Since EverQuest II’s newest expansion just launched on Tuesday, there is no way I could have explored and experienced all the content completely before today. I know there are gamers who can get through all new content in a matter of days, if not (frighteningly) hours, but I am just not one of them. Luckily, the beta afforded me the opportunity to peek into places I wouldn’t otherwise see for a very long time, so if you add that time in, I have been able to get a taste of what awaits players in Terrors of Thalumbra. Here are my first impressions of that new underground kingdom.
Fairly smooth sailing
As far as launches go, I think ToT’s was pretty smooth. I encountered a few issues, like zoning into a guild hall to find it momentarily empty. That was a fright! It took a long — and I mean long — time for items to load in my small guild hall, so I can only imagine how long it takes for the larger versions. I also found a bug on at least one character where she cannot chat in any chat channel; even though the chat interface says she is in them, any time I type it says I do not belong to it. (I am seriously famous for finding the strangest bugs!) But the servers were up when Daybreak said they would be, I never crashed, and I was able to hop in and experience the content without any real incident. Well, except for the mobs themselves, but more on that in a bit.
I refused to do all the quest lines and dungeons in beta because I wanted to experience that content on my own characters and still have it be fresh and new! So most of what I spent my time doing was sightseeing. I flew about on the new cavedrifter mount over the red-tinged lands right outside the gates of Maldura, through the bright yellow-hued Drowned Delta (where floating tufts of light tricked me into thinking they were aerial shinies!), and wove in and out of the glowing green branches of Luminous Steppes. I poked my head into all the instances, including the raid zones. I danced on glowing mushrooms in the Ironblood Fungus Farm and watched bugs dance on the leaves in Zou’Lidelas. And I took lots of screensots!
And the verdict of my travels? The land is beautiful! I might be biased a bit because of how much I love luminous things, but Thalumbra is vibrant and well textured. Even though it can make the earliest zones feel even flatter by comparison, I appreciate how the new zones are so much more graphically enhanced with newer technology. In the last expansion I experienced some real disappointment with the two-dimensional flowers and grasses I came across, but ToT seems to have mostly avoided that pitfall by not having many grasses, flowers, or bushes in the procedurally generated base landscape. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all, because I did find a few — from above they look like little circular saw blades stuck in the ground. However, your eyes are so drawn to the light of the other flora in the zone that it’s easy to overlook the smattering of small grasses below you. And if it isn’t drawn to the light, maybe it is drawn in fascination to the large branches that look like hacked up and amputated appendages, complete with pulsing arteries of blood if you venture too close!
The flora, with all its glowing brightness and varied textures definitely impressed me, but what about the fauna? I am happy to say that I was pleased that new mobs did not just mean tired reskins of well-known creatures. (Although, to be honest the reskinned basilisk with the glowing lava spines was still pretty awesome!) There are plenty of new creatures skulking and floating about, from a version of sky squid to skeletal dwarves to dragonfly fae. Part of the excitement of exploration is coming across a new model of mob, and I haven’t been disappointed. Obviously everything can’t be brand-new, but there is plenty of variety between new critters and those that have gotten make-overs for their underground lives. One of my favorites is the poxfiend: a demon bat, heavy on the demon.
So the creatures look cool, but are they a challenge to players? That can be an individual assessment depending on your level and gear, so I cannot speak for everyone, but I can say this: They aren’t pushovers. The creatures inhabiting the areas have some real kick (and bite and claw…) to them; as a level 95 with a good mercenary, you can venture into the lands and kill some of the non-heroic monsters. However, they are far from being cream puffs! What I thought was looking like a fairly alright fight turned into a slaughter once I lost my merc; I was chomped within moments! Like the previous expansions, you’ll want to be geared up in all the goodies gathered in the previous expansion. You’ll also want to get yourself to level 100 to wear the better gear to have a chance at those heroic mobs.
I have not personally participated in any of the raids or heroic group instances yet, but thanks to a totally awesome Tinfoil Hat that made me invisible to mobs during the beta (it was a lifesaver — literally!), I poked into the zones to get a gander at the layout. While it doesn’t affect me terribly much since I haven’t done much raiding in a long, long while, I can see raiders being disappointed at the scope of those instances. Though beautiful, they all seemed fairly tiny. I can maybe understand the Advanced Solo instances being smaller, but those for a large group seemed so cramped. At least one event heroic was just one tiny room that had me feeling very claustrophobic.
The one major exception to the tiny house feel is the new contested zone, Kratlet Penumbra. What you think starts off as a regular hallway-and-rooms dungeon layout turns into a dizzying display of levels, stairs, and even underwater corridors that you can seriously get lost in! I know, because I did — more than once. If you first explore the Advanced Solo Heroic version, you will be totally misled on the size. Once you find the added area, you dive down (literally, you have to swim to get there from the stairs on the right of the door) and find yourself feeling like you are hunting in an Escher painting! Even with the map, which indicates up and down with lighter and darker colors respectively, it is really easy to get turned around. Head to a level underwater, climb some stairs, descend others, and then you see more above you and wonder, Have I already been up there? And you have to explore every nook-and-cranny (don’t forget to check underwater) lest you miss some named bosses and their coveted loot. Oh, and a hint: There is even a hidden compartment to loot on one of the braziers, that rewards you with is a shiny collectable piece. This is the place I am most excited to visit with a group of friends, because it isn’t often a game can ever let you feel truly lost and disoriented anymore.
As for the other instances, there are plenty, though many are just similar versions of one map. In Stygian Threshhold, you get to fly around, and I loved the stark contrast of the dark branches and the brightly blooming flowers on them. In Stygian: Toxic Pools, the fact that you leave by clicking a wriggling humanoid in a spider-silk cocoon felt like foreshadowing. The main city of Maldura even has a couple, one of which is a bar brawl.
The good news about the expansion is that you don’t have to be level 100 to partake in it — you just need to own the expansion. You don’t even have to be max level to travel to the new zone, but you should be if you want to have any hope of survival. Even my level 15 was able to whisk away into Thalumbra from the portals. You can travel there and gather shinies, harvest, or just admire the area. Maybe take a screenshot or 500. All are dangerous propositions, but if you laugh in the face of danger this will be perfect for you!
For those who think Qeynos and Freeport get pretty much everything, the portals to the underrealm buck that trend; they are located on the docks in Neriak and on the center platform of Kelethin (the one with the armorsmith, mender, and tailor). These adventurers’ portals drops you outside the city gates — a very good thing considering the guards are hostile until you complete the signature quest line. A separate crafters’ portal will open up once you complete the crafting signature quests, although I am unsure specifically where it sends you since I have not yet completed that line.
Admittedly, this look at the expansion does not cover everything. Though more than just a skimming of the surface, it’s about all that I could manage in the short time. After all, there are places to explore and shinies to distract me! I am looking forward to really diving deeper into all the content over the next few weeks/months. Then I’ll be able to give my thoughts on the flow of the instances and the various boss fights. I’ll be able to peruse the new gear, delve into the new deity and infusion systems, and craft new furniture. I’ll be able to better determine for myself if the amount of content felt weighty enough for an expansion and its corresponding price tag. For now, I am enjoying what I have seen. Now if you will excuse me, there are shinies out there that need collecting!