Thursday, June 20, 2024

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

And here it is: the obligatory EverQuest II Origins Anashti Sul - Day One post. It's would be neat if it was also the first one I'd written about the new server since it opened for business at eight in the evening last night but of course it's not. I had a few minutes to kill while I was waiting in the queue, which I joined about three-quarters of an hour after the Noon Pacific launch, so I pre-empted myself with a quick squib about the general implications of the whole deal. Now we get to the specifics.

I'm guessing the long beta paid off because it seems the launch went smoothly enough. At least, I haven't seen any headlines to the contrary this morning and I've had no issues getting in and playing. It seems pretty popular, too. I noted the astonishing 45 instances of the Outpost of the Overlord last night and even today, deep in the small hours in the US and the middle of a workday morning in Europe, there were still eight instances running when I logged in. The server is listed at Character Creation as "Heavy Load".

I did see one bizarre glitch, which I suspect is an artefact of the instancing system. I was in the middle of a conversation with an NPC when she suddenly flicked out of existence. I looked around, puzzled, but there was no sign of her. Then, a few seconds later, there was a shudder and she re-appeared, only this time there were three of her and all of them yelling at me.

The triplets were still there by the time I'd finished her quest and come back to do the hand-in. For all I know, they're still there now, although I suspect once the instance goes away, so will the bonus Field Investigators.

That's literally the only non-standard occurence I've witnessed so far. In fact, I'm struggling somewhat to come up with anything to say about this new/old version of the game that I couldn't just as well have said about levelling the equivalent character on a regular, Live ruleset server.

I was considering doing just that so I could make a note of the differences. I'm fairly sure it wouldn't take me two and three-quarter hours to get to Level Five on a Live server, which is how long it's taken me on Anashti Sul. However long it might have taken though, it seemed like it'd be too long just to satisfy such mild curiosity, so I shelved that plan. For now...

In any case, there's a bigger problem to consider: an existential conflict between the underlying concept of Anashti Sul and the way it introduces itself at the very earliest stage of the game. The whole point and purpose of the server is to come as close as possible to recreating the look and feel of the game as it was almost two decades ago, back in 2006, allowing us to contrast the game as it was then with how it looks and plays today. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the first five levels or so, Daybreak already did that, nearly ten years ago. I wrote about it here and here. I'm not sure exactly how long the Far Journey/Isle of Refuge sequence was unavailable but however long it was gone, it's been back for longer - the last nine years -and I've played through it several times since it returned.

As I said earlier, I haven't checked whether the version of IoR on Live is identical to the one on Anashti Sul but it seems very much as I remember it and those memories are almost certainly no older than last time I played through the content on a current Live server. As I said in the second of the linked posts, the version re-added to the game in 2015 wasn't the original and now neither is this one.

Worse, any nostalgic thrill I might have had at seeing the old place again has been more than sated by the several trips I've taken through it relatively recent times. I remember getting a genuine frisson of excitement the first time I got to sail on the Far Journey again, back in 2015. Now I just think "Here we go again...".

I could and probably should have skipped most of it this time. The short but eventful trip on the Far Journey is non-negotiable but you can opt out of of the Isle altogether and get Captain Varlos to take you straight on to Freeport. I probably should either have done that or else picked a race and class that starts in Qeynos. Then I could have gone through the "good" island questline with a little more enthusiasm. I haven't levelled up in the Queens's Colony anything like as often as I've done it in the Outpost of the Overlord.

I didn't, though. Instead, I slogged all the way through the main questline to the instanced finale in the cave. I was a little wary of going in alone. I remember when most people waited for a group for that one although I'm pretty sure even back in 2006 pet classes and other strong soloists were scurrying past the rest of us as we we waited outside for a group.

By the time I got there today, though, I was already Level Five and I'd managed to solo two Named mobs and kill the guy at the top of the treehouse, a very awkward fight, when I was just Level Three, so I thought I might as well give it a go. That turned out to be the right decision. It was a tough fight but I won first time. 

Altogether, I died just twice on the way to Level Five, both times entirely my own fault, carrying on fighting when I could easily have run to safety. On the whole, though, I didn't feel much sense of risk, let alone danger, not least because there's no death penalty at those levels, distances are small and respawns are fast. Death feels like a brief interruption at worst.

Was it like that back in 2006? I tend to think not but honestly have no real idea and that's the problem. My nightmare memories of EQII - and I have a few - come from well before then. The game was horrifiically unwelcoming in so many ways at launch and for much of the first year but Anashti Sul takes its starting point from the time most of those issues had been fixed.

By picking this specific snapshot for Anashti Sul, Darkpaw has neatly avoided most of the worst of the original experience, while still making it feel, at least for returning players who quit at various points after that, when the game changed out of all recognition, like a huge rollback to better days. From the perspective of someone who's stuck around through most of those changes, though, it all feels remarkably familiar, still. On the Isle, anyway.

Then again, I know this particular slice of content very well indeed. It is possible to get to Level Nine or Ten on the Isles and I've done it more than once. I had one character who lived on the Isle of Refuge for years, refusing to leave. 

Not this time. As soon as I finished the main quest I was straight down to the Far Journey, asking for passage to Freeport. When the ship docked, I logged out, leaving my Ratonga Necromancer on the docks in Temple Street, the neighborhood Ratongas share with Gnomes. Next session I'll see what the old place looks like. That at least should feel like something fresh.

Or maybe not. The 'hoods (Or 'burbs as they were once called.) also haven't been gone as long as some veterans like to claim. The originals were removed and replaced in 2011, something I wrote about at the time. but they were partially restored three years ago for the launch of the Kaladim server, as I recorded in a post when it happened.

That revival didn't include most of the quests but I'm not sure how much of a disappointment that ought to have been. I'd have said I missed them but according to what I wrote when they went away, it seems as though I might even have been glad to see them go.

Even if I didn't wholly welcome the change, I was certainly full of compliments about the new content:

 "... if I had in mind that the villages might be ruined, or just wasted, I needn't have worried...What's really changed is that the villages have come alive...There's more going on than I ever knew and much more than I expected.

I am curious to see the fully-restored versions again. Quite honestly, I can't remember all that much about them, although apparently, just before they were changed, I "went round my favorites (Temple Street, Beggars Court, Big Bend) using EQ2's spiffy newish in-game video option to make my own documentary on the Way We Lived.

My reason for doing so was apparently that I thought it might "be nice in a few years to look back at the good old days." It wasn't. As far as I can recall, I have never looked at that video since the day it was made. In fact, until I re-read the post today I'd completely forgotten it existed.

So much for nostalgia, eh? We'll have to see how the returned reality stacks up. At least I can rely on not having done any of the quests for the best part of fifteen years, although I suspect that may turn out to have been a blessing. I don't remember most of them being all that great.

Further reports may follow, although I suspect not many and not for much longer, especially with Tarisland about to launch.


  1. Ah, good ol' Yogi Berra. "It's deja vu all over again" is one of is best quotes, but I personally like "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

    For curiosity's sake, just how large are EQ2 servers, population-wise?

    1. Not sure on the size of the server but I think each zone instance can hold a maximum of one hundred people and the game kicks up a new one if it hits that cap, so there would have been close to 4500 just in that one zone and I doubt it was the busiest of the starting zones, either. The server was obviously at capacity because it had a queue but what the full server cap is I have no idea. At least 10k I would guess but it could be more, maybe a lot more.

      You can tell just how completely irrelevant Steam is to older MMORPGs by the Steam Charts for EQ2 this week. There, it only shows a peak of about 500 people for the launch day and there were actually more Steam players earlier in the month. I imagine almost all of them are F2P and they won't have access to the new server, which requires a sub.


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