Everquest was fifteen years old yesterday. It was my first MMO, so naturally I look back at it with rose-tinted spectacles. Recently, spurred on by my brother Adurj, I decided to head back to the original Norrath and see how the game looked 15 years on and without my nostalgia-specs on.
It's been almost twelve years since I last booted the game up, so I was expecting a lot to have changed. What I wasn't expecting was to find my old characters still waiting for me, despite my old server having been merged with another, yet there they were! In the interests of actually having some clue as to what I was doing however, I decided to start a new character.
So, my bro and I made a couple of dwarfs, a berserker named Barruk and a cleric called Uddy, and logged in. We're on the Firiona Vie server if you want to say hello.
My first impression was how bloody confusing everything was! It took me a good 20 minutes to figure out my UI before I was even able to start playing properly. Then it was on the the new (to me at least) tutorial area.
The graphics, with everything turned up to max, were actually quite a bit better than I was expecting, though the character animations were definitely of the time. Once I'd got over the initial confusion my memory started to fire and I was soon getting back into the swing of things. Having to actually type responses to NPCs in order to progress conversations actually felt more interactive than clicking on a response, and meant you had to read their conversation text quite carefully.
I was also quite surprised at how busy the game seemed. I guess many people may have been tempted to try the game thanks to the current anniversary promotion, but the tutorial area at least was busy with players.
The game mechanics remain a hark back to the first generation of MMO games, but in some cases it actually feels quite refreshing. Little touches like having spell components required to use abilities, having to apply bandages to stop bleeds, and forced downtime to recover power/stamina were initially a bit of a shock coming from modern MMO systems, but they seemed to make the game feel a little deeper somehow.
The game definitely seems harder than most modern MMO games as well. Despite running solo quests with my bro, we died quite a bit (OK, so some of this was down to us still getting used to the mechanics), but it never felt easy, and if we picked up an extra wandering mob or two even the easiest fight became a bit of a battle for survival. Even with a group and mercenaries, group mobs all offered a really tough encounter. What's more, death actually felt like it meant something, even at relatively low levels. It felt challenging.
Finding our way around was a little confusing too at first. There is no mini-map, and the in-game map is not that great. This did make us feel like we were actually exploring a little however, not just following quest arrows.
Despite a steep learning curve I've been having a lot of fun. We've only just left the tutorial area at around level 12, and we are about to start exploring Norrath. Even now the world seems huge and daunting and full of possibilities. We have no set path to follow through the game, so we're going to have to decide where to head next. I quite fancy trying to reach Freeport, or Butcherblock, but we'll see. It feels like the world is there, waiting for us to explore and uncover.
It's not all been good news however. I'm not a huge fan of the new starter experience, either the tutorial or the single starting city of Crescent Reach. Apparently you can still choose to start in one of the original racial city locations if you are a gold subscriber, but as my gold sub from EQ2 doesn't cross over to Everquest (at least until the new plan kicks in around 16th April), I was forced to start at Crescent Reach.
There are several new game systems that have been introduced since I last played, including mounts, housing, mercenaries, alternate advancements, achievements and more. I'm looking forwards to trying them out, eventually, but for now I'm mainly looking forwards to heading out into the wilderness and exploring again, free from artificial quest hubs and being held by the hand.
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