Ten years is a long time for a game to exist. Graphics get outdated, technology moves on, visionaries move on to other games and the game itself changes and morphs into a different creature altogether. EverQuest, the granddaddy of 3-D MMORPGs has gone through many updates including an over-haul of its avatars and graphics engines, and a total of 15 expansions to date.
Artist Donato Giancarlo was chosen to create new EverQuest artwork for its 10th Anniversary, an oil painting that was unveiled in January at the CES, and all the paintings that SoE had acquired from Keith Parkinson, Larry Elmore and Donato were on display at the Fan Faire in Las Vegas.
"EverQuest box art has a particular art style that Keith Parkinson developed, and Sony wanted something retrospective," said Donato. "Keith was also Art Director for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and he had recommended me as an artist as well. So I've done art for Vanguard and Sony asked me to do the 10th Anniversary EverQuest art."
This is the artwork on the cover of the EverQuest 10th Anniversary commemorative coffee table book published by SoE, which also contains information about EverQuest II. Nostalgia aside, I spoke with Thom Terrazas, the Producer of EverQuest about the status of the game.
"Our number one goal is serving our existing customers," said Thom. "We've had quite a bit of resurgence in players lately. Most came back in response to our Living Legacy program, and many who came back, stayed and continued to play."
According to Thom, the last expansion, Seeds of Destruction has surpassed all expectations. The introduction of Mercenaries (in-game hirelings), moving the level cap to 85 and the 10th anniversary events have also helped draw in old players and retain them.
"We do polls more often as well, to see what our players want." Tom continued. "Only about 10% of our players visit and post on the forums. These are what we call our vocal minority. The player polls are more representative of what our player base really want."
That result is the roll out of the 51/50 Mayong server at the Fan Faire. On this server, players start at level 51, receive a full set of Defiant armor and start of with 50 Alternate Advancement XP points to distribute. "Why level 51?" I wanted to know.
"50 was the original level cap. How many players never got there? That's also the Kunark and Luclin glory days that many never experienced and this is their chance now."
Not to mention the hell levels and excruciating XP loss when you died in the good-old, bad-old days. At this time in the game's life, the only new players the game sees are being brought into the game by existing players and again, the developers believe that starting at those levels were some of the best levels and expansions that the game has ever had. Level 51 is just about "hero" level. It's dragon killing level: Lord Nagafen, Lady Vox, Trakanon, Gorenaire, watch out. Players are gunning for you and that was exactly what the EverQuest players at Fan Faire did, they headed directly for Nagafen and Vox before moving on from there.
Ryan Tirrell, the SOE Player of the Year for 2008 has played EverQuest since launch and continues to play. "I've tried other games but keep returning to EverQuest for the challenge," said Ryan who plays a Ranger and collects rare Ranger items. He does not play alts but concentrates on his single character and has maxed all of the tradeskills in the game. He is the rare individual who can boast that he has completed every one of the first class Epic Quests. "It was fun! Quite a challenge, and yeah, some were way harder than others."
He doesn't play quite as often anymore, having graduated from college and works in Theatre which kills his raiding time. "The game has changed quite a bit too," he agreed. "The introduction of Mercenaries was the biggest game changing feature, I thought."
"What they are," he explained, "are Warriors or Clerics that can be hired to round out your party or duo with you. At Tier Five, they can be incredibly effective."
The cost at the highest tier, tier 5 is 94 plat per 15 minutes. For high level players and players that have played the game a long time and accumulated a hoard of platinum, that amount isn't much, especially with many money sinks like buff component costs eliminated from the game.
Mercenaries have benefited the game, no doubt, and have alleviated the need (especially at high levels) for a player cleric or warrior and players who sometimes run two characters at once, or the sharing of account information which is something that SoE has tried to combat. They are only usable in groups and not raids, but the AI, according to Ryan, is also pretty incredible.
"There are four different settings. They can be: passive, efficient, balanced or reactive - reactive is the most aggressive. For example, if you hire a cleric mercenary, set on reactive and it will spam heals. At Tier Five, just spamming heals, his mana is almost endless."
Also revealed at FanFaire is the next expansion: the Underfoot. The realm of Brell Serilis, the neutral God of Smiths and the Earth. Expected and awaited since the opening of the Hole, I asked why it took such a circuitous route, from dragons to alien worlds before coming back full circle to the Old World. Thom agreed, "It's been on the table since the Hole opened but somehow, each time it came to decide on expansions down the road, the Underfoot just didn't seem exciting enough."
Brell is also known as the Duke of Below or the Lord of the Underfoot and the expansion to be released in November promises a wealth of dungeons to explore and promises twice as many weapons and as any of the previous expansions. It will also provide a new focus targeting window to allow you to add specific targets to your list to monitor the health of your allies and enemies.
Bonus zones and additional content for Underfoot will be released in April 2010. Another feature planned for Underfoot is Achievement Tracking. "You won't have to go looking online on some website somewhere to see what you need." Said Thom, "It will be in-game."
As usual, Fan Faire participants will receive a free digital copy of the expansion. Ten years old and ten years strong. How many more years will we see EverQuest run for? Or will it, like Ultima Online, just keep on going?