I took a magic carpet ride to the Sinking Sands and thence to Maj’Dul, City of the Desert, and the main base of operations for Everquest II’2 first expansion, Desert of Flames.
The theme that becomes apparent when comparing Maj’Dul to the first two cities of EQ2 is: Let’s do everything the exact opposite!
Everyone, Freeporter and Qeynosian alike, is equally welcome in Maj’Dul. Which is not to say that they are necessarily welcome, since all of the NPC’s in Maj’Dul can be fought with, and some are even KOS to the newcomer, though they have very short aggro ranges. Oh, and remember that business where the enemy guards don’t kill you, they just toss you out of the city. Well, if you get in a fight in Maj’Dul, it’ll kill you all right.
Of course, there are powerful wizards who rule Maj’Dul, and don’t like fighting, so if you should start feeling your oats and slagging guards for some reason, they will intevene and zap you both.
Characters can align themselves with one of three Courts in the city, the Court of Blades, the Court of Coins, and the Court of Truth. Each of these courts controls parts of the city, and the game indicates this by placing the correct banner on towers around the city. Doing missions for a Court will gain you faction with them, but it will also earn you the enmity of the other factions, making their portions of the city distinctly less safe.
The rules change that happened with the expansion enabled PVP duels. (A huge reversal of SOE’s position, by the way.) Maj’Dul takes it a step further with arena combat. The Arena is a zone with ramps and tunnels and the usual fare for first person pvp combat. Any player may set up an arena session, and they may be free for all, or passworded. Play may be individual or in teams.
The most interesting twist to the arena is that, in addition to fighting as yourself, in the arena, you can fight as an avatar. These are tokens which, if in your inventory, allow you to take on a new form, with a few powers. Your hotbars are reconfigured automatically to give you access to your combat arts. These are different than combat arts on any player character, though they employ familiar concepts.
The beginning avatars are very inexpensive, and in fact, you get the first one for free. They can also be placed in your room, where they act as pets!
There was a fair bit of player dissatisfaction over the distinct non-competitive stance taken by EQ2 at launch. Some players wanted pvp and dueling. They wanted to go into the enemy city and kill the guards.
SOE took the stance on the idea that EQ2 was to be a game that attracted a different crowd than that. People who liked the idea of roleplaying but more as a cooperative PVE venture. People that wanted to play for a couple hours in the evening without being harrased, trained, challenged, kill-stolen, or otherwise griefed by the more competitive and anti-social.
But while hyper-competitiveness can often become anti-social it isn’t inherently so. And it appeals to a particular part of the audience. So, the folks at SOE have come up with a way to serve that audience without allowing it to intrude upon the games original target audience. They can have duels. They can have dangerous cities, guard killing and arena combat. But it’s all stuff that can be chosen, or avoided.
Maybe they CAN have it both ways.