A milestone passes – Everquest

Earlier this year, Everquest passed its 15th anniversary.  I would say I was remiss in not mentioning this already, but I hadn’t started blogging yet, so.. that’s my excuse.

In many ways the game that started it all (that might also go to Ultima Online), its amazing to me that Everquest is still alive and kicking, and even launched a 20th expansion in October of last year.  It didn’t go free-to-play until 2012, around it’s 13th anniversary, and not long before Star Wars: The Old Republic did, which was brand new at the time.  It actually went free-to-play after Everquest II did, and it has outlived its original designer, Brad McQuaid’s later game, Vanguard: Saga of Heros, a game of incredible potential and slipshod execution that was shut down earlier this year.

When I started playing Everquest in 1999, I was 23 years old, a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and just 2 weeks away from my first National Training Center rotation.  In fact, I had purchased the game and then decided it might be a good idea to wait until after the rotation to play, since I would be away for 4 weeks.  My resolution lasted all of 48 hours.  In the 2 weeks I had to play, I started 9 different characters, experimenting with each, and eventually settling on a Dark Elf Shadowknight.  I had inadvertently started out on the PVP server, Rallos Zek, and decided to stick with it.

PVP was rough back then; when you killed someone you could loot one piece off of them, and if you didn’t, someone else could.  Eventually they changed it so that weapons couldn’t be looted, and items inside bags could not either.  This lead to people “bagging” their gear as fast as they could under attack.  Some classes had massive advantages in PVP, so it was often better to do that than even try to fight.  The Shadowknight was not one of those classes, although it’s massive alpha strike of Harm Touch once an hour certainly could give an attacker pause.

Even without PVP, EQ was HARD.  Brad McQuaid had taken Gary Gygax’s advice to heart and kept the players very lean indeed.  Vanilla game gear was woefully underpowered; melee classes could not kill anything that would actually give experience solo after about level 30, and casters didn’t have an easy time of it either.  Death was common, and penalized hard; you lost serious experience with a death.  Clerics could resurrect you with some of that experience back, but clerics of sufficient level to do so were damn rare.  Worse, you had to run back to your corpse, now gearless, and get your stuff, unless someone else could drag it closer to you.  If your bind point was on the other side of the world, that could mean an hour run to get your stuff.  It was like getting podded in EVE, only there were no clone upgrades; you lost experience any time you were past level 6.  On the plus side, you only lost 1 piece of gear and then only on the PVP server though, if you got your corpse back.

There were high level monsters roaming low level zones, as anyone who inadvertently ran onto specter island or into a sand giant in the Ro zones could tell you, or got ambushed by the griffin East Commonlands, or a hill giant in the Karana zones.  People though the griffin was unkillable; in reality it was only a level 35 monster.  The cap was 50.

Nevertheless, I was hooked.. and I mean hooked.  I hardly did anything BUT play Everquest in my free time until I got married, and even since then I’ve played more hours than I should have.  I didn’t do the Army social scene, I played Everquest.  The moment I stepped out of Surefall Glade and into the wide world on my first character (a ranger; the shadowknight that I settled on was created a few days later) I knew I was playing the game I’d spent my whole childhood dreaming of.  There was this whole world to explore, more than I felt like I could ever explore

Kunark came out, and things got a lot easier as a melee player, as armor values and damage/delay ratios on the new weapons went from “absurd” to merely “too low”.  In retrospect, this meant the inevitable power creep had a buffer while the game was in its prime; in compensation monsters hit “Kunark hard”.  Still, you could survive fights now, solo.  Wonderful zones like The Overthere felt open and free to explore; they were huge.  There were zones like Skyfire that you just did not go into until you were ready, and a lot of people weren’t ready.

Velious came out, introducing a wonderful winter continent.  Many people consider it the best expansion of all time.  I almost agree; I liked Kunark just a little bit better.  Gear got better, and more interesting to acquire; the 3-way war between Dwarves, Giants, and Dragons made for a real storyline.  One of the best events ever, the defense of Thurgadin to get the final stage of an ever-improving ring, was one of the most fun events I’ve ever played in an MMO; vastly ahead of its time in terms of demanding player teamwork.  The one-time Wake the Sleeper event meant players could truly impact the game world and change it forever.

In December 2001, I left the active Army to move back to Ohio, and took another hiatus for 6 weeks due to a trip to Philadelphia for my sister’s wedding.  Luclin arrived just in time for this.  I was level 55 at the time, still 5 levels short of the level cap established in Kunark; I’d re-started as a ranger on Tribunal after getting frustrated with the game in early 2000 and quitting for 2 weeks.. before it pulled me right back in.

Luclin wasn’t up to the other expansions; it was big but.. it was alien, weird, and just didn’t pull people in the same way.  Some people considered it the worst expansion; I don’t know if it still holds that title; Gates of Discord later was worse in my view.  Luclin lacked the magic of Velious and Kunark somehow.

Planes of Power came next, at the time almost too quickly.  It bumped the level cap to 65; it added new zones well done in their themes; staples of fantasy like the elemental planes appeared.

Following that came Lost Dungeons of Norrath, and timed missions.  After fighting dragons and gods, this was a refreshing return to the fantasy dungeon crawl.  You could save up and earn points for loot rather than arguing about who got the drops.

By that time, I’d been through 3 guilds, 4 counting the one on the PVP server.  I was getting married.  Everquest was beginning to age; it was approaching its 5th birthday.  I had speculated it might not last more than 3 years in 1999; I was way off.  I’d skipped Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot, and EVE to stick with it.  It was still fun, but the magic was gone.

In winter of 2004, after the terrible Gates of Discord expansion, the near- disappearance of everyone over the summer, and the uninteresting Omens of War, I was anticipating EQ2.  Star Wars: Battlefront was out, and I could hardly tear myself away form it.  My EQ career was almost over.  When EQ2 came out, it took all of an hour for me to be enchanted; the new technology, graphics, sound, and variety of interesting abilities and the new world to explore captured me at once.

I played Everquest again in a fit of nostalgia in 2008 as I was leaving Iraq; Warhammer – Age of Reckoning put an end to that plus a revival of my on-off WoW career.  I played again when the Trakanon server came online.

You can go home again – in both cases, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane – but you can’t recapture childhood.  In many ways, you can’t get the same feeling ever again that your first MMO gave you.  EVE came close; it was my first space MMO and the vast galaxy gave me some of that back.  Everquest 2 did a little bit.  Elder Scrolls Online couldn’t; as much as I like the game it can’t reproduce the wonder of Everquest.  Much of that, I suspect, is my history with the Elder Scrolls franchise; I already know what’s out there in Tamriel.

Some days I miss my bachelor life and sitting in my apartment playing Everquest.  Life is good; better in many ways than it was then.  I’m not a Lieutenant any more; I’m a Major now, in the reserves.  I’m not a police academy trainee as I was right after getting back to Ohio; I have 12 years in law enforcement.  I’m not a bachelor, my family has grown into my wife and 4 daughters, the oldest of whom is in college (she’s adopted, for those wondering how that math works).

Life moves on, and our games and other activities move on, and you can’t go back in time.  Still, it’s comforting to see Everquest still rolling along.  It’s a lot like seeing an old steam locomotive pulling an excursion train.  She may be outclassed technologically, but she still has a lot to offer.

 

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