There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 7 I will be exploring 2004’s EverQuest II which had big shoes to fill.
Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online
Part 2 – EverQuest
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call
Part 4 – Anarchy Online
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies
EverQuest II was released on 4 November 2004, developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment. SOE were now becoming a MMORPG powerhouse with the original EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies under their belt. They also had the benefit of watching other MMORPGs test new features and learn from those experiences, especially with the changes they made and player reactions to SWG up to that point.
Whilst the name would suggest a direct sequel to the original EverQuest, the developers were advertising the game at E3 2004 as a parallel online universe set 500 years in the future of Norrath. However as much as they wanted to sell that, millions of keen players had it in their heads that this would be a sequel, and expectations were high. Johnny ‘Garbz’ Garbin was one of the players who had dropped a pre-order for EQ2. Whilst he hadn’t played the original, he was well and truly caught by the MMORPG bug from playing the recent Star Wars Galaxies. He saw the success and appealing theme of the original EverQuest and, like many other players, thought this EQ2 sequel would be an upgraded version of that, but again found it to be quite different to his expectations.
When the game finally released in 2004, boasting over 130 hours of voice acting, equivalent to 65 feature films, and 160 unique creatures encountered in the lands, the game was looking fantastic and a big visual upgrade over its predecessor. Character models were looking very sharp and the 3D environments were stunning. However, this was only if your PC could handle it. It wasn’t so much about the power of your graphics card, it was more about the optimisation of the game and how good your CPU was.
Back in those days, it was relatively affordable to upgrade a graphics card (we’re talking ~$500), however when you were looking to upgrade your CPU, that was a whole other level of expense as you commonly also had to upgrade your motherboard and RAM at the same time due to compatibility (now looking at $1200+). So, for those with average gaming systems that could play most of the games out at that time, EQ2 was pushing too high with its required system specifications and unfortunately turned a lot of players towards the upcoming World of Warcraft that had much lower specifications and releasing two weeks later.
There was still a large and loyal playerbase for EverQuest II, and even with World of Warcraft’s release taking over the MMORPG market, EQ2 still held its own in the first year. I went straight from DAoC to WoW as I had been invited to play in the WoW beta test and was blown away by the game. Having played heavy-PvP games like UO and DAoC, the fact that WoW had PvP servers at release really appealed to me and my guild mates, so WoW was our choice over the PvE-centric EQ2. I didn’t give EQ2 a try until June 2006 at the time of the Kingdom of Sky expansion release and the addition of PvP servers to the game.
As mentioned earlier, EQ2 is set 500 years after the events of EQ1. A cataclysm has struck, causing the world to be shattered and the population has been split between Qeynos and Freeport – the bastions of good and evil. Players who made good-aligned races such as Dwarves and Wood Elves would start in the lands surrounding Qeynos, whilst evil-aligned races such as Dark Elves and Ogres would start near Freeport. There were also neutral races such as Humans and Gnomes, with a total race count of 21. Despite the fact there was good and evil races to choose from, there was no PvP in those first stages of EQ2. The game was primarily PvE and PvP was added in later expansions.
The developers did a great job in making the world feel alive by making the non-player characters (npcs) highly interactive. When you entered a small village or a large city like Qeynos, you would see npcs wandering the streets or huddled in markets, and there would be a buzz of conversations. As you approached shopkeepers or guards, you would be greeted by the npcs’ voice as opposed to just speech bubbles. Further to this, they used some prominent voice actors for some of the major characters in the game. The actors used for these parts included stars such as Heather Graham (as Queen Antonia Bayle), Christopher Lee (as Overlord Lucan D’Lere) and Minnie Driver (as ‘Dancer’).
The game’s music was also amazing and perfectly suited to the environment you were currently in. Over ninety minutes’ worth of the game’s music was composed by Laura Karpman and recorded by the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague. The background sounds also suited the mood of the zone, with the wind rushing through snowy mountains and birds chirping with the sun shining down on a grassy plain. Even when you entered a cave, the sounds would change to be echoey, reminiscient of being in a cave in real life. These subtle yet powerful additions helped your mind to escape into the game and I think this played a big part in its appeal. Certainly, when I went back to play the game for this article, I found myself drifting into a chilled mood as I was completing quests and exploring the zones I was playing in.
When making a new character, you have a choice of four achetypes – Fighter, Mage, Healer and Scout. At release you would then choose a class at level 10 and a sub-class at level 20. Since 2006, you just choose your class upfront and the Alternate Advancement (AA) system works towards your chosen class. This Alternate Advancement system splits the xp you earn into xp for your character level and xp for class AA. You can choose what percentage of xp is assigned to AA and you can adjust this at any time. This enabled you to think and plan your class as opposed to just hitting the next level and being given the next abilities.
When I first played in 2006 I had a level 19 Shadowknight character named Tehownah. For this article I tried to make the mighty BallBaggins, however apparently ‘ballbag’ is an unacceptable term, so I had to settle with Infernox as Inferno was taken. Players start in a tutorial on a ship, introduced to the game’s systems and then placed onto a newbie island where you learn more advanced game systems and introduced to quests and one gameplay system that I love, the collections system. Spread through the lands are shiny objects in the ground. Clicking them collects an item that can be added to your collection. Collect a full set and turn it into the Collector npc and you will be rewarded. I bloody love these collection systems in MMORPGs as it gave you something to do whilst running the miles between quest areas, and only a couple of games use it (Rift).
The developers wanted combat to be attractive and fun. There are many spell effects attached to skills and my level 18 paladin who is primarily a warrior has skills that have great effects. I imagine when you’re in a full group that there’d be stuff flying all over the place, and I also imagine this would affect your game’s performance, especially in those early days. I also found even by level 18 I had to open up three hotbars which were quickly filled with skills. I used most of them, but I can imagine when you’re getting up to level 100 that you’d have an overwhelming number of skills to choose from. They are thrown in your face when you level up as well, so I ended up having to remove some of the skills until I learned how best to use them.
On the plus side though, the skills system has an awesome feature where you can find loot items that upgrade the tier of your skills. Occasionally when fighting monsters, a treasure chest will drop. Aside from upgraded armour/weapons, sometimes they would drop a skill book. If the book wasn’t for your class, it would be coloured red and you can sell it to npcs or other players. When you find one for your class, right clicking and then hitting Scribe will upgrade the relevant skill to do more damage or increase the skill effects. This is a very cool system, encouraging me to kill anything in sight for the chance at a treasure chest/skill upgrade.
Another interesting feature is around monster races. Initially when to start fighting a monster such as an orc or gnoll, they yell at you in a language you can’t understand, and you can loot their body parts. You can sell them to npcs, however if you examine the body parts, you can research them which starts a Lore and Legend quest. It tasks you with finding all body parts to gain knowledge of their kind. Once you find all the required body parts, you are then able to understand their language.
In February 2005, SOE added quite possible one of the coolest things to the game … a command called /pizza. That’s right, if you typed /pizza in chat, it would open a web browser and launch the online ordering section of pizzahut.com. How bloody cool is that, and how dangerous! If there was /KFC then I’d be destroyed.
EQ2 has gone on to release 3 Adventure Packs and 14 Expansion Packs. Adventure Packs were the first of their kind in the MMORPG market, as smaller content packs adding a plot line with several zones, new creatures and items to the game via digital download for a lesser price of around $10. In December 2011, at the same time as releasing the Age of Discovery expansion, EQ2 went free-to-play and can be played these days through Steam.
I didn’t expect to like this game as much as I have been, and the more I am progressing my character through the various zones, the more I’m enjoying the levelling experience. Just shy of level 20, I am starting to find encounter bosses that kill me in 2 hits, so I am starting to see where the game is shifting to more of a group focus. According to some players, the main game can be soloed now which wasn’t the case in the first few years of the game where there was a large dependence on groups and guilds. Guilds had levels that could be progressed based on the amount of xp earned by its members, so I imagine that created a good sense of community which is what makes MMORPG’s great to be a part of.
If you have great memories of playing EverQuest II, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days. In part 8, I will be reviewing 2004’s World of Warcraft and enlisting help from fellow GOA community members who experienced Vanilla WoW, and find out why it was such a revolutionary game in the genre.