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.