The Original EverQuest Has Not Aged Well

Ten years ago I wrote a story about EverQuest, the online role-playing game I was so obsessed with it cost me my job and a relationship. Now I’m revisiting the game, playing on the new progression server opened to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and I can safely say I am in no danger of falling under its spell again. Old school EverQuest is rough.

Launched last month as part of EverQuest’s anniversary celebration, the Mangler server gives players a chance to re-live the game from the beginning. It’s the 1999 experience with a few modern improvements, developer Daybreak’s version of the much-demanded World of Warcraft Classic. The user interface is updated.

There are no experience or death penalties. Expansion packs are added at a rate of one every 12 weeks. Otherwise, it’s a similar experience to the one I played and enjoyed back when the game launched. I was so stupid back then.

Players choose between the original 12 races, with the four races added in later expansions greyed out. There are 14 classes available, with placeholders for future classes Beastlord and Berserker. When the Shadows of Luclin expansion launched in 2001, new, more detailed character models were introduced to the game. Those models are not present. That’s fine. I prefer the original.

For my race I picked half-elf, because I’ve always had a soft spot for the shunned mongrels of elven society. For class, I went with Bard. To this day, I’ve never encountered a character class in an online role-playing game as satisfying to play as EQ’s Bard.

They are the ultimate support class, granting party members health, mana, haste and a host of other beneficial effects. At the same time, their ability to run super-fast while slowly killing hordes of pursuing monsters with damaging songs makes them excellent for solo players.

Eventually, at least. Bards have to spend a lot of time paying their dues before coming into their own, hacking away at low-level creatures with a one-handed weapon. They get a damaging song early on, but it has a wide area of effect, so singing it has the potential to make a lot of otherwise peaceful creatures quite angry.

I spawned in the human city of Freeport, dreams of speeding across Norrath to the tune of Selo’s Accelerando. But before I could play the famous run fast music, I had to reach level five. It’s harder than it sounds.

For starters, I do not remember Freeport at all. Back in 1999, running the game at 800 by 600 on a Pentium II PC, I knew that filthy city like the back of my hand. Now I am running at 1920 by 1080 or higher, and every muddy texture looks exactly the same to me.

Exactly.

The.

Same.

There are signs all over East Freeport pointing to West Freeport, all of which feel like they are pointing in different directions. I spent more time my first day back in Norrath running around the town, desperately trying to find my way out.

I did manage to use the find function on the game’s mini-map to locate the Bard guild, turning in my letter of intent, officially becoming a member. I picked up a few bard songs to scribe into my spellbook when I reached the appropriate level. Then I set off for adventure! Well, I looked for adventure. Again, Freeport is confusing. The map doesn’t help much.

Eventually, I made my way to the killing grounds outside of West Freeport’s gates. The portion of the zone between the city and the adjacent East Commonlands zone is packed with creatures for newbies to kill. The famous giant rat, skeletons, low level orcs, snakes, beetles, and the occasional wolf roam wild, waiting for young players to come and bat at them. And bat at them. And bat some more. Did I mention batting?

Creatures in early EverQuest take much longer to die than the ones in most modern online role-playing games. They also give a lot less experience. At level one in, say, World of Warcraft, killing between eight and ten creatures is guaranteed to advance a player to level two. It’s quick and it’s easy.

In old school EverQuest, between 30 and 50 creatures have to die before you’ll ding to the next level. Or more, depending on what you’re fighting.

Fortunately, the combat is incredibly exciting. First, a player must hit auto-attack. Then, they stand near their chosen target until it eventually dies. Then they run to the next target. An hour later, they are level two.

My god. At one point in my life, that was exciting. I would sit in front of my monitor for hours on end, watching my character do the same thing over and over again. I would ignore phone calls for this. I would call in sick for this.

To be fair, back then I had a lot more online friends. I was part of a guild, and my guild members depended on me. I felt useful to them, and that feeling was intoxicating.

Now I am playing with strangers. Some of those strangers are not great. Last night I listened to a conversation in general chat about what will happen to America’s avocado supply when Trump’s wall is built. I’m in no rush to catch up with those people, level-wise.

I’m going to keep playing old school EverQuest for a bit longer. I am level four right now, after four or five hours of play, and I can taste Selo’s Accelerando. Bard speed is only 50 or 60 kills away, and then the world of Norrath will be my oyster. My dirty, primitive, frustrating oyster.


Comments

    To this day, I’ve never encountered a character class in an online role-playing game as satisfying to play as EQ’s Bard. Spent the first 7 years of that game playing a bard for that reason, before the real world kicked in (bought a unit, had no internet for 6 months) and the grind got too much.

    It was such an insanely enjoyable class though, and I was pretty good at it. The friends I grouped with helped as well, we all got on pretty well and (mostly) knew our classes. Never a dull moment either, we were always pushing ourselves to do more.

    I learned for example that I could get agro from a shaman just by twisting 4 DoT songs. He needed to really go to town to get agro back, and he was one of the best on any server. That actually came in useful on raids, when I'd use those DoTs to debuff boss mobs with an unresistable magic debuff.

    Two guilds on Rathe server, one largely formed from work colleagues (Jesters of Fate) and later on a US based raiding guild (Frayed Knot). And helped found another Aussie guild with other mates, Terror Australis.

    There weren't many MMO options though, so the game was enjoyable because of that naivety. And those few alternatives were just as brutal as the genre was finding its feet. I doubt I would find it anywhere near as enjoyable today though. It was brutal. But man that game made some great memories.

    Just a few corrections to the article:
    1) There are experience penalties on death on Mangler, but no need for corpse runs any more. Your equipment and inventory stay with you when you die.

    2) Shadows of Luclin models are available (author must have disabled them somehow, they're on by default). It helps a little bit with the look, but yeah, it's still dated. Also, there are some settings in the advanced graphics options that most modern PC users should turn on and tweak to their liking (such as shadows, lighting etc).

    3) For zones where geometry was changed in a revamp, the geometry is in the revamped state, not the eq classic state - That's why you don't remember Freeport. =D. It's something to do with how the game is running on the modern server hardware.

    4) Every character I've started on Mangler has started right in front of their guild master - not sure why you didn't.

    5) As you pointed out, it's the social aspect of the game that is drawing the nostalgia fans out - I'm playing it again with my wife and a friend and we're having a ball so far. If you have no intention of grouping regularly, you may as well just play on a Live server, the solo gameplay is much better on those servers.

    All I remember about Everquest is how Tigole and Furor hated it so much they quit and made their own MMO.

    It was called World of Warcraft and it was a huge improvement *cough*

      .... but WoW hasnt improved General Chat cause I swear I spent half of Legion thinking Trump was secretly behind Gul'dan

      WoW is a real interesting case. Without Everquest, and the others around it, WoW would never have been considered. But at the time, MMO's were making waves, and the lore of Warcraft made it ideal to at least try.

      But it was really the first MMO that was single player friendly. MMO's before that might have been soloable to a point, but were generally designed for group play.

      Then you look at the graphics of the game. Miles better than MMO's like EQ (5 years ancient at that point), but still made in a way they were friendly to old PC's. That was important I think, as it let almost everyone with a PC play it. Instant accessibility.

      Then they gave the player a breadcrumb trail to follow through the game. Most MMO's before were light on questing, and you really just killed stuff until they got too easy, then moved to the next area. There was no path though.

      WoW changed all that, and while the UI needed to get better (and did), it was a massive step forward. Combine all of those and it ended up justifying its juggernaut status. It wasn't perfect, but it learnt from the lessons of MMO's before it and gave an experience that was player friendly.

      The rest is history.

      I preferred EQ by the way, but by that point I was raiding at the top end of the game. Something WoW couldn't compete with, at least not at the start. Later on I got to a similar level in WoW as well, but it just didn't have the range of raids EQ did. WoW was the second best MMO I ever played for raiding, but it was a distance second to EQ.

        There's old articles that have long since fallen off the internet where WoW's developers talk about how a lot of their design decisions were informed by "not being like Everquest". Stuff like characters actually holding weapons in their hands (and the vastly better-looking characters in general) along with creating instances for dungeons and raids.

        If there was one thing I wish they had taken from EQ, it would be Kerafyrm. I remember reading the story about how a server managed to kill the 'unkillable' boss and then Sony had to step in and reset the encounter. Apparently the server that this happened on now has a memorial to the event.

    Someone who never played any everquest game, should I look into it? or just play Runescape like everyone keeps telling me to do?

      I wouldnt. What made EQ so great was that there was just nothing like it at the time. Its aged badly, and what was an amazing experience in 1999 would be incredibly frustrating now. It really was something you could only experience at that point.

      As @blakeavon says below, the gaming world has moved on. Generally for the better as well, EQ was amazing at the time, but in hindsight it did a lot wrong. A lot right as well, but the lack of any quest lines, guidance through zones, or hand holding in general just wouldnt work today.

      The raiding of the game is still second to none though. The path through that level of the game was amazing to play through, with the rewards being just enough to let you take on the next raid.

    Its not that the game hasnt aged well just that the gaming world has moved and things we take for granted didnt exist back then and some of the stuff only exists now because of EQ. Hell if it wasnt for EQ we wouldnt have WoW.

    For me what connected me to EQ2 and when everyone else was playing WoW was the community. Not so much the game itself, but where i was at that time in my life and the friendships I forged during that era. In some senses it is not the game is unsatisfying now but that 'secret sauce' that made my EQ 1 & 2 time special has gone.

    For me a lot of the issue, is that the gaming market is too fractured now, too saturated, there is not the same level of game 'loyalty' now, back then those games seemed like full times jobs, now it feels like every game I play is a part time job and I have to choose to play one over the other.

    The gaming landscape was simpler then and the games far more complicated. Was it really a better time? Or is that just an emotional good ol' days response?!

      That's what people usually mean by things that don't actually biologically age "not aging well" - they become obsolete or irrelevant. What made them great has been copied and improved upon so their good points are also-ran and their bad points even more glaring by comparison.

    The Original EverQuest Has Not Aged Well

    I had this opinion back in 2005.

    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the original EQ. Looking back, it was horrendously primitive. I remember printing out reams of maps from Allakhazam, spending hours looking for elusive items (and then hours more camping for them). Wasn't there some pixie in some foggy zone on the elven island? I vaguely remember running aimlessly around hitting "track" every few seconds. Maybe it was a brownie. Anyway, for all the aggravation, nothing can recreate the experience of running blind for the first time through West Karana, being chased by griffins and giants in a dark thunderstorm before finally finding the shelter of the giant spires. Or the social aspect...the good side of being forced to work together. Raids of 100+ people where you had to turn all your graphics down to keep from crashing. Heal chains. Running naked through danger to drag your corpse, and then desperately searching for a rez. Slaughtering millions of helpless otters to level up tailoring. And giant spiders. My God, someone on the design team must have had a sick fascination with arachnids. Well, at least I'll always have the carpal tunnel from all the typing (now DH plays Destiny with some new-fangled "voice chat," surely that's cheating!).

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