Where the Hell is that EverQuest Successor Already?

A staple of MMO blogging is going on about the good old days, and no days were gooder and older at the same time than classic EverQuest.

EverQuest

I will stop for a second and define “classic” EverQuest as a time somewhere between late beta and the final days of the Planes of Power expansion.  Legacy of Ykesha changed the world too much in my opinion.  But if you’re down with Frogloks, the era was certainly dead with Lost Dungeons of Norrath, which made instanced dungeons a thing.

And in that time frame, the classic era, EverQuest was at its most popular, as millions of players passed through the game and as many as 550,000 were subscribed at once.  Most popular has to mean best product, right?  That number is how we know that we aren’t just suffering from selective memory that is editing out the bad bits.

So there have been calls to return to or recreate that era… probably since that era… to bring back all sorts of things like the harsh death penalty, simple classes, spells every five levels, mandatory grouping, open world dungeons, steep level curves, travel time, contested raiding, mobs that chase you right to the zone line, and probably dozens more that I cannot think of at the moment.

And yet, despite that, SOE quite deliberately moved away from that list.  It was as though some old school fans made a list of things that made the game great… that list I just started on myself… and the company said, “You like that?  Well, it has to go then!”  So we got instancing, easier levels, solo quests, a light death penalty, mercenaries, the Plane of Knowledge, player vendors, and some of the most awkward looking mounts ever to grace a video game.

The time seemed ripe for a successor, somebody to get back the essential hardships that molded a generation of MMO gamers.  But who would take on this task?

Mark Jacobs had EverQuest in mind when he said he wanted to take the “suck” out of MMOs.  But his game, Dark Age of Camelot, was really about realm vs. realm combat and not the Diku raiding and level grind on which EverQuest was built.  So I don’t think we can count that.

SOE themselves offered up EverQuest II, dreaming of it being the successor.  But EQII was build on a base of ideas that seemed to largely revolve reducing customer calls and quieting a few persistent complainers on the forums.  Having played EQ and EQII at launch, I gave my impression of what SOE’s “lessons learned” must have included.  EQII was many things, but it was not a successor to EQ.

Blizzard, of course, brought out World of Warcraft shortly after EQII, and it has dominated ever since.  Openly based on EQ, it sought to make a kinder, gentler, and more colorful version of the game.  It embraced a solo, no-fail, low penalty path through the game, the sort of attributes we now derisively ascribe to millennials.  That couldn’t have possibly been the real successor, and even if it was, they have screwed it all up since then.

Then there was Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the Brad McQuaid attempt to get back to all that was good and right about MMOs, the REAL sequel to EverQuest.  While people blame poor execution on its failure to stick with anything beyond a tiny audience… and, at the time, making MMOs was hard and you had to do all the grunt work yourself… but I still feel he strayed from the true path.  I mean, how many of the fans of the game would go on about how “pretty” the game was to look at?  When was “pretty” ever an aspect of EverQuest, unless the word was paired up with things like, “ugly,” “awkward,” “dated,” or “strange?”

A few spiders were left for us

Oh, the textures!  Classic EverQuest!

And he couldn’t leave well enough alone when it came to the 1999 formula and had to add new things like diplomacy.  So, in the end, not really a successor, as it never attracted enough of those it was alleged to be for.

Meanwhile, in 2006 SOE itself decided to try to farm this obsession for classic servers and rolled up what they called a “progression” server.  It was popular, so popular that the had to roll up a second one.  The two servers, The Combine and The Sleeper launched in June of 2006 and opened up later expansions as the raid bosses for the current expansion were defeated.  A flawed interpretation of 1999, and driven at the pace of raiders who would defeat bosses in short order, it became a staple of the game after free to play, when a subscription was required to wallow in the nostalgia provided.  To this day the servers remain popular, with the latest one, Phinigel, showing high loads on the server status page at even odd hours of the day.

Who is playing at 5am?

Who is playing at 5am PST?

While Daybreak has finally realized the potential of such servers… the first couple of attempts were launched with fanfare and then largely ignored by the community team… and while they do hint at an untapped desire for such an old school experience… they are not really successors in any sense of the word.  Also, the experience they offer is tainted by things that did not exists back in 1999, like crude maps and a quest log.

But for a long time… over a decade really… that was pretty much the only option available for somebody seeking the old school experience.  By 2006 WoW had fully dominated the market, and who wanted to knock-off an MMO that peaked at 550K subs when there was one driving to 10 million subscribers world wide they could blatantly copy.

It took the death of the big budget MMO (Star Wars: The Old Republic implosion), the death of the subscription-only MMO (The Elder Scrolls Online or WildStar, take your pick), and the cancellation of any future plans for Norrath (EverQuest Next gets cancelled) to really get to a point where the industry could even consider not copying WoW and reflect on the origins of the genre and where it first really succeeded.  Even Blizzard is having to acknowledge that their “good old days” are not today, but at some point in the past with the whole Nostalrius thing.

So we have entered the era of the niche revival MMO.  We have Camelot Unchained seeking to relive Dark Age of Camelot in some way, Shroud of the Avatar as some sort of 3D vision of the Ultima series, Crowfall… um… doing whatever it is doing, and Project: Gorgon just getting weird, because why not!

And in this time, it seems like somebody could go back and copy the 1996 Sojourn MUD/TorilMUD flavor of the classic DikuMUD mechanics and make another grouping and level focused MMO in Unity pretty easily.

Yes, I know we already have Project 1999, but having to be able to find a copy of EverQuest Titanium seems like a pretty high bar for entry in 2017.  And then there is Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Brad McQuaid’s next run at an EverQuest successor.  But I fear that he will be tempted to stray off the true path yet again.

Isn’t there somebody else out there that could rebuild a vision 1999 for us?

I mean, unless this whole nostalgia thing is just bullshit and the last 18 years of the MMO market has actually reflected what most players really want.  In which case, never mind.

14 thoughts on “Where the Hell is that EverQuest Successor Already?

  1. Jay L. Gischer

    EQ created a social bond between players that has been hard to recreate. There are several reasons for this:

    * Most grouping was camping in a spot, with down time to allow casters to regen mana. So you talked to each other while waiting for respawn.

    * You could give away, or sell, buffs to other players. Or you could just heal someone in a bad spot while running away. I used to call this “scope for prosocial activity”. This was seen as powerleveling and unacceptable, and eliminated in EQ2 and other games.

    * All the difficulty meant that there was a recognition giving respect to others who had managed to conquer those difficulties.

    * Long travel times again gave one idle time to chat in guild, or in group, or whatever, and to experience gratitude to the druid or wizard who just ported you there.

    The main problem of the game is that there weren’t enough places to camp, and you could go a long time while LFG. This could have been solved by making dungeons a bit bigger, or servers a bit smaller. Another problem is that all the raids were contested. I never got in on a dragon kill, and it looks like I never will.

    However, it feels like these things are shouting into the wind. The much higher popularity of the more antisocial, I mean, solo-friendly, games such as WoW meant that a prosocial game was kind of doomed.

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  2. Scifibookguy

    Of the MMORPGs that I know of that are being developed, Pantheon and Project Gorgon are the only ones that seem to want to bring back the old EQ days. But since they are still in development, I don’t know how they’ll turn out. There another MMORPG that I’ve been occasionally following their news, since I found it on Kickstarter (the project failed, though). It’s called Citadel of Sorcery (http://www.citadelofsorcery.com/), and it’s been in development a LONG, LONG time. No idea if it will ever be released. It has very interesting ideas, though, if you want to check it out.

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  3. Jenks

    Fantastic thanks for writing this TAGN. I think Pantheon is proof that only very few of us want a real EQ successor. Even in this post it’s barely mentioned.

    And I agree with Jay on all points. Class interdependence created a need to socialize. Beyond buffs you also might look up a wizard or druid to give you a port. A necro to summon your corpse, and a cleric to rez it to minimize xp loss. A ranger to track a rare mob you need. A magician for a variety of summoned items that lasted your play session. And all those things aren’t even combat related, so when building your group you wanted things like a monk to feign pull. A class that could slow. A healer and often a 2nd “off heal.” An enc or bard for crowd control. This game design incredibly promotes socialization. It’s common to hear people say they can name 20 people from their EQ guild from 1999 but not 5 people from a WoW guild only a year ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bhagpuss

    Hahahaha! I was pretty sure that was one huge troll but even so I was going to bite…and then I got to the magnificent final paragraph! Of course the the ironic channeling of Tobold in para two was a generous early warning flag…

    I really wish someone would make a straight update of classic EQ though. It’s the only way we’ll ever know for sure whether there really is a market for one any more. Then again, as you amply illustrate, no matter what anyone comes up with it will somehow never be quite right – at least not for any demographic that already claims to want it.

    I really like the look of Pantheon and I hope it a) gets finished and b) attracts a large enough audience to survive and prosper. I am absolutely certain, though, that if that happens one of two things will happen: either it will stay true to the principles you describe and thereby remain a niche MMO with a very small following or it will become progressively, if incrementally “easier” in a (hopefully successful) attempt to continue to grow after the initial interest dies away. That, after all, is the story of every diku-mud inspired MMO ever.

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  5. Calthaer

    There are a lot of factors that created the “magic” of those good old days. I played Project 1999 a bit in early to mid 2016, and it was indeed magical – but, older and a bit wiser since those younger days when I played “classic” EverQuest, I saw a lot of flaws as well as a lot of good things.

    I am not sure that simply including all the “pro-social” elements of classic EQ would be enough to drive a product. I wrote about this on the P99 boards once, closing with: “MMOs are all intent on creating something like a theme park – the boring kind where you drive hours to get to with your kids on a long, hot summer day and you stand in line on a concrete floor sticky with spilled soda and popcorn and condiments just to enjoy a one-minute ride. The kind of theme park with big, expensive roller coasters that are difficult to build and install. No one wants to pay for that any more. The digital world is learning to adapt through rapid change and analytics; subscription games that can’t keep pace are going to be left in the dust.”

    Pro-social is great, but the lack of content in EQ could really lead to burn-out. One of the things you highlight a lot about EVE Online, W.A., is the fact that in many ways other players ARE the content – it’s as dynamic as people want to make it. I’m not sure any MMO can really survive without dynamic content of some sort in this day and age – an economy that balances itself, mobs in a zone that become increasingly difficult until PCs are incentivized through increasing rewards to come in and clean up the mess, quests that are real stories that NPCs with motivations ask for. No MMO has an AI “god” that manages the world and creates this kind of stuff – but whoever figures it out first will probably kick off the next MMO “golden age.”

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  6. Isarii

    Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is definitely the obvious one to keep your eye on, and definitely the one that’s going to be the closest to an EQ successor.

    The two I haven’t seen mentioned yet that might get close are Saga of Lucimia, which seems to be trying to get a close adaptation Dungeons and Dragons group campaign experience in an MMO’s world (for a gross simplification) and Ashes of Creation, admittedly, more for its analogues to EQ: Next than the original title.

    Here’s hoping something pans out over the next few years!

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  7. Great Sword

    Interesting to see news regarding EQ. I recently discovered something very relevant to this post — Project 2002. They are similar to P99 and host their files in an easy download ( all files no searching), right to the PoP expansion. It’s a wonderful server, a lot like returning to EQ after you left back in 2004…There is a strict no 3rd party software and a manual 3 box limit with a focus on grouping.

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  8. Jeromai

    I’ve gotten bitter. Early GW2 embraced pro-social activity as one of its watchwords, and all its current devs (and most of its vocal playerbase) want to do is include competitive, exclusionary activities for increased challenge, leading to a direct increase in antisocial behavior and loss of prosocial behavior.

    At the same time, the profusion of social networks outside of MMOs means that people of today will no longer put up with excess frustration and downtime in their games, merely to connect socially with other people.

    There is possibly even a lack of desire to connect socially in games, given that everyone’s social networks are already bursting, it’s easier to find people with similar interests elsewhere than in a mainstream game where one is likely to find people from all walks of life, and so on.

    So the future seems to be going niche. Make a niche game, attract a niche subset of people that are willing to accept frustration and interdependencies rather than being completely independent, and see what happens. Two potential game-killers: Lack of critical mass for stable social relationships and players turning on each other like they’re accustomed to in other games.

    No wonder everyone is now just making streamable PvP arenas and saying “to hell with it, let them kill each other, and the masses will just watch.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sails

    “…and the company said, “You like that? Well, it has to go then!””

    This is EXACTLY what Blizzard has been doing to World of Warcraft over the last four expansions until they have almost no player base left whatsoever (which is why they began refusing to release sub numbers anymore). It’s a sad state of affairs when almost every gaming company is following the exact same path into oblivion, like sheeple following each other over the cliff.

    It’s like someone told them that unless they’re angering and losing players en masse, they’re not doing a good job! What kind of logic is that?

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @sails – “…until they have almost no player base left whatsoever…”

    Yeah, about that. While they don’t announce subscriber numbers any more, it is still pretty clear from the financials that WoW is bringing in tons of money and still likely has more paying subscribers than any other MMORPG.

    I don’t like a lot of the things Blizz has done with WoW, and I don’t play it now, but lets not kid ourselves. The game is still an amazing cash cow that is, at least in financial terms, the envy of MMORPG developers everywhere.

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  11. Steve

    I don’t know if I’m remembering wrong but I feel like back in 2005 when WoW was still new you’d lose XP for dying too much. But maybe I’m just misremembering the effects of early resurrection sickness in Stonetalon.

    Though this is noting that WoW IN 2005 wasn’t a totally “no fail, low penalty” game. It wasn’t until BC was released that welfare epic items became a thing and acquiring gold just required you to grind as many daily quests in Outland as possible once you hit 70.

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  12. Christopher

    I’ll be 50 in February 2018, been a gamer since pong, played my first MMO when I bought EQ, played that till moving to EQ2 at its launch, played EQ2 all the way to the POF expansion when I quit. Went a few yrs and decided to play WoW with some friends, played that for a year but just couldn’t get into the cartoony graphics and quit after a year. Another few years and I got into the alpha/beta of Trion’s RIFT, played that only 6 months after going live because of all the changes that were made from beta to live. Now the only game I have fully enjoyed since has been the Skyrim series.

    If a developer wanted to create the ultimate MMO experience and do it as I call the “right way” I would combine the environments and graphics of Skyrim with the needed socialization of EQ, the independentance of EQ2, and the craftability of skills based on class that Rift offered.

    I don’t want to see cash shops, unless it’s for items that allow for appearance changes (slots) , of home furnishings. Grouping is the main focus and class selection is important in your group, if you want to survive. Player homes, player cities based of race and faction. These are the things I think most of us old school MMO plays want. I sure hope someone finally gets it, and understands your not looking to create a game that caters to everyone, it’s a niche community but that community does exist for the right game.

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  13. Heugh “The Eagle Has Landed” Jassman

    Ok. I’ve played EQ since 1999 with lots of people that I still hang out with. NONE of us want a clone of EQ. We want EQ evolved. That means action combat, not point and click. We need skill with our spells and swords instead of just watching an animation while we talk. It was great from 1999 to around 2012 which is a great run, but I dont want to keep playing the same thing forever. I need it to get better.

    Pantheon so far is a EQ clone down to the point and click. It does have nice graphics but sadly the only reason I’ll play it is if there isnt something better which is probably what will happen sadly. No one yet has gotten action combat correct. It needs to be engaging, useful, and skillful not the garbage thats out now. I dont want action combat in the sense that I get to see a ton of swings on the screen. I want it to be meaningful. Flooding my screen with pretty graphics only goes so far.

    Currently there are zero (ZERO) MMOS in development that do this or are planning to do this. I also do not want a survival game where I have to build my house, cook my food, build a castle (unless they all relate to story of course). I want engaging combat, story and a sense of accomplishment (the later which Everquest used to give me in insane amounts).

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  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Heugh – That’s fine. Some people want one thing, some people want another. It isn’t a zero sum game. Clearly, with the response to Brad and Pantheon, people want what he’s selling too.

    As for action combat, it isn’t going to happen any time soon. We had auto-attack, button press attacks in 1999 for the same reason we have them today; latency. Everybody’s connection to a given game is so varied you cannot do real action combat in an MMO with hundreds or thousands of people logged in. Every time a dev says they’re going to do it, they run into reality and change their tune.

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