Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Once More, With Feeling : Earth Eternal

It was inevitable. If you unexpectedly discover an old MMORPG you thought was lost and gone forever, still up and running, what else are you going to do?

It's not that I was knocked sideways and overcome, mind you. It wasn't as though someone had found Rubies of Eventide at the back of the cupboard, dusted it off and set it running. Now, that would be fireworks and cake!

I was never in love with Earth Eternal. It had almost everything I wanted but none of it was ever exactly what I wanted. My dream MMORPG would use tab-target and hotbar mechanics. It would have anthropomorphic animals as player characters. It would take place in a virtual world with a fantasy setting, have levels and quests, crafting and player housing.

Earth Eternal has all of that but somehow it never gelled for me. The very simple graphics weren't the problem although they don't help. I'm not a full-on graphics snob but I do like a bit more eye candy than EE has to offer.

Twenty-two races!

No, what kept me from falling hard for Earth Eternal wss the way it played. I always thought it was just a little bit dull. It's hard to put a finger on why. It's really not all that much different in tone, style or execution from any number of MMOs I don't find boring at all but it lacks some hard-to-define element of compulsion. It's short on zing.

The quests can seem a little bit worthy. They're certainly on the dry side. Combat is familiar and comfortable but rarely exciting, even though it's tuned quite well. I recall dying quite often but never feeling out of my depth.

I remember gameplay as consisting of a lot of running to and from quests, working my way around mobs and areas I couldn't handle, dying not infrequently and having to start over. It should have felt like early EverQuest, where I did all those things, happily, for years, but it never really did. Mostly it just felt too slow and not fun enough.

Still, I liked it. I must have put in twenty or thirty hours, at least, back in beta. It was a pleasant enough kind of place to spend an hour or two. Reassuring and amiable.

I spent an inordinate amount of time playing with the colors and then I went with this. I'm still not sure about it.

Indeed, everything about Earth Eternal is amiable. The animal characters look affable, the NPCs are friendly, the countryside is well-kept, the color palette is pastel. Everything looks homespun and artisanal in a picturesque village kind of way.

The lore, which is extensive, is impenetrable. The setting is... peculiar. The game supposedly takes place on a version of Earth after all the humans have died in some self-inflicted cataclysm. Most of the playable races are animals but you can also choose to be a robot, a demon, a cyclops or a yeti. There may be a lore reason for that or maybe someone just thinks robots and yetis are cool.

Once you escape from one of the shortest tutorials I have ever seen (kill three spiders, grab a hammer, fix a boat, sail away: Congratulations, you're done!) you arrive on Corsica. Why Corsica? Why not?

As you step onto the beach, the meet-and-greet NPC sends you to talk to Sir Lancelot of the Round. The round what?  The round nothing. Just The Round. And come to think of it, why is Lancelot in Corsica? I have no idea. He just is.

22 races and just four classes. I get your priorities.
It goes on like that. It's not badly translated. It's an American MMO and all the quest and lore text is written by Americans in good American English. It's just...peculiar.

All of this came back to me when I was finally able to log in last night. That wasn't as easy as it could have been.

The registration process was long-winded. It seemed overly concerned with security for a private server for an obscure MMO but then there have been all too many examples of bad behavior on such servers in the past. I suppose it's best to be cautious.

Downloading the game was quick and easy but getting it to run was not. Installing Earth Eternal didn't put any icon on my desktop so I had to go looking in the files. I'd accepted the default instal location but of course I hadn't bothered to pay any attention to where that was. I eventually found it buried in AppData under Users, somewhere I would never normally think of looking.

More of a Ranger, I'd say.
It wouldn't run from there so I reinstalled it and put it in file of its own out in the open. It wouldn't run from there either. The updater seems to be trying to run the game from the old web address at http://www.eartheternal.com which doesn't exist. The executable (as we used to call the thing that makes the game appear on your screen) just throws a generic error.

I googled for help but didn't find much. I tried the website, which has a FAQ that includes a section called Installing the Game Client, which sounded promising. I clicked on it and got the message "You are not authorized to access this page".

At this point I was about ready to give up but I thought I'd just try installing it once more. Third time through I noticed there was an option right at the end of the installation to "Play" the game immediately. I took that and it worked.

It's going to be somewhat inconvenient to have to reinstall the entire game every time I want to log in but it's a sixty second install so I guess I could. If I was that interested. Which I'm probably not. Or I might be. It's hard to say.

Once I was in I did get a frisson of nostalgia. Not a surge, just a trickle. It's true, I did have some good times here once, I thought. Not amazing times, not even especially memorable times but still, y'know, times.

I don't believe I got all that far back then. I know I did finish Corsica. I went to the next zone but I can't remember what it was. Where would you go from Corsica? France? Italy? There must be a lot of the game I never saw, plus the new part the current operators are adding as well.

The thing is, had Earth Eternal limped along and never closed down, I wouldn't be wondering whether or not to play it now. I would categorically have forgotten all about it. I'm only considering giving it another try because I thought I would never have that chance.

And this is where I left him. He may be there a while.
Does that make sense? To play a game because you can but you thought you couldn't, even though when you thought you couldn't you never wanted to anyway?

I don't know. I do know I'd rather have the option even if I never take it. And I might take it. I haven't decided and so long as the servers stay up I don't have to. I like the idea of being able to choose to play and choosing not to a lot better than not being able to choose but not caring that I can't. It's a subtle difference, I know, but I can feel it.

Anyway, good luck, Earth Eternal aka The Anubian War. I'm glad you're back even if I never missed you while you were gone. I think one or two people who might be reading this might get more out of the game than I have. If so, I hope they'll offer up a few posts and let us know how they get on. I'd most likely enjoy reading about other people's adventures there than I'd enjoy having my own.

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