This week was a strange one, because it essentially consisted of two Mondays and two Fridays since I was off Wednesday due to Veterans day. This week also pretty much was completely lost to Fallout 4. So I contemplated just doing another post about that and skipping the MWP feature for a week. That said I decided to fall back on an “oldie but goodie” that I could write about without much prep work. Once again the MMOs Worth Playing section by intent is to highlight some of the awesome games out there, that maybe don’t get as much love as I feel they should. This has been the pattern other than last week when I did a special BlizzCon edition, and this week we are continuing that pattern with some talk about Everquest 2.
Launching Against a Juggernaut
When it comes to underdog games… it would be near impossible to find one that more fits that title than Everquest II. Back in 2004 there were two games vying for everyone’s attention… the sequel of sorts to the wildly popular Everquest and the newcomer with a strong pedigree World of Warcraft. By the time we got to November of that year… there was quite literally one game on everyone’s minds… and it wasn’t the return to a calamity stricken Norrath. EQ2 had the misfortunate of launching sixteen days before the game that would for the most part change the landscape of MMOs. I was pretty torn as to which game I would end up playing, and I even pre-ordered Everquest II and spent a good deal of time in the alpha and beta processes. However when it came time to launch… there were a few people from my EQ1 days that were going to be playing… but the vast majority of my friends were simply waiting for World of Warcraft. So since money was very much a thing back then… I simply didn’t pick up my EQ2 pre-order and waited for the coming of Azeroth.
Roughly six months into that experience however I got a patch of wanderlust like I always do and drug a group of friends over into Norrath and found that I really liked the game. Just as I know eventually I will be playing World of Warcraft again, I will also be doing the same for Everquest II. The sort of experience it provides is just different than you would find in most games. For me at least the magic is the setting. Norrath is world I am deeply nostalgic of, and with it comes little references to the good times I had in Everquest. I realize for many at launch this was a huge problem… because instead of continuing where Everquest left off they chose to reboot the world of sorts and bringing the players in after the moon Luclin had exploded raining down shards around the world. This event sundered the world causing it to break apart into small islands, and much of the theme of Everquest 2 has been one of exploration and rediscovery.
The players are helping to recover the lost grandeur of the past, and with that we are uncovering locations that I remember extremely well in the original Everquest. The big thing that spoke to me about the game however was the epic scale. These zones are huge… so huge that often times they are made up of several distinct sub zones that all exist together in one seamless area. What makes them work so well is the fact that they are really content dense, with all sorts of hidden treasures and events stowed in between what would normally be something you simply rode past. One of the things that made EQ interesting was their construct called a “Ring Event”, which involved fighting certain mobs… which would spawn other mobs… which would ultimately culminate in a boss. So as you wander the world, you never quite know what thing you are killing might lead to something far more interesting spawning. I remember one of these particular in Nektulos Forest, that ultimately lead to a rare named boss that was used for a quest.
Another aspect of the game that I have always loved that follows this exploration and recovery feeling, is the Heritage quest. These are truly epic quest chains that tend to require twenty or so discreet steps to complete and often involve you spending a considerably about of time crawling through dungeons and catacombs to find bits. Each of them represents the attempt to uncover an item of fabled power from the old world, and as a former Everquest player… I know almost every single item referenced by heart. What makes them even cooler is that they function dual fold when you complete one. For starters you get a really nice piece of gear that at the level you can get it serves to be some of quite literally the best gear you can get. However when you out level it, you can turn it into a trophy item that you can then put in your player housing to remember your journey. So it feels really cool to walk into your house and see all of these past accomplishments displayed in physical form. Each item you hang on your wall or stash on a shelf is a memory of an event that you did in game, which makes the whole thing feel more important than simply earning points or titles.
Everquest II is this impossible game, because quite literally I don’t think it could have ever been created in today’s climate. So much time was spent on systems that feel casual and exploratory gameplay, that enrich the player… but don’t really make up much of an “endgame” in the traditional sense. I just mentioned housing and that is absolutely a crucial one. Dark Age of Camelot was the first time I had experienced player housing, and I knew that I was absolutely hooked. The problem there is it took up large tracts of physical real estate in the world. That meant a limited number of players could ever have housing, because there were a limited number of deeds available. EQ2 went in a completely different direction, and at first I was not terribly certain of it… and later I have come to realize it was a stroke of genius. Instead of making housing exclusive… they simply made it part of the base gameplay experience by giving you an Inn Room that serves as your first house while going through the early levels. From there the player gets used to the notion of checking into their room periodically and quests giving them items that they might want to display there.
As you progress you can keep getting cooler homes with significantly more expensive weekly upkeep costs. While player housing is awesome… where the game really shines is the introduction of Guild Housing. In each guild I have been in, the house became a hub of activity for its members. Due to the ability to place crafting machines, bankers and brokers all in the hall… it means that there will be a constant flow of players coming in and out as they do their business around the game world. While it might seem silly… because we already have an always on guild chat… but seeing players in their physical avatar form just feels different and almost magical. There are tons of people in the game world that I might talk to on a nightly basis… but it could be weeks before I actually cross paths with their characters in game. Having this nexus meant that the guilds were actually more communicative that they might have been were it just left to text only conversation. There was also always the added benefit of having some shared goal that the guild as a whole could work towards. I remember doing all sorts of things that could grant “status” in the guild, which then could be spent as a currency to help pay the expenses of owning the guild hall. Contributing status made it feel like I was helping… even though what I was actually earning was just a drip in the bucket comparatively.
I could literally write one of these posts a week, for the next few months and not have scratched the surface of talking about everything in this game. The game is nearing the launch of expansion number Twelve Terrors of Thalumbra. In the same time World of Warcraft has had six expansions, and this is not counting the mini adventure packs, which I believe there have been four or five of at this point. The amount of content of all types that is available is just completely mind boggling, and at any given level you usually have multiple paths that you can take to get to your goal. My favorite part about the game is that they still have public dungeons. This is the aspect that made the original Everquest feel so vibrant to me, was that you could go into these super dangerous areas with your friends… that were huge NPC warrens that felt like working areas. If you went into the kitchen, then you found a chef… if you went into the dungeon… then you found a jailer or a warden. It felt like we were actually raiding bases, rather than taking a theme park ride where at the end we got loot for our trouble.
These big public dungeons were places you could just go and hang out with your friends… where the difficulty level was enough to make bringing friends along for the fun worth while. All of which made it all the more enjoyable when you finally reached a level of gear where you could actually go into these places and survive by yourself. I remember the amazement the first time I saw a friend soloing Sebilis for example in Everquest… and then was shocked when I reached the point where I could solo tough mobs like the Sand Giants in the Oasis of Marr. Everquest even in its more modern version is really good at setting up these goals that you want to go back and achieve later. If you can’t take on this monster now… then you will likely go back later and get revenge on it when you can. I’ve talked before about how fear is missing from games… and wandering these public dungeons brought it back. That if you were able to keep up with the spawn rate, you could stay in there in a tentative state of safety… however if one thing went wrong… you were running back in after a death. That era in games seems to be all but extinct at this point.
Dated But Good
At this point Everquest 2 is feeling its age, and with recent Daybreak mess… it is unlikely that this is going to change at any point in the near future. The engine is old, and has not had the benefit of having frequent face lifts in the same fashion that World of Warcraft has. As a result the model detail is a little off, and the world building itself can feel a little cludgy in the early zones. There however is an amazing artistry as each time they release an expansion they push this old engine beyond its limits and find new ways to keep this game interesting. This is absolutely a game that I would suggest everyone play at least once, but in doing so you have to go into it knowing that you are essentially playing an artifact of a bygone era. They simply do not make games like this one any more, and to some extent I am regretful of this fact. The amount of detail that can be found between its cracks is enough to drive you completely mad if you try and assimilate it all. If you do start an new character I highly suggest you either roll in the Neriak/Darklight Woods starting zone or Kelethin/Greater Faydark… because as the game went on they got significantly better at doing the starter experience. If you do end up trying the game, I would love to hear your own impressions.