I used to be a console player. I played a few computer games, the ones that were really hyped like Doom, Starcraft, and Diablo, but those were exceptions. One day, when I was in college, everything changed. It started with a conversation about video games, of course. I had a spectacular idea: “They should make, like, a Dungeons and Dragons game online but where you can play with thousands of players, kind of like Diablo but not with just four players at a time, more like hundreds!”
“There are already games like that,” my friend replied, “games like Ultima Online and this new one that came out, EverQuest.” I was angry. Not only had people stolen my idea, they had stolen it before I even had it. To make matters worse, in addition to having the idea, they actually made it happen!
A few days later, I was buying a copy of EverQuest. It would be my first MMO (short for MMORPG, shorter for Massive-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game because gamers are lazy) but certainly not my last. Maybe I’m looking back on it with pink-coloured glasses, but it remains one of the best MMOs I have ever played.
EverQuest is basically what I imagined when I talked of an online Dungeons and Dragons game. It has a fantasy setting where players fight mythical beasts like orcs, giants, and dragon. The goal is to explore the immense world of Norrath, killing monsters, gaining experience, finding gear, getting stronger. Players can choose between numerous classes like warrior, mage, druid, and paladin, each with its own abilities. This game is one of the first, and it is still one of the most complex. Some of these things have changed, but, at the time, food and water were essential, gear had to be crafted, quests were ambiguous, and soloing (killing mobs of your level for experience) was almost impossible. This complexity wasn’t a bad thing. It immersed players deeper into the game.
I played many classes but the first one I tried was the one I enjoyed the most: the monk, basically a type of martial artist or melee fighter. After creating a character and levelling up a bit by killing snakes and bats (with my bare punches!), it was time to explore nearby zones. One thing I like about the outdoor zones is that danger is ever present. You can be around level fifteen, killing mobs in West Karana, when all of a sudden, boom, a level thirty-five hill giant steps on you, and you’re dead. As no one wants to die (more on that later), these out-of-place mobs keep players on their toes and add to the realism of the world. There are no artificial separations with weak mobs here, average mobs there, and strong mobs over on the other side.
Adventurers who feel a little braver, or foolish, can enter a dungeon. The biggest dangers in these are “trains”. When players attack more mobs than they can handle, the only way to avoid death is to run out of the dungeon. The mobs chase them, picking up all their evil friends along the way. When they reach the exit, players are usually followed by hordes of twenty to a hundred mobs killing everything in their path, so the fleeing players are the locomotive dragging the mobs, or wagons, behind them. Many people hate trains, but, in my experience, everyone who survives them has a good laugh.
Dying in EverQuest carries a heavy penalty: you lose your hard-earned experience and re-spawn at a bind point without equipment. What follows is a naked run back to your corpse to get your gear back. There have been many complaints about this, but, to me, that’s part of role paying. In pen-and-paper RPGs, when you die, you’re gone. Done. Game over. What fun would there be if death had no consequence? You could just run about recklessly, trying to kill everything you see. When death carries a penalty, you think twice about your actions.
Players have also complained about the inability to solo. You have to be in a group to kill mobs that yield experience, which “forces” you to team up, meet people, and make new friends. This is an MMORPG, after all, not a single-player game. Eventually, you can join a guild filled with people who like to do the same things you do. Another side effect is that it keeps attitudes in check. We all know Internet anonymity brings out the inner jackass in people. However, acting like a jerk in EverQuest only earns you a bad reputation. Then no one wants to group with you, and you can’t do anything. Having players need each other builds a stronger community.
Most players start raiding once their character reaches the last level, the “endgame”. Groups of up to seventy people join forces to kill epic raid mobs and improve their gear. This is where the game starts to lose its appeal. First the adventure and exploration aspects of the game are gone. There are only a few raid encounters, and you repeatedly kill the same mobs over and over again. The main problem, however, is the raid mobs’ spawn times (the time between their death and reappearance). They’re very long, between a few days and a week, and the raid mobs are on a first-come-first-served basis. If many guilds can kill a mob, the whole thing becomes a race to see who can get to it first.
Having to log on every night and rush to kill the big bads became a chore for me, more of a part time job than a game, so I had to stop. I still have fond memories of this game though: my first raid, Lady Vox; camping (waiting for a mob to spawn) Raster of Guk for twenty-seven hours straight to get the Idol of Zan Fi; and waking the Sleeper so he could destroy us, ending the monk’s epic quest. These are all things on which I look back and think, “Good times, good times…”