A Decade in Post-Cataclysm Norrath

We are in the midst of a few different EverQuest II moments, and I am going to mash them together into one post as they are all mildly related.

The first is that today EverQuest II is launching a new expansion, the Altar of Malice.

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

The expansion is only launching for All Access subscribers.  You can literally buy the expansion but be unable to play it until November 25th while subscribers can play today.  This seems at best a transparent “subscribe dammit!” move and at worst just dumb, another round of SOE being SOE.  But what are you going to do?  I suspect that there is considerable overlap between people invested enough in the game to buy the expansion and subscribers, so this will probably just annoy a few corner cases.

The expansion is either the 10th or the 14th… or maybe the 11th… EverQuest II expansion.  At this point I am not sure how to count the three adventure packs… Bloodline Chronicles felt tiny, the Splitpaw Saga was huge, while Fallen Dynasty was just strange… and then there was the expansion (but not really an expansion) that was the so-called Age of Discovery.

Anyway, over the years SOE has kept EQII alive and expanding, and the Altar of Malice expansion builds on all of that with its feature list (and patch notes), including a boost in the level cap to 100.  It is landing at that number as a level cap just two days before World of Warcraft hits the same number.  Say what you will about SOE and its game, but they have kept it evolving over the years.  Not always in directions in which I have approved, but not everything has to be about me.

So congrats to SOE and the EverQuest II team for keeping it going for however many expansions we’re talking about.

Ignore those smug bastards on the EverQuest team (who also pushed an expansion today) when they start in on however many expansions they have shipped.

The second is the 10 year anniversary of the launch of EverQuest II.  That was either November 4th or November 9th, depending on which source I look at.  Did SOE do a head start or something?  Anyway, it has been a decade at this point.

A decade in and launching a new expansion!  That is getting along in gaming years.  There have been a lot of games that have come and gone while things have been cranking along in Norrath, both new and old.

The third item, which rambles on, is after the cut.

Norrath a decade in.

Then, finally, there is my own 10 year anniversary with the game.  Way back in 2004 I had no plan to grab the game initially and let the launch pass.  We were still playing the still current (and likely final) iteration of TorilMUD where we had hit level cap, were in an active guild that ran zones regularly, and were generally at our peak there.  I had gear that was the envy of others.  This was the curtain call for raiding for me.  While I had never been in for a Tiamat kill, I had there for an attempt, which was a 14 hour epic struggle across the astral plane and into her lair, only to wipe at her doorstep, slain by her final guardians.  The ensuing corpse recovery took a good deal of that time frame.  But I had been all the places and was enjoying my time in the sun.

But Gaff decided he wanted to give it a try.  At that point I had been playing online games with him, starting back in old Sojourn MUD, TorilMUD’s precursor, for a decade.  We had gone off to try other games over the years, but he skipped EverQuest when it launched and felt like he had missed out on something.  He was keen to give this second round of EverQuest a try.  So he and I and one of his local friends/co-workers and a few members of our TorilMUD guild Shades of Twilight, including Chandigar and Oteb the Traitor, went out and grabbed the game.

That was on November 13th, 2004, the day they brought up the Crushbone server for EverQuest II.  So I was effectively a day one player, at least on that server.  We met up on the server, having chosen the Qeynos side of the world… which turned out to be the right choice this time around… and took stock.  Gaff’s friend was also in an EverQuest guild that was making the move to the new game, Knights of Force.  They were from Luclin if I recall right.  So we teamed up with them and the next day formed the guild Knights of the Cataclysm.

Our day one guild on Crushbone

Our day one guild on Crushbone

And there we were.  We launched into the world of Norrath, many of us for a second time.

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 - Nov. 14, 2004

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 – Nov. 14, 2004

It was an interesting time.  Having launched before World of Warcraft, a game about which I was vaguely aware as I had fallen off the MMO information train when I stopped playing EverQuest a couple years earlier, it did not immediately face the harsh comparison that all future MMOs would face in daring to enter the genre and yet not being WoW.  Still, even in the absence of an obviously better thought out, heavily polished competitor, we could tell that mistakes were made.

Should SOE ever create a corporate crest, it should be inscribed with errata facta sunt, mistakes were made.

The game is interesting, in an archeological sense, in being perhaps the final MMO to be launched without feeling a huge amount of pressure to be World of Warcraft.  If you want to know what MMOs would be like if WoW never existed, day one EQII is an answer.  So many mistakes made.

And it wasn’t even a matter of not having WoW to guide them.  Blizzard looked at EverQuest and created WoW and hit the nail on the head.  SOE looked at EverQuest and seemed to take away a whole different set of lessons learned.

Part of that was, of course, the fact that SOE was on the inside and could feel what caused them pain.  But I also think it is one of the prime examples of SOE listening too much to a few loud voices on the forums, another SOE flaw.  They have had, over the years, a myopia about the forums.  Or that is how it feels.  And those who play the forum game have learned over the years that loud voices there get attention.

A few years back, when SOE was talking about lessons learned from EQII, I took that and tried to list out what I felt their lessons learned from EverQuest were and how they applied to EQII.

For example, having a seamless world was no big deal.  Zoning was fine.  In fact, chopping the world up into disconnected zones without a sense of continuity was deemed a good thing, based on how the world of EverQuest II was put together.  There was not a really a sense of there being a world, just a bunch of collected zones.

Did anybody else run with this sort of plan after WoW, the idea that loading zones was a good idea, that a seamless world was strictly optional?  I suppose Dungeons & Dragons Online did, though that was really a focused dungeon crawler with a lobby back then and did not even pretend to have a world.  And then there is Neverwinter, which is, in many ways, DDO redone.

Then there was the whole anti-twinking campaign, which I am going to guess was a direct result of forum complaints.  Basically, SOE got it into their head that they should do everything possible to keep higher level players from helping lower level players level up.  There was a formula for how close in levels you had to be to group so that the lower level party members would still get experience.  You could only cast buffs on people you were grouped with.  Buff had horribly short durations. (The next dev who makes a group buff I need to keep refreshing every five minutes is going to get a kick in the nuts.) There was the whole locked encounter thing.  There was a great deal of effort expended to solve something that wasn’t really a problem.  I mean, think of how many changes SOE has made since so you can help your lower level friends level up?  You actually want this.

Then there was the crafting at launch.  It was interesting and deep, but so complicated and so interdependent on other professions that nearly everybody who wanted to craft went to make a crafting alt.  With three stages of materials, and everybody wanting to sell theirs at a premium, alts were the only way, as nobody was buying finished goods for the anywhere close to the cost of materials.  SOE started changing that up right away.

Then there was the whole “four character slots at launch” thing, which after the generosity of EverQuest, and in a game with 24 character classes (way too many), may have been the first of many metaphorical slaps in the face.

And the list goes on.  The choices made with graphics, the character models, the fact that they seemed to want to do everything the hard way, graphically speaking, relative to WoW, which used every trick in the book, the quest log being too small with too many things counting as quests, the horrible racial ghettos rather than unique home towns, the “must always be online to sell” market, and the whole “we must avoid EverQuest lore!” idea that persisted until Scott Hartsman drove the Echoes of Faydwer expansion almost exactly eight years ago.  And do we need to go on about all the false starts and bad ideas?  Arenas with avatars?  A half-assed attempt to copy WoW achievements when the game already had a something like that?  Those initial raids?

Almost everybody in this raid went off to WoW

Almost everybody in this raid went off to WoW

And yet, SOE did many things quite well.

Bank and bag space, while very sparse when you first rolled up, was easily expandable.  I have always been able to buy my way out of inventory constraints in EQII in a way I could only dream of in WoW.  And shared bank slots, that has been on my WoW wish list forever.

The variety of quests were always a bonus.  I had a lot of good times working with our guild on heritage quests.

Housing in EverQuest II is still the best implementation I have ever seen.  You Star Wars Galaxies fans can keep your deserted, ugly Tatooine trailer park housing.  I have been over this before, and EverQuest II housing, along with a whole trade skill branch dedicated to furniture and the like, is the best for me.  Roll stock footage of my various houses in Norrath.

The market in EQII is good, especially with the integration with your house.  Crafting has ebbed and flowed over the years and a few revamps, but it works.  You can make useful things and the grind isn’t as awful as it used to be.  Still not wholly thrilled with the whack-a-mole interface, but I’ll live.

And, for all my complaints about the game not having a world but just a set of dis-jointed zones pretending to be one, I still have many fond memories of the place.  The awe of walking into the Thundering Steppes, Deathfist Citidel on Zek, some of the very ambitious zones in Splitpaw, and even just the sewers under Qeynos, one of the greater underused zones these days, done up in intricate detail, stick with me.  The dungeons have always been good.  If it doesn’t have a strong sense of overall place, it has a a lot of memorable places.

Swinging for gnoll necks

Swinging for gnoll necks in the Steppes

In the end, while I often complain about EverQuest II and SOE, I keep writing about them and following the game because there is still a lot there to like for all of its faults.  If I really don’t like a game, I never bring it up.  EQII is still on the list of games I think I am going to go back and play again some day.  I still log in regularly.  I know at some point Gaff will say he wants to go back and visit the place again… we have had a number of revivals of interest in Norrath, at least as many as we have had for Middle-earth… and we will go back for a while, open up the guild hall, figure out the game, and play for a while and relive a bit of those memories from a decade back.

And since I will soon be eligible for the 11th anniversary veteran’s award (buying the first 4 expansions gave you a 90 day boost to your veteran award date and they have since stopped counting who was subscribed when and just count from when you made your EQII account) I might have to go back to check it out.  It is an Isle of Refuge prestige home.  Bhagpuss got one recently, and it might be fun to tinker with.

We shall see.

But after all these years, I still have my eye on EverQuest IIEverQuest holds more raw nostalgia for me, but EverQuest II realistically has more for me to actually do, and isn’t lacking on nostalgia.  Not bad for a game a decade old.

What do you think about EverQuest II after 10 years?

4 thoughts on “A Decade in Post-Cataclysm Norrath

  1. bhagpuss

    That’s a brilliant summation of the early days. It’s long been my belief that the primary design document for EQ2 had “minimize calls to customer service” stamped in red across every page. Almost all the ridiculous restrictions seemed to be aimed squarely at issues that had been highly contentious in Everquest – twinking, powerleveling, klll-stealing, any kind of griefing. There was probably a chapter in that design document titled “The Fansy Problem and How To Avoid It”.

    The original crafting system caused no end of problems in our house as Mrs Bhagpuss maxed out Scholar early on and found herself locked into an ink-making sweatshop for the guild and everyone on her friends list. I went with the only self-sufficient craft, Provisioner, which was also largely useless because no food or drink had stats at the beginning and no-one wanted to use it let alone buy it.

    Within three months everyone who came with us from EQ had left. Within six months all the new people we’d met in EQ2 had left. When the final name on our friends list stopped logging in we bailed too and went back to EQ1. Had Scott Hartsman and later Domino not arrived and overturned just bout every crazy restriction to make EQ2 into one of the very best MMOs around, I guess we’d never have gone back.

    And yet even now you can log in and occasionally hear a bunch of vets discussing how EQ2 was wonderful at launch and SOE ruined it by dumbing it down (aka making it playable). No point discussing it with them – god knows I’ve tried. They remind me of those dwarfs in the stable at the end of The Last Battle.

    As I write this I am more excited about the Altar of Malice expansion than I have been for any EQ2 expansion for years. Going to buy it tomorrow and since I have a bunch of time off this weekend and next week off I plan on playing the heck out of it. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations.

    Happy 10th Birthday EQ2 and here’s wishing you many more.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I know her pain. Alchemist was actually a good profession as it required little or no resources from the other professions, plus most of its output was needed by everybody else. And it didn’t kill you, like armor smith. Gaff was done in by the forge a couple of times. Alchemist was my first profession as well.

    But then, as happened to your wife, everybody in the guild started asking for things. I was making washes and ink and whatnot for everybody for a while. It is nice to be in demand, but it can also be taxing.

    Likewise, my woodworker had a constant demand for arrows from the guild. I think he was in the top 10 for most crafting items produced on the server for a stretch because arrows were created in batches of 25 or 50 or some such.

    And the brain does magically scrub away negative feelings over time, leaving only the happy bits. Part of the reason for the blog is to record the annoyances. I really wish I had started the blog back at the launch of EQII, that would have left me with quite a few interesting posts to go back and reflect upon.

    Back in college, when working late at the grocery story, I was robbed at gun point. Today, 30+ years later, that is an amusing anecdote. I am pretty sure at the time I was a lot more distressed though, so I am not going to call for the good old days when we got held up and enjoyed it. Neither will I agitate for a return to the original EQII crafting system.

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  3. pkudude99

    Heh. From your “1st screenie evar!” one — “mischevious” — my sophomore year of high school English Teacher would have given the whole game an F just for that mistake. Mischievous!

    I played EQ2 more or less exclusively for 6 years. From launch up until The Shadow Odyssey, anyway. During that time period my life changed a lot, so I went from being able to be a raider on a 3 night a week schedule up through the Echoes of Faydwer expansion, but after Rise of Kunark came out people didn’t level up “fast enough” so the raiding guild I was in collapsed as people left for other guilds who’d already capped out their characters.

    But by then I was happy to go back to a more casual play. Even so, by TSO’s release I was more or less drifting away. Since it went F2P I’ve logged back in a few times, but it just doesn’t “have it” for me anymore. Such is life.

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