Today ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I am on a mission to burst bubbles, to puncture dreams, and to stamp on the face of kitten-eyed wonder. How will I do this? Simple, I will reveal that there is no such thing as the ‘Free to Play’ MMORPG. As I am sure you are all now wiping away the tears of misery and disappointment, I will now offer you but one life-line, a single beam of hope that will prick your ears and excite your loins – I am on crusade to find the most free of all free online goblin-em’-ups just so you, dear reader, can enjoy this recession and money worried time with an alternative to sticking your money to the man, and screaming in horror at your bank balance at the dreaded “$14.99 SOE MONEY BASTARDS” bill.
In recent years there has been a trend of big publishers offering their games for free with certain caveats – the ability to walk forward will cost you a small bundle of pennies; a Mohawk and a new goatee beard will force you re-mortgage your home and hitchhike to work every morning. I am sure you get the picture. So with all this so-called ‘freeness’ in mind, I have been wondering, just how long can one player actually go without paying a single penny and having an unadulterated experience? Being MMORPG.com’s resident explorer of online-wilds, I will find out.
One of the relative newcomers to the realm of the Free Lunch, is SOE’s (headed of course by Satan) EverQuest 2. Now, as my articles have detailed in the past, I am avid fan and devotee of the EQ series. Since being a small child I have delighted and marvelled at the world of Norrath and, yes, even shed a few tears as the developers saw fit to sunder the world completely different in its sequel. Many years later and with drier cheeks, EverQuest 2 has slowly become the game it was destined to be. The game world is largely restored, content oodles and oozes from every corner and in short, it’s a pretty damn good MMORPG – but now the game has sprouted a suffix to its title and started proclaiming its freeness. Surely this is the beginning of the end?
Let’s be clear about what EverQuest Extended is and isn’t before we get to the nitty gritty: it certainly is not free, it is however better value than most. SOE’s title is a peculiar case in that, while the game boasts several real-cash offers and also nudges players into parting ways with positive credit, it is surprisingly good value and flies dangerously close to the dictionary definition of ‘free’.
Coming from the black gates titled ‘Sony Online Entertainment’ you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a half-assed attempt at cashing in on Turbine’s recent successes with F2P. Extended uses a completely new server away from the existing player base and also uses a different client which installs the game periodically rather than one massive install that will take you numerous days. From the start you can tell this is something with thought and consideration put into it. All the more reason to be on guard I’d say.
The character creation process is relatively sane also, the usual clap-trap of races and classes is here except for a few that are restricted – one of which, if memory serves, is a butterfly fairy type combo. I can literally hear the weeps of misery as people desperately rush to get out their cash for that one. So with a few dodgy races and one or two classes aside, players are treated to the myriad of choices which in an EverQuest game numbers into double figures.
So with your avatar finely sculpted with the tools on offer and a starting location picked, it’s time to begin the adventure. I personally opted for Halas having not played this section of the game previously – one thing that has struck me about the game is that given that it is now 6 years of age, it is beginning to show. Things feel slightly out of date and even the once pristine look of the world is slightly diminished, perhaps this free conversion should have happened 2 years ago?
Quality issues aside, I set about questing like a questing thing and slowly but surely rose through the content of Halas. Aside from one or two pop-ups I found that my journey from 1-15 was relatively uneventful. From my initial steps I could see plainly that my bag slots were reduced to two interchangeable packs and also that I could speak no louder than a /whisper or /say.
The biggest challenge really for anyone wanting to experience Extended for the grand price of nil is the social aspect. The overall chat channels such as 1-9, trade, or any other such contextual channel is largely prohibited. The only socialisation that can be found is the Guild, Group or Say channels. In many ways this makes the game feels claustrophobic, your avatar like a songless bird – however – another angle is that the game feels more immersive and traditional. You can really only speak to those you have physically opted to – the overall chat channels are visible but all you can do is simply read and occasionally rock angrily in your chair as someone says something outrageous. It is swings and roundabouts really.
So having reached level 15 adventurer, level 12 artisan and level 10 alternative advancement, I had clocked around 15 hours or so played time. For a game that had cost me nothing but time, this was a fair achievement. The greatest feat of Extended is that none of the restrictions really prohibit character progression. I had initially thought that the trio of level systems in the game would be in some way restricted but on the contrary, the only difference between you and the paying players is the ‘double exp’ potions that they seem to purchase.
On a personal note, I enjoyed the fact that 15 hours into my journey I was still a relatively low level. I had indulged the game on every aspect and even gone as far as gathering collections. EverQuest 2 really is game that offers content by the bucket load but many simply race past it only looking ahead to the finish line. I myself have been guilty of this and can’t help but think that perhaps the levelling time has been drastically upped as I can remember going from 1-50 in a matter of 30 hours before - Here I was, at half the time and only in the teens.
As I approached the end of the content in Halas I looked ahead to the outside world and the adventures that could be found. In a slightly recent update, EQ2’s travelling system has changed so that everything can be accessed through a globe (something that would have bothered me no end a few years ago) so players can instantly transport themselves to any location. Apart from the recent expansion, SOE have really gone for broke as I found myself location-hopping from Butcherblock to Odyus in a couple of seconds. All this content and still I had yet to pay a dime, somethings gotta’ give right?
My journey carried on penniless and I ‘zapped my way through the Faydwer until I reached level 25, and it was at this point, 1 day and 8 hours in, I really found myself at a stopping point. During the course of my adventures throughout Norrath, I had found guilds, helpful players and an abundance of groups and companions to travel with. The great understated aspect of EverQuest has always been the dungeon crawling and so, with quests becoming too much strain, I would break of occasionally to venture into Crushbone or Fallen Gate.