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The Tattered Notebook: What's a sandbox guy like you doing in a themepark game like this?

Jef Reahard

You'll have to forgive my enthusiasm this week, as there's just no way to be completely objective about the fact that I'm having a blast in EverQuest II. That said, this is an opinion column, so objectivity isn't exactly a requirement, but I do normally like to highlight the good and the bad whether it be Norrath, Hyboria, Atreia, or wherever else my wandering MMO eye casts its withering gaze. For the first time in a long time though, I'm thoroughly enjoying my MMORPGs.

I know right? Who'd have thunk that you could have fun playing games?

More to the point, and because I like to repeat lengthy, borderline run-on column titles, what's a sandbox guy like me doing in a themepark game like this?

Sneak past the cut to find out.

As I said last week, this isn't my first rodeo when it comes to Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II. My friends and I originally jumped into Norrath Reloaded back in 2005, round about the time another SOE product, The Trials of Obi-Wan, prompted us to express our righteous indignation by taking our business elsewhere... er, to another SOE product. Yeah, we showed 'em.

Anyhow, EQII was a fairly different game in those days; I recall some craziness about picking a subclass, crafting that was a bit more involved than it is now, and -- *ahem* -- the ability to start a character in Qeynos or Freeport. It was also a very different game from the sandbox I had just abandoned and was really my first experience with the quest-centric themepark model of MMORPGs. Despite a strong guild, I didn't last long, as the somewhat confining nature of the gameplay felt like a straitjacket after Star Wars Galaxies. Fast forward half a decade and it seems my tastes have changed, or at the very least, expanded.

Due to the dearth of good sandbox titles on the market over the last little while, I've become a bit of a themepark connoisseur, almost against my will. I won't bore you with my pining for the days of Ultima or SWG, but suffice it to say that the one-sidedness of this particular genre has finally won me over, and I've begun to enjoy the questing, dungeoneering, and character progression that many (most?) of you have been addicted to for years. My personal epiphany in this regard happened a couple of weeks ago while skulking around Freeport and powering through the Commonlands quest timeline (on a character that I'd made some years ago and thankfully left sitting on the Isle of the Overlord, inadvertently thwarting SOE's nefarious plan to deny me the classic starting experience).

So what is it about EverQuest II that's brought so much enjoyment? It's honestly hard to put my finger on it. If I had to break it down, it would be something like the diverse locales (and huge world), the deep progression options, the absurd amount of PvE content, and ratongas (not necessarily in that order). Yeah the experience is a bit more directed than your traditional sandbox, and yeah the player economy can't be manipulated in quite the same way that it can in games like EVE Online or old-school Star Wars Galaxies, but there's just so damn much content in EQII that it almost doesn't matter. While gorging on the leveling orgy that is an extended double XP weekend, I find myself tempted to turn off the experience and just run around exploring, doing quests, and collecting those wonderfully addicting Legend-and-Lore dings, as it almost feels like I'm progressing too fast to see all of the story and quest content.

Also, let's not forget the fun to be had via the betrayal quest lines. As much as my ratonga wizard loves Freeport and its particular brand of cheese, he's got a nasty collection of bruises courtesy of those mean old city guards that are always kicking at him as he scurries by on his various quest-related errands. At some point last week, he decided enough was enough, and he's now living the life of an exile, hoping against hope that some kind soul in the fair city of Qeynos will take pity on a poor, bedraggled, half-blind rodent and grant him citizenship (and a ratonga-hole of his very own, free from the gloom, doom, and drearily over-the-top musical stylings of the Overlord).

Speaking of ratonga-holes, EQII's housing is another feature that makes a jaded old game journalist smile. Frankly, the options there are a full column unto themselves, so I'll summarize by saying they kick ass. A lot of it. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a sandbox game that's done housing better than EQII in terms of the sheer number of customization options.

So, despite many years of playing just about every North American subscription-based MMORPG on the market (and more than a few free-to-play titles as well, yuck), it is apparently EQII that has finally converted me to the ways of the dark si.... er, themepark. That's not to say that the other games all suck (Crom knows I love me some Age of Conan); clearly each of them does certain things well. In terms of play options and breadth of content though, the only current-gen game in EQII's league is World of Warcraft. For me, the choice between those two titans boils down to aesthetics: I can't abide WoW's overly whimsical art direction for more than a few weeks at a time. The ginormous weapons and Cartoon Network vistas pale in comparison to the sights on display throughout Norrath.

So anyway, here ends my second stab at The Tattered Notebook. If, like me, you're enjoying your time in EQII, I hope you'll stick around for future columns, as I'll be getting into the nitty-gritty of everything from game mechanics, to impression pieces, to roleplay, and maybe even a guide or two (if there's actually any gameplay stone left unturned after six years). Until next week, keep the blue side up, and don't kick my poor ratonga. Level 90 wizards have long memories and short tempers.

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

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