I still do. Hate the graphics, that is. If someone was to award MMOs for Most Blandly Generic, Plasticy Models Straight from the Uncanny Valley, EverQuest II would be a shoo-in.
Yet the years wore down my mostly semantic objections to giving EverQuest II a go, and after a few false starts, I spent a few wonderful months in the game last year after it went free-to-play. While I couldn't sustain interest in this on top of all of the other titles I was playing, I'd heartily recommend EQII to anyone complaining about tapped-out content in other MMOs. EQII is the Super Walmart of MMO features and content, far eclipsing most other competitors.
Here is why I played and why you might want to, too.
Over the years, it became increasingly difficult to ignore EverQuest II. I think that it's because while World of Warcraft certainly did trounce it in the initial and subsequent head-to-head battles, EverQuest II did pretty well for itself if you cut out the comparisons to WoW. SOE used it as a springboard for 101 ideas. Some of these were silly (/pizza anyone?), some were highly lauded (housing), and some... well, the jury's still out on SOEmote. At least Dave Georgeson will have fun with it.
While Blizzard played it slow and conservative, SOE kept throwing the kitchen sink into EQII. Some of it genuinely hurt the game or watered it down with too much redundant content, some of it ended up redoing portions of the game players had long been accustomed to, and some stuck and became defining features.
By the time F2P hit, EQII had such a lengthy resume that I personally couldn't overlook it if I called myself an MMO fan. I realized that not every MMO player out there had played WoW and nothing else; plenty of long-term, die-hard EQII fans evangelized the game for years before it finally broke down my defenses and got me to sign up.
In retrospect, it's a shame that SOE didn't pioneer the subscription-to-hybrid business model charge because EQII would've been perfect for the vanguard. With the Marketplace and Station Cash already a huge mainstay of the product, F2P should've been a logical next step. Instead, EQII lagged behind the pack and was almost lost in the flurry of similar adaptations by the time it made the transition.
Free-to-play EQII made sense for my interests. I wasn't prepared to dive into EQII full-time, and thus a subscription felt like a losing proposition. F2P offered me a chance to sample EQII's wares at my own pace without feeling rushed to making a decision to re-up or not. I did spring for a few extras, including a silver membership and the Warden class, but for the most part, I stuck with the basic free package.
Right off the bat, I was both overwhelmed and delighted by the sheer volume of choices present in the game. EQII certainly subscribed to the "more numbers is better" school of MMO design and thus has an overabundance of classes, races, starting zones, and a kazillion things to do once you log into the game. It kind of felt like EQII was telling me that it was OK for me to tailor the experience I wanted instead of be thrust on a singular path the devs had determined, and that was refreshing.
After years of refinement and a merging with the industry standard (including its closest competition), EverQuest II is 90% familiar to anyone who's played an MMO. The cluttered and unattractive UI left a lot to be desired, although I've been told that there are plenty of skins and mods to fix that.
While I'm not the most outwardly social person in the world, I know that if I can't connect with a good guild in an MMO, my time there is severely limited. Fortunately, EQII had my back on this. What I found when I started the game was the first guild finder I've ever seen in an MMO.
I don't know whether the in-game guild finder was an innovation of EQII, but it positively delighted me that there was a very intuitive way of finding a compatible guild that didn't involve my digging through forums, drudging through general chat, or crossing my fingers and hoping that I'd stumble upon one. Within a day or so I found an excellent casual leveling guild that went out of its way to make me feel welcome and answer the 1,001 questions I had about the game.
I was also pleased to see that EQII got me right into player housing within the first couple of days of play. The game gives you a basic pad and a few items to experiment with, and I was instantly hooked with just how flexible this system was. Finding new items to bring back to my house was almost a bigger motivator from then on than finding new gear.
How many options again?
In the few months that I played EQII -- some of which was spent playing this and nothing but -- I never stopped feeling awed by the sheer variety of options present. This game has been growing constantly and voraciously since 2004, and while old timers probably have a handle on it all, I realized it was going to take a very long time for a newbie like yours truly to wade through until I had it all figured out.
There are so many zones to visit at any given level (although I do appreciate the so-called "golden path" that helps first-timers navigate their initial experience), scores and scores of spells and abilities that get dumped on your hotbars, lots of factions and side-goals to pursue, and so much more that I'd go way over this column's word count trying to list them all. OK, here's a few more: flying races, player-created dungeons, collections, achievements, and festivals.
While I had difficulty trying to figure out the non-intuitive spell system (there are not only different ranks of abilities but different rarities of every rank to be found or traited), and I never quite got over the graphics or animations, I certainly did find myself appreciating the game's questing system. Little touches, like how the NPCs talk or how you have to navigate a dialogue tree before heading out, were just as enjoyable here as they were in Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are a lot of really interesting quests to be found as well, such as one that had me repeatedly diving into a guy's dream world.
I've heard people say that EverQuest II deserves to be called a sandbox just as much as a theme park, and I can see that. While you can't just modify the entire world like you do in WURM, there are plenty of places for you to make your mark, and the game is incredibly flexible in allowing you to customize your own experience and goals.
It's a shame that it took me so long to get into EQII because while I ultimately didn't have the time to continue with it, I surely would have back in 2005 or so. There's a great community in this game and a wealth of things to do. We shouldn't always be looking at the future to provide us with great games; the past has overlooked titles that have matured into awesomesauce. I think EverQuest II is a prime candidate for the latter.
There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.