EQ2 Revisited

EverQuest 2 may seem like an odd game to be playing right now amid such a mass of late winter releases, but it is perhaps not a game to be so easily dismissed. With the release of the latest expansion, Sentinel’s Fate, EQ2 continues quietly chugging along with a dedicated fan base and a mature game that has benefited from five years of improvements.

As a long-time player and even advocate of EQ2’s most prominent competition, I may not seem like the most unbiased analyst of Sony’s venerable game, and of course this is entirely correct. I’m not. Particularly as someone approaching the game virtually for the first time, mine is not the opinion for or of the long-time player, but don’t be too quick to assume that I’ve come here to bury EQ2.

In fact, I walk away from my first twenty or so levels rather pleasantly surprised. While I've gotten nowhere near content like you're looking at in that fancy picture on the left, there may be some meat on the bones even for a long estranged player such as myself.

I have not really played EQ2 meaningfully since its launch. Released within a month of what has become now the 800-pound gorilla in the mum-mor-puh-guh space, prevailing theories of the time posited that Sony’s experience as the dominant player in the genre and the game’s advanced visuals for the day would make the competition between the two powerhouses something spectacular. It was not.

Where one game launched as almost universally approachable, the other was an unforgiving mistress whose gameplay landscape seemed at times obtuse, and whose system requirements nearly crippled my mid-range system.

A lot has changed in the five years since I last clawed my way up to around level 25 or so, not the least of which seems to be the accessible way that the game eases you into play. As I fired up EverQuest 2, its complete library of former expansions and base game conveniently encapsulated into the latest expansion, I decided not to toy around with that gross feeling of impotence that still smacked in my memory. I immediately looked up what class was commonly considered most solo viable and overpowered, and so struck off as a Shadowknight into the dark and haunted woods beyond the doors of Neriak, because if I’m going to be killing wolves and tiny skeletons for a few hours, I want to make sure I am killing the holy hell out of them.

What strikes me first as a former original EverQuest player is a contradictory though not entirely unpleasant sense of both newness and nostalgia. Starting in Darklight Woods--which is the equivalent to Nektulos Forest for you former EQ1 addicts, though that zone still exists in EQ2 and … well it’s all a little confusing. What is important is that I immediately conjure a flashback to farming bone chips from cackling skeletons for higher level players with more platinum than sense, and while this does not appear to be the modus operandi for this modern age, it is the sense of place--the sounds and environment that hit me most. I realize that I am glad to be in this space.

Understand that I am talking not to people who already play the game, but those who abandoned it years ago, as I did, with the certainty that Sony had lost their way. I am not here to tell you that EQ2 is better than its competition, because frankly I just don’t have enough information yet, but it does offer something that is vastly improved for five years' work, and at least for a while conjurers in me a sense of exploration that I had lost during four years of doing the same Sisyphean dailies in WoW.

Don’t let me paint too rosy a picture for you here, however; EQ2 still has its blemishes. Combat lacks a sense of impact and immediacy. The animations are unforgivably jerky, and sometimes it feels more like I am hurling damaging insults encased in bubbly jelly at my enemies than bone crunching strikes from my two-handed pike. The starting areas often feel like ghost towns, which is just fine for a soloer like me who’d prefer not to have a bunch of clowns running around and interrupting my mechanical completion of quests, but the vacantness could be a turnoff if you like sharing space with actual players.

Neriak, the local main city to my newb-zone, itself might as well have had evil tumbleweeds kicking up dust. It’s not hard to believe that this is the City of Hate, because clearly everyone hates to go here. Zing!

But what five-year-old game isn’t going to have largely vacant newbie zones? The plus side of that is that the headaches of dealing with too many players are equally non-existant, and the childishness that I had taken for granted in other games seemed absent and largely untolerated.

Besides, advancement seems blazing fast compared to the game that I remember. It is almost trivially easy to get levels, and as a result the pace of progress through the newbie zone doesn’t leave much room for boredom due to sameness. Yes, the quests are the traditional gruel of the genre, but at least you won’t be asked to keep killing the same group of snakes, bears or faceless blobs over and over again. There is variety in the staples.

This all brings me to a complex point, one that is I think hard to make to anyone who is not predisposed to MMO gameplay, which is this: EverQuest is perhaps not the trickling source of the tropes which we now so closely associate with the MMO model, but it is unapologetic about perpetuating the standards. Perhaps as you advance into much later levels it breaks from the shell of the aging model, but levels 1-20 were unrepentantly familiar.

The thing is, I don’t actually have a problem with that.

I wasn’t coming into this re-visit expecting monumental changes to accepted ways of doing business. I was just looking for a new place to operate within, and what I found was a game that had once seemed unapproachable but had overcome the awkwardness of game-puberty to become comfortable in its own skin. Like I said at the start, this is a mature game in the sense that it feels very much like it knows what it wants to be, and it doesn’t waste a lot of time trying to be all things to all people.

As a fan of the genre and its heritage, it was an easy trip through the first 20 levels. Yes, the game has a much harder edge than its prom-king cousin and there isn't that same sense of almost permeating polish. But overall my impression so far has been better than I had initially expected.


Really glad to read this, Elysium! In the face of WoW, EQ2 often gets forgotten, despite it being a very fun and polished game. I think it's a different animal than WoW, particularly in the freedom it gives you to get away from grinding when you want to. It's not hard to fall down the rabbit hole of crafting in this game, never to emerge again. And while it doesn't have the unified art direction that WoW does, I think the graphics are really quite good.

I spent many dozens of hours playing both games when WoW came out, but eventually I had to settle on one MMO if I was going to be able to advance quickly, and join/contribute to a guild. I chose EQ2; for me it was just the better experience. I haven't played EQ2 or any other MMO in almost two years now, but I regularly have to fight the urge to reactivate my account.

I'm also glad to see something on this. I went back after a year break and am actually playing through with my leveling speed slowed down in order to just have fun exploring again (There is a slider available now to divert your adventure XP towards AA XP. It's great for feeling like you aren't outleveling the content you want to visit without feeling like you're "wasting" XP.

I really wish the game was more intuitive. It makes sense to me, but only because I've played off and on since launch. I feel bad for people that look at all the different levels of spells, or how to get started tradeskilling. I actually don't think that the fast leveling in the beginning helps with this. How do you get time to learn all of your spells when you're leveling every 10 kills and being given 3 or 4 new ones? The good news is that the community is pretty understanding of this and tries to help out.

Hoping to hear more about your experience with it!

The WoW/EQ2 launch was pure schadenfreude for a lot of people. Glad to see they soldiered on and made something good. But I doubt I'll ever play it again.

Thanks for taking the time to play and write about this often under appreciated game. I have been playing off and on almost since launch and have had some great experiences in EQ2. The one thing it offers over most MMOs is flexibility. There is always something to do and you can take your time and play however you want. If you feel you missed something or out leveled it you just drop your level and play it while still be rewarded for doing so.

One thing EQ2 has lacked since its onset is meaningful, rewarding PvP. I remember when they announced the opening of the PvP servers and thinking how much fun it was going to be. If you look at those servers now (the 2 that are left) its a mess. Any causal player on them is just going to get ganked and demolished by twinked out characters 8 levels lower than them.

The introduction of Battlegrounds with Sentinel's Fate will hopefully allow the more casual players an opportunity to PvP when they feel like it without suffering the frustration of being on a FFA PvP server.

I have played EQ2 since the day it came out. While I sometimes took a few months off here and there to try other games, like WoW, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer, EQ2 kept bringing me back, like an old flame.

I find it to have the most content, the best combat system, the deepest class and ability system, crafting is kind of like a mini-game, and the graphics have scaled very well over the last five years. Sony clearly thought ahead when they built the graphics engine, probably hoping to avoid the pitfalls of EQ1, where the graphics engine had to be re-built at least once.

The fact that anyone can group with anyone else, regardless of race or starting city, is what ultimately makes the game great. There is something charming about seeing a Paladin and a Shadow Knight side by side in a group.

I plan to stay with this game for quite awhile, and if they do ever offer a Lifetime Subscription like LOTRO does, I would give that some serious consideration.

Hey Everquest!

Ok, that got a laugh out of me. Well done.

NathanialG wrote:

Hey Everquest!

Damn, I've been beaten to the punch! Clearly, I need to start listening to the podcast earlier.

And, um, since I'm here, how bout that Everquest? Pretty sweet, right?

At any rate, having read this article, I downloaded the demo, and I was immediately struck by how... crappy it looked. Everything is... dull. Character models look weird. I have no clue how, but they've managed to make this game look worse than EQ1 (or, at least, it looks worse than the version of EQ1 that lives on in my own mind).

I mean, I know EQ2 is old and all, and I know that graphics ain't everything, but having played WoW I have a certain expectation of graphical quality from MMOs. WoW's poly count may be egregiously low by today's standards, but when I squint my eyes a bit and ignore the jaggies the game still looks good. The world looks alive, there are interesting things to see. But when I squint my eyes at EQ2, it just looks... brown.

I was hoping EQ2 would scratch my Norrath nostalgia itch, but I'm just not going to be able to put up with it.

gore wrote:

At any rate, having read this article, I downloaded the demo, and I was immediately struck by how... crappy it looked. Everything is... dull. Character models look weird.

One of the big issues with Sony's MMOs has always been their choice of graphics engines. Starting with SWG they tried to create these elaborate engines that would scale to hardware that didn't even exist upon release. What this has always meant is that they run horribly slow when the game is new, and even years later with the aforementioned "future hardware" they still have major performance issues. Throw some art design that has everything looking like it's made of plastic and lovingly painted in China using the very best lead-based paints and you end up with visuals that really don't appeal to many of us.

I will say that if you go into the control panels and activate the "SOGA" character models that you end up with PC races that look a lot better.

EQ2 is kind of like that homely person of the opposite gender that has a really awesome personality. There's a lot to like there, but only if you can get past the initial hangups with how it looks.

I have no clue how, but they've managed to make this game look worse than EQ1 (or, at least, it looks worse than the version of EQ1 that lives on in my own mind).

Remove those rose colored glasses, son.


Just looking at this image gives me flashbacks. Not the good kind.

Thank you for the lovely write up on Everquest II! I am a huge fan of the game and recently returned after a 3-4 year break (Had to take a break to give some important things irl my full attention). I have to admit I fell in love with the game back then, and was head over heels once more upon returning. So many things have changed and most, if not all for the better. No more running for corpses, crafting is slightly less agonizing, things are much more organized..and of course there is so much more fancy apearance gear and house items to play with (Us female gamers like that stuff so.. hush!).

I was very excited about the recent release of Sentinel's Fate, and have been hooked on Battlegrounds (when it is working). My Swashbuckler, lvl 37 upon returing to the game, is now at 84 and enjoying many new adventures on her journey to 90. I highly recommend this game to MMO noobs and battle scarred veterans alike... with such richly detailed lore, beautiful landscapes and the promise of epic battles, gold and glory.. what is not to love? =)

Feel free to send me a tell, or request a group!

Certis wrote:
I have no clue how, but they've managed to make this game look worse than EQ1 (or, at least, it looks worse than the version of EQ1 that lives on in my own mind).

Remove those rose colored glasses, son.


Just looking at this image gives me flashbacks. Not the good kind.

Are you kidding? That is awesome! Look at the colors! It's so... flamboyant! If I had seen that upon logging into EQ2, I would have been totally hooked. It also highlights one feature that EQ had which no other MMO to date has replicated: Halfling in a gimp mask.

In defense of my admittedly lousy memory, that shot is of the original game world, prior to the upgraded graphics, which came out around, oh, Shadows of Luclin. I'm sure somebody will dig up a screenshot to prove that, yes, the upgraded graphics suck equally as much; in response I can only say that SoL had invisible horses, which were pretty sweet.

Also, as insane as this will sound, I think I recognize characters from that screenshot. I think that's Rallos Zek, EQ's original FFA PvP server. As much as regular EQ was a flaming pile of bad game design, you really didn't experience the complete brokenness of it all unless you were playing on an item loot PvP server.

So, hey... Everquest.

Makes me want to boot up Betrayal At Antara.

Wait, no it doesn't.

Also, as insane as this will sound, I think I recognize characters from that screenshot. I think that's Rallos Zek, EQ's original FFA PvP server. As much as regular EQ was a flaming pile of bad game design, you really didn't experience the complete brokenness of it all unless you were playing on an item loot PvP server.

I remember player Necromancers taking control of my character and doing awful things before killing me. I don't think I lasted long on the PVP side of things.

I never had a problem with the "brown" palette in EQ2. Sure, it's less colorful than WoW, but to me WoW's bright palette just intensifies the cartoony/cutesy look of the game. I know I'm in the minority (just compare subscriber numbers between the two games!), but I just don't care for WoW's graphics--even though I can appreciate that its art direction is extremely well planned out.

To me, these are just much more appealing:





Than these:





Still screen shots from EQ2 can look pretty good. Sadly, the character animations tend to really destroy the beauty when you actually see it in a live game.

There's also the fact that to get the look of the EQ2 screen shots at a playable frame rate takes a pretty nice CPU+Graphics setup, while WoW manages what you see on almost anything newer than a Pentium 3 + Integrated graphics.

The art direction between the games is so different, that it's a lot like comparing apples to oranges.

Despite the (in my personal opinion) inferior graphics and UI this thread really leaves me tempted to reactivate my EQ2 account because it really is a good game.

I came into EQ2 about a year after launch, so everyone's memories of a janky start take me a bit by surprise. I knew it happened, but not having experienced it myself it sounds like a whole different game than the one I knew. I had a great experience with that game, and enjoyed the combat more than I did in my year with WoW, tanking especially.

I played my last month or so after the Fae expansion came out. While playing as a fairy was a little strange, the floating mechanic was very cool. I still remember climbing to the highest mountain top I could find, overlooking the sea, and just jumping out over the water. It probably took 3 minutes to float down to the water, with some pretty awesome views the whole time.

I'd pay $5 a month to go back, but with everything else that's out right now it's hard for me to justify close to $200 a year for EQ2.

That is definitely true about the graphics requirements--they are way steeper than they ought to be. To make it look really good takes a relatively beefy computer, even now.

Certis wrote:

Remove those rose colored glasses, son.


Nooooooo, Valdar! You will be missed.

BishopRS wrote:

Nooooooo, Valdar! You will be missed.

Looks like "feign death" to me. I played EQ1 long enough to recognize this . It's essential for high end raids but monks usually do the pulling. This reminds me of /ooc "TRAIN!".

I played EQ2 for a while I liked it but it didn't last long. I liked the fact they invested the time to voice over all the quest NPCs . I also liked the combo system. I don't really have the time to play MMORPGs anymore . I only play games I can stop playing with little to no long term consequences.

By far my biggest complaint with WoW was the immaturity of a lot of the players. People have made the argument that I need a solid guild of adults my age to play with, but if there's a good game that doesn't actually attract middle school kids, why not give it a try? When I mention EQ2 though, my friends that play WoW just shudder and look away. I've never been able to figure out why.