I remember arriving at the Queen's Outpost as a meager adventurer clothed in nothing but rags. I still remember launch night and seeing Norrath through a new lens. The music was fantastic, the graphics were so much better than EverQuest's, and several times I stopped to admire the shattered moon overhead. But by the time I had finished my fourth quest, my bags were overfull and I was fighting with something called an overflow slot. That became the symbol to me of EverQuest II's early days -- nice on the surface, but some major issues deep within.
There were times early on when EQII felt a bit like Wacky Wednesday. The Overlord Lucan sounded like Saruman, and Antonia Bayle sounded like Roller Girl. Hostile fish would chase people right up on land. Groups suffered through shared death penalties. Tradeskill tables and treasure chests killed people. Typing /pizza in game brought you a real pizza. There was no mail system, so the only way for players to trade between Freeport and Qeynos was to use "The Fence." And then there was the mystery of the missing Froglok quest. Since the quest was advertised as being part of the game at launch, players wasted time on a fruitless task of trying to find the quest starter, only to find out months later that it was not actually in the game at all.
Despite its clunkiness, EQII did offer many memorable experiences. Who could forget his first time seeing the giants in Thundering Steppes, meeting Holly Windstalker in Antonica, or crawling to the bottom of Solusek's Eye to visit Naggy? I'm still paying off the repair bills from those experiences. And then there was Billy, the brown-sack, red-button-eyed doll of Nektropos castle. He would haunt my dreams, and I hated Nek Castle because of that creepy doll. Little did I know, this would be the first of many encounters with moppets.
The following spring saw the release of two adventure packs, which were basically mini-expansions. I still remember dynamiting wall after wall of vampire-filled caves in The Bloodline Chronicles and stacking boxes and planks in the gnoll filled caves of The Splitpaw Saga. Tellingly, only one other adventure pack would be released: the Asian-themed The Fallen Dynasty. There were no stacking boxes or blowing up walls, but there was a pig race! On a side note, the release of The Fallen Dynasty coincided with a separate mini-event in which players got to punch Curt Schilling's avatar in the face for charity. Although the event is over, you can still find "Clint Gilcrush" on the Thundering Steppes docks. Don't ask him about Copernicus, though.
Along with the new content of the adventure packs, players saw a large number of major improvements to the core of the game. The overly complicated heroic opportunity system was revamped, players no longer needed to crawl through a lengthy archetype tree in order to choose their preferred classes, and the groundbreaking mentoring system was put into the game. This allowed a player to change his level to that of a lower-level groupmate, which offered a lot of flexibility when grouping and leveling with friends.
EverQuest II also revealed its first live event that year: the arrival of a mysterious plague. It was airborne, which led to a fast spread among players and NPCs alike. Luckily, the symptoms were short-term and included only a sickly green face, a nasty cough, and a cloud of noxious bubbles floating around one's head. Overall, the plague turned out to be much less dangerous than the one that spread through Azeroth later that year. During the event, I decided to camp an alt that carried the plague, gleefully envisioning the day years later when I could log her in and trigger a brand-new outbreak. So beware, Norrathians!
When Desert of Flames was launched the following fall, my first impression was, "Oh great, the expansion that makes us climb things." But I ended up really enjoying this expansion, if for no other reason than the presence of Terrorantula, the 50-foot spider that roamed the Sinking Sands. While the main story quest line from the Peacock Club was frustrating at times, the payoff was being able to see one of my favorite raid zones, the visually stunning "Fountain of Life," home of the Godking Anuk. I still avoid stepping in puddles of water because of that zone, for fear of summoning a tsunami of skeletons. Unfortunately, the creepy moppet also reappeared in Poet's Palace, this time even larger than before.
As much as I loved the charm of the fire-breathing entertainers and flying carpets of Maj Dul, they paled in comparison to the dragon-filled dungeons of Kingdom of Sky. Sothis, Tarinax, Venekor, Harla Dar -- they were all there. But Lord Vyemm was probably the most memorable, and to this day players pull their hair out trying to figure out how to split him from his droag pal, Alzid.
Visiting the dragons' burial site in Deathtoll was pretty exciting, but I'll never forget completing the quest for my class hat and walking up and down the giant chain that anchored the islands in Barren Sky. Not once did I ever fall off or curse at my screen or throw my mouse across the room in frustration. Ever.
If there's one thing I remember about EQII's next expansion, Echoes of Faydwer, it's that this was finally the time when the game had righted itself and had begun to embrace the lore and the nostalgia of its predecessor, EverQuest. Kelethin was back, and so were the long plunges to your death if you didn't have wings. Many of the zones and bosses were ones that EQ players would recognize. Butcherblock, Steamfont, L Fay, Klakanon, Meldrath, Dvinn, and Mayong were all included in this expansion. The Fae and Arasai races also were unveiled, and to this day I can't pass by one of them without having the urge to pluck his wings. A small but notable addition was the introduction of fireplaces for player housing. Finally, having a fireplace in my home didn't require hours and hours of carefully stacking tables, candles, Oggok stones, and other miscellaneous items. More importantly, it showed that EQII finally could focus more on quality-of-life features and less on the bare-bones revamps that were desperately needed in the first few years of the game's life.
Rise of Kunark continued to ride the nostalgia train, and of all the expansions, this seemed to be the favorite with players. Sarnaks were back, along with Karnor's Castle, Chardok, Sebilis, and Howling Stones. Pawbuster returned, and this time the only way to kill him was to force him to fall through a grate in the floor and be shredded by fan-blades, to the delight of former EQ monks everywhere. Easily the most hated mob from Kunark was Venril Sathir, and anyone who fought him had to endure one of the most frustratingly scripty encounters in an MMO. And yet again, the moppet showed up, only this time it was an army of creepy Billy dolls as part of a special instance in the Kunark quest timeline.
Kunark also saw the launch of guild halls, which was the culmination of a lengthy process to make EQII one of the most guild-friendly games available. Epic weapons were also introduced with Kunark, although thankfully, they didn't require a 70-hour camp of Zordak. Just as in EQ, I'll always remember Kunark as the Golden Age of EverQuest II.
The next two expansions of EQII continued to build upon the success of Kunark. The Shadow Odyssey focused on the good old-fashioned dungeon group and included nostalgic instances like Befallen, Lower Guk, and Kurn's Tower. As another feature that spoke to the quality of life players enjoyed in EQII, the appearance-slot system was added to the game, so that players could truly customize their looks and not lose out on stats from hard-won gear. Finally, I was able to raid with a pillow and a wrench and not draw the ire of my guildmates.
Sentinel's Fate saw a return of Odus, but the real news was the shift towards a free-to-play model. While the new model was a bit of a surprise at the time, it was just another step in the process of monetizing EQII, first with the introduction of the Exchange servers and then with the launch of the Marketplace. The recent introduction of arrows to the live-server Marketplace caused players to wonder whether this was just the tip of the iceberg, and Feldon from EQ2Wire commented that EQII should just rip off the bandage and be done with it. While the arrows have since been removed from the Marketplace, the question lingers.
However, one thing that stands out from these six years is that EverQuest II has come a long way, both in its how much it's improved its core gameplay and how it's come to embrace the nostalgia of the elder EverQuest. There is so much content, it's almost impossible to complete it all while leveling. But thanks to automentoring, players can level-down and revisit anything they missed. There is so much depth to tradeskilling that many players focus their gameplay exclusively around the art of making stuff. Houses now include a vast array of items that let you really show off who you are and what you've accomplished. And there's a terrific community of players, many of whom have been around since launch. Last summer at Fan Faire, I got to meet many of them, and enjoyed seeing every single one of them except for one.