I did something odd over one weekend. I installed and played both Everquest and Asheron’s Call for a little while.
Everquest is free-to-play now, if you didn’t know. You can download the client and log right on in there, and there are a surprising number of people who apparently do just that. The little newbie cave must have had a dozen people in it wandering around trying to figure out how to play.
Asheron’s Call, however, is not free-to-play, so I actually gave Turbine twelve bucks for a month of subscription just so I could see it again. I downloaded the client and rolled an Aluvian soldier. Not surprisingly given the lack of free-to-play, there was nobody else in the newbie tutorial area. However, the global chat was alive with smack talk, so there were definitely people playing somewhere.
The first thing that struck me about these old games was the user interface. They were god awfully bad back then. There’s a substantial learning curve. At least in EQ you can sort of control your guy with the mouse and keyboard like you’re used to. (Mouse sensitivity is totally out of wack though so sometimes you spin out of control and sometimes you hardly turn.) Even that meager technology hasn’t reached AC yet. You can enable mouselook behavior, but if you have to use the "invert mouse" option like I do, it inverts both axes. So it’s arrow keys all the way in AC.
Both games have an introductory tutorial. That’s something that has fallen out of fashion in video games. Nowadays they disguise the tutorial as part of the game. In the old days they actually said, "Go here to do the tutorial before you start the game." (They did that because the controls were not even remotely intuitive–the industry was still figuring out how to control 3D games.) AC’s is relatively short, but EQ’s seems to be hours long.
The other big thing that’s missing from the old games is the quest log. Here I’m speaking mainly of AC, because EQ does seem to have a lot of quest-related hints tacked onto it now (including a handy "find" feature that will put a lighted path on the ground showing you where to go). I don’t know how much of it is new, though. In AC you still get nothing. One NPC says, "go talk to so-and-so near the bar at 55,66." If you don’t write down so-and-so’s name or the coordinates, you’re never going to find that guy in a million years.
The bottom line is: You people who think MMOs were better back in the day need help. :) You’re definitely suffering from some sort of delusional nostalgia effect. It was certainly fun to play MMOs back in the day, and we all had some great memories, but what we remember as good are the people and the experiences and the sense of discovering something new. The actual game itself was quite bad.
I doubt I will be playing these old games very much, especially since my old characters are long gone, but I do want to test a few things out in AC which is the one I’m more familliar with. When I first played WoW, I was struck by how small the world seemed. You could actually see the next town or quest hub over the next hill. My memory of AC is that the towns were very far apart, and it took a really long time to run between them. I’m curious to see if my memory is accurate or not. (Nowadays, I feel like WoW is huge compared to other MMOs.)