E3: MMO Paradise at Sony Online
07.13.07 - 5:15 PM

SOE invited us to their suite at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica to check out their upcoming MMORPGs slated for the PC. While only one is new to SOE, all three titles, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising, and EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark had something new to offer gamers.

Gods and Heroes has been through quite a bit since we last saw it at CES in January. Players are no longer locked into position during melee combat, although the impressive grappling and fighting animations remain in the game. The squad control, which forms a main part of the gameplay, has been greatly improved and placed into collapsing menus. A horizontal menu allows players to give global commands to their entire force, while a vertical menu allows players to micromanage each individual minion, from healing threshold to how aggressive they are. Perpetual Entertainment is looking at squads not like World of Warcraft's pets, where a hunter or warlock focuses on a small group of pets or minions and never shifts, but rather more like a catch 'em all style, akin to Pokemon.

The individual minions, of which the game contains over one hundred, will gain levels, skills, and abilities and will level up alongside the character. However, that's not to say that all of the minions are easy to gets, as there are both rare and epic minions with a power level that's much higher in comparison to other NPCs. Perpetual also is planning to offer minions for players reaching milestones both inside and outside the game. There will be minions for pre-ordering the titles, post counts in forums, activity in bug fixing, and all sorts of things. No date has been set yet for Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising.

Pirates of the Burning Sea is a recent acquisition for Sony Online, having recently joined up with the developer Flying Lab Software to publish the title. Players take the role of a swashbuckling seafarer either under the British, French, Spanish, or Pirate flags. Players gunning for one of the major empires will have three different classes to choose from, the officer, trader, or privateer, while pirates will have a single class: Pirate. There are fourteen individual categories of customization for a player's avatar itself, not to mention nearly endless customization of that avatar's ship. Interestingly enough, Flying Lab is denying eye patches, peg legs, and hooks to those initially creating their character - to gain the look of a grizzled old pirate in Burning Sea, players must level up and complete missions.

Ship to Ship combat is a big part of this title, but Flying Lab CEO Russell Williams let us know that level was not as big of a factor as tactical play. While, certainly, a higher level player will have a bigger ship, better crew, and niftier toys, a lower level player won't have his chance to hit reduced, and will be able to make tactical decisions to inhibit enemies from attacking allies. When a player is targeting another ship, if any ship travels between the two, an attack cannot be initiated, so a smaller, weaker ship can act as a barrier while his ally reloads and rearms. Players will not only need to watch the condition of their own ship's armor and condition, but they'll need to keep watch over the battle as a whole to see where his or her ship will be most needed.

Players will be able to view their ship from any number of angles with a fully positionable camera, and will be able to make their ship's sales transparent if they wish to play on the deck itself. While weapons make a great deal of difference in the power of a ship, there are several different types of ammunition, such as grape shot or chain shot, that are better at eliminating personnel or sails. There's also a helpful UI that can be brought up to show exactly where a ship's cannons can fire and where they're most effective, but hardcore players can simply play by watching.

Avatar to Avatar combat works quite a bit differently. Players have a 'balance bar' which surrounds their character. Certain attacks will not do damage, but reduce the balance bar of an opponent, making them more vulnerable to attacks. The player has the same bar, and must decide whether or not an attack that will do damage but might not hit is better than an attack that may cause a better outcome later, but could lead to death now. Avatar combat is much faster paced than ship combat, and players will be able to choose between weapons and stances, from fencing style to dual wield style to the pirate-like dirty fighting style. Pirates of the Burning Sea should be an impressive addition to SOE's titles, though no pinpoint has been set for a release date.

SOE's bread and butter has always been the EverQuest titles, and SOE is prepping expansions for both EverQuest and EverQuest II. While there was no playable version of EverQuest: Secrets of Faydwer, the game will feature twelve new zones, alongside many new quests, missions, and raid areas. The main thing that sets Secrets of Faydwer apart is the fact that it increases the level cap to a hearty 80.

EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark was playable at SOE's booth, however. Targeted toward higher level players, with most of its content in the 70 to 80 level range. With the cap now at level 80, players will be able to explore, most notably, Veeshan's Peak, the new raid dungeon for these level eighty players. The entire dungeon is built in the scale of dragons, and the massive dungeon is the spearhead of SOE's promise to aim for player awe whenever they enter a new area. The visuals in Rise of Kunark are fantastic, both the art in dungeons and of the new lizardmen race, the Sarnak.

Players will also be able to begin one of twenty four new epic weapon quets, which have both single group and raid versions. These quests will allow the player legendary and fabled weapons, respectively. Rise of Kunark also marks the first time that EQ2 will feature persistent instancing, both for single group and raid dungeons. Also of note is what is being temporarily called "Achievement Outfits", which allows players to have a second setup for their achievement points, changeable at their home. This will allow characters to have a specialization not only for their primary purpose, say, raiding, but a secondary setup for PvP combat or a non-standard setup.

The boxed version of Rise of Kunark will ship with all previous expansion packs and the original game, for new players, and will be available in November. Both the digitally distributed version and boxed copy will be available at the price point of $39.99 USD. Keep watch to RPGFan as the game gets closer to release for more information.


John McCarroll