On Q23 I opened a flame/rant thread to harshly criticize some carelessness in the art of the game. Here I’m going to add a few screenshots that instead show some pretty corners of the world, demonstrating that, after all, there’s very good art in the game.
As I already said the game is constantly amazing and deluding me, depending on where I happen to look. The environments, in particular indoors, usually look much better than the average quality of the monsters and characters. Freeport (the “evil” city) looks rather good and I have to say that the graphic style is consistent in this case. During my visit to the city I felt a bit like in Morrowind and a bit like exploring the “City of Doors” in Torment. I really like a darker fantasy settings with a more realistic look than the same recycled and overworked fantasy stereotypes. Again I happen to like exactly the part where the game slightly differs from the trend.
I was positively impressed by the step forward for the “housing” over the shantytowns of SWG. Finally the players’ houses are realistically *in* the city instead of scattered around it. I think in EQ2 the guilds can buy their houses within the city, as if they were consistent part of it. You can walk around the roads and find doors leading to places you can rent. Of course the idea is still severely limited because I suppose multiple guilds can buy the same house since it’s mostly about a door working as a portal on a private instance. But the idea is already a step forward and has a lot of potential. Owning a real shared space part of game world and without relying on dedicated zones or instances would be really great and I believe not too unrealistic to implement.
Since I’m mixing my impressions on the exploration of the city with the comments on the graphic I’ll have to say that while I loved walking around and exploring, the game still doesn’t really reward this experience. It’s again just a glimmer on what could be possible if the game didn’t completely focus on one pattern (the combat). It’s interesting to explore the zones because they are more variegate compared to WoW, where the geography is much more linear, with smoother transitions (which is both a advantage and a disadvantage), but then there’s very little to “discover”. The game is still strongly game-y and you will just find more quest givers, vendors and random NPCs, without other interesting elements that could make the game more rich and immersive. This make the locations still look pretty and fun to explore, but without really rewarding this exploration since there’s not much to find. I think the game could really use more varying content added that isn’t just about whacking monsters and that could be more tied to the exploration and interaction. The city has so much potential in the content it could offer but then it reveals to be rather “empty” and repetitive. I also didn’t find many interesting buildings. Beside some very small and recycled rooms scattered around and a few other exceptions, the city is still mostly about alleys and nooks that after a while can feel a bit redundant.
These comments where mostly about the environments. The graphic engine relies *heavily* on bumpmapping and specular lights on nearly all the surfaces. I have to say that the effects really look very good and the world feels much more immersive because of this. I was truly sceptical before trying the game because I never liked the display of technical features without a justification, but I liked a lot the result. The biggest problem is that these features become a requirement to see the game as it was supposed to be and without them it looks much worse and flat.
The same about the graphic of the characters. The quality fluctuates sharply also because there are too many different settings and it’s not hard to see things looking plain wrong or clashing together. Again it’s all about highs and lows, that when it comes to the characters are even more prominent. There will be things you’ll love and things you’ll hate. I definitely like the more realistic, “rugged” look of some pieces of armors and weapons but it’s always moving on a really weak balance between something looking impressive and something looking totally wrong. The “hate” about the characters is also because the models often aren’t as realistic as the equipment they wear and have a really awful “Barbie” plastic feeling, with really odd skin tones and modeling. And here the SOGA models just make this situation much, much worse (I hate them way more than the default graphic).
Oddly enough the fancier the creature the better the model looks, frogloks in particular (the brass effect is sooo pretty, the screenshot doesn’t do it justice). But then are the animations to look really bad and inappropriate with those races (you really don’t want to see a froglok hopping around, it’s awful).
The overall impression about the character models and equipment is that the mixed quality makes the art feel approximate and imprecise. Rough. You can see things that are truly awful and overall you can feel a general lack of polish, but then the style can also grow on you if you tolerate the “lows” and appreciate the efforts the artists made to draw the most out of the technology they have available. I hope the game will improve on this front (polish, care and detail) but I have to admit that SOE never shined and I don’t expect a different trend anytime soon.
I also wished they moved away from the standard fantasy settings or the exoticism of the “arabian nights” and toward something more harsh, again closer to “Planescape” and the darker fantasy settings that have always been my passion and that would be absolutely more appropriate to make the most out of the engine they have. It would also mark another element of difference from WoW, which would be just good and again appealing to that part of the public that could enjoy something going in a completely different direction.