The year is 1999, I am nine years old with a head full of brightly colored additives and philosophical angst over the question “just who is the real Slim Shady?” Scattered around my newly fitted room, bought and paid for at IKEA, are PlayStation accessories, Harry Potter novels, and a proudly displayed paper-map emblazoned with the words “Norrath”. Sitting neatly under this wall decoration is a 15-inch Packard Bell monitor with the type of depth you would come to expect from an air-traffic-control terminal; attached to this monster of a display is a pristine white tower loaded with a Pentium 2 chipset, a Voodoo 3 graphics card, 32mbs of RAM, and Windows 98.
By day I am a mild mannered boy with a mind ready for educational moulding and distinction as a Primary School soccer-genius– but by the night I am changed, I am evolved: I am Oberenn the level 37 Erudite, Wizard. Gone are such antics of childishness, I “ROFL” with the best of them, I provide great “DPS” while “Gratz’ing” every “Ding!” anyone types to me. I am a studious guild-member that is an asset to any team which is willing to conclude activities before my 9pm bath and bed time. I am like the Peter Parker of the MMORPG world, my double identity never betraying. These are the days.
Time May Change Me!
A lot has changed since my pre-teen adventures in the lands of EverQuest. A decade has passed and with it so much has changed; we have seen great technological leaps with graphics evolving from crude 3D representations to high-definition, dazzling reproductions of the human form. We have also seen the MMORPG grow from a small, fledgling genre to one, by this website’s last count, that is 400 games strong. And I too have changed from a small weird-looking boy to a taller weird-looking man. I have sprouted hairs in deep, dark places and even discovered the smoothness of the opposite sex. Yes many great and wondrous things have occurred in the proceeding decade since the lands of Norrath opened for adventure.
But who amongst us can say that they do not look to the past in a fit of envy and regret; longing for a time passed that is so desperately desirable. Well in an act of community servitude, some fellows at Sony Online Entertainment have decided to hop in their in-office DeLorean and head back to a time when Brad McQuaid was respected and Nu-Metal was still riding high, to bring us the EverQuest Progression Server - I just felt the collective MMORPG-equivalent of an erection sprout from 30-year-olds the world over.
The progression server, named after the Qeynos-strolling Gnoll, Fippy Darkpaw went live this week and within 15-minutes its population capacity was robbed of its virginity. Following popular demand, SOE has opened another progression server to ease the queues and overcrowding that comes with 2,000 over-joyed veterans rampaging through Norrath once more. To the casual onlooker, the implementation of these additions to EverQuest is unanimously successful.
And to be very honest, they would be right. The original EverQuest circa ’99 is back without the additions of any expansions, for the time, and with certain embellishments and improvements that compliment the experience. The towns are awash with players old and new experiencing the game as equals and it couldn’t be better.
The Second Coming
Being as I am an excitable veteran of EverQuest, I too have ridden happily back into my old stomping-grounds with a wide grin equipped on my face. On Tuesday the 15th of February I awoke with anticipation and spent the day checking the game client to see whether or not the server has yet gone live. Finally at around 6pm GMT my wishes were granted and the server opened its doors. And then quickly shut them again for fear of a stampede.
Alas, my good spirits could not be quelled by messages telling me that the server was running at capacity and after spamming the “enter” key for a few minutes, I was allowed access to the virtual oblivion that could threaten to consume my life for the next dozen or so months. I quickly rolled a Qeynos-bound, Human Warrior and entered the game. In time honoured fashion I was not greeted by a cinematic intro proclaiming me to be the “chosen one” or even told in by a stationary NPC that something important was under attack and I better hurry; no, EverQuest has different plans for the player.
I awoke from my decade-long slumber in EverQuest to be greeted by the sight of a garishly textured wall and nothing else. Scrambling for the cursor keys, I looked around my surroundings and towards the NPCs that were in my vicinity; I clicked one; he appeared friendly but would like me to be aware that I would be picking my tombstone inscription if I decided to get “fresh”. Oh I am back in the arms of an old lover.
I wandered out from my birthing place within Qeynos and began to get my bearings. To the east is the docks where years before I spent hours with my fishing rod on the rumour that a ruby could be found. To the west was the arena were millennia previous I had brought sacks full of “Gnoll Teeth” to a guard with a strange obsessive collection. My mind was full of memories, sights, and sounds. If I wasn’t as dead emotionally, a small tear would have rolled down my cheek as I realised that I was in the midst of my second chance at an EverQuest childhood.
Back to the Grindstone
Before long I found myself stumbling towards the all too familiar sight of the gates of Qeynos. I had noticed a dozen or so people pass me by on my inner-city tour but this was something else. As I approached the crescent arc that lead into a grassy plain that further promised the sights of Qeynos Hills, I saw a hundred or so players all in the pursuit of experience and wealth.
In many ways the scene that was unfolding in front of me was like something from the end of days. Players with existing subscriptions and those with resurrected subscriptions stood shoulder to shoulder; a large number of wild animals roamed freely outside the town-limits and my fellow Northanians were hunting them down with rabid haste. To my left was a small cluster of players half-naked and fighting for the scraps of a small rat that had the bad luck of spawning near them – to my right was a man clad in a robe and bear helmet proclaiming “will SoW for tips”.
Even in the good old days of EverQuest popularity, I had never seen the game brimming with so much activity. The “Out of Character” chat tab buzzed with chatter, the “Antonica” channel identically received such dues. Paying close attention to the conversations being held, there was nothing, surprisingly, of how “World of Warcraft is shit” or how “questions are for noobs”. It sounds like a rose-tinted view of the game but everyone seemed gentle natured and in high spirits – all brought together by the simple fact of loving an old-game now brought back for their pleasure.
I spent an hour or so just talking and conversing with others over the chat channels. Of course except for the “/OOC” nothing like this existed before but it didn’t hinder the game any but instead brought the community together. There were exciting moments when rag-tag groups of Elves or Trolls somehow braved the wilderness to make the journey to the western shores of Antonica. I have genuinely never played an MMORPG with such a good atmosphere.
So with all smiles and retrospective glee aside, I decided to pit myself against the actual meat and potatoes of the game – the combat and the grind. Swallowing down the lump in my throat and checking my inventory for a sword, I headed into the killing-field that was now the grassy plain metres away from the limits of Qeynos. At first it was hard to find any kind of target but then it all came flooding back. I murdered a snake for scales, then I butchered a Gnoll Pup for his coins, and before long I was stacking up a sizable amount of experience.
Now of course, the combat, UI, and visuals of EverQuest are nothing much to shout about. The combat is nothing more than pressing “auto-attack” and throwing in a few “Kick” and “Bash” hot buttons. It is simple, it is laborious grind, but you know what? It didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps everyone was collectively riding a wave of golden-nostalgia, filled with familiar sound effects, and other such things – but it seemed genuinely entertaining. The goal of the game was so simple: gain experience. There were no real quests other than those found by certain players of keener memory, but it seemed like a real fun way of wasting your time.
Heading back to the general store to trade in my surplus bat wings and beetle eyes produced clucks of joy as I received a small amount of payment. Rather than heading back into a game that was archaic and too weather beaten to really comprehend playing; I found something still infinitely immersive and playable.
But this may be the result of certain changes that have been implemented in the intervening years of my play. The game now comes with a better system of menus and contextual windows. It also allows the player to collect platinum fairly easily without devaluing everything in the game. The infamous corpse-runs are also gone – a topic for much debate but as controversial as this view point is – they are not missed. EverQuest is still difficult, level 2 taking around an hour and a half alone to achieve, and to anyone with an actual social life will find themselves slogging to 50 for quite some time.
In all, in the 10 or so hours that I have put into EverQuest and its progression server have been infinitely enjoyable, pleasurable, and put an optimistic smile on my face. I for one am subbing after my free-play period has ended and I hope that any veteran or new player alike will join me. No time has ever been better to get back into Norrath. I’ll meet you in Black Burrow.