Welcome to another installment of MMO games I liked. In today’s post, I will go into one of my all time favorite MMOs, EverQuest II. The original MMOs that began to use 3D graphics kept growing as more and more attempts were made to cash in on the online phenomena that millions of people enjoyed. There were a lot of MMOs made from 1999 to 2004, most of which I never played. Quality varied, but it seems that most acquired a solid audience. The MMOs created in Asia had millions of “subscribers”, but you have to understand the way their system worked was significantly different than here in North America and Europe. Games like Asheron’s Call, Shadowbane, Lineage 1 & 2, Guild Wars, City of Heroes, Anarchy Online, RuneScape, Ragnarok Online, Earth & Beyond, Eve Online, and Star Wars Galaxies were released to varying degrees of success. MMOs even moved onto consoles with Phantasy Star Online, Final Fantasy XI, and EverQuest Online Adventures. There were a lot of MMOs at this point.
As the technology kept increasing, the ability of personal computers to process more and more information as well as far more powerful video cards enabling extremely good video quality graphics, coupled with the move to DSL over dialup Internet access made it possible for MMOs to be made that would be a quantum leap over what was currently out. The key to making a new, cutting-edge MMO that would take advantage of the more powerful computer technology and lessons learned from years of actual online gaming experience would be having the financial resources to make it, which meant finding someone or some company willing to gamble $25 million dollars or more. Sony decided to make that gamble and rolled the dice with EverQuest 2.
The development of EQ2 is a story of its own, but I want to focus on the game itself. That means we have to make some comparisons to the original EverQuest, which was obviously the most popular MMO going into 2004, but was starting to show its limitations with graphics. The decision was made to invest significantly in graphics quality so that as computers got faster and video cards more powerful, the graphics quality would be better. I think this was the flaw for EQ2 because on its release, only those with up-to-date computers and DSL could really use the graphics quality on higher settings. I had an older computer and it struggled with the graphics even at low settings. In the long run, the Internet quality was what caused my biggest problems in the game. It would a few years before I could really see the finer details of the game and even now, 17 years later, I still don’t run the game at the highest settings which reflects our rural Internet situation.
The game itself was and still is extremely rich. The story was taken from a point in the EverQuest lore and advanced 500 years to create a new world that was tied to the original game, but would be an alternate timeline so that both games could expand separately from each other. This proved to be a shrewd move as both are still being actively played and expanded today. The premise for EQ2 was that the gods got tired of mortals invading their planes and wreaking havoc everywhere. So, the gods blew up the moon of Luclin, broke off all connections to their planes, and shattered the lands of Norrath in a cataclysmic event. This became known as the Shattering. Advance the timeline 500 years and you have the game world ready for players to enter.
The players would enter the world as part of two major factions. Factions were a holdover from the original EQ and still a major part of MMOs today. Since this was 2004, the concept of good and evil races were still a thing, so the good races were aligned to start in the city of Qeynos on what was once the western part of Antonica. Evil races would start in Freeport, which was on the eastern part of Antonica. The great continent itself was broken apart into two smaller onces. The cities themselves were adventuring hubs with multiple zones and even had some dungeons below. If characters left the city, they emerged into either Antonica (Qeynos) or the Commonlands (Freeport) where they found a pretty big world waiting for them. Right away, players realized that zones were huge compared to the original game. Plus they could accommodate a lot of level ranges.
One of the best parts of the game was that it actually lived up to its name. There were far more quests to do in EQ2 compared to EQ1. I still think that’s a problem for the original game, but it’s changed so much now there’s no point in trying to fix what doesn’t exist unless you’re on one of the emulators. EQ2 was far more ambitious in character development too. You didn’t actually begin play as the class you wanted to play. Instead, your character began as a Fighter, Mage, Priest, or Scout. As you leveled up, you would take a subclass at a certain level which was based on your original class or archetype. These subclasses were divided up among evil and good races as well as neutral types. So, you had to look ahead before building the character as to what you could do with a Dark Elf or a Wood Elf. Today, you just start as your class and go on.
The music was great and the lessons of the past were recognized immediately. There was no shortage of things to do and no need to camp your enemies. The world was just too big with too many things to do for players to sit in one spot and kill the same thing over and over again. After a couple of spawn cycles, usually everyone in a group had what they needed and they could move on to advance the quest or quests they were working on. Plus, the crafting system that was eventually fully implemented (and modified a few times since) gave players a lot to do on that side of the game as well. Most MMOs are item dependent, but EQ2 gave players a way to build some very good equipment as long as they had the money to do it, which of course required some adventuring to obtain the parts and the cash!
The size of the original game was staggering. There were 17 zones in Qeynos and Freeport…each! Some were adventuring areas or dungeons, while others were the necessary city zones where players crafted, picked up quests, trained skills (oh yes, you had to train at certain stages to advance), and so on. Out in the wider world, the humongous world zones of Antonica and the Commonlands had dungeons and subzones connected to them. Not only that, but they also connected to other huge zones with more dungeons and subzones. Eventually, you could travel beyond your own city aligned zones and go to the opposition zones via ships that you had to complete quests to enable transportation on. Again, these are no longer required sadly.
The original game had the two cities, their 17 zones and two city-aligned world zones, and several shared world zones like Zek, Everfrost, the Enchanted Lands, the Feerott, and Lavastorm. The game went to level 50 and had Heritage Quests which took players all over Norrath to finish. Even better, there was a metaplot quest which ended up in a huge raid by multiple groups to finish. The game was well built and had hours of game play in it. You even had a unique starting area which is no longer available in the game. That taught new players how to use the commands and got them acquainted with the basics of their classes/ancestries.
EverQuest 2 was very popular upon release and had 100,000 subscribers within 24 hours. Three months later it had over 300,000 and would reach a sustained population of around 325,000 a year into the game. The Desert of Flames and Kingdom of Sky expansions would follow in 2005 and early 2006. But the Echoes of Faydwer expansion in November of 2006 took the game to a new level. That one brought back the continent of Faydwer with our beloved Greater Faydark, the wood elven city of Kelethin, and the orc fortress of Crushbone. But that was not all! This was Faydwer on steroids! Butcherblock was back and so was Kaladim, but the dwarves had been driven out. The clockworks had taken over Ak’Anon and were running amok in Steamfont. Lesser Faydark was no longer a quick run-through zone. There were also some major changes as Mistmoore was greatly expanded. The Estate of Unrest was back and better than ever. Echoes of Faydwer remains as my favorite expansion of any MMO to this day.
Of course we all know the biggest obstacle to EQ2 being the biggest MMO was that right after it was released, World of Warcraft came out. Still, EQ2 was very successful. It has had 18 expansions with the newest one, Visions of Vetrovia, just being released this month. In 2010, Sony began an experiment to see if a free-to-play model would work known as Everquest II Extended. A year later in December of 2011, Sony moved all of its EQ2 servers to the free-to-play model. In 2015, Sony sold EQ and EQ2 to Daybreak Game Company which also operates Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. Daybreak kept the games going and continued to release expansions.
Today, you can still play EverQuest 2 for free. There are some limits on what you can have because this model encourages micro-transactions which encourages players to buy access to more storage, updated expansions, and things that dedicated players would want. I’ve been playing the game again for about two weeks and haven’t had an issue at all with the free-to-play model as I run around the lower level areas having fun. There is plenty of content for a group of players to experience. Actually, there’s more content than they could play with just one group of characters. They would need to make up several apiece just to experience more than half of what is currently available. Older computers can handle the graphics easily, with a bit of adjustments to fine tune the combat visuals to optimize the experience. This game has a lot of life in it for anyone wanting to play a MMO with some great lore to explore.