This blog is about the things that made Everquest great (to me), and their application to modern and future MMORPGs. And no better place to start at the very beginning, at least for Wood Elves: Kelethin.
I must confess, Kelethin was not my first EQ city. Nor did I ever actually have a Wood Elf, Half Elf, or 38.27% Elf. But I do remember my first walk through Greater Faydark and seeing an elf fall out of the sky and splat right at my furry Halfling feet.
For those that don't know, Kelethin was a city in the trees, home to the Wood Elves. Full of platforms and pathways without railings, the city itself probably killed more players than any orc in Crushbone. But this isn't just about Kelethin. Its also about nearby Kaladim, the mountain home of the Dwarves. And Ak'Anon, home of the gnomes buzzing with clockwork creations. And Neriak, the dark and magical city of Dark Elves. When you took you first step in Everquest, you were among your race and got to see and experience what it was like to be a member of that race.
Racial cities go a long way towards fleshing out a game world. Everquest is not the only game to have fantastic racial cities. World of Warcraft employed the concept as well. When you reached a new town in Azeroth, you knew who built it. The architecture was distinctive (even if buildings were recycled a bit too often). The races had background and personality.
For more modern games, Guild Wars 2 is a stand out. I didn't like many aspects of that game, but the racial cities are glorious. When I see a game with cities like that, I know the developers are invested and care about the world they have created.
The two Final Fantasy MMOs are a bit different. Large capital cities representing different nations, some racially influenced but not quite the same feel of the other games mentioned. Still they are a strong point of their respective games.
Of course sometimes the game's background doesn't allow for this. Wildstar is an example, because it is basically aliens invading a foreign planet. However, they do take care in setting up the races. Its not ideal, but understandable given the circumstances.
Then there are games like Rift: similar in some ways to Wildstar, but it doesn't do much in setting up the races at all. You just feel like a generic 'ascended', with race being only cosmetic. It leads to a disconnect between the gamer and Telara and is part of the 'no soul' argument that comes up often against Rift. Another failure is SWtOR. The 'capitals' are just lame space stations. Nothing remotely interesting at all. And the galaxy is just too human. I know its partially Star Wars lore that its like that, but there is so much potential for creative, inspiring cities in that game and its wasted.
But enough of the bad, time to bring up one of the absolute best: LOtRO, specifically the Shire. Turbine nailed the Middle Earth feel with this zone.
Anyone developing an MMORPG today really should have the world in mind first before doing anything else. And that starts with the races and their homes. I know its the trend to have starter zones with everyone together to appear busy, but that's not the way to do it. Themepark or Sandbox or inbetween, the game world is crucial to an MMORPG.