There have been so many MMORPGs over the past 30 years that it’s almost impossible to narrow the choices down to just a single title when trying to decide which MMORPG holds the crown of the Greatest Of All Time. While I’ve played many that I’ve enjoyed, there’s only one game that I personally feel could hold up to standards of being the GOAT - and that game is EverQuest.
Unequivocally, there isn’t a single game that has meant as much to me in my life as EverQuest has. I essentially spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties masquerading online as my Iksar Shadow Knight, Xilanthanax (and later as a Froglok Shaman named Xilly.) While he wasn’t the best tank on Brell Serilis, or really even all that well known, Xil’s life eventually became my own for a few years. I was struggling to maintain interest in college and working whatever job I could get at the time in order to have money to pay for food and my car, while living with my mom and essentially just being a stupid kid who had no idea how to be an adult.
I’ve been a gamer my entire life, but I’ve always been more interested in offline games like Final Fantasy, God of War, and anything that really had a good story with fun gameplay. In 1999, I was working at McDonald’s and my manager had become friends with the third shift maintenance guy who was a big PC gamer at the time and through talking to him he was introduced to EverQuest. I didn’t even own a computer at the time, so as I became friends with my former manager, I was at his house when he was setting up EverQuest and I would just hang out over there while he was running around the massive world of Norrath killing laughing skeletons, scorpions, pixies, and anything else he could raise his sword to meet. I developed a bit of a passive interest in watching him play that led to my wanting to give it a shot. Little did I know that this game would quite literally change the course of my entire life.
After playing EverQuest for a few hours, I became obsessed with it. I would often crash at my buddy’s house on nights after work or on my off days just to get more time to play. Eventually my girlfriend at the time got interested in playing, and we’d go to a local concert venue that also happened to have a LAN room where we could spend all day playing EverQuest on borrowed computers. As she got less interested, I continued to progress further and further, all because I was hooked on exploring the world and gaining new powerful spells which would help me survive in higher level areas.
It wasn’t that EverQuest necessarily did things that were new in PC RPG games, in fact, tracing the roots back, I learned that many of the core elements of gameplay came from other titles that were years before it. What appealed to me was the combination of so many different interactive elements that I hadn’t previously experienced in other console games. Deep quest lines with a good story - starting off with a crappy little weapon from my class guild that could be improved through a chain of quests that progressed as I leveled up was so much fun because I felt like I was making a difference in becoming a vanguard of the city of Cabilis. Trying to figure out what text to say in order to advance quests was exciting because it was like revisiting text-based adventure games like Zork but while still engrossed inside of a living, breathing world that you could go out and explore.
Zones weren’t just simply tiny little set pieces on rails, they were huge full-sized maps that required real time to traverse. I remember when it used to take upwards of twenty minutes in real time to run from Cabilis to The Dreadlands, a level 45-60 area in Kunark that contained a dungeon which held a boss who dropped items for certain character’s “epic” weapons.
Speaking of Epic weapons, I’ve never felt a similar feeling of accomplishment as I did when I completed my Epic weapon in EverQuest. The fabled reward for completing an extremely long quest that requires multiple trips to multiple continents and cities, farming bosses via raids for drops, and finally culminating by slaying a ghost version of the one of the Shadow Knight guildmasters in order to obtain a purple-glowing black sword that contained a visible beating heart right in the center of the hilt that had skull shaped particles floating out of it. A sword of nightmares made for a character fueled by darkness.
What an awesome conclusion to hundreds of hours of real time spent solely on working on an item for your avatar to wield and show off their accomplishment to anyone who walks by. EverQuest’s epic weapons were essentially the creme-dela-creme of digital trophies, and anyone who walked and saw it would stop and admire you as a God of Norrath. Epic was truly a fitting name for such an accomplishment, one that hasn’t been rivaled by any game thus far (though Final Fantasy XIV certainly tried.)
It’s a meme to say “maybe the real _____ were the friends we made along the way…” but perhaps there’s never been any game more fitting for that description than EverQuest. I met a girl I fell in love with in Kurn’s Tower, a level 10-20 hunting dungeon in the center of Kunark’s newbie zone called the Field of Bone. We played together for a few years before we finally met in real life, and we had a real life relationship for over two years that ultimately ended due to the distance between us.
The friends I made in EverQuest, I often talked to on TeamSpeak and Ventrillo, including a few who I’m still friends with on Facebook to this day. Some of those people have sadly passed on from this life, but there’s a Facebook group for players from Brell Serilis (and Cazic-Thule post server merge) that’s still active all these years later when most of us have moved on to other games because while EverQuest’s design still requires large amounts of time that we simply can’t dedicate anymore now that we’re all much older, the friendships we forged were just as real as the characters we were essentially pretending to be.
No matter what MMORPG I try to dive into next, nothing - not even EverQuest 2 - has ever given me near the satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that the original EverQuest did. Perhaps that’s why the game is still alive and kicking in 2020 when a majority of its rivals and predecessors died out years ago. For me, EverQuest taught me the value of friendship, time management, and ultimately led to my decision on what to do professionally in life.
I learned how to build computers because I wanted to play EverQuest and couldn’t afford to buy a PC outright, so I slowly bought my own parts and crafted one so I could play at home (shoutout to playing online with 64GB of RAM on a 56.6kbps dial-up connection.) I eventually turned my new found hobby of building computers into a career in IT.
While different games mean different things to a lot of people, for me, EverQuest will always hold a special place in my heart and memory of being one of the greatest things I was ever a part of. From shouting warnings of incoming trains, to reading the drama of Brell’s own infamous Page Eight story (a scammer outed himself by posting a reply while logged into the wrong account on Page Eight in a thread on the old Brell Rants forum), Sony Online Entertainment and Verant Interactive (RIP Brad “The Vision” McQuaid) crafted a game that will forever be cemented in mind as the greatest MMORPG of all time.