Sunday, March 17, 2019

New Kind Of Neighborhood

When Daybreak announced that one of the tent-poles for EverQuest's 20th Anniversary celebrations would be yet another round of Timelocked/Progression servers I was underwhelmed. I understand that they're popular and they make money but I felt I'd been round that particular track a time or two too often already to get excited about doing it again.

Silly me. Since I made characters on Kaladim in EQII and Selo in EQ last night, apart from sleep and eat I've done nothing else. I'm rushing to get this post done so I can get back and play some more and since I don't have to go to work until next Saturday there's a good chance I won't be doing much besides playing EQ/EQII and writing about it for the rest of the week.

Just what is it about starting over on a new server that has this effect? Is it really that MMORPGs - both as games and as worlds - work much better when played in something approximating their original context, where leveling takes time and there are people everywhere you go?

Or is it just nostalgia? The deep thrill of cheating time. We can't grow younger but we can pretend we did.

I spent the morning on Selo, leveling my Bard in Shar Vhal, the Kerran city on the dark side of Luclin, where it's always twilight and Norrath hangs low in the sky like a threat. It was really something to begin there instead of outside the gates of Qeynos or Freeport. I haven't started in Shar Vahl for a decade or more but it all came flooding back.

It took me an hour just to finish the introductory citizenship quest. I remember doing that when Luclin was new. It took me all of a Sunday afternoon, back then. They may have reverted a lot of stuff but I'm convinced it's still easier than it was.

When I'd made enough money killing grimling skeletons in The Pit I went to buy my new songs. Then I broke for lunch. Half an hour later I took a trip forward in time - five years or five hundred, depending how you look at it - to Kaladim and EQII, where I've been dying a lot leveling my Dirge in Sunken City and The Sprawl.

I was having such a hard time I ended up buying a full set of no-stat chain armor from a vendor. I can't remember the last time I had to do that. It was awesome! And it made hardly any difference at all! I still had trouble just trying to get from one questgiver to the next without being eaten by wild dogs.

It was all a much more immersive, involving, satisfying, fun experience than I was expecting. Despite - or possibly because of  - all the being killed, getting lost and generally getting piled on, everything was comfortably exceeding expectations. And then I remembered that DBG had restored the original starting villages for this fresh start.

The villages, when they were around, were something of a mixed blessing. Original EQII began with a lengthy lead-in before you arrived at what you might call the "real game". I don't mean the end game. I mean long before that.

There was the bit on the boat at the start, then the Isle of Refuge, then you had to go to either Qeynos or Freeport and find your racial starting area, where you'd get an inn room and your class quests. I think that's how it went.

The class quests themselves went all the way to Level 20, which took me a couple of weeks first time out. Maybe longer. Most of it happened down in the sewers as I recall. You got into those by way of a drain in your village.

Well, the quests are still missing but the villages are back and so is the drain! I had no idea how much I'd missed them.

Of course, the physical locations never went away. They just got repurposed and repopulated years ago. On Live there are questlines for every race that send you to your racial village every ten levels. Most of those questlines are top notch. I've done quite a few. I probably should do the rest some day.

The problem is, when they did the revamp, Sony Online Entertainment shut off access to the zones for anyone not doing the quests. Since the quests were unique to specific races that meant most characters would never be able to go in most of the villages again and even the right races could only go in when they had the quests active.

What's more, the new storylines put all the villages into a state of conflict. And they scaled with your level, assuming you did the quests as they became available. Even if you could get in, all you'd find was a combat zone. Which was never what any of the villages were about.

And what was that? I'd actually forgotten. They were, like much of the original game, there to tell the tales of ordinary Norrathians, living ordinary lives in an extraordinary world. There were little stories everywhere, vignettes of how it might be, to live cheek by jowl with talking animals, monsters and giants.

The quests are no more but the vignettes and the characters live on. I spent the best part of an hour wandering from village to village, talking to gnomes and ogres and trolls, taking screenshots of cats and pigs and crazy people, like Spezzi the "Street Hag" (we all know what she is...) and Chef Schmenko, psychotic ratonga with a meat cleaver.

These characters may still be running their scripts over on Live, behind the closed doors of the quest instances. Good luck finding out. Here, on Kaladim, you can stroll about in peace, just like we did in the good old days, soaking in the ambience.

What's more, you can bank and shop and craft. All the vendors and utilities have been restored, including the subterranean tradeskill instances. Best of all, you can rent an inn room and settle. Forget your billett at the Jade Tiger's Den in North Freeport (although you have to take a room there too, if you want to complete the starter housing quest). Come back to the village that raised you. Buy yourself a candelabra.

As I was going round I got so excited I felt I had to tell someone. General chat seemed a bit too focused on arguments about leveling speed for the kind of gosh-wow fluffiness I had in mind so I gosh-wowed in the Test channel instead, where fluffiness is a way of life.

Someone promptly sent me a tell asking me if I wouldn't mind going round all the villages in Freeport to run a zone query to get the official map names so he could submit them to EQ2Maps. I was very happy to oblige.

He'd been asking since yesterday and found no takers and I only saw two other players in the villages as I was exploring. My excitement seems original if not unique. Maybe there will be more interest in the restoration project when it finally hits Live. TLE servers do tend to attract the more hardcore end of the playerbase.

Or maybe no-one will care. I didn't think I would. Not until I went there. Now I care enough that I'm going to make another character over in Qeynos so I can see those villages too. Well, I might. I'd have to buy yet another character slot for that. Maybe I'll wait 'til the project comes to the Skyfire server where I already have some Qeynosians.

The one thing that puzzles me is why this is all happening in EQII now, when we're supposed to be celebrating EverQuest's 20th. EQII has its own fifteenth anniversary coming in November. I just hope they've left a little in the tank for that.


  1. I was too busy mucking about on an EQ live server to hit any of the progression servers. But I might just peek in at some point to see Greystone Yard. I remember one of the trade skill instances... there used to be multiple per zone to reflect the different paths... was under the decking under the bank. Easy to get to as a dwarf, not so convenient if you were a barbarian though.

    1. I was thinking about it as I was going around the villages yesterday and I do think there's a significant diference between the Freeport ones and those in Qeynos. Like you, I don't have a lot of fond memories of the Qeynos villages. Baubleshire was about the best of a not very inspiring bunch but most of the others were pretty irritating. I can't say I miss any of them although maybe that will change when I see them again.

      Almost all of the Freeport ones, though, I find both memorable and affecting. I spent a lot of time in Temple Street, Big Bend and Beggars Court and I can remember them very clearly, to the extent that I can recall quite a few of the questslines that used to be there, in some detail. I used to use those villages a lot, banking and crafting there rather than in Freeport itself. In Qeynos it was the opposite.

      I do think SOE put a lot more thought and effort into Freeport all round and it showed.

    2. I think there was very much the assumption that because Freeport was the big city in EQ, that it would be so again in EQII despite them setting Freeport and Qeynos against each other as good vs. evil factions, with Freeport taking the evil role.

      Qeynos in EQII is so dull that when they did the graphical upgrade for it I couldn't tell the difference, even when comparing screen shots of locations. But at least it is easy to get around. I'm sure you get used to Freeport, but I am always semi-lost there, and was all the more so when it was cut up into several zones.

      I do recall the crafting instances in Freeport being the multi-story affairs that were a bit of a pain if you needed to craft one thing on one bench and something else on another. As with so much else in Qeynos, they just put the instances there on one level with each type in its own little room.


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