|About a month ago, we posted our "first
impressions" of Everquest, 989 and Verants online multiplayer RPG. Our initial
judgement was mixed; while we were having a great time when we could get on, the
games first week of online play was marred by nasty server problems, and even
diehard EQers were dismayed by the large amount of down time and crashes they
Well, since our last review weve advanced our characters into the teen levels, joined guilds, completed quests, saved up enough to buy armor, spells, and magic weapons, traveled into other zones and continents, and grouped with all kinds of folk from all over the world (hello, especially, to all our Japanese friends). Weve done all this while experiencing only the occasional technical glitch, by the wayVerant has done a superb job of addressing and correcting the first weeks problems. So now were ready to give EQ a real review. Bottom line: Everquests combination of first-person view, engrossing gameplay, elegant interface, excellent 3D graphics, and vast multiplayer gaming world makes it not just a great game, but a revolutionary onethe kind that only comes along every couple of years.
For the uninitiated, Everquest is like Ultima Onlinea game that attempts to create an online multiplayer fantasy role-playing world. To play EQ, you'll have to set up an account. The first four weeks are free, but after that it'll be about a ten buck a month ding. Setting up an account is fairly painless, and once you're into the game, you'll generate your characteror characters. You can have up to eight different characters on each of the 18 EQ servers.EQ provides you with plenty of options for character generation. Races include such standards as Barbarians, Elves, Wood Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Humans--but you can also play more exotic races--like Ogres, Trolls, Gnomes, Dark Elves, and Erudites. Your choice of race will affect your characters beginning statistics, as well as where they can travel safely. Some races dont like others, and some races are disliked by almost everyone. This can cause problems for the less charismatic races, as many of the games powerful non-player characters (NPCs) will seize the opportunity to attack anyone they find distasteful. Believe me, its a lot harder to play an Ogre Shaman than a Wood Elf Ranger.
There are many classes available as well--ranging from your workaday wizards and warriors to monks, druids, rangers, shadowknights and shamans. Each class gets a large number of individual abilities and spells that set them apart from other classes. Warriors and monks are great fighters, but lack magical ability; on the other hand, clerics and wizards can cast awesome spells, but are often helpless in a stand-up fight. Even though this allows you to play a wide range of characters (one of EQ's strengths), one of EQs weaknesses is just how much everyone looks alike. Most classes and races all wear the same outfit and carry the same shields and weapons. Even as you advance, youll find that your character looks an awful lot like all the other characters of his or her race and class. Though each characters appearance looks good, it would be nice to have a few more sartorial choices.Once you get your character up and playing in the world, one of Everquests more glaring problems appearsit has an abysmal manual, which looks and reads more like a rough draft than a finished product. EQ is clearly a labor of love, and it seems somehow perverse that the manual drops players into such a complex world with so little information on how it works. Some have suggested that the lack of documentation helps to build community; and indeed, one's utter ignorance of even the most basic game concepts leads players to converse out of absolute necessity. But the world is so rich that people would be asking loads of questions anyway. There seems no need to further complicate things by leaving out the basics. Sorry, but we're not buying the community excuse. The manual just sucks. And so does the tutorial, which is far too bare-bones.
But an Everquest community does exist, and is one of the game's highlights. Both in the game and on the web, EQer's are mostly chatty and helpful. If you have a question, you can usually just ask a player or ask out of character questions to all players in your local zone. A quick and accurate response is the rule, not the exception. The game also includes a large number of communication optionsyou can shout, speak out of character, talk only to the members of you group or guild, or just to a specific individual. Communication remains important even at the highest levels of play; you're always learning something new in EQ, and the information you garner from the online community makes possible a rewarding sense of discovery that extends well beyond the newbie stage. Make no mistake; Everquest is a very social game, and while the hack and slash is enthralling, youll have just as much fun making new online allies and enemies, or just sitting around talking (and occasionally drinking). Yes, you can get drunk with your buds in EQ. This community extends beyond the game itself and onto the web; in fact, the lack of a real manual is almost made up for by a very vibrant collection of web sites lovingly devoted to EQ. We wish we could list all of them, but these will get you started--The Everquest Vault, Everworld, AllahKhazam's Everquest Player's Guide, and EQ'lizer. There's even a weekly web mag, the EQ Express. Gameplay is pretty engrossing as well. All beginning players will visit their classes' guild for training straightway; after that, all cities have safe little "newbie" areas where you can kill mostly low-level monsters while gaining experience rather quickly and figuring out the interface. Even at this level, though, expect to die frequently. If you do, you'll be sent (sans equipment) to your home city. You must then make you way back to the scene of your slaughter to pick up your stuff. So it pays to know where you are at all timesotherwise you can spend a lot of time looking for your corpse. During this early training, most guilds will give you easy beginning quests to fulfill. In the meantime, you'll be buying new equipment, increasing and gaining new skillls, and venturing into new, more challenging areas.
And there are a lot of areas out there. There will be times when your character gets sort of "stuck"where its too powerful for one area and not ready for the next. Some players have complained about this, but we feel it just makes you think up a solution rather than handing you one. There are at least two solutions to this dilemma, and they both play to the games strengths. First, you can explore other areas. The wary traveler on the well-beaten paths between areas is usually pretty safe; just make sure you dont start hunting until you know you can handle the zones creatures. This can be a risky strategy, but the world of Norrath is so broad and varied that the thrill of discovery (at least to us) outweighs the risks.You can also solve this problem by teaming up with other players. Since each class and race has its own strengths and weaknesses, a nice mix of magic users, healers, and warriors can accomplish things that solo players cant even think about attempting. And frankly, grouping up with a like-minded bunch of adventurers and sallying into minotaur caves or desert vastnesses is a ton of fun. You can even join guilds. These are formal groups that can pool resources, declare war on other guilds, group together, and generally add yet another layer of depth to the RPG aspect of the game. Everquest is designed with this kind of multiplayer interaction in mind, and its stellar implementation separates it from other online RPGs. Don't get me wrong; you can solo in Norrath. But to take out the big boys you'll need a posse.
For all of the games ups, it does have a few downs mixed in. First of all, the world of Norrath is a little static. While players engage in a frenzy of activityfighting, learning, tradingthe landscape itself changes very little. If you find an orc camp that regularly spawns three centurions, it will be in the same place, spawning the same centurions, when you visit it a month later. This leads to the problematic gameplay practice of "camping." Especially at the middle levels groups will often just sit outside a spawn point and wait for monsters to appear. This frequently leads to the ridiculous sight of several groups parked outside a known spawn point, each politely taking turns killing the spawns. Its a good way to pick up loot and experience, but it sure isnt very interesting or fun. Of course, some monsters randomly spawn and wander the land, but there need to be more.Another problem is the games implementation of trades. These are vocations you can learn, and allegedly make money doing. Unfortunately, it is insanely difficult and expensive to do so. It costs a boatload of money, for instance, to learn to smith, and even after acquiring a high level of skill, you will fail often. It doesnt help any that most skills are deadly dull to practice. Would you rather be out killing bandits, or meticulously, one-by-one, dragging and clicking expensive components to make hundreds if arrows that you cant sell at anything near a profit? Most players just take a pass on trades, and with good reason--theyre boring, unprofitable, and frustrating. Its odd that even with a low ability level in a skill like offense, you can still kill a bunch of low-level creatures and turn a profit, but most trades remain unprofitable until one reaches very high levels.
The game's graphics require a 3D card, and the rendering and texture mapping is superb. Norraths environmentwe should say environments--are simply beautiful. From the foggy treetops of Kelethin to the deserts of Ro to the Dark Elf Lavalands, the many different regions have unique landscapes that add a lot to ones suspension of disbelief. The wide variety of monsters, spell effects, and characters are vibrantly rendered as well. Youll do a double-take the first time you meet a sand giant, believe me.
When all is said and done, however, the thing about Everquest that makes it truly revolutionary is the sense you get of being in a non-linear, ever-expanding world. Theres no real way to "win" the gamethe point is to explore, learn, and survive. Accomplishing a quest or reaching a new level doesnt give you a sense of closure, it just opens up new quests and adventures. We know this game isnt life, but its a lot like it. You enter an unfamiliar world, eventually get bored with your hometown, venture out into the world, get your ass kicked a few times, meet folks you like and dont like, make yourself useful, work hard to accomplish great things, work hard and fail to accomplish great thingsand realize that its a big world, with an awful lot of other things yet to do. And like life, theres no one right way to do it. Other games have tried to create immersive online worlds that feel like the real thing; in our opinion, Everquest is the first to succeed.