Gamers have enjoyed more than a decade of fantasy MMOGs with the original Everquest (Mar 1999) paving the way for numerous games to come (not forgetting about Meridian 59 and Ultima Online). Since then we have seen numerous first/third person fantasy MMOGs:
- Asheron’s Call (Nov 1999)
- Dark Ages of Camelot (Oct 2001)
- Asheron’s Call 2 (Nov 2002)
- Shadowbane (Mar 2003)
- Lineage 2 (Apr 2004)
- Everquest 2 (Nov 2004)
- World of Warcraft (Nov 2004)
- Vanguard (Jan 2007)
- Lord of the Rings Online (Apr 2007)
- Age of Conan (May 2008)
- Warhammer Online (Sep 2008)
- Aion (Sep 2009)
- Rift (Mar 2011)
- Guild Wars 2 (Aug 2012)
- Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (Aug 2013)
I have played all of these games, most of them to the max level, and in most cases with multiple characters and classes. But there’s only one I continue returning to: Everquest 2. First, let’s dive a little bit more into the history of MMOG releases over the past decade.
2004 was the year we saw 3 of the largest releases. First was Lineage 2 in April, 2004, then Everquest 2 in the beginning of November, and World of Warcraft toward the end of November. While it’s common knowledge that World of Warcraft is hands down the most successful MMO in history by far (topping out at a total global subscriber count of 12 million), Aion topped out in second place at 4 million in the middle of 2009, and Lineage 2 at 2 million in 2006. No other fantasy MMOGs (not counting 3rd person isometric games like Runescape) has secured more than 1 million subscribers (it is currently unknown if Guild Wars 2 or FFXIV have more than 1 million active players), and of those games that we know have surpassed over a million subscribers, all have been in decline over the past few years.
Sadly, Asheron’s Call 1 & 2, Shadowbane and Warhammer Online are dead games and no longer with us.
With all the games I have played, there is one I continue to return to and always enjoy: Everquest 2. And after playing MMOGs for nearly 15 years, I believe it is currently the King of the fantasy-based MMOs. First, WoW is a fantastic game, but it’s finally bleeding players, going from 12 Million subscribers to ~7 million in roughly 3 years. Lord of the Rings online is still up and running, as is Rift, and the more recent games like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV are going strong; but have nowhere near the numbers that WoW has.
One key reason the fantasy MMO industry is finally losing players (overall) is because there are no true next generation MMOs. Everquest 2 is in the same league as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and even the new Final Fantasy MMO (which is a great game, but locks players into raiding at max level like all the others), but none of these other games are so evolved they’ve revolutionized the overall experience. This results in an overload of similar content presented through different layers of graphics, lore, classes, creatures and underlying support systems (such as crafting and raiding). Don’t get me wrong, many of the games have “unique perk features” (e.g. GW2 allows you to dodge attacks), but these perk features don’t qualify as bringing MMOGs to the next level of gaming experience.
That is why a game like EQ2 trumps the competition when it comes to overall content, playability and breadth in features and functionality; and in some cases far beyond the other games. I’m going to jump into more detail as to why this is the case.
Features that make Everquest 2 King of the MMOGs
Mercenaries are probably the biggest feature enhancement to the game that affects every aspect of gameplay. While a player needs to purchase the feature for 1,500 SC if they don’t get it through an expansion purchase, it’s worth every penny. Before mercenaries (which are available in many different classes, complete with class spells and abilities), a player had to group with other people to survive much of the content throughout the game, but now with the ability to hire a Mercenary (which is like having another player with you), a single character can solo most of the dungeons and heroic areas/monsters of the game. This opens all players who use a mercenary up to the majority of the content without having to look for a group and rely on others to play.
The Alternate Advancement system is another key feature of EQ2, allowing the player to decide what percentage (up to 100%) of their experience they want to go to this secondary point system, which opens new skills. No other fantasy MMO on the market has such an in-depth alternate leveling system. While it once overwhelmed new players, the game now automatically builds it out for those who don’t want to manually control it, defaulting to “Basic Leveling Profile”. The AA system now allows players to create custom build-outs and switch between them.
The ability to use mounts from the start makes a huge difference. This allows players to move through the content at a pace that works with their play style. Also, EQ2 was the first to allow for Mounted Combat.
One thing I really like about EQ2 is the fact monsters will yell and communicate, and in order to understand them, you must learn the Language they speak.
EQ2 has a unique balance of presentation for its Quests. The method of acquiring and turning in quests has been designed so a power gamer can quickly and blindly click through things to move on through the next step while a player who is heavy into storyline and lore can interact and engage with the NPC. The rewards are also well designed and refined; much more than most fantasy MMOs.
Collections are another unique feature of EQ2, allowing players to explore the world, pick up shiny things and turn them in for numerous rewards such as items, titles, and other sought after items. A player can even level up a new character solely by turning in collections. The game also has Lore and Legend quests, allowing a player to research different types of monsters (e.g. vampires, bugbears) by gathering their body parts. Once all parts are gathered, the player gets a trophy they can put in their house and gains access to a “Master’s Strike” spell (which does a large amount of damage) against that type of creature.
Another one of my favorite things about EQ2 is Puking Monsters. Hit them with disease and watch their skin crawl with green boils and ooze while they stagger and vomit. It’s fantastic!
EQ2 is hands down the best at providing rewards of any fantasy MMO, and this includes one key word. Chests. When they drop, it’s a thing of magic. The bigger the chest, the more valuable the contents. There’s nothing like farming and suddenly a large ornate chest drops, and you know something of serious value is inside. This brings us to Rewards. There’s so much loot and content in EQ2 you’re always finding cool items you can use, transmute, collect or sell. Even as a low level character, you can find rare drops that are very valuable.
Another unique feature of EQ2 is the ability for players to enhance their Spell Power. By default, when a player levels, they auto-learn new spells from their class, but only the apprentice level of the spell. There are six levels available: Apprentice, Journeyman, Adept, Expert, Master and Grandmaster. Raising the level of a skill makes a monumental difference (Master is often 2x as effective as apprentice). Spell power can be raised to Master by using books, or by researching a spell upgrade (which takes time). Grandmaster can only be achieved through class training every 10 levels (which is done through the AA interface). Creating, finding, buying and selling spell books is a key part of the economy.
By bringing players together, sharing their accomplishments and keeping them connected better than any other MMO, EQ2 has the best Guild system on the market. With automatic notifications regarding achievements, level gains, and finding valuable items, it also has built in Voice Chat which works great. It amazes me to this day no other fantasy MMO has learned from what EQ2 has done with guilds.
In addition to holding the heavyweight title for best Guild system, EQ2 also dominates in the area of Housing and Guild Halls. No other game comes remotely close. The sheer volume and diversity of items you can place in a house or guild hall is staggering, and the house exploration system in EQ2 serves as the foundation for their upcoming Everquest Next Landmark product. In addition to wandering creatures, plushies, weapons, and the heads of your dead slain enemies, players can even put transport hubs, crafting workstations, merchants and storage in their home and/or a guild hall, allowing these structures to serve as operational centers. In EQ2, you can go home, each and every day. No other fantasy MMO has accomplished such a great implementation of this system. SoE really is the leader in building and customization of player spaces. This is emphasized even further with Player-made dungeons, which are yet another unique, very cool and easily accessible feature of the game that adds even more content, this time for players to fight through. Some players have even gone as far as using custom made private dungeons as storage spaces for their housing items (you can store up to 2,000 items in a player-made dungeon).
I believe EQ2 has the oldest average age of gamers of any fantasy MMO estimated at ~45 years. The result is a more Mature Community, better public chat, helpful feedback, and more loyalty to both the game and other players. I’ve witnessed more players in EQ2 going out of their way to help and work with other players than any other MMO.
Mentoring plays a key part in EQ2, allowing players to join any character of a lesser level and fight at their side at their level. This (for example) allows an experienced level 95 character to jump into a starter zone and help his friend level up his new character. Level shifting is another key feature, which allows a character to change level (through a Chronomage) in 5 level increments. This allows a character to “go back” and farm certain items, or complete certain quests at a lower level. EQ2 was the first fantasy MMOG to implement a down-leveling system like this, and still does it the best.
Persistence of spells is also a big factor. When you die, you don’t have to recast all of your buffs; they stay on. This enhances the game play experience and removes the unnecessary and burdensome requirement to constantly recast your buffs after you die.
I also like the way Travel is handled in EQ2, which is a mixture of teleporting and mount riding. It’s very easy to get most anywhere in the world, especially if you have access to a Guild Hall, which acts as a base of operations for all members and can be quite busy at all hours depending on the size of the guild.
Everquest 2 Weaknesses
Some people start playing EQ2 and are immediately turned off by the Graphic Quality, and rightly so. After playing state of the art beautiful games like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, it’s very difficult (and painful) for some to take in EQ2’s graphics. What’s interesting is some of the graphics are actually very detailed, especially when it comes to mounts, armors, and monsters. It’s the world/environment that’s “ugly”, but don’t let this put you off to playing this fantastic game as the end-game zones are much more aesthetically pleasing.
Unfortunately, there are still Bugs. Voice Chat does go down quite often, and there’s currently a bad Mouse “reset” bug that a lot of people are experiencing in Windows 8.1. There are also Graphical Glitches related to shadows and water, but they have been there for years (and I don’t think will ever be fixed unless they finally give the 3D engine an overhaul).
One other issue, which links us to the “old school” days is that Area of Effect damage spells will pass through walls, allowing a player to aggro creatures from another room they can’t even see.
There’s no doubt newer and more “exciting” MMOGs exist out there and the visual beauty games like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are top notch, but the other games simply lack the depth of EQ2. There is so much to do with the monumental amount of features, content and strong community, I don’t think anyone who is willing to overlook the old graphics and give the game a shot to see what it really has to offer will be disappointed. I do recommend purchasing a Gold membership; it gives access to nearly every feature, greatly enhances the experience, and in my opinion is worth every penny.