Curse: If you had to give one example of the way EverQuest II has evolved for players that played it at release, and kind of have maybe a bad taste in their mouth because of some of the early issues, what would that be?
BF: Wow, there are so many things that have changed since we originally released. I really think that... gosh, it's hard to tell, I mean from tradeskills to combat to just the performance of the game itself. I think that what I might point to most of all is just the variety of things to do. I mean there are so many different opportunities for gameplay styles. We did a good job of consolidating a lot of the different methods by which you advance, so that you can do all different sorts of things at all different levels.
So I guess I would have to say, the easiest way to express that is the variety of gameplay styles that are supported. It's no longer just, you know, go and grind. It's, you can do just about anything that you want to.
Curse: So what kind of PVP system advancements can we expect in the expansion? Will there be any kind of like arenas introduced, or any kind of gameplay elements for PVP?
BF: Nothing significant in this particular expansion for PVP, but we are certainly looking at that for some Live Updates in the near future. But we don't have a schedule on when we're announcing that yet. It's certainly something that we're discussing at great length here.
Curse: You recently introduced the storyline build up for the expansion, how was player reaction to that? And did that actually go along with Living Legacy or was that just something that happened at the same time?
BF: It really kind of happened at the same time and turned out to be a synergy of things. We were planning on doing it anyway when they came to us and said 'Hey we think this is a great idea for Living Legacy,' and we said 'Gosh, that is a great idea. Let's fold in these events we were planning on doing to introduce the expansion.' So it was kind of a... two great minds that are thinking alike kind of thing, so one didn't generate the other, but they worked well together.
And we're very pleased, and our players have been very excited about those prelude events that we've been running. So the Void Storm event has been very, very popular.
Curse: Speaking back to Living Legacy really quickly, a lot of people returned to both EverQuest and EverQuest II with that promotion. What would you say the overall reaction was to how EverQuest II has evolved since release?
BF: Very positive. There have been, interestingly enough, there's been a lot of people on the team who have had guildmates return after a year or two of being away, and how surprised they are at how far we've come in the last couple of years in terms of a wider variety of gameplay. Everyone has been very positive, and the bump in people coming back has been outstanding both on EQ and EverQuest II. We're very pleased with that whole process.
We would like to thank Bruce Ferguson and SOE for the opportunity to chat about EverQuest II's next expansion -- The Shadow Odyssey -- which is slated to release on November 18th, 2008. Keep an eye out here at Curse for the latest EverQuest II news as the beta for the expansion, which is expected to begin on September 2nd, draws near.