The Tattered Notebook: A loremaster's dream


I have a confession to make. Well now that I think on it, I have two confessions to make. One, I'm your new EverQuest II columnist. Two, I never played the original EverQuest. If those two facts haven't turned you off already, congratulations, you might just make it through the rest of this week's Tattered Notebook, and hopefully future editions as well. Now before you go summoning your fellow villagers and rounding up all the torches and pitchforks in your neck of the Darklight Wood, allow me to elaborate on the EQ virgin bit.

I have in fact logged into Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest on multiple occasions over the years, both on full paid accounts and various trials. I've also toodled around the earlier version of Norrath long enough to be slightly above complete and total newb status. For whatever reason though, the title never grabbed me like it did many gamers. So, while I've played the game, I haven't really played it as many of you no doubt have, and it's my hope that you'll forgive me for this little oversight so we can all get along. Why do I bring this up when writing about EverQuest II? Well because the earlier title informs the later, and of course they share fans. More importantly for purposes of my first column, they share lore.

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Ah lore. Sweet, succulent, sinful lore. It is both the blessing and the curse of many of our favorite MMORPGs. A good number of these games wouldn't even exist without the financial potential of their underlying intellectual properties (here's to you Lord of Warcraft Online and Star Trek Galaxies), and many of them are so similar in mechanical terms that the only thing really setting them apart are all the quests and backstories that most folks click right on through.

While the Tattered Notebook won't be focused exclusively on lore (I like to quest and raid as much as the next guy, speaking of which, know any good guilds on Lucan?), I do think it's appropriate for this first column since it's what drew me back to the game in the first place. Also, jeez, there is just so damn much of it. I've been playing for a little over two weeks now, rolling up several characters to check out the New Halas additions and a few classes that I didn't get around to during my first Norrathian foray (2005-2006). At this point, I've only managed to get my new alts up to level 15 because I've been so absorbed in reading and following the quest lines. I've also dusted off an old high-level ranger character and found that to my surprise, his old guild is still around even though his old guildmates aren't.

A slight detour

Speaking of guilds in EQII, I'd like to detour for a moment and just go ahead and make a rule for all future MMORPG developers. No matter the size, scope, and budget of your game, if it features guilds, you must copy the guild management interface and tools from EQII. This is not negotiable. It is so far superior to every other game on the market both in terms of information presented and customization options that it is really quite inexcusable that so many games have launched since EQII with completely inferior guild tools.

We now resume your regularly scheduled column

Anyhow, with that little mini-rant out of the way, let's focus on the lore for the remainder of the column (see, this is how I get when I dive into a new/old game, scatter-brained and giddily all over the map). Right, so lore. EQII has it. Like, a metric ton of it. It informs every aspect of the gameplay, and quite frankly it takes some effort to ignore it. Out of the many things that EverQuest II does right, lore is perhaps the most overlooked and yet also one of the most essential to the game's success. Let me explain.

While it's true that just about every MMORPG has lore, few (if any) titles manage to integrate it so successfully into the gameplay without making it a complete distraction or, more commonly, butchering it.

While it's true that just about every MMORPG has lore, few (if any) titles manage to integrate it so successfully into the gameplay without making it a complete distraction or, more commonly, butchering it if it's based on a pre-existing property. The only game that really holds a candle to EQII in this department is World of Warcraft, and frankly it's become so rife with annoying pop culture references and ill-advised retcons that it's hard to take it seriously. Some may argue that that's precisely the point, but I'm something of an immersion enthusiast so I'll politely disagree. Other companies have taken stabs at building an MMORPG around a beloved nerd IP (with Star Wars Galaxies, Star Trek Online, and Lord of the Rings Online currently being the most visible examples). Here's the thing about established lore in MMORPGs though: it will simply never work.

I mean really, if Turbine is the gold standard for faithfully translating an IP into an MMORPG (which seems to be a common opinion around the nerdosphere), then BP is the gold standard for crisis management. Yeah, Lord of the Rings Online is a well-made game, I'm not disputing that, but it is an absolutely horrible Tolkien game. At the risk of being labeled as one of the oft-mocked "lore lawyers" (oh the irony of nerds making fun of other nerds), LotRO gets so many basic things wrong that it would take an entire column to list them all. Casual fans don't care about this of course, and that's fair enough, but my first thought upon logging back into the world of Norrath after a long break was, in a nutshell, whew.

It was indescribably pleasing to enter a world that has such a lore surplus but is also an original IP and therefore free of the shackles that weigh down most of these games. EverQuest II is a guilty pleasure, both because of its absurdly deep and varied gameplay, but also because I'm not having to constantly excuse said gameplay or try to mold it around pre-existing conventions that are already hardwired in my head from years of reading novels or watching shows. There is, mercifully, no holy film trinity that the developers constantly bastardize in order to deliver the standard set of MMORPG conventions. There's just Norrath, and for gamers who appreciate lore and who don't like having it pulled out from under them with every new patch, that's something of a minor godsend.

And now, my new friends, I'm sure you're as tired of reading this introductory column as I am of writing it, so let's call it a day, shall we? Join me next week as I seek to avoid looking like the new kid in the lunch line on Lucan D'Lere, and attempt to get a handle on my small army of alts. Until then, keep the blue side up.

Jef Reahard may be an eternal EverQuest II newb, but he writes a weekly column about the game anyway, through the eyes of a Ratonga Wizard (or any one of 3,720 other alts). If it has to do with the huge and ever-expanding world of EQII, it's been jotted down in The Tattered Notebook. Send Ratonga fan mail to jef@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.