The role playing gaming industry is slowly undergoing an Online Revolution. Multiplayer games the likes of Baldur's Gate and it's recent companion, Tales of the Sword Coast, have shot to favour and have greatly enhanced the depth of gameplay and range of experience these games can offer. Now we see a new entrant to the playing field, a "Massively Multiplayer Perpetual World", called EverQuest. This sounded like a mass of over-hyped media to me so I had to have a look.
EverQuest is a Graphical MUD (Multi User Domain/Dungeon) in the style of earlier games like Meridian59 and some others that I may have covered in an earlier feature Playing in the MUD. It is Online ONLY, there is no single-player mode at all. All gaming action takes place in the persistent world of Norrath, which resides on the Servers at 989 Studios all over the world.
Once you login to the EverQuest server you will need to create a character for yourself. Choose from Gnome through to Human or Ogre through to Troll as your race and become one of a myriad of classes including the anti-Paladin or The Shadowknight. Your choice of profession will affect which of the 16 or so faiths you may choose, and these faiths can play a large role in the difficulty of the game. Create a Necromancer follower of "The Plaguebringer" and you may find yourself hunted by characters from all over the globe. Yours would be a life of hardship and toil, until you gain the power to smite those weaklings who clutter the face of Norrath! (Sorry, got a little carried away there.)
The game will advise you of the relative ease of playing a chosen character, and you have the chance to change your choices if you wish. A word of advice, choose characters of Low to Moderate difficulty when first starting out, Norrath can be an unforgiving land...
The world is populated by a wide range of creatures and quests, Non-Player Characters (NPCs) galore, and there is a broad landscape to explore. Areas of increasing difficulty surround each "Homeland", where you will start the game, which serve as "Training Grounds" for beginning characters. Fairly simple creatures that only retaliate if attacked populate these "Training Grounds", and the whole area is policed by Sentinels, who protect safe areas where you may rest. These sentinels will also repel other players of unfriendly faiths, and can be hidden behind when threatened by larger beasts - if you are quick enough.
The command interface for the game is complex, but quite functional. You'll find yourself clicking on a large number of command buttons, and doing quite a bit of typing to converse with other players and some NPCs. You can assign your own "hot-keys" and place them conveniently on-screen for quick access, which aids the learning process immensely. Trade plays a large part in Norrath, and you'll continually need to gather spell components for wizards, materials for seamstresses and other odds and sods to build up your store of money to buy that magical armour you need.
Of course, you'll also need to kill quite a few creatures in mini-quests to gain treasured experience points and raise levels. Combat consists of clicking on a target and selecting your mode of attack, be it Melee, Ranged or Magick, or even some combination of the three. Your character will follow your combat orders until the target is de-selected or killed. Be warned, escape is not an option as the creatures can run at least as fast as you can, and can attack while running, which tends to lead to rapidly depleting health. This has to be the best reason to join up in parties with other players, not only is it safer, but you get to kill larger beasties and gain more experience. When in a party you will share in experience and loot, but if you are not formed into a party and simply attack a creature along with other adventurers, the one who kills it gets the experience and is the ONLY one permitted to loot its corpse.
There is a lot more to EverQuest than first meets the eye. Players can do a vast multitude of things and interact with an immense number of creatures. There are Web-Guides (specifically http://www.eqvault.com and http://eq.stratics.com ) available for help and some general tips and several UseNet news groups that you can ask questions on. The range of player actions is limited only by your imagination. For example, a favourite trick of mine is to summon an Elemental (commonly called "pets"), cast all range of enhancement spells on it and turn it loose on a horde of middle-to-high level creatures. For every creature it kills I receive the experience. Care must be taken though! Once a "pet" dies, its foes come looking for its master ... YOU! There is a whole world of strategy waiting to be created and discovered to effectively master this universe.
Players and beasties are not the only inhabitants of Norrath, there are demi-gods on the wander, to which you can appeal for justice if you have been unfairly done by. The main function of these "Guides" is to provide restitution for victims of game bugs and other unfair events, but they can also help resolve player disputes. Player-killing (being mugged by a fellow player) is not really an issue, as I'll discuss later, but it is still possible for one player to harass another and make life less-than-pleasant. The manufacturers have enacted some fairly strict rules about player harassment, or any action that decreases the enjoyment of other players, and these edicts are strongly enforced. The Guides keep a close eye on this sort of activity and you may appeal for their justice at any time.
EverQuest supports most 3D accelerated graphics cards through DirectX (I wouldn't usually consider this a plus, as it tends to direct a game more towards action and effects as opposed to plot) which allows for some excellent graphical effects. EverQuest does require quite a beast of a machine to function perfectly, so those of us with a more limited budget may find it slow-going at times. The sound-effects are fairly normal, and there is very little speech. The spell effects are excellent, and each player is depicted as they should be, wearing the right armour and carrying the right weapon, even objects like lanterns are shown. Each Player's name is suspended over their head in either Blue (nice player) or Red (Player-Killer), purely so you can discern who is who. You may play the game from a range of viewpoints, 1st person, 3rd person and a kind of "roaming-camera" view. Each mode has its advantages and disadvantages, for example it's hard to aim in 3rd person, but easy to see what dangers approach, while it's easy to aim in 1st person, but you loose your peripheral vision.
The crowning glory of EverQuest is, of course, its vast Multiplayer scale. People from around the globe will congregate in this game and you can find yourself forming alliances with the strangest of characters. The whole game is designed to encourage group play and communication, you will find it impossible to complete all but the simplest of quests on your own. This isn't to say that playing on your own is not enjoyable, you can live your own life and make a name for yourself all by yourself, but the full depth of the game will not be exposed until you begin playing in a group. Any group you join will be very dynamic as people are required to jump back out to the Real World to live their real lives. It's very easy to become attached to your in-game character and I find myself rushing back for more whenever I can.
As I mentioned earlier, EverQuest is a wholly Online game, which adds some new facets to the game which must be taken into consideration, I'll summarise briefly for those who have not yet "Played in the MUD".
Lag is the unfortunate factor of working on the Internet, you may have a fantastic network link one day and a flaky one the next. Some days you find you can browse the web like sliding over smooth silk, and other times your online journey is more like an unpaved road. The same applies to an online game, what can be worse than casting that fatal spell at your opponent only to have the network speed drop to the point where not only does your spell miss, but the enemy gets six free hits at you while you stand there dumbly? Needless to say, this usually spells the end for less hardy characters. EverQuest overcomes this problem by taking control of your character once you vanish from the network. Your character will continue to actively defend themselves, without your direct control, for up to 30 seconds after you vanish. After 30 seconds your character will "camp", saving its location and status, and vanishing from the game world. This is to combat people simply "pulling the plug" when faced with tough odds, characters should be treated like real people - you can't just vanish in the middle of a fight when it gets too tough.
This has to be my pet hate. High level characters or gangs of lower level characters often wander the worlds of Mud's and kill new players, or even older players and steal their belongings. This is NOT fun! Almost every MUD I have played has suffered from this and, for me, it just detracts from the enjoyment of the game to the point where I refuse to play.
EverQuest, thankfully, does not suffer from this. It is not possible to kill another player except in certain very well controlled circumstances. New characters are automatically "non-player-killers" when generated, it's simply not possible to harm another player. You can challenge another player to a duel, in a specifically built Arena, but even then you cannot loot their corpse. You may change your character from a safe player to a player killer by talking to a Priest of Discord, and even then you may only attack other player-killers, not just normal characters - you may also loot their corpses. There is also the possibility of fighting a character of directly opposing faith, but you may not loot their corpse. This does happen, but not frequently. I was actually recently attacked by a NPC follower of "The Plaguebringer", who was offended by my "faithless devotion to The Tranquil". He killed me, but I was able to avoid him in subsequent meetings and regain my possessions from my corpse. Death is transitory in EverQuest, when you die you will loose a little experience and awaken back at the starting point for the area you are in. You must then rush back to your corpse to regain your equipment. While your corpse exists, only you can loot it (or a friend you give express permission to), but after some time it will vanish and all your belongings will lie on the ground, where they can become anybody's. Your corpse will last for longer the higher level you are, so your hard-won possessions will be solely yours for a bit longer as you progress.
Obviously, for a fully online game, you need a bit more than a simple computer. You will need a modem and an Internet connection through the ISP of your choice. You will also need to pay a subscription fee to 989 Studios to remain registered on the EverQuest servers. This is in addition to the price you pay for the game itself. Obviously this is not a game for the destitute, nor for those without Credit Cards as the only subscription method I saw entailed Credit Card payment - a shame as younger players may be excluded.
EverQuest strikes me as a great idea well executed. I found myself irrevocably attached to my character and, once I gained enough power, thoroughly enjoyed helping others advance themselves. Team-play and Player-Interaction is the absolute key to enjoyment in this game. The number of times I would have been lost had a fellow adventurer not come to my aid runs too high to count. For those who have always wanted a CRPG with more depth and play-length than ever before, and are eager to foray into almost unfathomed depths, EverQuest is an experience not to let slip by.
One final warning, prepare to lose touch with your real-life entirely, your dog, your garden, your partner (buy them a copy as well!) and you'll probably never notice that strange smell emanating from the fridge until it's too late.
Copyright © Adrian Carmody 1999.
All rights reserved.
Required Specs: Windows© 98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium© II 400Mhz or greater, 256 MB RAM, 16 MB Direct3D compliant video card, DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card, 28.8k (or faster) Internet connection, 4X speed CD-ROM, 570 MB+ hard drive space
Note: Although technically below the minimum specs, players with 128 MB of RAM will still be able to run Luclin by turning off the new character models.
Recommended Specs: Windows© 98/2000/ME/XP. Pentium© III or greater, 512 MB RAM, 32 MB Direct3D compliant video card and hardware T&L (i.e. ATI Radeon or Nvidia GeForce 2 or greater) DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card, 56.6k (or faster) Internet connection, 16X speed CD-ROM, 1.5 GB+ hard drive space
Note: DirectX 8.1 or greater is required for Windows 98 ,XP, ME, and 2k.