The sun sets fiercely over the parched dust of the Field of Bone, and from over a nearby hill something evil screams and dies. Lysion rustles his scaled tail, sniffs the air, and kicks absently at a scorpion that scampers past his bare foot. A guttural sibilate involuntarily escapes his lips, and his claws strangle the leather shaft of his Polished Ulak. A smell of wet fur and damp fetid flesh haunts the air, and a strange power surges through Lysion's blood, teasing his mind with a sense of agility. His skin is tight, magically bound, and his muscles swell and twist under the firm dermis. Something evil screams again from behind a hill. ItÃ‚'s already dead. It has been for a very long time, and Lysion charges.Anyone want to guess what game has its evil tentacles into my mushy cerebral matter again?
On the topic, today, of dark secrets, I think itÃ‚'s time to come clean. IÃ‚'m playing some Everquest again. I know that for many this confession is tantamount to admitting that IÃ‚'ve taken up ice dancing or that IÃ‚'ve started managing a boy band. ItÃ‚'s a humiliating admission in some respects, because as every self-respecting gamer knows Everquest is a horribly addicting time sink, an egregious abuse of one's scant gaming hours in the service of habitual downtime. To play Everquest, is for many, only slightly more appealing than hanging oneÃ‚'s self from their own eviscerated entrails. It is, in short, a bad thing.
So, do not think IÃ‚'m trying to convince you otherwise. IÃ‚'m very much like a misbehaved puppy. I know IÃ‚'m being bad with the metaphorical equivalent of pissing on the kitchen floor, but damned if I can do anything to stop myself. Be gentle, I ask, with your rolled up newspaper of sarcastic derision, and perhaps allow me to explain.
IÃ‚'ve played Everquest over several stretches of time probably a half-dozen times. I have also forever quit Everquest a half dozen times minus one. The first time I came upon Norrath was on the day the game launched, and I stumbled into Qeynos lost and confused for well over a half hour before finally I encountered and was promptly killed by a rather surly rat. This was a time when there were maybe five servers total, a day where the highest level character on any server was level 12, a day where we all swiped furtively at the kind of vermin easily taken out by anemic house cats; when we huddled close to the home fires of scattered and disconnected towns. There was no one in the Oasis of Marr, no one asking for a SoW, no camping to speak of, no dragons killed much less seen, no planes. And, I played my wizard slowly, carefully, and tragically up to his final level of 22 only two and a half months later, when I quit Everquest forever.
Natually, I played, and quit, several more times. A Wood-Elf Druid here, a Human Magician there, a Vah Shir Beastlord somewhere else, and never did I really get past about level 16 or so. Usually, it was just an inconvenient game to play, particularly for those who were not necessarily prime material for a decent guild. There were a variety of reasons I always quit. I never felt like I was advancing. I had no effective equipment. It took forever to travel anywhere. I had no one to enjoy the game with. There was too much downtime, and so on, and so on.
So, when one of our readers approached me about the new expansions, someone who may very well wish to remain anonymous, I was hesitant. He assures me now that he was merely letting me know of many of the improvements made to the game; simply sharing information and not at all trying to persuade. But, as Certis could attest, one need do little more than intimate that I might be missing some sliver of PC fun before I rush out of my house slobbering and wild-eyed, credit card in hand, in a desperate and exhaustive search for this new primary object of my desire, and it was in that frame of mind that I snatched up Planes of Power and Legacy of Ykesha.
What I found, to my absolute surprise, was that Everquest in the way at which I was prepared to play it, was surprisingly fun. For those of you who havenÃ‚'t visited Norrath in a while, youÃ‚'d barely recognize modern EQ as the same game. The UI is completely new, and completely customizable with a quick bar at the top of the screen which leaves you a single click away from an array of handy menus. From changing options, to playing music cds, to finding a group, the interface is infinitely smarter and more adaptable. The second thing youÃ‚'ll notice is that the graphics are significantly improved, with LuclinÃ‚'s graphical update finally smooth and polished, and simply put, YkeshaÃ‚'s Forgloks are beautifully fluid and attractive. TheyÃ‚'re also quite fun to play. Then thereÃ‚'s the cartography mapping feature which is indispensable, a tool long needed, quickly pointing you toward the nearest merchant, Soulbinder (no more asking for a bind when you arrive at a new town), planar portal, or zone. Have a favorite spot to hunt, or find something interesting? Make a quick note on your map.
Ok, so the interface is better. ItÃ‚'s still the same old EQ gameplay, right? Well, yes and no. First, the exhaustive lower levels of advancement have been accelerated by experience changes, and less concretely through access to the Bazaar. If thereÃ‚'s anything frustrating about starting a character from scratch, itÃ‚'s that you can rest assured you wonÃ‚'t see any really useful equipment for quite some time, unless youÃ‚'ve got friends to "twink" you. And, while that may continued to hold true to some small degree for the first half dozen levels, levels that zip by even without any appreciable equipment, only a few platinum at the bazaar can go a long way. For example, my Iksar monk who, after only two hours play time was level 6, took his fourteen plat heÃ‚'d accumulated through various means and tripped light the interdimensional rift to the Plane of Knowledge where, on his way to the bazaar, a friendly druid tossed a couple of level 65 buffs onto his scaly hide. Once in the bazaar, I accessed the multitude of player merchants and in a eminently useful menu organized the tens of thousand items for sale into those which were weapons that an Iksar monk could use, and were in my price range. I found a Polished Steel Ulak, which on top of doubling my damage output also took the time to buff my hp and stats, for a meager 10 platinum. Now buffed, and swinging sharpened death, I had a caliber of weaponry that had once been reserved for those with a hundred platinum or more, and the right connections. And so, I headed back to the Field of Bone, though I could just as easily have toyed about in Misty Thicket, Blackburrow, Oasis of Marr, or for that matter Guk, for all were only minutes away.
This is not to say that IÃ‚'m in love with Everquest again, or that I have any illusions about "sticking with it" this time. IÃ‚'m sure in a week or two IÃ‚'ll have happily dropped it again for some other flavor of the month, but I can say with relative certainty that IÃ‚'ve not had quite as much fun in Norrath as I have recently. What was once a ponderous and punishing game is now approachable, and bursting with content. Those who sit and studiously camp a given spot are as alien to me as those who eat raw oysters. There is such a greater experience to relish, and well over a hundred zones which remain unexplored by my eyes.
I look at a game like AsheronÃ‚'s Call 2, which, while beautiful in some primally embarrassing way is, like Jenny McCarthy also distinctly vapid and unnecessarily easy. I mean, itÃ‚'s all well and good to start a plot from the beginning, so to speak, but from a gaming perspective perhaps there is something flawed about asking people to step into an intentionally empty world. By comparison to AC2's great broken cities with a population of as many as 3 or 4, Norrath is a bustling afternoon Manhattan. You could spend days on top of days with EQ and feel as though youÃ‚'d participated in only a fraction of whatÃ‚'s available, and now you can do it without all the serious hindrances of the gameÃ‚'s youth. Better still, with the right companions, youÃ‚'re certain to have fun in the process. IÃ‚'m just not certain that I understand how this is a bad thing.
LetÃ‚'s be completely honest. ThereÃ‚'s a perfectly good reason that Everquest has more players now than it ever has, nearly 500,000 paying subscribers; a reason that itÃ‚'s busting its own records of simultaneous users; a reason that expansion after expansion is lovingly devoured by a legion of fans. ItÃ‚'s because when compared with every other MMOG on the market, Everquest stands monolithic in its level of content, detail, and appeal. You rage against Everquest, but we hear the crack in your voice, the doubt, the slight pull at some black place in your heart that tells us you want to come back. YouÃ‚'re not fooling anyone.