EverQuest

a game by Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 4 reviews, 5 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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See also: EverQuest

Game That Changed The World

It's Rare to find two games in the same genre that have had such an equal and lasting impact on all the titles that followed them. But in the world of online RPGs, we find such a pairing. Ultima Online set a benchmark for online RPGs. with its incredible attention to detail, finely-tuned gameplay, open-ended character development and freedom to do whatever you wanted to do during your time in the game. It was a tough act to follow to be sure, but its success made it somewhat inevitable that other publishers would follow Origin's lead and attempt to expand on the precedent that had been set. Which brings us to the main event.

A company called Verant had its own vision of what an online world could and should be like, and while the company's designers were given a very convincing and proven template to work from in the form of Ultima Online, they largely ignored it and instead ploughed their own, distinctive furrow. They created their own world in the shape of Norrath, with its rich and impressive cities and varied landscapes. They used the standard elves, ogres, trolls and wizards template, with melee and magic classes, which didn't sway from the well-beaten fantasy path. But they also did the one thing that Origin could never do with the technology available when it made Ultima Online -they made their world-famous time-eater EverQuest, feel real'.

Verant's decision to use 3D technology in EverQuest right from the beginning was the deciding factor in their battle against Origin for supremacy in a market that was still very much in its infancy. Ultima Online had extraordinary depth, but this was relatively easy to accomplish with a 2D graphics engine.

You're In Our World Now

Easy, that is, if you have a talent like Richard Lord British' Garriott (creator of the highly successful Ultima single-player RPGs) behind the whole operation. There was little point in trying to take Garriott on at his own game, a fact that was not lost on Bill Trost, one of the original EverQuest designers: We knew about Ultima Online, and we knew the general direction they were taking. We really set out to make our own game, a game we wanted to play, and hoped we would achieve a fraction of UO's success.

EverQuest, which may have seemed shallow at first when compared to Garriott's complex creation, immediately grabbed hold of gamers with its totally immersive and atmospheric 3D landscapes. And four years later, it still has not let go. At a time when 3D technology was still a largely untapped resource, Verant used it to create a world unlike anything ever seen before on PC. There were many key decisions in the development of EverQuest, says Bill. Making it a game that would run only on 3D accelerated platforms sure was a big one. But it paid off in spades."

It would be easy to attribute EQ's success to simple aesthetics and leave it at that, but in truth there were many factors that played a part in EQ slowly gaining a vice-like grip on the online gaming community. Not least of these was the variety of the in-game environments. There were several starter towns for different races and classes, which served to introduce players to the game. And any EQ veteran will be happy to convey to you the sheer sense of wonder and awe they experienced when travelling from Kelethin (the wood elf tree city) right across the land to Qeynos (human city) for the very first time. Upon arrival at one from the other, it was almost like you were suddenly playing a different game, so distinct was the culture and artwork in the city of Qeynos to its counterpart in Kelethin, or indeed the high elf city in Felwithe. The same applied with Neriak. the city of dark elves, again a different proposition altogether. And so runs the theme throughout the entire world of Norrath. Each continent has many wildly varying realms, rich with cities and NPCs, and if you are going to pick out a single reason why EQ is so far ahead of the competition, then this one is as good as any.

There is so much to see and do in the game that it's almost impossible to get bored, and starting a new character in a new city adds massive replay value because they don't just give you a new character class to play with, they give you a whole new world. But for all EverQuest's visual innovations at launch, it also followed the highly controversial precedent set by Ultima Online by releasing its initial code in something of a mess. Bill remembers the log-on nightmares well.

The launch was rocky, but mostly due to our unexpectedly huge popularity. So it was a good problem to have. We actually gave initial subscribers a few extra weeks of play for free while our bandwidth problems were resolved."

Despite a less than satisfactory launch, however, EQ rapidly gained momentum and its instant popularity surprised everyone, including the team. Bill continues: We thought it would be a good game and that people would like it, but we were coming into a new market with a new fantasy world, so our expectations were taking that into account. Luckily for us, we made a lot of good decisions within the design of the game and the design of Norrath. Now it's four years later and Norrath is bigger and more popular than ever."

Altogether Now

One of the most important design decisions the original creators made has stayed with us to this day, and remains highly controversial and the subject of much discussion in online gaming circles. The dilemma: should they give the game world to the players and let them discover it and fight the creatures of Norrath alone if they so desire? Or should they implement a game feature that makes it necessary to team up with other players for dangerous regions in the game? They chose to implement a system of grouping' where players would work together to overcome difficult obstacles and share the experience and loot gained from the kills. It's a simple game mechanic, and it formed the backbone of the EverQuest game experience, something many believe to be a crucial factor in EO's ongoing success.

But still there are people who complain about being forced to group with other players. They want to go solo and kill things themselves, without having to play in a group. In other words, they want a single-player game in a multiplayer environment. The most common reason for this complaint is some people just don't have the time to look for other people to group with and they want a quick fix' whenever they log on. EverQuest has always catered for these people to an extent by creating classes such as necromancers and druids who could effectively take on many of the creatures in the game alone - at least up until they reach the high-level areas. But the core of the game remains focused on grouping. And judging by all the expansion packs released thus far, this will continue to be the case.

Many of EQ's rivals have attempted to capitalise on this with varying degrees of success by making it easy for players to solo' and play the game more or less by themselves should they want to. Dark Ages Of Camelot, Asheron's Call 1 and 2 and Anarchy Online are most noted for this (although AC2 appears to be heading towards a more group-oriented game in the future). They all cater to the solo crowd in different ways and to different extents. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion, but as to whether it's the best move in a financial sense, you only need to look at the overwhelming popularity of EverQuest when compared to even its nearest rival to find your answer. Again, Verant (now incorporated into Sony Online Entertainment), shows it's more in touch with its player base than any of its rivals. It knows it can't please everyone, but it can please the majority. It always has done, and there's no reason to believe this will ever change. The fact it has stuck firmly to its guns with a group-oriented game from the beginning, and never swayed once, is yet another reason it's leagues ahead of the competition. You can argue the merits of solo versus group play all you want, but you can't argue with facts, and the server population figures for EverQuest tell their own story. Whether other online game developers want to take note of this or not is, of course, entirely up to them.

The March Of Progress

Four years is a long time to play any game. Even with EverQuest's huge and diverse world, sooner or later players were going to outlive the content and master the trade skills, and of course reach the highest level in the game. The answer to this problem, as we're sure you have guessed, came in the form of the many expansions released for EverQuest to date. In this area, Verant/SOE has again excelled. The Kunark and Velious expansions both enriched the game in every way possible, bringing huge landmasses, new weapons and armour, new quests and tons of NPCs and dungeons to an already vast game. Even at this point it was always going to be a huge task for any new online RPG to touch EverQuest for content, because the world of Norrath had already evolved so much it was going to be next to impossible to compete with it.

The penultimate nail in the coffin of all would-be pretenders to the EverQuest crown was the Shadows Of Luclin expansion, which brought a new graphics engine, new player models and a new interface, along with all the usual innovations EQ players expected from their expansions. As if Luclin wasn't enough to send the competition running for cover, the developers unleashed the final blow to all online game developers with the release of the absolutely awesome Planes Of Power expansion. Never before has any game, single or multiplayer, been changed and enhanced so dramatically by an add-on expansion. New methods of transport, a new level cap. a huge city full of vendors of all descriptions for every race and class in the game and a whole host of new planes for high-level players made PoP an absolute must for anyone even remotely interested in EQ. And now the Legacy Of Ykesha expansion has been released (review coming soon), the world of Norrath is bigger than ever.

To complement the expansions, new members of the EQ live team have been busy implementing changes such as soulbinders, easier ports and an easier and less painful path through the lower levels for newcomers to the game. All of which proves they listen to their players, and more importantly keep an eye on what their competition are doing.

Bill explains: "As the game has matured and new people have come on board the EverQuest team, long fought-for changes finally had the support they needed to be implemented. And there was much rejoicing by players and developers alike. I try to play all of our competition to one degree or another. We pay attention to decisions they make and try to learn from the things they do right as well as the mistakes they sometimes make. This industry is still very young." Young the industry may be. but for many people the biggest success story has already been written. And apart from Star Wars Galaxies, which will surely attract half the world for no reason other than it is Star Wars, the only real threat on the horizon for EverQuest is EverQuest II. Will this mean the end for the Norrath we know and love? Over to Bill: EverQuest is going to continue to grow and be supported for as long as people want to play it. EverQuest II is a different game and is being designed to complement and coexist with EverQuest. Because EverQuest II takes place in the same universe, but 500 years into the future, we have some interesting ideas as to how the two games can grow and interact with each other."

There is no doubt then, that EverQuest will be around for some time to come in one form or another. For now, it remains the most addictive and complete online role-playing game currently available by a very, very long way. And to any online game developers attempting to take on EverQuest at its own game, we say you are going to have your work cut out - hardened players don't call it EverCrack for nothing, you know. For many people, EverQuest not only changed the world, it is the world.

The Battle For Supremacy

Can You Spot A Future Everquest-Killer Among These Hopefuls?

There is no shortage of competition on the way for EQ, Star Wars Galaxies posing the most obvious threat, though there are mixed reports coming from beta. Nonetheless, the licence alone will guarantee the game a huge subscriber base. You would have to be pretty foolish to bet against EverQuest 2, with its photorealistic graphics and a proven template which almost ensures success before it even gets off the ground. Shadowbane's dated graphics and awkward interface do it no favours, but already it's attracting a lot more players than anyone expected. Asheron's Call2 has lost most of its initial subscriber base through lack of content, but Turbine's plans for the rest of the year are pretty convincing so it can't be discounted. And let's not forget World Of Warcraft: Blizzard's track record in bringing top quality games to market on a regular basis speaks for itself.

Download EverQuest

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Just like every good role-playing adventure, the realm of online RPGs also needs a hero. Online pioneers--Origin's Ultima Online, 3DO's Meridian 59--were launched amid great splashes of hype and riveted the attention of role-playing buffs who were drawn to the possibilities of massive multiplayer online worlds. The success of those titles was limited at best: Interest in M59 has waned as its scant gameplay options bescome boring, and Ultima Online's buggy release has saddled Origin with a dass-L action lawsuit from unhappy cus-fllL tomers. Nevertheless, Sony is pushing forward on the trail these games blazed, hoping to fulfill the amazing poten tial of a persistent-world online RPG. EverQuest, designed by 989 Studios and bankrolled by A Sony's deep pockets, if looks to be the deepest, rich est, and most graphically advanced of any online RPG yet.

Bigger Is Better

One thing that EverQuest's designers hope will set their game apart is its sheer size: EverQuest's gameplay will evolve over five continents. Norrath, the setting of the fantasy world in which gamers meet, spans five vast islands that will take ages to fully explore or map. Each continent contains its own ecosystems, climates, and terrain, ranging from arid desert to wind-blasted snowscape.

"We wanted to make a world that felt huge, one you really had to travel through to explore," says EverQuest's project leader Brad McQuaid. As players wander through Norrath, they'll have to devote a lot of time just getting from place to place, because a very realistic system of roads and overseas ship transportation will be in place. Other elements adding to the game's realism will be weather conditions, like rain and snow, that affect gameplay and law-abiding towns that will send troops after any character who misbehaves while in civilized society.

Much Ado About Gaming

With such a large stage, the game's designers are making sure there's plenty to do. Gamers will be able to choose from 14 races and 12 character classes, running the gamut from magic-using intellectual Erudites to single-minded, dub-swinging trolls (not that there's anything wrong with that). The important thing is that no matter what gamers choose to play as, they will find cooperation and team-building are necessary tools for success.

'The game is designed for parties that complement each other," says McQuaid. "Balancing strengths and weaknesses is the key to finishing quests." The attack skills of warriors and wizards will have to be matched with the healing powers of clerics and the thieving skills of rogues. All the party's members share evenly in experience points gained whether they clobber bad guys or not--in other words, the healer who keeps a warrior from collapsing will share in the experience points gained by the warrior's slaying of a beast.

Another aspect of EverQuest that will make it espe-daily fun to play is that the actions of your party members will actually help script the realm's destiny. You'll live in a very realistic market economy and political system, and your decisions can impart how these structures function. For example, if you demolish an important silver mine, there may be a shortage of quality weapons for the rest of the world to buy. If you organize a bunch of people into a guild, you can apply to have your Guild Hall designed into the game (including your own art for logos and such). Sony will employ a number of full-time "gamemasters" to help steer stories by initiating quests, instigating problems, and generally keeping the wheels of drama turning.

Pretty Past

EverQuest looks to not only be the most ambitious design for an online RPG, but also the most ambitious visually. Everything will be fully 3D and seen from a choice of many camera angles. In fact, switching camera angles is recommended, as different views help the gameplay in varying ways. The third-person chase view provides the best look at combat, enabling you to see the entire battlefield and to keep an eye on your back, while the first-person view is best for exploring, giving you a closer look at details and clues you may have missed from above. In any view, the 3D-rendered environments will dazzle, thanks to such treats as rippling effects, reflective ocean surfaces, fully destructible trees, slippery gravel slopes, and even individual raindrops that splatter in your eye if you look skyward during a rainstorm.

Party On

Gathering a party of strangers and striking out to explore new i worlds is the heart of any online role-playing adventure--but r diehard RPG fans are just waiting for a game to do it right. EverQuest may be that game. Sony has - already launched the beta\test and plans to have EverQuest completely operational by February. Online role-players, get ready to ram the castle walls!

BEFORE YOU FIRE up 989 Studios' red-hot online RPG, EverQuest. consider this: The real world is.easier to survive than EverQuest's online realm of Norrath, Want some proof? I) In the real world, you're given a decade or two before you have to fight for your life. 2) In the real world, very few giant bats and absolutely no decaying skeletons attack you offline. 3) In the real world, there's no lag time.

So, some assistance is in order. Before you start exploring the lands of Nor-rath, keep these tips and suggestions in mind.

Dancin' with My Elf

Building your character is the first challenge you'll face, and we suggest that you log on to EverQuests Web site to do some research into each race before you make your final choice. We recommend you start as a human character: They're the least interesting race in the fantasy realm, but' they're the most flexible. Unlike some of the other characters, like trolls, humans can enter any town in Norrath and can be almost any character class. Half-elves are a good character to start as, too, because they have excellent night vision (humans will need a torch or a lantern right away). Of course, if you're unhappy with your personage, you can always start over or, if you like, create a second character.

As for your protagonist's name, keep in mind that all Norrath citizens have fantasy-style nomenclatures: Mike the Barbarian or Larry the Thief ain't gonna cut it here. EverQuest will randomly generate an appropriate-sounding name for your character if you like--but if you want to be creative, you can take your existing name and rearrange the letters. Fantasy-style anagrams of "Dan Elektro" include Telkandore. Kanetrolde. and Drakentole. Then again. Lakerodent comes up. too, so use discretion.

The Facts of Online Life

Once you enter EverQuests world, cake a moment to marvel at its beauty. Forsooth, it is pretty. Now realize the following harsh truth: You will die here. Maybe right away. Sooner or later, you will tangle with a creature or a monster who'll kick your ass but good--and once you're resurrected, you'll have to find your corpse to get your stuff back. Norrath is a dangerous place, and sometimes you lose. If you accept that, the rest of the game is much more enjoyable.

The next order of business is organization. The six-squared control panel in the lower-left corner of the screen is yours to customize--its one of the handiest tools in the game as it makes navigating through EverQuest a lot less confusing.-Simply hold down Control and left-click the button you want to copy to the panel. You have six pages to program to your liking; once you've customized your controls, you'll have easy access to basic commands like Sit/Stand and Walk/Run, your Persona details, common chat phrases, and other important details.

To Protect and To Serve

Before setting up your interface, head to a safe area--when you enter a new town, find a guard and chill near him while you fiddle with your controls. Its also best if your character sits while you configure your controls because you recover health at a faster rate--whenever your red health and yellow stamina bars get low, plop down next to a guard station. Similarly, walking will prove less strenuous than running, so if you're pooped and can't find a guard station, click off Run and stroll to your destination instead.

The guards of Norratb are there to enforce the law-(for instance, they'll gc after you if you're an unrepentant pickpocket), but they'll also assist you when you're in danger. If you find yourself losing a battle, turn tail and flee to the nearest guard station--the guards will open a can of Ye Olde Whup Ass on the bothersome beastie. Just be aware of other players who might be between you and the guards--sometimes monsters will simply attack the closest target, and your cowardly retreat might get someone killed when they weren't even looking for a fight.

The Never-Ending Strtegy Guide

Norraths a big place. Check back next month for some helpful hints on fighting, building your character, and other interesting ways to avoid dying.

ProTips:

  • Elves have night vision, which gives other creatures a reddish glow.
  • Beetles look small enough for a newbie to take, but they're actually pretty fierce. Be prepared to flee or to die.
  • Town guards are EverQuest's version of The Man.
  • Humans and half-elves make good choices for a starting character.
  • Characters with green names are game masters-the folks who keep the game running. Treat them with respect and don't be afraid to ask them questions.
  • Get to know that six-square panel in the lower left corner of the screen-it's a llfesaver.
  • Guards will readily put the smack down on troublesome beasties.
  • If you want to see the names of the creatures and characters you encounter, click the "NPC Names" box in the EverQuest options menu.
  • Norrath's an equal opportunity realm; you can choose male or female characters of every race.

Some eye of newt, some frogs wart, a sprinkle of magic beans--okay, so that's more like the recipe for a stomachache at Ei Torito. If you want to succeed in your quest to conquer Norrath wearing only the robes (or, in the case of a druid, the vines) of a magic-user, you'll need to understand some basic concepts about magic and its place in the world of EverQuest, 989 Studios' online game. Hint Leave the eye of newt in the cupboard.

Go to school

You must first decide what type of spellcaster your character is going to be and which school they will attend. (Yes, you have to go to school for magic.)

Clerics, druids, enchanters, magicians, necromancers (yuck), shaman, and wizards can all cast spells (Shadow Knights will have some magical powers, but aren't considered magic-users as a rule). The schools of magic break down into the offensive, defensive, healing, transportation, and enchantment disciplines.

Clerics are devoted primarily to healing, which makes them a vital and necessary member of any adventuring party. Wizards and magicians are able to take up much of the offensive slack, crafting area attacks and projectile spells aimed at knocking your enemy silly. Shaman and druids are masters of defensive spells, which will help make your party a tough nut to crack. Enchanters take normal everyday items and imbue them with magical power. Necromancers control the dead (and the undead), which makes them an intriguing--if somewhat disgusting--factor in Norrath's magical hierarchy.

Divvy It Up

An important thing to remember is that your magic-using character should not be the only one in the party with mystic powers. In fact, the presence of just one mage in any party is usually a bad sign. The key is to diwy up the magical chores between a few characters with different spellcasting specialties.

As mentioned before, clerics are a must for your party. Position them at the back of the pack, out of harm's way, and use them to heal wounded fighters. This is a tried-and-true strategy that's worked since Gary Gygax first scribbled down the Dungeons & Dragons rule books--so adhere to it As a rule of thumb, you should also have a wizard or a magician in your party who can cast offensive spells. They have the ability to learn excellent spells, such as a single-target fireball or a super attack, like area-effecting lightning bolts.

If you feel the need for a third spellcaster, an enchanter is your next logical choice. Why? Because they can turn a common, worthless dagger into a magical weapon of considerable power. Enchanters can perform this feat for almost anyone in the party, and they're only restricted by the amount of mana they have available.

It's About Mana, Man

Speaking of which, mana must become a part of your vocabulary (if it isn't already). Norrath's magical currents are dictated by the flow of a force called mana, which magic-users draw from to cast their spells. Mana is represented on your character sheet as a finite amount of spellcasting energy that you have stored up. Each spell your magic-user casts will deplete that reserve by a specified amount. Beware: When your spellcaster's mana level dips too low, it's kaput for their spellcasting abilities--they'll be just another person with a pointy hat and a stick.

Keep in mind that magic-users are to be used as a weapon of last resort during combat--think of them as the atom bomb in your party's arsenal. If the grunts can handle a pair of giant rats, there's no reason for Otto the Obscure to waste mana by casting fireballs at them. Besides, you'll wish you had that extra mana when you stumble onto the path of some genuinely tough opponent. It's very important that your magic-user has his or her chambers loaded when such a situation presents itself.

So Where Do I Get My Spells?

Ah, yes, ever-acquisitive is the mage. Your spellcaster begins the game with only a few common spells--the rest they'll have to learn as you go. Adding spells to their spell book is an easy process; the hard part is finding the darn things. Most spells that come your way during your early adventures come in the form of scrolls, which you will find from time to time after wasting monsters or finding treasure. You must then read the scroll and "scribe" it (or transfer the scroll) into your spell book Once that's been done, the scroll disappears from your inventory anc reappears as a new spell in your magic-users spell book.

As your spellcasters progress, its possible for them to join a mage's guild to learn new spells through study (and tuition). Once they've gained some knowledge, they can then be taught advanced spells that aren't typically found drifting around on loose scrolls.

Remember: Your magic-user can keep only eight spells "loaded" in their spell book at any given time. They have to memorize the spells prior to using them, which limits the choices they'll have in combat--it's important to always have your favorite ones handy. Happy casting!

ProTips:

  • Just because your mage stands at the rear of the party doesn't mean you have to let your guard down. Frequently check your six while in combat.
  • What are the benefits of area-effect spells! Three ice goblins can get beat down by a single spell from a well-prepared wizard.
  • Take no guff from these skeletal swine. Even a physically outmatched spellcasting elf can handle the minions of death when she has a fireball to cook up.
  • Turn Undead is a vital spell that provides the best weapon against skeletons like these.
  • Spells with area-effect range are particularly effective in closed-in places like dungeons and tunnels.
  • You'll need to reach deep in your bag for help in a crunch like this!
  • Be advised-some of the beasts in Norrath are also magic-users.

Overview

This is an online massively multiplayer RPG. You create a character from one of several different races, types, starting locations, and abilities then you can play on several different servers, with several characters in each. It’s best to play in a group with other people, rather than alone, as fighting and exploring is much more enjoyable in an adventuring party with a wide range of character types. Your world is Norrath -- a huge map with three major continents and a few islands scattered around. Fight monsters, go exploring, go on quests, or hang around a city and make money as a crafter. Lots to do and see in a very complex game.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Gameplay takes place in a 3D environment, which you can see from any of five different views -- first person to overhead. Your playfield is surrounded by a huge control panel with a chat window, action keys and inventory buttons. Movement is via keyboard commands and, while hot keys can be used for common tasks, you’ll still need to use your mouse for a lot -- which is kind of a pain. You can also choose to lose most or all of the control panel and play in a full-screen mode, which allows for a less-cluttered field of vision. There is an enormous range of ways you can approach the game -- it’s definitely more than making a decision between playing a mage or a warrior. They also (thank goodness) have a Player-vs-Player switch,which allows you to exempt yourself from PVP action, so you can run around the countryside relatively safely and worry more about getting nailed by a troll or something instead of an anti-social fellow player who prefers to think of the game as Medieval Quake. They also don’t allow other players to loot your corpse, unless you’re playing PVP, so if you can find your body, you can retrieve armor, weapons, etc. from it. In earlier levels, your body doesn’t stick around long, but after level four it will still be there up to a week later. A very, very good idea. The online nature allows for continuous update patches to be sent out on a regular basis (the initial patch download can take awhile) and the developers actually ask for, and respond to, player suggestions about the game by including little surveys that pop up now and then upon login.

The one thing that’s not terribly good right now is the economy. They’re fixing a lot of problems with it, but playing a strictly economic character still isn’t terribly easy or useful, and merchant prices for some things are really outrageous, compared to monster loot and other forms of income. (Honestly, three silver pieces for a flask of water?!?!) They also need to improve their banking system -- banks and bankers are rather hard to find unless you already know where to look.

Navigation is also less-than-easy. Using the maps included in the playguide isn’t helpful (go find better maps on the player-run websites) and it’s very easy to get lost, even when wandering around in the cities, as many of them are very maze-like. Getting lost in a city isn’t a huge deal, but if you’re a newbie out to knock off a few bats and skeletons, venturing out of sight of the city limits can be suicide unless you follow a path or have higher-level characters in your party. Using the "sense heading" skill and taking very close note of your surroundings is essential.

Everquest has a high learning curve, but it should feel familiar if you’re any sort of RPG’er at all, or have played similar games, like Ultima Online.

I would have appreciated more character customization -- more ability to pick visual features for your character- there’s a bit too much similarity in characters of the same race, even when they’re wearing armor. I realize that this is partly a limitation of graphics, however.

Multiplayer Experience

This is a game that exists primarily to allow play with other people. There’s a lot of well-done pushes to get you to socialize and form adventuring parties with others. You can play on your own for the first few levels of the game, as you’re learning, but beyond level four or so, playing by yourself is actually considerably less fun. The monsters required to advance further levels will kick your butt if you are on your own then, and it’s kind of a pain to have to go find your body each time you die to retrieve your stuff -- especially if you ended up croaking in a spawn area and get whacked again by the same baddies.

Room for Improvement

Three minor annoyances: Having to agree to the EULA every time you start the game (even if you haven’t downloaded patches), spelling and grammar errors all over the documentation and in the game itself, and the fact that you have to click six times to exit the game (including a little warning box: "are you sure you want to quit?" Sheesh -- after clicking on exit that many times -- yes, I am sure!). They should have an option when you first fire up the game to play your last character on the last server you were on -- saving a lot of time-wasting steps to get into the game, too.

Originality/Cool Features

They’ve definitely set a new standard for online games -- especially with the 3D environments. There are other games waiting in the wings, most notably Asheron’s Call (due to be released later this fall) and it should be interesting to see whether or not the lessons taught by EQ’s success (and some of its failures) are learned by other producers.

Graphics

The 3D environments are quite good (if you have the machine to run them) although I have seen better. Character movement is a little robotic but not too bad. The environments are artistically really nice, as you can see from some of the screen shots. I also love having the ability to look in all directions, including above (there’s plenty of reason to do so) and there’s a very wide range of territory to explore and play in. I do have a rant with how the characters are drawn, however. When I first got the game, I was annoyed to find that even the box itself was well-endowed -- with an embossed image of a female character that looked like a High Elf version of Nicole Kidman, barely wearing some sort of "I Dream of Jeannie" type costume. In the game itself, most of the other female characters are similarly nearly naked, not to mention that they all have breasts that would make any L.A. plastic surgeon proud. While I’m grateful for the inclusion of female characters at all, and the fact that they don’t limit them to certain character types, they do seem to be designed somewhat like decorative items. I don’t think a certain amount of suggestiveness in fantasy games like this is bad -- heck I’m as much a Xena fan as the next person -- but in this case, it is kind of over-the-top. Even the female Ogres and Trolls are wearing bikinis and g-strings! I eventually got annoyed and started playing male characters instead. Some of the male characters are also kind of sexy-looking, and a few are shirtless, but none are anywhere near as naked as the women. (Though I personally think the half-elf I’m playing would look quite good in deerskin speedos.) This type of game especially tends to draw female players and it’s a shame that the characters we’re expected to play look more like Barbie than warriors. If nothing else, it’s an annoying distraction in an otherwise good game.

Audio

No cheesy music to get in the way of hearing your surrounding sounds, which is very useful considering that sound can help you find your way around when you’re getting lost not to mention warn you when you’re about to get nailed by an Orc or some other nasty beastie. A good sound card is helpful but not terribly necessary.

System Requirements

One of my major pet peeves with this game is the minimum requirements listed: Windows 95 or 98, Pentium 166, with a Direct 3D or Glide compliant 3D card and 32 MB of RAM. I originally tried to play the game on a system meeting those specs and was absolutely unable to. The 3D was ugly as heck that way and movement was so slow and jerky as to be unplayable. Sure, the game will start up and run but in a game that sometimes requires fast reactions and smooth navigation, it’s a major disappointment to try to play. While I kind of liked having an excuse to upgrade my system, I shouldn’t have had to. They really need to modify the system requirements listed on the box. The system I’m now running it on is beyond their "recommended" specs (P200 or above and 64MB of RAM,) and the game works well on it. I’d advise not playing it at all if you have a punier system -- you’ll just end up frustrated.

Documentation

There is a cursory playguide, which is about as useful as the tutorial in actually playing the game. EQ is another in a huge string of games that have come out recently that don’t have a usable playguide in the box. Instead, you have to go drop 15 bucks or so on an "official playguide" that the game’s publisher offers separately. Considering that you’ve just spent $40 on the game itself and then you sign your life and credit card away to get the online account, having to drop even more money to learn how to play the game is a real swindle. I’d recommend avoiding the official stuff anyway -- the game changes so much that anything printed is easily outdated before it even goes to press. The best resources for this type of game are still player-run websites -- primarily the ones run by Stratics. Go digging there before you even sign up for your online account, so you don’t waste precious time and money trying to figure out what you’re doing by just playing.

Parental Warning

This game is rated T (Teen) with good reason. There’s a fair amount of maturity needed to play it well for one. Though it’s centered, of course, around fantasy violence, there’s not a lot in the way of gore, which is nice. ESRB also notes "suggestive themes" since the female characters running around nearly naked may be rather more soft-core porn-like than younger kids should be seeing. They’re bright enough to disallow vulgar character names and there isn’t a lot of cursing going on in the chats, but it’s still a rather adult game all the way around.

Bottom Line

An ambitious and mostly well-executed effort. It’s fun to play and addictive as all heck. Aside from the complaints I’ve listed, it’s not a bad game at all and is certainly better than the other games of this type that are currently out there. It’s obvious that the folks at 989 listened to the complaints about the other games and made sure that those issues were fully addressed in_ EQ_. There is, however, a very high learning curve to the game, which I guess isn’t surprising considering how complex it is. The tutorial gives you only the minimum of basics and there are very few in-the-game resources for learning. You do get 30 days of free play when you sign up, but you will more than use that time getting your system tweaked in the precise way to make it run well, and figuring out simple navigation and gameplay. If you’re not a patient person, or you don’t have a lot of time or energy to devote to getting into the game, you’ll find EQ boring and frustrating. If, however, you have no outside life to speak of and don’t have a spouse or partner who will get mad at you for staying up until 3:00AM skill-building and harassing goblins, go for it. There’s a rewarding, intricate and beautiful game to be played once you get past the first few levels.

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