My original thoughts
Long ago, when I first picked up EQII when it released, I remember my feelings towards the game being mostly unfriendly. I think one of the sentences that came out of my mouth at that time was along the lines of: "If I wanted to engage in trench warfare, I'd play yet another World War II game."
The starting islands and the early city areas were claustrophobic, brown, and generally unpleasant. The combat and questing felt like World of Warcraft. The storytelling was, well, ok. I didn't find myself impressed. Nothing about the game really gripped me, so it was no surprise to anyone when I dropped out of it at level 20.
Now, coming back to the game six years later after its launch in 2004, I found myself very, very impressed.
My thoughts after coming back
Straight up, I was tired of World of Warcraft when I went back to EQII this year. I'll be honest -- I got back into it because the price for the game was so good. I quickly bought The Shadow Odyssey on Steam during their huge Christmas sale, and I dived back into the game head first.
What I found was a game that had that same WoW feel that I liked, but much more depth than WoW provided me. It let me quest and gave me an idea where to go, but it let me run into quests and take them at my leisure. And believe me when I say there are a lot of quests in this game. You never have a problem finding a place to level, or finding a quest to take on.
Some of the quests also have more gameplay depth than just "complete me and get XP." One of my favorite quest types are the Lore and Legend lines, where completion gets you a permanent advantage against a type of monster for the rest of the game. It feels like doing your research against specific monsters -- learning their weaknesses.
Or how about the freeform quest where I collected scrolls from orcs to learn their language? Sure, it provided some xp, but it also gave my character the ability to speak in orcish. What ever happened to games utilizing multiple languages for their various races?
Or the quest where I went to Qeynos to, and I'm not kidding, kidnap a gnome? Sure, it's an objective quest, but it involved me doing my research to find the best way into Qeynos, utilizing the items given to me, avoiding guards, and getting to the person I needed to get to.
In short, EQII presented a familiar interface that got exponentially deeper the more I looked. It's the same rote things you do in any MMO, yet it's presented with twists here and there that make the design feel like both a revisit to the old ways of game design and something new at the same time.
On top of all of the things I enjoyed physically about the game, I enjoyed the community as well. My time on Lucan d'Lere was very enjoyable, and I found the community to be welcoming and helpful. Of course there was the usual banter in the newbie chat, in addition to the usual insanity found in towns, but overall I was able to find roleplayers with ease (gasp!) and get questions answered quickly and easily in the level specific chats.
Grouping was a bit of a pain at the lower levels, and that was a bit sad, but chronomancy does allow higher level players to go back and revisit content they may have missed. Even with that in mind, be prepared to solo for a while until you get into the higher level ranges, as that's where the majority of the playing population is located.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by everything the game had to offer. Housing, chronomancy, expansive zones, a changing storyline, a good community, and consistent support and expansion from SOE. My purchase was well, well worth the money, and I can see this as a game that I'm really going to stick with. I may be leaving this column, but I'm certainly not leaving Norrath. Not by a long shot.
This is a game I would recommend to others, especially if you're looking for a little more autonomy in the quests you take and the sights you see. However, be prepared to pull out a few wikis to find out where to go and what to grab. The "golden path" quests that the game offers are certainly pretty neat, but there's so much more to the game outside of them.
Unfortunately, this will be my last post in The Tattered Notebook. But not all is lost, as the writings shall continue! The well-loved notebook and quill is being passed to Jef Reahard, who will continue the column in my stay. So, be sure to give him a warm Norrathian welcome, even though he isn't as... exuberant as our former Tier'dal reporter.
And no, I'm not leaving the site! I'll still be doing my usual editorial stuff, as well as Anti-Aliased. Plus, we have tasty tasty events coming up for you all, so keep an eye out!