I must admit I never saw what the big deal was with Qeynos and Freeport. They always felt to me to be nothing but another piece of generic fantasy. Perhaps it is a question of timing or memories. For one, I never played Everquest 1, so I don't have any clue how those two cities were back then. For another, I didn't start back at the game launch. Since back then the only start option was the Isle of Refuge, where the closest to civilization was a small settlement, those two cities with their high stone walls, lots of houses, with some that you could even get for your character to live, probably felt a lot more impressive.
Instead what made me to want to grow roots in the world of Norrath happened due the "Play the Fae" trial. That trial made you begin in the region of the Greater Faydark whose capital, Kelethin, always felt far more fantastical and wondrous than either Freeport or Qeynos ever were. Neriak, who was released around the same time I did the trial, also had the same qualities to it. And to me those two elements, fantastical and wondrous, are what good fantasy is all about.
Even as time went by those cities never really grew on me. Also as game updates went by it seemed more and more that Qeynos and Freeport were becoming irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, becoming more reactionary to the world events than the ones who set those events in motion. Which is kinda sad considering those two cities were meant to be the super potency of Everquest 2's world, Norrath. Perhaps that is why the developers deemed necessary to give a much needed revamp to those two. The first to get the love has been Freeport, whose new looks and content has been released just last week as a free game update to all players.
Of course as many updates of this type, it didn't happen without an in-game explanation. To understand a lot of the reasons behind the changes you have to know the storyline leading to it. So here is a quick recap:
It all started with Dethknell Citadel, Lucan D'Lere's floating fortress above the city, crashing down on West Freeport. Soon enough it was found out that the Overlord has been kidnapped. This was only possible due to the betrayal of one of his most trusted people, Tayil N'Velix who opened a portal inside the Overlord's personal chambers allowing voidbeasts to attack the place. As that wasn't bad enough she tried to took control of Freeport. Of course, that didn't go well with the remaining forces that were loyal to Lucan D'Lere, which led to a pretty much civil war.
Meanwhile adventurers on both sides tried to find out the location of Lucan D'Lere and save him. After all, like Queen Antonia Bayle put it, the Overlord may be a jerk but at least he is able to keep Freeport stable enough that the people there will suffer with him less than with the, by then, current events. So, the adventurers go off on a journey trying to find clues about his location, fight some bad guys and eventually free Lucan D'Lere.
The Overlord then takes back control of Freeport and I imagine Tayil N'Velix got executed in the process. Not too sure about that as I didn't participate directly in the events. All I know is what I found out on the lore forums. Anyway, with a good portion of the city damaged due to the destruction of Dethknell Citadel and the civil war, the city was in a bad need for reconstructions. But Lucan D'Lere didn't want to just rebuild things the way they were. No, he took the opportunity to rebuild the city in a way that it would show that Freeport is the most powerful nation in the world. And that it belongs solely to him and nobody else!
In my opinion this was something that was achieved pretty well. Freeport looks way more impressive now. The original Freeport had a very dark, oppressive and slums-kind of mood to it. It worked well to pass the idea of an evil city ruled by a dictator that couldn't really care less about his people. But it didn't really give a good impression of how much power Lucan D'Lere has, why people fanatically follows him or made much of a contrast between the "Haves" and "Have Nots" that is so common in dictatorial nations. Basically, it felt like everybody was equally screwed in old Freeport.
On the new one, the look of the city was changed for more vibrant colors. It now has golden colors everywhere, the stones have very light gray/white tones to them while the wood is more of a light brown. This makes the city look so clean that I am pretty sure that if one of my characters touch the walls, it will dirty the walls. Then soon after that he will lose one of his limbs as punishment to the newer, strict, laws against dirtying the city.
The stylized helm picture that is a symbol of Freeport is also pretty much everywhere. And there is also new giant statue of Lucan D'Lere in case you forgot who rules the city. Also, if you are foolish enough to think you can attack the city, think again. There are some very big ballistas where the Blood Haze Inn used to be located. At the same spot there is a training area for the Swifttail monks and the Dreadnaughts, the group who used to enforce Lucan's will in the Sprawl.
The militia also received a makelift. Now they have some unique beige and white armor, which makes them much more easy to identify as part of Freeport than the previous generic black armor. Even Lucan D'Lere himself got a new armor. It is a very elaborate gold armor with the face of a lion on the chest. It looks a bit bulky but also pass a sense of power. Also makes it very hard for people to not notice him among a crowd.
The walls and buildings looks very sturdy, made out of the finest stones. The walls are very big, while the few gates that are still around, linking Freeport to the outside world and the racial suburbs looks just as impressive and hard to break.
With all that it is easy to get the impression that Freeport is a prospering city, where one can be safe from the dangers that exist outside its gates. That illusion breaks down though as soon as you starting doing the new quest lines. They are divided between the core storyline, class story lines and racial story lines. The core storyline I have yet to finish. But so far it seems to give a glimpse behind Freeport dirty politics as well as the Wraithguard, Lucan's new elite guards. My guess is that it also hints at what Lucan is up to now. I will find out as soon as I finish it.
The class story lines are more actually tied to each archetype. Fighters do some work for the Freeport Militia, Priests for the Dismal Rage, Mages for the Academy of Arcane Sciences and Scouts for the Seafury Buccaneers. Each organization has its own problems to deal with and you get a feel for what role each plays in Freeport. They also give some faction towards its respective group. Granted, it is not much but it can cut down on a few of the adventuring writs you would do to earn them.
The racial quests already existed in the old Freeport but they were all updated for current events and there were new ones added for all the evil and neutral races added since the game's release. You can find out what each race is up to now and like the class quests, you get a feel of what each race is about. My favorite one so far has to be the ratonga's quest line as they finally explain why they came to the surface, why some of them decided to move to Qeynos and what their real goal is. Well, besides stealing all the cheese in the world that is.
Another cool thing about the new quests is that they pretty much pick up where the story lines from previous expansions ended. It is nice to know that those storylines not only had some actual consequences but that Freeport is also keeping up with the events of the world outside its gates.
All those quests also make you go to the old racial suburbs where you see what happened to those not fortunate enough to live among the core parts of Freeport. Most of them have been pretty much abandoned to their fate, having only a few guards protecting the gates leading to Freeport. With the exception of Beggar's Court that was transformed into a forced labor camp and Scale Yard which was turned into a prison. All others however were taken over by different groups, each with their own reasons to want to kill every freeportian they can find.
The only sucky part about these changes is that now you can only go to the racial suburbs if you have a quest in there. Otherwise you can never see it again. They are also solo instances which might make things difficult for certain classes. I guess they did it like that because the quests, and thus the mobs inside, scale to the players level. Still I wish they would let us go visit it at will and bring other people together. Maybe after all the quests have been done and the problems within solved. So you would go to a different version of the zone where the mob scaling isn't an issue.
I should also mention that Lucan D'Lere is also making public executions himself. When this is about to happen you get a message telling a crowd is starting to form at the Execution Plaza. Then you can go there, see the Overlord do a small speech of why Freeport is the best place in the world shortly before executing another poor soul.
My favorite change however has to bee how the city isn't broken into four different zones now. It is all just one big, seamless zone. It makes walking through the city feel much better. It also matches better with how the city is shown in maps unlike in the old Freeport, where each zone felt disconnected from the other besides having the same architecture. Now it feels like it is really one big, impressive, city.
So, all in all, I am very happy with this update. They were able to not make Freeport feel relevant again but also show why it is one of the most powerful cities in the world. It also gives each a much more unique look to distinguish it from generic medieval towns that is, unfortunately, so common in fantasy games. If before I preferred newers evil cities like Neriak or Gorowyn, now I am looking to walk through Freeport, to do its quests and see what it has to offer. For right now it is indeed t he best city in Norrath.