Rules are made to be broken – especially self-imposed rules. I mean, what’s the point of giving up snacks if you can’t wolf down a giant bar of chocolate as a reward?
Last week I broke my own ‘no alt’ rule and created two new characters. I played my new druid on the progression server and while it was fun I really wanted to check out the action on a live server. I wanted to play with the big boys and take on the full game.
When I last played EQ a few years ago I was a bit disappointed. Not because the game is bobbins (it isn’t), but because levelling up was a lonely experience. This is to be expected; with so many players having been in the game for a decade, their characters are more than likely at the level cap. Hell, most players probably have all the alts they are ever going to roll at the level cap too. This makes life tough for a newbie. I don’t mind soloing, but if I wanted desolation I could quite easily google which game has the fewest subs and play that.
So while I returned to the game for the progression server, this week I played the new monk I rolled on a live server, running him through the tutorial zone and beyond.
The tutorial, which takes place the Mines of Gloomingdeep, is new to me, and it changes the learning curve for new players considerably. It’s also really well put together; it has things that I’ve been complaining about, but in such a way that they are enjoyable again. First off, there are plenty of quests to do, not so many that they make me feel I’m on a quest treadmill, but enough to guide you smoothly through the whole zone. There is also a little bit of crafting to be done. This is extremely straight forward: you just keep asking the trainer for more ingredients to make rat steaks (yum) and you can bake away until your heart is content – or your bowels explode. There is also the welcome addition of quests being added to your quest log. I know I’ve been banging on about how much I’ve enjoyed the ‘hardcore’ mode of writing down my own quest log, but after a while it’s nice for somebody else to do your book-keeping for you.
More easy-mode comes in the shape of quest givers having the word ‘quests’ written under their names above their heads. Now this I’m conflicted about. It does seem against the spirit of Everquest and more in line with the WoW ethos, but again I’ve put some time in running around speaking to every npc to check for missions that having it handed to me feels ok now. I may sound inconsistent, but I’m only human (at times). Besides, quests are pretty barmy anyway. I mean, in real life you can’t just run around asking people if they want anything killing or delivering. If you are the person ‘Who Can Get Things Done’, then you probably have a rep for doing so and anyone with a mission that needed undertaking would probably contact you. Hmm something for devs to consider, if I’m so lauded and vital to the cause, why don’t your quest givers seek me out?
Anyway, another feature that was to me was the mercenary system. I had done a bit of research before logging in so I knew to exit the tutorial zone straight away and head over to Crescent Reach to pick up my mercenary. I chose a tank and now had my own mini party to take on the mobs of Norrath and help smooth out the levelling process even further.
With my new henchman, or more accurately my new henchlady, I finished up the tutorial at level 11 and headed out into the ‘real world’. I exited into Crescent Reach, a zone added with the Serpent’s Spine expansion. Crescent’s Reach and rest of the Serpent Spine mountains, are designed to take your character all the way to level 75. So my dilemma was this: do I follow quest paths laid out with this expansion or strike out on my own. I fancied making my own way, however the world of Norrath is vast and a plucky young boy scout like myself would easily get lost. Luckily when I had dinged level 10 I received a pop-up message informing me of some armour quests I could do – ah armour quest, my old friend, where would I be without you?
After doing a little research on the forums to see if the quests were worth doing, it turned out that the rewards weren’t worth the effort as you can now get better armour from mob drops. Defiant armour was added to the game to further empower solo players to get them up to the rest of the population. Someone did put forward the idea that the quests were worth trying if you wanted to see the world a bit. This I should have already known; in games I’m very familiar with I’m frequently taking on old or even redundant content just for the sake of it and to explore other zones.
The armour quests – along with a tiny bit of grinding – were enough to get me from level 10 up to 20.
Now a word on levelling: it’s fast.
Damn, but it’s fast. I’ll be honest here: the modern EQ game has a levelling curve that will make a Blizzard dev spurt coffee through his nose. There is a flash of light that surrounds your character when you level up. I saw that light with such frequency that I was having photosensitive seizures. This is SOE’s answer to the problem of the top-heavy population. The game is now designed to get you to level 50 in as short a time as possible. After 50 levelling slows down a bit and you should also be putting some experience toward alternative advancements. I guess SOE add aa points to avoid having the level cap go up with each expansion. I’m just a learner-leveller, but I believe that there are players who can get to 50 in a matter of hours. I think I’ll take my time a bit though.
Once I had hit level 20 I was ready for Norrath’s hotzones and able to pick up the quests. hotzones are yet another way EQ has made the game solo friendly. In a hotzone you get an experience boost, and not a paltry one either; a fairly challenging mob can give you 10% or more toward your next level– and they say the game has a grindy reputation. .
So my plan was now to continue to explore the world of Norrath by taking on the current hotzones and returning home occasionally to sell my loot. The first zone was Upper Guk, a dungeon style zone and home of the Frogloks. Anyone not familiar with Everquest may be surprised to find out that they are a frog-like race – no Elfloks or Humanloks though. I managed to plough my way through this area ok for the most part, and I also completed the hotzone quest I was given. However, a couple of times my target fled the scene of battle and my mercenary would follow. This usually ended up with an angry train of mobs following, and then my merc would give up the fight, leaving me with a dozen angry amphibians to deal with. After dying and running back to the zone a few times, I decided it was time to move on, or just away really.
The next hotzone was Solusek’s Eye; it’s the zone suggested for levels 25-30. I was 23 at the time, one or two kills away from 24, but with the so called assistance from my merc it seemed manageable. I zoned in and brought the first goblin down to a fifth of his health at which point I once again experienced the whole calamity of watching the little fella run away, barrelling into his friends and bringing down the whole dungeon on my head. Luckily I was right by the exit, just a few steps away. Unluckily, I was the target of root after root spell, that let me take a step every 15 seconds or so.
I decided enough was enough and abandoned the hotzone system. These zones are too densely packed for a glass-jawed monk and his cowardly merc. I returned to the safety of the Serpent Spine and did my levelling there. The xp wasn’t as super-charged, but it made up for that by not slaying me and forcing me to run through a few zones to carry on.
I’m now at the end of my month-long return. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed my time here a lot more than I thought I would. The reason I first played, and also the reason I wanted to return, was that I was an avid EQII player at the time and I wanted to travel back in time to see my world as it was then. This time around I got the feeling; I ran through many of my old EQII stomping grounds and got a buzz from seeing them again, like many players who moved from EQ to its sequel, but in reverse. I guess I’m just backward like that.
I’ve activated my station account to play EQ, which gives me access to all SOE games. I’ve enjoyed playing enough that I think it’s worth keeping that subscription up. I definitely head back into Norrath now and then. Probably on the progression server though. I’d like to take my time and see the world as it was when it was new, and adventure with friends in the old-school way.