How does one go about reviewing a game such as EverQuest besides playing it a lot? I told my editor two months. I should have said three. Maybe four months... a year! At launch, this game had 12 races and 14 classes to choose from, and over 65 zones to play in with a level cap of 50. March just saw the 8th anniversary of this groundbreaking game in the Massively Multiplayer Online genre and at this time - April 2007, with 13 expansions released since day one, EverQuest boasts a total of 16 races, 16 classes, over 425 zones to play in, and a level cap of 75
The good thing about EverQuest is the massive amount of content available to the player for a relatively low price. In the past four years, expansions have been released twice a year, with a new retail "collection" box released each year. The expansions alternate between one that is only geared toward the high level population, and one that is tailored for the vast middle-aged population.
That's the good. The bad is, and always has been, video driver compatibility. Using the video driver recommended by SoE for EverQuest is always a good thing. It took me a week of searching for information and whining at friends before I learned that my video glitches were due to compatibility issues with my AMD dual-core CPU. Ahh... that made sense. EverQuest historically had issues with AMD CPUs, all the way back in 1999 when Bronze armor rendered blue on AMD PCs. A quick visit to the EverQuest Knowledge base and I soon had the fixes installed and I was back in the review business.
The ugly? Well... some of the older zones still have the original graphics. Low polygon blocky snakes and square headed guards - pretty outdated at this time but they brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.
What's it about?
EverQuest is about adventuring. It's about making friends online and playing in groups of up to six or raids with as many as 72, depending on the raid scenario. It's about level and loot - reaching that spell level, gaining that advancement skill and brandishing an epic weapon that scatters pixels around you as run through town. It's about questing and adventuring - admiring the sunset over the Oasis and gaining access to a new zone.
in the world of Norrath, you will find your standard fantasy races here. Dwarves and Gnomes, the various Elven races of High-Elf, Wood-Elf, Half-Elf and Dark-Elf, a few human variations - Human, Erudite & Barbarian and some exotic creatures such as the lizardmen (known as Iksar) of your father's Tarzan adventure comics, Trolls, Ogres of high fantasy, Cat people (Vah'Shir), Froglocks (guess...) and the latest race, the Drakkin - another human variation, but this time with dragon blood.
EverQuest was hardcore in its day. There were "Hell" levels - levels which took twice as long to complete than others. Melee classes had to find a friendly player to bind them in cities. Trading was conducted by gathering in a more or less neutral area and shouting your wares. The death penalty was severe. When your character died, you left a corpse - with everything on it... and had to run naked back to it. You lost about 10% of your experience and you could lose a level, maybe meaning that you could not memorize a new spell only just learned. If you did not get to your corpse in time, it could - horror of horrors - decay. Even so, players of DikuMUD upon which EverQuest drew much of its inspiration, regarded the penalty light. In that game, if your character died, you lost a level.
EverQuest is still considered pretty hardcore although many features have made it more friendly to the casual player. As the world expanded, transportation devices in the Plane of Knowledge were implemented with the Planes of Power expansion (2002) to allow players to travel quickly, NPCs were created to bind players, a bazaar system which allowed players to set prices and function as a vendor was set up. Shadow Rest - a player graveyard implemented in 2004 - allows a player to reclaim a decayed corpse, and Corpse Summoning Altars in Guild Halls were implemented in 2005.
However, apart from some classes, EverQuest remains the "grouping" game it was advertised as in 1999. Players of most classes will find soloing after level 15 difficult, if not impossible. Casual play is possible but "No pain, no gain" still applies in the ability to gain the top ranked armor and weapons. As designed, you gain more with cooperative play - faster xp gain, better gear. Leadership advancement which gives special abilities to your entire group is also a feature of group play.
EverQuest also takes more "work" to play. NPCs who are also quest givers do not have helpful glowing symbols above their heads, nor are the trigger words always marked. You've got to find the right NPC, and the correct trigger words. If you don't have the right faction, not only will you not be able to receive a quest, NPC guards may attack you. Selecting the wrong deity at creation may make you KOS (kill on sight) in certain places. But that was the original fun. Finding a secret tunnel in your home town and deciding whether you were going to explore. Wait... are you a paladin? What are you doing in these tunnels? The Necromancer guild master is just around the corner.
"EverQuest has always been known as a more hard-core RPG." Said Clint Worley, Producer of EverQuest. "This has always been intentional and it has created a real sense of adventure and risk involved that anyone who has played can explain. New adventurers try to go a little further away from the safety of town each day and more experienced players work to organize raid parties with dozens of other players just to defeat a single NPC."
He continues to say, "The learning curve for EQ is known for being rather steep, so new players often find themselves feeling a bit behind when getting started. We have a tutorial that helps new players through the basics and gets them up and running. More experienced players look forward to the expansions that roll out each year to explore new areas, fight new NPCs, and collect new weapons and gear."
Graphics, Sound and Music
Graphics updates and upgrades are an ongoing affair for EverQuest. The most recent work being rolled out is upgrades of older zones and character models. Many model upgrades are often seen on NPCs and tested on the players for their responses before they are rolled out on player characters. The stilted, low polygon count models of the early years are mostly gone, but the transition between a new zone and an old can be quite shocking.
Environmental graphics in new expansions and upgrades of zones rival any current day MMOGs and is quite impressive for an MMOG that's getting on in years. The Drakkin city of Crescent Reach and the drowned city of Katta Castrum are excellent examples of the beauty of current graphics, and players need only stroll into areas like the Oasis and Nektulous Forest to appreciate revamped zone and mob graphics. The Drakkin player model also shows impressive grace in the character animation. Great textures, lighting and graphics depth can cause some video lag and performance issues, but EverQuest has never made any apologies about computing requirements needed to run the game.
Sound in EverQuest has also been upgraded along the years with better ambient sound effects, redone zone music and each expansion seems to bring better tracks of sound and musical effects. One of the most recognizable and beloved sounds ever in this game is the loud chime that sounds when you gain a level. With your sound cranked up, it can knock you out of your chair as it has done to me once upon a time, much too late at night. The perky, bouncy music of Rivervale is probably burned into the minds of old EQ players, but fortunately, EverQuest comes with its own mp3 player and players can run through Norrath to the music of their choice.
The World of Norrath was released with three main continents, each with their unique flavor of zones, flora and fauna, factions and quests. Expansions added more continents, some with new races - both playable and non-playable, new items and more nasty critters thirsty for your blood.
Environments range from airless alien spaces on the moon to underwater caverns with everything else imaginable in between - that could be integrated into the storyline and the fantasy world that is Norrath. Zones are usually separated by geographical features such as mountain ranges and seas, with access through tunnels, mountain passes and boats. The variety is broad and players will find lots of dungeons and dragons... er... well, camps and critters. Tunnels and caverns populated by hosts of differing critters for characters to crush, stomp, blast and die from. There are often also several levels of mobs in each zone, creating opportunities for diverse groups of players to play in the same zone, and creating re-playability in the same zone.
From the Ice Clad gnomes to the Vah Shir of Luclin, from the Wayfarer Brotherhood to the Taleosian, stories and storylines abound, and as does factions. The factions of Norrath may have started with good and evil cities and some with both sides in separate zones, but as the world expanded, some expansion cities were neutral - or in Norrathian speak: They like no one and faction has to be built by running quests.
The world of Norrath is not static, it changes and morphs like a good MMOG should. Through the years, since March 16, 1999, zones have been diseased, corrupted, redeemed by player actions, taken over by other NPCs and beefed up. Returning players are warned. Do not simply waltz into a zone thinking it was as you left the game. Firiona Vie has been taken over by the Dark Elves. The golems guarding the bridges there may be light blue to a level 70, but remember... mobs above level 50 may summon. Although the guards at the toll gate in the Common Lands are still in the pocket of Kizdean Gix, the zone line is no more. The light races cannot escape that stinker as easily as before.
The Internet is your friend. There are fansites which track the change of the world, documenting the stories, the GM events that have taken place, various quest walk-throughs, tips and hints. Much of the storyline can also be accessed in game.