I rolled a Human Druid on the new EverQuest Coirnav progression server Friday. Wilhelm (and many web pages) said I should roll a Necromancer if I wanted to solo, but then I read about Druids on Keen’s page and it sounded more interesting to me.
I entered the game. I was first assaulted by that wonderful UI that’s clearly made for someone who has played EverQuest for nineteen years straight, and not someone who has, for all intents and purposes, never seen the game before. Much like my memory of the game from 1999, the UI covered about half of my view.
But this time it was because I chose to play in the ancient resolution of 1280×720, because my testing showed that it would be impossible to read anything on the screen at a higher resolution, and I really needed to be able to read things. One of the joys of playing older games is experiencing their lack of foresight in designing for future, higher resolutions, most often seen in non-scaling, non-anti-aliased bitmap fonts. (In this case I also got to see a game client that borked my whole Windows desktop every time I played, necessitating a reboot after every session-probably because of playing in a different resolution. Does this client even use DirectX or is it still using Windows 3.1 GDI calls?)
I arrived in Norrath in a place called Surefall Glade standing in front of a white-haired woman named Te’Anara. She said I should read a note in my inventory. I actually learned that much later, after I went scrolling through the two chat windows at the bottom of the screen. EverQuest, if you didn’t know, could almost be described as more of an IRC client than a game. One of the chat windows is called “Main Chat” and the other is called, well, “Other Chat.” Te’Anara said some things in the “Main Chat” window and some things in the “Other Chat” window, and because of the busy first day of the server, a lot of text scrolled by.
I don’t know why there are two chat windows in EverQuest, or why they both take up about one quarter of the screen. Te’Anara said a lot of things to a lot of other druids in the “Main Chat” window. Thankfully there is no voice acting in EverQuest, otherwise it would have been a constant babble of voices talking over each other. Or, the same voice saying the same thing over and over again to many different people. Everything that the NPCs say is said to everyone, not just you. Being a complete novice, I was trying to actually read what was said in these chat windows, but the text kept scrolling away as other people talked to Te’Anara. It was very hard to tell what she was saying to me and what she was saying to everyone else. (Some time later, I discovered she had actually not said anything to me in Main Chat.)
Incidentally, the player chat was disabled or broken or something when I first played on Friday. It was back on Saturday. I can’t say that I missed it.
Anyway, I spent a great deal of time standing there in that first room with Te’Anara, staring at the screen, trying to figure out where to even begin clicking. You can right-click to rotate the camera, so that was one tiny piece of familiarity I could cling to. You can also left-click, but only when you have zoomed out to a third-person view. The game defaults to a first-person view, and returns you there every time you log in. Later it dawned on me that was probably because in the third-person view, any time you try to click anywhere with the left button, you almost always accidentally select yourself.
(You can disable that, but there are times when you want to click on yourself, such as when casting a healing spell. You can also use F1, which explains why every game since EverQuest defaults to binding F1 to select yourself even though I’ve never needed to use that in twenty-some years of playing.)
Eventually I figured out how to read the note in my inventory. Pressing “i” opens the inventory in EverQuest, another small piece of familiarity. However, the “inventory” page is actually more of your character’s “paper doll” containing all of your stats and character equipment. How is this an inventory? Well, because the inventory is so tiny that they can just stick it down in the bottom right corner of the paper doll. I had eight inventory slots. Eight!
It doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to expand that inventory anytime soon, considering that it would require a UI redesign. I had a backpack in my inventory, though, so I assume you can get more storage space with bigger backpacks. Pretty old school. Not unlike other games I remember from the time (eg. Ultima Online, I think). Still, the nesting doll inventory system of sacks within backpacks is one of those game systems that should definitely remain in the past.
Here’s what the tattered note says:
There’s no indication of where this note came from. There’s no indication of where I came from. My character, that is. I guess I just appeared, fully formed, in front of Te’Anara’s crotch, with a note.
The note says Te’Anara will “guide” me on my journey. It turns out that’s actually a bit of an overstatement. She never told me anything about my journey, where it was meant to begin or end, what my goal was, or anything. The only thing she really told me was not to kill the bears, and not to litter. When I played a few days on the Vox server several years back, I definitely recall a tutorial of sorts that walked me through what to actually do after you enter the game, besides stand around and stare at the walls, watching the chat scroll by. That tutorial went through a number of arcane steps that I probably never would have figured out on my own, like hailing and finding and considering and God knows what else. I could not find any such tutorial here on Coirnav. I had to try to dig that information out of my memory. (It turns out the tutorial is a feature you access on the character creation screen, and it did not exist on Coirnav.)
I should note that there is an extensive Help document in the game. However, it’s not the kind of Help that will actually help you in any way. It’s more of a technical reference to describe what each menu and button does.
Eventually, after I’d been in the game wandering around, experimenting for more than an hour, across multiple play sessions, and also reviewing video replays of said play sessions, I finally worked out a) that I had a note in my inventory b) that I was supposed to give the note to Te’Anara, and c) how to actually accomplish the technical feat of giving a note to an NPC in EverQuest (drag it from your inventory to the NPC). When I gave her the note, triumphant music played and Te’Anara gave me a new shirt, some reputation, and some experience (it didn’t tell me how much experience, but it sure wasn’t much). The shirt didn’t change my appearance at all.
To be honest, that’s been my biggest accomplishment in EverQuest so far, and the only “quest” I completed.
I also managed to “hail” both Te’Anara and some other guy named Gerael Woodone. (I actually did this before I gave the note to Te’Anara, but I think it was supposed to have been done after.) They both gave me tasks to deliver a flask of nitrates to someone. Te’Anara said I should take the flask clear over to a different continent.
Gerael Woodone said I should take another flask to someone named Linaya Sowlin, whose farm was “alongside the road to Highpass Hold,” in the “western plains of Karana.” That was at least on the same continent, so it seemed slightly more, well, possible. Both quests utilized the same flask of nitrates, and the game wouldn’t give me two such flasks, so I guess I’m supposed to pick who to deliver it to? (Neither of these quests appeared in game’s quest log, by the way.)
Anyway, being a modern MMORPG player not yet attuned to the ways of EverQuest, I assumed that following quests would be the most efficient, and interesting, way to progress. Ha! Trying to find Linaya Sowlin led to a very long journey that turned out to be a complete waste my time. I still haven’t found her. (It should go without saying that modern conveniences such as handy map markers to point you in the right direction do not exist in EverQuest.) I ran all the way through Qeynos Hills, West Karana, North Karana, and into East Karana. That was where it started to become apparent that I probably wasn’t supposed to go that far east and I turned back. I didn’t find anyone “by the road.” I looked her up in a wiki, and it only said that she is in the West Karana zone (even EverQuest wikis don’t know specifically where people are). I ran all around that (mostly empty) zone, looking in every building I came across, and could not find her. That whole process took about two hours, and several different play sessions. Eventually I ran all the way back to my starting point in Surefall Glade to try to regroup.
During all of those adventures I managed to kill one gnoll pup and one skeleton in Qeynos Hills. I tried to attack a rat, which was “yellow” (meaning it was “quite a gamble”) but it was tougher than me so I had to run to a guard to rescue me. (During that fight, I’m pretty sure I accidentally healed the rat, too.) Almost every mob I encountered on my travels around Karana was yellow or red. Most mobs ignored me, but I gave some of them a wide berth-a hill giant somewhere in North Karana, and various bandits and brigands scattered around.
After four hours of play, over the first two days of the the server’s lifetime, I made it about 9% of the way to level two. Meanwhile, I saw other people in the chat looking for level 14-16 groups. I saw one person looking for a 25+ healer. So I’m a little bit behind.
So far I’m, um, not having much fun. I seriously doubt that I’ll play much more. I mean, I fully expected a punishingly old school game where nothing is done for me. But I expected there to be some little nugget of a game in there. Some tiny piece of a story to hold on to. But it’s a lot more of a sandbox than I expected. It’s pretty much 100% setting and 0% plot. There’s no questing at the beginning of EverQuest at all. At least no questing of the kind that gives you experience points so you don’t have to run around killing mobs all day. At the very beginning, EverQuest looks a lot like an Early Access prototype. It looks like a game engine with a few bits of demo content. (I imagine that’s exactly what it was in 1999.)
I also learned that sound design is a big factor in my becoming engrossed in a game, because EverQuest does not make much noise when you play it, and it was very noticeable to me. There are some footstep-like sounds when you walk around (that do not sync at all with your character animation), and an “environment” effect that sounds a bit like a synth-generated whooshing wind noise (it is off by default, and I can see why). Other than that, the only sound is an occasional lonely minute of background music that appears and disappears, or some very 8-bit-ish combat sounds if you happen to find something you can kill. (There is also some bombastic combat music if you enable it.)
On the plus side, I found some NPCs that had some fun things to say, but that took up maybe five or ten minutes total out of my four hours of game time. It really wasn’t worth the effort.
I know, I know, it’s pointless to complain about EverQuest now-the game is what it is. Maybe some of these issues were fixed in later expansions.
So what did I learn from this experiment?
I learned that EverQuest is a game you play when there is no other choice. That’s probably why it excelled in 1999. Back then, the only other choice for an MMORPG would have been Ultima Online, and that was 2D and riddled with bugs and cheaters and PKs. Asheron’s Call unfortunately released about six months after EverQuest, which gave EverQuest the benefit of being first to the market. After seeing firsthand how much work is involved in learning to play EverQuest, I can see why nobody would want to switch after investing time into it.
I myself never played EverQuest until after I played Asheron’s Call, so it was not much of a contest for me. Asheron’s Call had a much more minimal UI and a more immersive 3D view, to my eye at the time, and little reliance on the chat. Looking at EverQuest after looking at Asheron’s Call was like returning to the stone age. Not to mention that I had already invested in learning how to play Asheron’s Call and didn’t want to change. :)
With this experiment, I tried to see if it would be possible to find any of the magic that I keep hearing people say they had in EverQuest. What I learned is that, no, it’s completely gone. EverQuest is like Woodstock. It’s more of a cultural event-a time and place in history-than a game. If you missed it, you’re probably never going to understand what it was like.