Sunday, May 24, 2020

Lost In Daydreams, Forgotten By Time : EverQuest

And so we come to what might be the more intriguing part of the tale. We've all heard war stories from EverQuest's early days and its meteoric rise, when it became, briefly, the most popular and celebrated MMORPG of its day, until hubris, incompetence and implacable fate dragged it down to an ignominious and devastating fall. But all of that spans less than a quarter of the twenty-one years the game has stuck around.

We hear far less about what happened after the collapse. I saw some of it, in flashes as a lightning storm, but most is as dark to me as anyone. Just a few, glowing fragments, scattered across those long, quiet years.

The Lost Age

Dragons of Norrath 

When DoN launched in February 2005 I was deep in the slough of EverQuest II's despond. It would be a few months before Mrs Bhagpuss and I returned to the cradle. When we did we found Norrath much changed.

Looking back, it's difficult to see why we bothered. Everyone we knew, pretty much without exception, had jumped ship on both games. I never found out where most of them went because, by and large, I'd kept all my relationships on a strictly in-game footing. I didn't collect real names or email addresses. When people stopped playing they stopped existing.

I had no shots of DoN at all. I had to log in my druid to go take some.
I'm happy with that decision. It was a conscious choice and, I feel even now, a necessary one. Even with a degree of distancing, those were years filled with very considerable personal drama, much of which overspilled the game into what we amusingly liked to think of as "real life".

Before we'd left for the EQII beta I'd had a spectacular falling-out with one of the key movers in our extended social circle. Mrs Bhagpuss was not on speaking terms with another. There were all kinds of complications with any number of individuals. Guild drama was a way of life back then and we had a tangled skein of inter and extra guild relationships to contend with as well.

Things in EQII hadn't been quite so extreme but drama followed us there, too. Our guild leader had a blowout in the middle of a status run one Sunday afternoon and very publicly quit the game, never to be seen again. The guild faltered on with no active leadership, bleeding membership to other guilds but mainly to other games. We struggled on until early summer, then one day the last person either of us knew in EQII announced he was quitting and we decided we might as well call it a day, too.

I don't recall whether we went straight back to EverQuest or if we tried something else first. There wouldn't have been a lot of choice in 2005. We did, however, have a choice to make on our return to EQ.

Back in May 2003, in the days when EverQuest new servers were popping up like mushrooms, a Brand New, No Transfers, Fresh, Start server called Stromm arrived. For about three months Mrs Bhagpuss and I abandoned our friends on Antonia Bayle and made a whole new set on Stromm.

Of course it was night when she got there. Possibly the darkest in-game night I have ever seen. And this at 6pm game-time...
When the time came to return to EverQuest once again, in the summer of 2005, we still had the sour taste of the previous summer our mouths. Back then, we'd taken the opportunity of a free character move Sony Online Entertainment  were offering to transfer all our characters from Ant. Bayle to Saryrn, but we knew no-one there and had no affection for the place.

It was a time when server pride and community were both very real. We'd had a very good few months on Stromm. There were no bad memories. It had been a lively yet laid-back place, full of the enthusiasm of people starting a fresh, new life with a clean slate. That's where we decided to go.

The thing was, there'd been a level cap increase and our characters hadn't reached the last one before we stopped. Dragons of Norrath was the current expansion but most of it was a long way out of our reach.

I can't remember much about what we did to level up but I do know we barely touched anything DoN had to offer. I do recall doing some faction work in the opening zone, accessed via tunnel from Lavastorm, itself revamped for the expansion. There were some instanced missions of some kind that I may have spent a little time on at some point. I definitely did enough to earn quite a lot of one of the expansion currencies, Radiant Crystals, because there were some augments I wanted.

Here's the same shot, auto-levelled to remove all the effects. Which would you rather see when you're exploring a zone where everything wants to kill you and is perfectly capable of doing it?

Some of that probably happened on a later run. It's all more than a bit vague. I do know that, by the time the next expansion arrived, we were just about ready for its opening zone, Corathus Creep, which was meant for character levels 45 to 55.

Depths of Darkhollow

I have quite a soft spot for DoD, something I doubt you'd be likely to hear from many EQ players. The aesthetic of the zones, all of which lurk in some nebulous and ill-explained subterranean nest of caverns beneath Nektulos Forest, is pearlescent and overripe, by Giger out of Lovecraft. There are gnomes because in Norrath there are always gnomes behind everything. I can still hear the relentless clockwork theme of Corathus Creep in my head.

The fights were tough but the xp was good. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I duoed there a lot for the first few weeks. We pushed as far as the next zone, Undershore, but it was too much for us. Then the rot set in. And how.

A quiet day on the beach at Undershore.
All expansions have their unique features. There's a post to be written about that and I may well get around to writing it some day. There are features that the game was waiting for, which change the way we play forever and there are features that barely get used at all. DoD had one that started out as the first and ended up as the second.

There were three major new features in total: Evolving Items, Shrouds and Monster Missions. I'll save the first two for that post, should it ever happen. The one that concerns us today is Monster Missions.

I've ranted about this before so I'll keep it short. There comes a time in every developers life when it seems like a good idea to stop players playing the classes and characters they've chosen and instead stuff them into the pantomime costume of someone or something else. It can be a fun diversion or, more commonly, a total pain in the butt.

Monster Missions should absolutely have counted as the latter. Not only did they turn entire groups into nondescript NPCs, they imposed onerous movement restrictions and provided minimal combat abilities. I never heard anyone even pretend to find them fun. It would have been just another failed and forgotten feature to stack alongside so many more had it not been for the xp.

Those don't look hallucinogenic at all...
Somehow, Monster Missions gave more xp for the time they took than anything else in the game. Literally anything. Once word on that got out, almost no-one wanted to do anything else. If you wanted a group you'd better be ready to give up playing your character because it was go monster or go solo.

Since we were only duoing or soloing, it shouldn't have mattered but it did. These things always do. A rancid stench of discontent and entitlement permeated the air. In MMORPGs, if you make something easy and accessible and give it great xp or rewards, countless players will feel they have to do it.

Some of them will be fine with that but many won't. And yet they'll do it anyway. And hate what they're doing. And hate themselves for doing it. And tell everyone who'll listen just how bad it feels and how much they hate whoever made them feel that way, which is never themselves, even though it always is.

Things went that way and we put up with it for a while and then we couldn't any more so we left. Again. Where we went I don't recall. I can only think it must have been back to EQII, although the dates don't seem to fit. Whatever, wherever, we were gone.

Lovecraft's influence is strong. Still, better him than Tolkein.
Of course, we came back, eventually. I always come back although Mrs. Bhagpuss has finally shaken herself free.

SoE nerfed the missions hard then harder until people stopped doing them. Things went back to normal. Most people just wanted an excuse to stop. The monster missions are probably still there but no-one cares. It's a vast game with a thousand dusty corners. What's one more?

Darkhollow itself, I have revisited, several times. I've done some levels on at least three characters, most recently my old Shadowknight, who did a level in Undershore a couple of years ago. I even wrote about it. I may well go there again. As I said, I'm quite fond of the place.

Prophecy of Ro

I know nothing about this expansion other than it destroyed Freeport. I wasn't there when it launched and when I came back it was already forgotten. How it was received, what people did while it was new, whether it was considered good, bad or indifferent, I have not the least idea.

What's more, I've never really taken the trouble to go look at it since. One of the huge delights of EverQuest is the way your character becomes much more powerful with levels while Norrath remains the same. It's still surprisingly possible to get out of your depth in older content but on the right class and particularly in the post-mercenary era it's possible to play tourist in places that once meant instant death.

Look! It's another Roger Dean album cover!
I have some screenshots taken in one of the zones so I must have been there at least once but I remember absoluterly nothing about it. Maybe I'll go and take a look with my Magician when she dings 100. It should be fairly safe by then.


So much for the Lost Age. It really does live up to its name. If it hadn't been for the happy hours I spent in Corathus Creep I'd barely know it ever happened.

Next up is what the EverQuest Show calls "The Renaissance". It features two more expansions for which Mrs Bhagpuss and I returned, yet again, for one more run. Mrs Bhagpuss finally bowed out after 2007's Secrets of Faydwer and hasn't been back since. I keep plugging on although I think about the last new content I actually saw first-hand must have been in 2010's House of Thule.

Next time should see us all the way through to the end. It's two-thirds of the lifetime of the game and about as much of the content but most of it remains as mysterious to me as the dark side of Drinal, Norrath's other moon.

If anyone's actually played through any of the last ten years of EverQuest maybe you'd like to tell the class about it. I know I'm curious.


  1. For all my going on about EQ, my core first hand experience ends at Planes of Power, so it is fun to hear about what went on during some of the expansions that are just names to me.

    1. I'm finding it really difficult to remember what I played when. If I hadn't taken screenshots and written posts I would have had no memory of going back to Undershore and it was only when I looked Dragons of Norrath up on Allakhazam that I started to remember anything about it at all.

  2. I really enjoyed this post and the last one. My personaly experience with the game was a month or two right around the time SoV launched, another stint around the time of PoP, and then not setting foot in the game again until a stint a bit over a year ago that i blogged about. That's a huge span of years in the middle I know next to nothing about, and I've certainly never read any first hand accounts of.

    1. Writing these posts makes me want to sit down and reconstruct a timeline of what I actually did. So much of it is hazy, muddled or forgotten. It's like that time at the end of the first year of university where five or six of us sat around trying to remember how we'd met and what we'd done and no two people could agree on anything. Only much worse because this is two decades later not twelve months...

  3. Hey, you were on Stromm? I restarted there when it opened as well. I played a cleric in the guild Lost Sock Patrol. We angered some uberguilds by waking the Sleeper, which killed their real money item farm. The blowback eventually killed the guild and I returned to my home server, Erollisi Marr, older, wiser, and with a raid geared cleric.

    1. Technically I'm still on Stromm because it merged with Luclin many years ago. Since I had a lot of characters on Luclin as well it became my default main server. What's more, the character I'm playing (in the sense of logging in every day to do the Overseer quests) is my original Magician that I made on Stromm the day it started. She's now my highest-ever character at 97.

      I actually remember Lost Sock Patrol, but I'm not sure whether it's from the Sleeper story, which I definitely remember (it was big news on all servers) or from seeing the tag when I was playing there first time around. I don't have any screenshots or game logs from that period (hard drive failure I think) so I can't check.

      My personal claim to fame, although I have no way of verifying it, was that i was probably the first person on Stromm to get a horse. BAck then they were extremely expensive and the only way to get one was to buy it from an NPC. I devoted most of my energy to making money right from the start - I remember going on long runs out to Katta Castellum to buy something or other that resold to players for good money - and as soon as I had enough I bought a horse. I'd never seen anyone else on one and people kept sending me tells asking me how I got it so I like to think that I must have been at least one of the first to get one, if not the first.

    2. I have PLENTY of screenshots of waking the Sleeper :) One of the high points of my EQ adventure! Waking it split the guild; at least a quarter of the guildies refused to do it. Me, I was overjoyed to do it.


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