Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Never Say Never : EQ2

Among Blaugust's many discussion topics I seem to remember there was one about MMO regrets. When that subject comes up someone usually observes that it's always the things you didn't do that nag away at the back of your mind as you get older rather than the choices you actually made.

I've never entirely been convinced by that argument. It seems to me that, often, making one choice locks out all the others, in which case speculating about what might have been is singularly unhelpful, if not unhealthy. Otherwise, if the doors stay open, then regret seems pointless. You can just try again and see how that turns out instead.

Still, it's all very well applying your cognitive techniques, but be as pragmatic as you like, regret will creep in when you least expect it. It crept up on me the other day when I was playing EQ2. No, that's not really fair. I was waiting for it. Courting it. I went to look for it.

The seed was planted by Feldon at EQ2Wire. He reported that the second stage of the pre-events leading up to the announcement and eventual launch of the forthcoming, still unnamed, EQ2 expansion was making a mysterious and highly unanticipated callback to the past. I was reading the news squib with interest when I came to this paragraph:

"...the quest references the underground cities of Moradhim and Klik’anon which appeared in the now-sunsetted PS2 exclusive EverQuest Online Adventures (EQOA), which predates both EverQuest and EverQuest II. Moradhim and Klik’anon were the player starting cities of the Dwarves and Gnomes, respectively".

Reading that I felt an odd mixture of emotions. There was regret that I'd never made sufficient effort to play EQOA, something I only really thought of doing when it was too late, but there was also excitement that there might still be a chance to get at least a taste of what I'd missed.

EQOA launched all the way back in 2003, right at the point when I was most deeply engaged in the EverQuest experience yet I payed it little attention. It was a version of EQ available only on PlayStation 2. I didn't have a PS2. I didn't want a PS2. I had no interest whatsoever in consoles.

It was EQ, though, and I was and remain interested in all things Norrathian, so I filed it somewhere in the back of my mind as something I might get around to checking out someday. Then I promptly forgot about it.

A few years later, maybe around the time Rubies of Eventide closed down for the final time, I began to realize that these things weren't always going to be there. By then we were up to the PS3 and I had the idea that I could buy a PS2 for cheap just to run around EQOA and check it off the list.  If only.

First, the price of PS2s never really dropped all that much. Something about lack of backwards compatibility maybe. I don't know. Still, they weren't expensive and that wouldn't have been a problem. No, the problem was that just a few months before I began to look into the possibilities SOE decided to close down EQOA's only EU server.

Robot Wars!

At that time the US server was still running but there were a whole load of hoops you'd have to jump through to get on board. I forget exactly what they were but I think one was that the server could tell if the PS2 was a US or an EU model. Whatever it was, it was more effort than I was willing to make.

A while later, when SOE announced they were sunsetting the game altogether, I revisited the idea but once again nothing came of it. The final EQOA server closed and with it, I imagined, the door to that version of Norrath, forever.

And now here we are, all unawares, standing on the threshold of discovery. The simple yet intriguing Sundered Ground questline follows on directly from the equally straightforward and satisfying Malice in the Woods. I took my Berserker to see Lanxena T’Xith deep in the bowels of Neriak and then off around the world to investigate the inevitable rumors.

Hmm...this doesn't look right...
There was a brief blip when I mistook an instruction to see a gnome tinkerer in The Down Under, Neriak's crafting district, for a mission to visit The Down Below, one of the several sewer systems beneath Qeynos, but once we'd got all that sorted out it was plain sailing.

As promised, the elemental activity is clearly visible from a great distance. Finding one that would prove "a challenge" was simple. I chose to go to Cobalt Scar because it's one of my favorite high-level zones and I guessed it would be less busy than ones in the current expansion, Tranquil or Phantom Sea.

Reading comprehension FTW
The whole quest only took half an hour or so and most of that was traveling but it was disproportionately enjoyable. I felt that something really was happening, that what I was doing really was leading towards a genuine new adventure. Discovering that clockwork devices from an ancient, near-mythical city from Norrath's past were scrabbling up through the earth to broadcast a broken plea for help made me want to know more.

It may simply be that after a decade and a half I'm just that much more invested in the lore but I can't help contrasting the emotional heft of this very simple questline with the grinding PR overkill and badly mishandled live events in GW2. As Wilhelm likes to observe, DBG really do seem to have a handle on how to use nostalgia effectively.

It's not just the obvious things like the various retro servers and the return of the Isle of Refuge. The previous expansion, Altar of Malice, opened up an area of the map long puzzled over and brought back creatures not seen since the destruction of Luclin. Revamping the past is a way of life for DBG it seems and they are getting better and better at doing it in a way that appeals to the long-timers while not offending their sacred memories.

That, in essence, is why I'm looking forward more to the next EQ2 expansion than I am to Heart of Thorns, even though it's an odds-on bet I'll play the latter ten times as much. I may never get to see the original Moradhim and Klik'Anon but perhaps I'll at least get to adventure in their ruins.

Except...wait...what's this? Just look what I found while I was fact-checking this post! Maybe that door isn't closed after all...

 



2 comments:

  1. I finally max'd my elementalist in Tyria. Yay. I'd played little enough GW2 in the last year to reduce investment, but enough to accumulate currency, so I went on a shopping spree for gear. Always nice to be decked out enough to know that failure is mine, not the gear. (Felt the improvements in the field, tho'.) At this rate, whenever I might max the next toon -- a necro -- I'll probably have enough coin to gear up more toons than I have. It's really that uninvolving now. HoT--? Not even...

    Besides, I honestly feel like I now have two games I'm playing in EQ2 these days -- the regular version and TLE. More than that...YUP, I'm looking forward to the, ahem, expansion... however puny it might end up being.

    As you say, they seem to know how to whet our appetite and feed us pretty well in Norrath, in spite of everything.

    -- BG/AB/Stormhold
    (running away from Yaks lately)

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  2. It is interesting (now that I'm getting closer to the end game again after being away for a few years) how DBG has managed to weave the time traveling alternate dimension angle in a way that -- as you said it "appeals to the long-timers while not offending their sacred memories." I really enjoyed Chains of Eternity and I'm now dipping into Tears of Veeshan. I'm hoping that the quality keeps up, because for a while there some of the expansions felt lackluster.

    I didn't play EQOA either, and though I had a PS2 at the time and could have easily joined in, I didn't learn of its existence until playing with some folks in EQ2 who had first played EQOA. They raved about the game, but I wonder how well a PS2-era MMO would hold up, being limited by console hardware and inputs? It seems consoles are just getting to the point where they can do it well (i.e. games like ESO and Destiny). But hey, if you can get in with emulation and it isn't going to cost anything, then why not?

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