After a quick breather during the second half of 2003, it looks as if real-time strategy games are getting their second wind and are poised to flood the shelves. Over the past few years, the trend was to release sequels to popular real-time strategy series, such as Warcraft and Command and Conquer. The current trend seems more in tune with taking familiar universes and transferring them to the RTS realm. We have not one, but two Lord of the Rings games on the market: LotR: War of the Ring and LotR: The Battle for Middle Earth, based on the lauded Battle Realms and Command and Conquer: Generals engines, respectively. Now, Sony Online enlisted newly-formed Rapid Eye to develop Lords of EverQuest, a game that attempts to merge the EverQuest MMORPG world with a real time strategy design.
Lords of EverQuest takes place 10,000 years before the time of EverQuest Online. Three factions are available: the human Dawn Brotherhood, the elvish Eldar Alliance and the evil Shadowrealm, all of which feature units which will be instantly recognizable by EverQuest veterans. The story mode is, for the most part, standard as far as RTS games go, which is a little disappointing. The majority of missions are based on escorting units to some waypoint or rescuing imprisoned units, which might be fine for some newcomers to the genre, but is a bit tame for veteran RTS gamers.
Lords of EverQuest follows current trends and implements a hero-based leadership model. The inclusion of experience-gaining Lords to command your army as General units (much like Warcraft 3's "Hero" units) seems natural in an RTS based off an RPG, and while the implementation is fair, some improvements could be made. Naturally, Lords are strong units from the get-go, having high armor/damage ratings, a command aura that buffs other units stats, and one basic spell, but building your Lord up to become more diversified takes a long while. Lords don't get a second spell until around level 5 and until then they are stuck with their default level 1 spell, which makes things rather boring until later in the game. And considering that many contests don't last too long, many times the player will end up with only a level 5 or 6 Lord by the game's end.
There is a wide array of basic units for each race. Each of the three races has 14 battlefield units with which to form an army, and most of their abilities a paralleled across the races: each has a healer, a building capturer, a mounted unit, and so on. But Rapid Eye shuffles the deck by changing the statistics of each unit from race to race. For example, one of the Shadowrealm flying units, the Goblin Blitzer, starts out with approximately half the hit points of the Halfling Drake, an Elddar Alliance's flying unit, but does Elemental Damage as opposed to the Drake's Piercing. This makes these useful counter units, though in very different situations.
The underlying unit design may be sound, but the actual in-game visuals can be problematic. Many of the units look too similar to one another, and this makes it difficult to differentiate units on the field of battle. This is most prevalent when playing the Elddar Alliance or Dawn Brotherhood races, whose main unit models are usually thin and human-like. When taking a glance (which is typically all you can afford in a frantic RTS battle) at them bunched together in a melee, figuring out the positioning of your combat units and spellcasters will require some squinting. This effect is amplified when trying to decipher the opponent's units and overall positioning.
It is much easier for the player to command the army based upon the health bars on the unit display, as that provides a more concise explanation of the battle's progress. Sadly, the confusion doesn't end there, and players could also struggle to figure out which enemy spells and effects are currently in operation, that there's no lasting indicator of enchanted units. When a spell is cast it's followed by a brief special effect but nothing in the area of long-term indicators. Within a hectic RTS battlefield, these visual clues are incredibly important to repositioning and reordering an army, and fighting your way to victory.