Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fifth Time's The Charm : Everquest

After a turbulent first couple of days, worthy of any full MMO launch, it seemed that Daybreak Games finally have all their orc pawns in a row. Ragefire, the new Voting/Timelocked Progression server (catchy...) is up, stable and devoid of Level 50s, although scuttlebutt has it there was a six-boxer already pushing Level 35 last night. As of this morning they even have a system up and running for handling log in queues and kicking AFKers.

With a couple of hours to go before bed, after finishing up my dailies in GW2, I thought I'd give it a try and see if I could make a character. It was still mid-afternoon on the US West Coast so maybe there was a chance I'd get in. And get in I did. At first I got the expected Server Full message but going with the launch-time vibe I kept on clicking and to my considerable surprise it took just a couple of minutes until there I was at Character Select.

In the last round of Progression, on the Fippy Darkpaw server, I went with a gnome necromancer. In the end, this time, I chose to do the same. I did toy briefly with the idea of going Magician but, while my highest level EQ character is a Mage and the class is arguably the most powerful solo specialist at the top end, I've always found the low level gameplay a little disjointed and frustrating. I also rather fancied being a Dwarf for a change but one look at the Classic options for Dwarves (Cleric, Warrior, Rogue, Paladin) quickly put a stop to that plan.

So, Necromancer it is. That makes my fifth in sixteen years. All gnomes. It's a class I have played and enjoyed a lot and yet with which I've never really made much headway. Over the years I've played alongside some extremely skilled and versatile Necromancers, not least Mrs Bhagpuss, who used to main one for a while, insofar as either of us ever "main" anything. A well-played necro can pretty much fill in for every role in the game. They, not Bards, are the real all-rounders of Norrath.

The trouble is, knowing how good they can be is quite intimidating, especially since a lot of them...aren't. You really don't want to be That Necro. There's a lot to take in if you want to give full service to a group as a Necromancer and I can't see myself putting in the hours. It's never to late learn, as Jeromai rightly observes, but I fear it would end up being a project almost on the scale of his latest venture and I don't think I'm ready to commit to that.

Apart from my Heroic Level 90, who has never adventured further than Plane of Knowledge, the highest I've ever taken a necro is somewhere in the 40s. It's extremely unlikely that this latest addition to Bertoxxulous's Dark Army will get even that far. Indeed, odds are very good that he'll get no further than his Progression server predecessor, who topped out around Level 12.

At least I think he did. I can't check because, even now, if you want to play on the old prog server, Fippy Darkpaw, (which I'm guessing almost no-one does any more) you still have to have a paid-up All Access account. Which, of course, I do - only not the right one.

Five years back I made a fresh account to play on the then-new Freeport F2P server in EQ2, which is how I ended up playing my best-geared, most rounded, highest level character, by far, on a free to play Silver account instead of the one I was actually paying for. Last year, finally, I decided to fix that. I cancelled payment on my longstanding All Access account, which in turn booted my best-geared, most rounded, highest level character in Everquest, the aforementioned Magician, who happened also to be on that longstanding account (which itself is registered in Mrs Bhagpuss's name because we swapped accounts almost a decade and a half ago for reasons which would totally have made sense back then, I'm sure...) onto a F2P account...

And so it goes... After sixteen years of chopping and changing, from illegal account sharing, borrowing and taking over each other's discarded characters, to server merges and payment model rationalizations and being sold off like chattels - twice - our SOE/Daybreak accounts are a hideous tangled mess, almost as much so as that paragraph above. It's something that is not going to get any better. Ever. So I just live with it.

Anyway, remind me; why am I playing on Ragefire, again? It can't be to get a nostalgia fix. I never stopped playing EQ. It's still a current experience for me and you can't be nostalgic about something you never stopped doing, can you? And don't I have a whole raft of characters I'm - verrrrry slowwwly  - working on, any of whom would be a better investment of the limited time I can find to spend in the elder game than a fifth necro?

And besides, the version of Norrath currently showing on Ragefire would surely make for a very poor nostalgia trip for anyone, wouldn't it? There's so much that just isn't even the tiniest bit like it was in The Good Old Golden Olden Days.

There are no real corpse runs because you keep all your gear on death. You can't even lose a level any more. Your pets zone with you and don't explode with a cry of anguish and despair when you thoughtlessly turn yourself invisible. Your spells scribe instantly. Come to that, the entire research system is different. When you arrive at a new city on a different continent there's no need to spam /ooc and /shout, increasingly desperately, "Looking for Bind at Gate", terrified that at any second someone could pull a train over your hiding place and send you back to your bind spot two hours travel away. Nowadays, in our Brave New Classic World, you just stroll up to the Soulbinder NPC and presto, safe.

There are a thousand ways the current version of "Classic" is nothing of the kind. I haven't played on the now officially sanctioned Project 1999 but I'm pretty sure that if you want anything that even begins to approximate the genuine Everquest experience that's where you have to go - and I bet even there it's a damn sight easier than it was in the one and only original 1999.

Thing is this: you can't turn back the MMORPG clock. Wish you could but you can't. Unlike static, offline games that genuinely never change, online games are living constructs. Their very essence is change. How can you hope to re-create the Classic Everquest experience when the game was patching in changes almost from the day it launched?

Have you ever read the patch notes for EQ from the first few years? Allakhazam has the full record archived for posterity. It's fascinating reading. The game changed, substantively, month by month, sometimes almost week by week and it never stopped changing. The EQ we were playing right before Kunark was already a very far cry indeed from the EQ that had launched just a year earlier and yet somehow we're supposed to lump it all together and call it "Classic".

Over in WoW, the game that snatched Everquest's ball, ran away with it and never gave it back, Blizzard will have no truck with Classic servers and programmed nostalgia. So they say. Yet they still seem to believe they can turn back time. To the dismay of many and the delight of, I would guess, very few, this week Blizzard announced that all flights over Draenor and any future New Lands have been cancelled - for good.

I say "Blizzard". All the recent controversial news from the world's biggest MMO seems to have come from interviews with Lead Designer Ion Hazzikostas. One assumes he has the backing of Management when he claims "Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways". Yes. It was almost certainly the detraction from gameplay caused by flying that cost the game three million accounts in the last quarter. Except, wait, didn't that happen just after the expansion that didn't have flying? I must be missing something...

Well, you can make a player a walker but you can't make him think it's for his own good. Grounding the mounts won't be taken as a joyful return to a golden age of exploration and mystery, just a bloody nuisance. As Pike's perfectly chosen quote from Leonardo da Vinci puts it "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

Meanwhile I'll be out there today with the rest of the would-be time-travelers, trotting across the Steamfont Mountains with my bony pet, hunting down decaying skeletons for bone chips and kobold runts for cloth pants. It took me an hour to hit Level 2 last night so some things haven't changed.

Oh, and as to why I'm playing on Ragefire? I've remembered. Forget the ruleset - it's got that New Server Smell. Can't ever get enough of that.


  1. I figure this would be a safe place to ask, but is there any way at all to solo with the Ragefire ruleset? I'd love to try it out and dabble in it just for the experience, but I don't think I'll have tons of time to invest searching for groups and things like that... From what I remember that I've played (very briefly) of the early days in EQ2, back when it did have corpse runs and such, soloing was a no-go.

    It's totally okay if that's not a thing on Ragefire, cuz I respect the oldskool vibes. It might be that the server isn't geared towards a player who just wants to hop in and out on a time restriction. Just thought I'd ask if it's possible. And if so, what's the best race/class. XD

    1. It's a very safe place to ask! Not least because I have always believed that EQ is and always was a very solo-friendly MMO and I like to take any chance I can get to make that point. The reason it has the opposite reputation is because some classes were once genuinely almost impossible to solo (Rogue particularly, Warrior almost as much) and many others weren't much fun when played on their own. The game was designed from the beginning to have some classes that excelled at soloing, though, and so long as you chose one of those then you could solo to the level cap reasonably painlessly even back in 1999.

      People will argue about the order but the top solo classes in the current setting are probably Magician, Necromancer and Druid. Just about all the classes can be soloed in reasonable comfort these days, even on Ragefire, but you need a lot more skill and knowledge to solo an Enchanter or a Wizard and a lot more patience to solo a Ranger or a Cleric, for example.

      Magician is probably the most straightforward - buy pet spell, cast pet, let pet tank, nuke, profit. Necro has a lot more flexibility but it starts slower and bone chips can be a pain to find whereas Mages just buy their malachite from a vendor. Corpse runs still exist as you need your corpse to get lost xp back, but you never lose gear on death any more and you don't start losing xp until, I think, 10th level.

      Leveling is still slow by comparison to modern MMOs but once the hordes have moved on form the starting zones and there isn't freakish competition over mobs you'll be looking at a few hours per level not a few days like it once was. It's entirely viable to solo so long as you aren't in a hurry to get anywhere.

      Jump in - its fun and at the moment at least everyone seems very friendly and helpful. With luck someone might even start a Blogger guild we can all join. Bagsy not me!

    2. Wow! Thanks so much for all this great information! I really appreciate it! :D

      I wish I had known that soloing was a possibility even in the early days. I would have stuck with the game, perhaps, longer than I did. I'm not sure what class I rolled back then, but I remember becoming painfully aware that grouping would be needed to kill even landscape mobs and progress. That's the major reason I set aside EQ at the time - I was used to UO, so corpse runs and losing gear wasn't a surprise to me.

      I noticed you do need an all access account to play on the server, which I don't have yet. But since I do kick around Landmark, H1Z1, and sometimes EQ2, I'm not against considering it.

      Looking forward to seeing more of your impressions on Ragefire, no matter what I decide to do! :)

      Thanks again!

  2. Thank you for the shoutout to my blog! :)

    Blizzard constantly says that there will never be a legacy/nostalgia WoW server, but I can't help but wonder how one would work out anyway.

    1. As someone who didn't get around to playing WoW until it had been out for five years I would love them to do a nostalgia Vanilla server. Don't see it happening though.

  3. I almost started this weekend! The weather was too nice and a lot of work to do outside. I am ready though, and excited to actually pay a sub fee again. It has been a year since I had to pay a sub for a MMO.

    There are new class stats up from the beta that I will be posting tomorrow - not that it makes that much of a difference as I am not sure how long/far I will be dabbling on this server as well. I have the class selection down to three and the game updated and ready to go - I just need some time to do it =)

  4. Craziness - just read Nagafen was already killed this weekend. Pretty much the same way it happened on live servers, right? =) Three groups of mostly mages, with some wizzies, clerics, enchanters and a warrior for tanks.

    1. Yep. Didn't even need to get to 50 either - they were all in the mid-40s and I assume the mages were boxed. Won't matter in the long run. Let them get their "firsts" and move on - we have six months to go at our own pace.

  5. You could try out any number of vanilla private servers and notice first hand the huge differences that wow has now. Especially a extremely popular new server (nostalrius) has 4k players active minimum. Wow was a very difficult game once and exceptional at so many levels that it was truly a masterpiece.


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