Monday, 4 July 2016

New Horizons : EverQuest

Take a look at the screenshot above. What game might that be? The graphics suggest something quite elderly although with the ongoing fad for retro-visuals that might be a red herring. It's clearly something with a technological theme, possibly space-based, perhaps post-apocalyptic. Fallen Earth, maybe?

It's EverQuest. Well, of course it is. Okay, the title of the post might have given it away but anyway, I mean, doesn't that shot just scream "fantasy"?

Received wisdom has always been that the great majority of MMORPGs sit squarely in the "fantasy" genre but that's an assumption that has never stood up to even a passing appraisal. You'd have to define fantasy pretty broadly to fit in everything from airships to space travel to robots to motorbikes, any and all of which appear in most so-called "fantasy" MMOs.

You can put a lot of this down to gnomes. Actually, you can generally pin it on any race that has to stand on a box to do the washing-up. Short races make up for what they lack in physical strength and social standing by building their own mechanical friends and protectors.
New mount, new pet, new frock, new you!

Asura, goblins, gnomes, ratonga - they're all at it. Dwarves too, although they tend to claim to a spurious kind of craftsman's gravitas that places them above the dilettante tinkerers, at least in their own estimation. Do any games have a tall race as the primary purveyors of technological advancement in their world?

 It's been hard not to find myself musing along these lines while my Magician spent hour after hour in the clanking, whirring confines of Fortress Mechanotus and Gyrospire Beza. She even ventured into Meldrath's Majestic Mansion itself, the impressively riveted and excessively fortified home of Norrath's premier Mad Scientist, Meldrath The Malignant.

For days her bags filled up with gears and cogs as she forcibly dismantled clockwork after clockwork. She also compiled stacks of Gnome Meat and Gnome Blood from Meldrath's many minions. Disturbing work, what with her being a gnome herself. She'll have bad dreams.
So sorry, Madame. The Master is not at home. Please leave before I am forced to kill you.

These are delightful zones to solo. Well, perhaps not so much Meldrath's Mansion, described by Allakhazam as "One of the most challenging single-group zones ever introduced to EverQuest". That was then. Things have moved on but even so a maze of small rooms filled with crazed gnomes and tight corridors patrolled by anthropocidal clockworks is still no picnic.

So mainly I stayed outdoors, where Meldrath's landscape gardeners have laid out some huge squares and lawns, perfect for slaughter. Due, presumably, to some over-enthusiastic application of magitech explosives in a former experiment, most of Meldrath's holdings hang on unsupported islands in the sky. Access is by way of being shot from a cannon, although once you land there are some impressive elevators for more traditional access to the upper storeys.

The skies are clear, bright and all around. Just don't fall off the edge. Health and safety inspectors don't seem to have arrived in Norrath as yet. I fell off once but I got away with it, landing back in Dragonscale Hills on top of a pack of wild clockworks, which was generous by the standards of EQ. My mage survived the fall and killed the clockworks, which was a better outcome than I expected.
I also played my druid. I'd forgotten just how many trees there are in Kunark.

It's one thing, coming back to an MMO you haven't played for a few months or more. Imagine the culture shock coming back, as one person despairingly announced in General Chat while I was playing last night that he had done, after twelve years.

EverQuest hasn't only been around a very long time - it's been actively, some might say aggressively, updated for its entire run. The expansions my Magician is currently being sent to explore by the inexplicably well-funded and dubiously motivated Franklin Teek range from The Serpent's Spine (September 2006) to Veil of Alaris (November 2011).

Yes, I'm only five years behind! Although I've played reasonably actively if somewhat sporadically for the entire seventeen-year run of the game, there are whole expansions into which I have never set foot. Even among those that I know there are plenty of zones I have barely even visited let alone explored.
Valdeholm. Home of the Frost Giants and very poor xp.

Yesterday my Magician dinged 91. That's a level in not much more than a week, incredibly fast progress by my modern-day standard, soloing in EQ as I do for not much more than an hour or so each day. She was helped considerably by the current bonus XP event running over the 4th of July weekend. Interestingly, in EQ you don't apparently need to be an All Access member to enjoy this boon. In EQ2 you most definitely would.

Moving into the 90s is taking me to places I have never seen before. As I began by observing, this doesn't mean more castles, dragons and medieval villages as you might expect from a fantasy setting. The Buried Sea expansion seems to mix pirates with magitech, with some Ancient Egypt thrown in for spice. Secrets of Faydwer swings, like Faydwer always has, between the twin poles of sub-Tolkienian fantasy and quasi-steampunk clattering.

Seeds Of Destruction, of which I have seen more than enough by now, remakes an alternate version of Norrath under a gauzy green tint. Underfoot and House of Thule remain rather too tough to explore alone, although Franklin Teek likes to tell me otherwise.
The Crucial Three in Dawn over Beza

One of the best aspects of EverQuest is that those expansions will come to me in time. My Magician will grow and grow in strength and destructive power. Most importantly, so will her pets.

Yesterday she went to Argath, Bastion of Illdaera (no, means nothing to me either), the somewhat safe starting city from the 18th expansion to buy her level 91 spells, including a new Air pet. New pets are a big deal to a Magician and the Air pet especially so to a soloist. The 86th level pet has retired after long and exceptionally violent service. Presumably back to The Plane of Air, although Brell knows there's most likely not much in that place I couldn't solo these days.

Ahead lie another fourteen levels and four entirely untouched expansions. There's yet another in the works, name and theme as yet unannounced. Based on past experience it could be set just about anywhere. I should be about ready to take a look at it sometime around 2021-2022.

It's okay. I'm not in a hurry. Just keep a server up and I'll get there one day. Meanwhile I'll just keep looking around and enjoying the view. There's always something new to see. And something new to kill.

3 comments:

  1. Meldrath is my favourite. My Gnome magician being the first beta character I made, and my time spent farming mino axes (stop me if you have heard this one before..) and then travelling to Qeynos to sell my backpacks full of them for crazy profit (they were, at one time, the best, easiest attainable low level weapon in the game). We had a racket going for many levels.

    EQ is still my best MMO experience, even on the progression servers - my main(s) never made it past 60. My warrior is 55 (on test) and I can't imagine soloing him. I never did use mercs, but TTK must be terrible even with a merc cleric around. My chanter (separate account) I leant to a friend and never got back, and lost contact with them.

    I have 3 level 30+ on one progression server but don't really want to push forward if those servers just empty out. Although, it looks like you just solo your way through where you are at? If so, I am very curious to explore the parts I missed, and I would probably use an enchanter to solo (which means I need to start.. again...) but hey, Steamfont is a lovely place to level.

    You always draw me back in =)

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    1. It's gone full circle in a way. When I began playing EQ I mostly soloed. I did some pick up groups on and off, mostly at the weekend, but it wasn't until I'd been to DAOC and returned that I really went full-tilt into regular grouping with an extended network of regular contacts. That lasted several years.

      In latter days I've returned to playing solo. I haven't grouped in EQ for many years. Because it's how I began playing the game I always think of EQ as an extremely solo-friendly MMO and obviously later developments like Mercenaries and a whole raft of conveniences that didn't used to exist have only enhanced that impression.

      I have a lot of characters, some of which were at the level cap when they were active, but my highest Warrior barely made double figures. Hard road to travel, Warrior. I think if I was going to try to level one I'd take a DPS merc and a lot of potions. Even then I can't imagine it would be much fun. You can at least sit and heal to full in a matter of minutes now, not the hour it used to take, but it wouldn't help enough.

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  2. Yes, it was an easy road for me (groups everytime all the time) but now if I am going to explore will need to go a different route. Will probably be the enchanter, such an amazing class to play.

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