Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Rusty Time Machine

As I was logging in to EverQuest II this morning I spotted something strange in the launcher. It said on the news feed that Destiny of Velious is scheduled to arrive next week on the time-limited expansion server, Kaladim

That didn't sound right. In my mind, DoV is a fairly recent expansion and although I don't play on Kaladim all that often, I was under the impression it was still lagging well behind Velious.

But what do I know? Not much, it seems. Granted, the headline is misleading but not nearly as misleading as my memory.

To make it clear, Destiny of Velious does not go live on Kaladim on May 11th, even though the forum thread linked on the launcher clearly says it does. If you call a thread "Destiny of Velious Opens on May 11th!" what else are people going to think?

The truth of the matter is, as you find when you read past the title, it's the beta for DoV that begins on the eleventh. The beta is set to run for four weeks, so a more infornmative headline might read "Destiny of Velious Opens on or around June 8th, after four-week beta." Not so eyecatching but a lot more accurate.

Moving on to the substantive issue of whether or not Destiny of Velious is, as I thought, a fairly recent expansion, I'd like to hedge a little and bring out the old relativism argument. It depends on what you mean by "recent", doesn't it?


Yeah, I'd like to do that but it's not going to fly this time. EQII has had seventeen expansions so far. DoV was the seventh. It came out in 2011. Ten years ago. That's not recent in gaming terms. Not even for an mmorpg.

And yet it feels very recent to me. Even though it happened four years before Sony Online Entertainment gave way to Daybreak, who themselves have now given way to EG7. Feels more like three or four years ago than a decade.

I think I know why. Destiny of Velious was the last EQII expansion before the launch of Guild Wars 2. That means it was the last one I played with Mrs. Bhagpuss and the last while our guild was active and busy with anything up to a dozen members popping in and out. It was the last EQII expansion I played with people I knew and because of that it has become fixed in my mind as a separate thing from all the expansions I've played since, on my own.

Except even that isn't entirely accurate. Destiny of Velious wasn't the final EQII expansion we bought and played together, just the last normal one. In December 2011, just nine months after DoV, we got the highly controversial Age of Discovery. Instead of the usual overland zones, dungeons and new features that made up a traditional EQII expansion, AoD only had features. 

It had mercenaries, the Dungeon Maker, the Beastlord class, reforging and tradeskill assistants. Maybe some other stuff. You could buy the lot as an "expansion" or the individual items piecemeal in the cash shop. Also, just to confuse matters, at the same time the whole game went free-to-play.


We carried on playing for another six months and then first The Secret World and after that Guild Wars 2 took over. The next EQII expansion I bought was 2014's Altar of Malice. In time I played through the ones I'd missed and I've paid for every one that's come along since but Mrs. Bhagpuss hasn't set foot in Norrath since 2012 and the last member of our guild logged out for the final time only weeks before I returned. It's been just me for the last seven years.

I guess that's why Destiny of Velious seems like it wasn't all that long ago. Particularly when you look at the expansions that came immediately after, Chains of Eternity and Tears of Veeshan. Those two are EQII's Shadowlands

They're set in the realm of the dead, or at least one of them, the Ethernere. They have a very different, floatier feel than the solidity of both frozen Velious and  subterranean Thalumbra which bookend them. Even though I did eventually finish both their signature questlines it was with overleveled characters who'd already outgrown them and they remain insubstantial in my memory.

It's not until Altar of Malice, whose re-introduction of the Isle of Refuge and masterful playing of the nostalgia card finally lured me back from Tyria, that expansions begin to feel like somewhere I once lived rather than somewhere I spent a couple of weeks on holiday. Given that history, it begins to make sense, the way Destiny of Velious seems to have landed so much more recently than a decade ago.

But of course our memories are always unreliable. We forget so much and what we think we remember is so often wrong. Which is why facts always need to be checked.

For reasons only they could explain, Daybreak maintains a complete archive on the official EQII website of every news item they've ever published there. It starts all the way back in April 2004, well before even the first closed beta, with a somewhat bathetic entry that reads (in full) "Introducing Once concerned with wizard-only EQ II information, EQ2.Graffe now offers info from the perspective of all EverQuest II classes."


In common with most of the websites linked in subsequent press releases (and there are many of them), EQ2.Graffe is no more. The news items are peppered with links, almost all of which are dead, not least because so many of them go to SOE forums or pages that vanished when the company was sold.

Some of the articles, interviews and videos can be found elsewhere with a google search but for many there's nothing but dead air, particularly when the entire piece only ever consisted of a hyper-linked headline. Others survive as stubs and some are still there in all their original arcane and archaic glory. There's some very peculiar and fascinating reading to be had and some unexpected things to be discovered or, as I have to keep reminding myself, re-discovered.

For example, I always knew EverQuest II was popular enough in Japan for there to have been a Japanese localized server. It was called Sebilis and it survived until 2016, when it was finally merged into Antonia Bayle

What I had forgotten, if indeed I ever knew it, was that for the first couple of years, including the release of Desert of Flames, the first expansion, EQII was published in Japan by Square Enix. EQII was once a Square Enix game! That boggles the mind, particularly when you consider that SOE was a division of Japanese megacorp, Sony. Why did they even need a Japanese publisher?

As I dug through the archive I came across plenty of things that didn't seem to make sense or more likely didn't match my memories of them. The servers at launch, for example, don't include Steamfont, where we made our first characters and which was our home until it was eventually merged with Oasis, a server which was there at launch. 

EQII launched on November 9 2004 with a dozen servers including three in Europe. Steamfont wasn't even in the first wave of extra servers added to absorb the influx of players keen to play the game the press had been hailing as the first true second-gen mmo. It didn't come online until 11 November 2004, two days after the date usually quoted as the official launch, when demand was so high another ten servers had to be added. 

I don't have an explanation for why we might have waited two days before making our first characters. Wikipedia quotes separate launch dates for the US and EU, with the EU launch date not coming until November 11 so maybe there was some delay. If so, it's not recorded in SOE's breathless commentary and I certainly don't remember it, although I do remember that we had intended to play on the Test server but had to change those plans because it wasn't until December 1st we even had confirmation there was going to be one

History is so hard to parse. Even relatively recent history. Fragmentary notes like these help a lot to build a picture but occasionally the fractured pieces just won't line up. Still, it's wonderful to have evidence of some things I've always believed but couldn't prove, such as the attritionally slow levelling speed.


Imagine an mmorpg launching today in which the level cap was fifty and you didn't even get to choose your class until twenty. And then imagine the fastest players in the entire world taking two or three days to get there. To level twenty, that is! 

Three days grind before you even got to play the class you've chosen would be enough to sink most launches nowadays but back then it would have been a pace most EQII players could only gaze at in envy and disbelief. I think it took me about two weeks to get my first character to twenty. Or maybe it was a month...

I'll probably never know for sure. Add it to the list. Of course, if I'd had a blog, I could just go and look it up. 

If I'd given the post about it a helpful headline, that is. Something like "Ding! Level 20 in EQII at last!". Maybe I should think about future me when I'm patting myself on the back for being so clever with these post titles. 

Yeah, and maybe someone at Daybreak should do something about all those broken links. They did archive all those SOE pages when they took over, didn't they? Didn't they??

We all have a responsibility to history, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Those pages might be at in the Wayback Machine. ;)

    - rlsy7


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