Tuesday, March 4, 2003
Posted by Tim Allen in "SOFTWARE" @ 10:00 AM
So you've probably already got a pretty good idea that I quite like EverQuest, but read on for the full review - AND, at no extra charge, an ebook introductory guide to help get you started! 8O
EverQuest for the Pocket PC, from Sony Online Entertainment, is a port of the online PC-based role-playing game of the same name, although not surprisingly without the online capability. The developers, Emodiv, have done an excellent job of capturing the spirit of swords and sorcery style RPGs on the Pocket PC. This is the first episode of what looks likes becoming a series, as two more episodes are due out at some point in the future.
EverQuest is set in the land of Norrath across 14 huge zones, covering a satisfying variety of terrain from grassland, forest and desert through to underground tunnels and dungeons. This virtual world has become overrun by the usual legions of monsters and evil-doers, and naturally it's your job to bring peace to the realm once more.
This goal is split into several quests, which are further sub-divided into specific tasks. Within a quest, tasks must be completed in the prescribed order, but it is possible to have two or more quests on the go at any one time. There's nothing to stop you going off-piste and exploring the far-off reaches early on if you want, but you're unlikely to survive the experience if you do. Overall I think the balance between pure linearity and that 'what I am supposed to do next?' feeling is about right.
Figure 1: Completing the first task.
The tasks themselves, though, are very straightforward, along the lines of take item X to person Y or rid area Z of monsters. There are no complex puzzles to solve, in fact no real puzzles at all.
Which Type Are You?
There's a lot of flexibility to configure the game to meet your preferred style and ability. You can choose from four different character types, each having a different combination of skills ranging from brute force and ignorance (the Warrior) to a more subtle approach relying on magic (the Wizard).
Figure 2: Creating your character
There are also four difficulty levels; I left it on the default 'Normal' and found this about right, but if your gaming is more than a casual pastime then you might want to choose 'Hard'.
This flexibility also provides a lot of scope for repeat play using different character types and/or difficulty levels, but I think you'd have to be pretty committed to play it all the way through more than once.
All This World is Yours to Explore
Your view of the world is presented through a very clear isometric, third-person perspective. You move your character around by simply tapping the screen in the direction where you want to go, although in fact you stand still and the background itself scrolls smoothly behind you. This provides a responsive and intuitive control mechanism, making the most of the Pocket PC user interface.
Figure 3: Freeport is the main town in Norrath
Cry Havoc, Etc
Sooner or later (typically sooner) you'll meet a monster of some kind and you'll have no choice but to fight to the death as you generally can't avoid or outrun them.
Figure 4: The game will provide an assessment of your chances against an enemy.
Whilst combat itself is fairly automatic, with the protagonists simply squaring off and exchanging blows whilst you watch, you do get the chance to cast spells mid-fight - you weren't really expecting the game to morph into some kind of first-person beat-em-up at this point, now were you?
Figure 5: Fight mode
If you win the battle then you gain experience points, and when you have enough of these your character progresses to the next level, which in turn means you become stronger and more powerful. Unfortunately, but not too surprisingly, the later quests involve battling similarly powerful enemies and you'll also have to face multiple enemies at once, which can be quite a challenge. Again, the balance here is about right.
Figure 6: Taking on multiple enemies
If you die - and you will - then you're automatically re-spawned, and all you lose are some experience points, enough to make dying something worth avoiding but not so many that you don't feel like continuing.
Blah, Blah, Blah
Not everyone you meet will want to kill you. The friendly characters dotted around will typically have something to say to you, varying from a single gruff response through to a long monologue giving you another task to perform.
Figure 7: Meeting a friendly character...
Unfortunately, though, this talk is all one-way. However, the developers have tried to inject some humour into the game by giving these characters the occasional jokey line, and whilst this is hardly laugh out loud stuff it does help to lift the otherwise too-serious tone this type of game can sometimes have.
Figure 8: ...And listening to what they have to say
You Are Here
Aside from the main 3D view, there are several other screens which allow you to look at the map, review a log of your quests so far and take stock of your abilities, spells and equipment.
Figure 9: The map, with your current location shown by the green dot
Figure 10: The inventory screen, showing your weapons and armour
Figure 11: Your spell book
Figure 12: The quest log
All of this is laid out in a logical and clear fashion, making it simple to assess your status and make quick adjustments - even mid-battle.
The game has a built-in tutorial that gets you up to speed nicely, and so there's no help file distributed with the game. If you really want one, though, there's a pretty comprehensive on-line manual - and a discussion forum on Sony's online gaming site.
Mercifully, there's no annoying in-game music, just simple and effective sound effects that really add to the atmosphere of the fight sequences.
Similarly, the developers have really got the Save/Load problem figured - by not providing this option at all. Instead, the game automatically saves as you go along, and whilst this means there's no going back it does allow you dip in and out by just playing quickly for a few minutes if you want to. And isn't that what portable gaming is all about?
- The quests and tasks can get a bit repetitive, with the emphasis on combat rather than problem solving. Just a few simple puzzles would give your sword/staff/club hand a welcome break.
- There's no real dialogue with the other people you meet. The chance to give even some simple yes or no responses would vastly improve your involvement in the story.
- It's not clear when or even if the items you pick up will be useful, so it's possible to sell something that you then need later on with few chances of finding another one. I'd like to see some hint or clue that an item is going to be needed later on.
- I spent a lot of time waiting for my health and mana to recover after a fight before moving on to face the next enemy. I'd like to see this happen much more quickly.
- The speed of character movement can be frustratingly slow at times. Maybe the speed could be made proportional to the distance between your character and where you tap the screen to move to.
- I'd like to see the saved game files stored in My Documents so they automatically get backed-up when I sync. Remember those files will represent many hours of your life...
- There is some clipping around the edges of the 3D view when you're near buildings or walls, but not enough to really detract too much.
- There's a known bug in which a locked door can remain permanently locked if you open it with the key but then fail to go through it before exiting the game. A patch is available to fix this.
- The game literally takes over your Pocket PC - you can't switch to another application whilst it's running.
The software can be downloaded from Handango and purchased for $19.99 (affiliate link); a trial version is available. A small expansion pack for episode one is already available for free download, along with the patch for the locked door bug, from Sony's site..
This program will work on any Pocket PC 2002 device and takes up 6.7 Mb of RAM on the device, but can be installed to a storage card.
EverQuest for the Pocket PC manages to cram in most of the usual desktop RPG staples into a comparatively tiny form factor. It's slick, addictive, doesn't take itself too seriously and makes the most of the Pocket PC user interface. Sure, sacrifices have necessarily been made, but the game has that 'just gotta see what's round the next corner' factor that keeps you coming back for more. I highly recommend this game - just be prepared to write-off your spare time (and some of your 'unspare' time) for a few weeks.
Gimme the book
Want more? Here's an introductory guide in ebook format to getting started playing EverQuest, including a few tips and tricks. Have fun!