EverQuest: Mac Edition
I was working at Sony Online Entertainment when Everquest was released. The mood around the place was edgy but optimistic. Sure, the subscription idea had only been pulled off once with Ultima Online, but the EQ game engine looked great and Sony was putting their all behind it. The faith in the talent that made and released the game was palpable. Sony loved them.
Then the numbers started to come in. My producer Bernie Yee poked his head into my office (a converted broom closet that hadn’t seen a broom in several months) and mentioned something about subscriptions passing 100,000. This was soon after launch. And the numbers kept rising. Every meeting about the game we were working on started with EQ subscriber updates. Every coffee room was abuzz. A number of employees were excused their 8 hour a day habit since it was just a sign of the EQ craze.
So I decided to give it a try.
I was bored out of my skull. I had no interest in hacking at monsters ad infinitum. Sure, it looked great but so did Tribes and that was just more up my alley. The character creation was okay, though bumpy, but the gameplay seemed redundant with its dorky quests and even dorkier players. I’d walk in on Bernie in his office and he’d be clicking on his mouse a dozen times a second, looking like a zombie. I relished my role as the EQ-hater in a sea of drones.
Apparently, I wasn’t ready for EQ. But apparently, I am now.
EQ Mac has opened my eyes to the joys of auto-running and left-mouse clicking. Norrath’s vast landscape is now available to the Mac OSX clan and its one hell of a deal. Not only do you get the original EQ but you also get four of its expansions – The Ruins of Kunrak, The Scars of Velious, The Shadows of Luclin and The Planes of Power. Each one, especially The Shadows of Luclin add depth to the gameplay that, alone, is worth the retail price. Up front you should know that the 9.95 per month that was once the standard price has now given way to the less palpable 12.95 per month which would be highway robbery if highway robbery was a hell of a lot of fun.
Though I’ve always been receptive to MMOs I’ve always run into frustration in the first couple of weeks of play due to the big learning curve. I guess my tastes have changed in the last few years. I yearn for an immersive experience and I’m patient enough to wait for it. You should be too before you buy it.
I’ll tell you right off, if you’ve played the PC version of EQ then you’ve seen it all before. SOE spent no time working on improvements. It’s a straight port.
Making your character is a bit of a headful. My problem with the original character creation system, still mostly intact, is the commitment you have to make to a character going into unknown territory. Why should I use my first free month in the character creation mode, trying to find a balance that works for me. Its frustrating to spend 45 minutes making a character that seems cool on the surface but just isn’t your cup of tea when he’s thrown into the actual game. The paltry documentation did nothing to help me in my decisions, so I had to go online to find people who had made the mistakes I knew I was about to. A quick google of Everquest strategy” brought up the only site I’ve ever needed http://eq.stratics.com/ Please, if you have any desire to get your money’s worth go to this site and do a little research on how to make a character that will fit you AND your playing style. EQ is a rich game with many routes to take. A little homework to fill in the gaps will go a long way to making your money well spent.
The kind of character you choose will determine where you’ll end up in the game world. You select from 12 different races and 14 distinct classes. The races are not living in harmony. Political intrigue and prejudices abound. FUN! If you sign up to be a High Elf you better stay the hell away from Dark Elves. They hate you. Signing up with a friend will also help you organize a well-rounded party. You can choose to be the warrior while the budster can be a lame-ass wizard or thief or something. Warrior-types such as myself have Paladins, Rogues, Shadow Nights or, well, Warriors. Magician-pansies have Clerics, Shamans, Enchanters, Magicians, Wizards and Paladins. There are also religious roles or Rangers to choose from. This all implies the beauty of EQ. You can be anything you want. That doesn’t only apply to race but also to profession. Some people opt to be musicians or bakers and even beggars. Go figure.
The Mac server seems to have a rep for being slow or poorly populated, though I never found too much of a problem on my broadband connection and playing during primetime (i.e. evenings). If you plan on playing with a current bud then you’ll have to coordinate yourselves so you can end up in the same part of Norrath. Or you could run to each other which always adds a touch of romance. But Norrath is huge with 70 zones across 3 continents.Everquest’s genius is found in its openness. It’s what Hollywood would coin a “high concept” idea. What if you were dropped into a fantastic world of dragons and wizards armed with a piece of bread and a taste for adventure? Once you hit Norrath it can be be overwhelming. There’s so much to do. When I first started I mostly ran around, trying to make heads or tails out of the gobblyguk sentences rolling down my screen. Later on I would learn how to see only the messages I wanted to see but, as with all other things in EQ, it took time for me to figure that out. I cannot stress enough that the start of the game can be a big turn-off, but trust me, the bumps are worth it. It’s not all bad at the start. SOE was kind enough to go beyond just dropping you in a fantastic world. You can get tasks to perform from NPCs (Non-Player Characters) that fit your skill level and let you ease into the game. Still, even the simplest task was hard for me.
For one, the communication system on EQ is as obtuse and uncharming as ever. Cryptic and ancient standards like “/[command]” leave the landscapes of Norrath littered with dead players who just wanted to cry for help but couldn’t type while getting their heads hacked to pieces by a broadsword. NPCs will be happy to give you tips and quests if you can decipher their bracket-filled, poorly written stock responses. And then, once I was able to make heads or tails out of my quests, I had to figure out where the hell I was and how to get where I wanted to be. Which leads me to my next gripe. The mapping system. Ugh. The starting cities are so large I got lost constantly. I used to live in Greenwich Village so this is not an easy task. Wait a sec, I got lost there too. But the poor mapping is to blame here. A newbie needs to be handheld through the first steps but I felt like an abandoned baby. Like I said, if you can sign-up with an experienced friend, all the better. Anything to avoid plopping down 20 bucks to buy Norrath maps in the guidebooks! Grrrr.
The EQ interface is, um, robust. Right-clicking on the screen displays up to five interface arrangements that should allow those of us with higher end Macs quick access to the options. I worry about the lower end machines though since the right-click is pretty slow. You can set up keyboard macros but I’d be in hell if I had to use those. I’m a visual guy, so it’s just a personal preference.
As in other MMOs the way to play is killing monsters. You rack up experience points with every ugly mug you wipe off the face of the server. The more points you gain, the higher your level. It’s a tough run at first, especially if you try to do too much too quickly. Take it slow. You’re not going to be running around killing right off the bat. EQ isn’t that kind of game. Take it slow and you’ll enjoy yourself a hell of a lot more. Talk to people, watch battles, explore. As you gather experience you can start to move further into the unknown. The more you use a weapon or a spell the more experience points you’ll get with that ability. You can also get points for a price (I made a point of avoiding that route since it smacks of cheap).
But the fun way to level up is to join a party of fellow adventurers. I mean the premise of every fantasy story is based on the, er, fellowship you form in the process. You can take on more powerful baddies, get more experience points and develop real friendships in EQ. It’s 95% of the fun in the game. I must admit I found it tough to make friends in the virtual world at first. As in real life, I’m shy, and found it tough to break the ice – especially with players named Rufus_69xxx and IMP. But inevitably you’ll ask a question out of frustration or be so proud of the fact that you know an answer to a plea for help that you jump into the EQ trap…and then the fun begins.
It’s hard to put in words why running around a fantasy world, hacking at goblins and giants is so fun. Watching your experience points grow and grow is like watching your piggy bank fill up. And I guess realizing that the stranger who you’ve been playing with is no longer a stranger is also kind of cool. Graphics and sound are just like the PC version of EQ. They used to be cutting edge back in the day and were, indeed, the reason why so many people were excited about EQ when it first came out. Now they look dated. Mind you they’re better than the graphics on any other Mac MMO (being as abundant as they are), but you don’t really play an MMO for the graphics, right? MMOs are designed to be around for many more years than your standard video game. They’re built for stability, not tech platforms. At the end of the day, EQ Mac might look a little better than its PC counterpart but the difference is negligible (and more likely due to Apple’s incredible monitors). The sound is purely functional, an afterthought in the development process – like so many other games’ sound. It’s a pity, but understandable since the game will not be judged on such details by a large majority of the customers.
Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody!
For a game like EQ you need to add a new subject heading to any review. Customer service. It’s a staple of the MMO community. When you get this many people in a server together there are bound to be problems. Everything from Player Killers to rude behavior to bad trades between a newbie and a derelict pro – expect to get flashbacks to Home Room or gym class when you start to play. In the midst of this you better hope you don’t have any problems because the help is barely there. To be fair, no one is ever happy in an MMO. They’re some of the toughest customers. And yet, with all the complaining amongst the players, they keep coming back which tells you something about the fun factor. If you have a problem or question, you can petition a player manager and wait in line for a response. But, again, if at all possible, PLEASE play with an experienced friend. If you don’t have one then, as I mentioned above, get one. They will be invaluable for information ranging from how to change the look of your interface to how to perform the rudimentary functions. People are ready to help in EQ, a big plus for the game. There are a lot of buttheads, but some people play the game only to help newbies, without any compensation from Sony.
Signing off from EQ is like pulling a tooth…
EQ Mac could be the beginning of great things for the Mac gaming platform. The last few years have seen a relative explosion of games for the OS-of-choice but EQ (along with The Sims) is the definition of mainstream gaming today, and its absence for Apple-heads did not bode well for Job’s army. But now that the product is here, Mac users need to pick the game up and give it a try. If you’ve been curious about EQ, or if it sounds appealing now, please go out and buy it. Bring a friend. Hit monsters with sharp things and chat about it afterwards. Find new friends and get that special feeling inside when you work as a unit to bring down a dragon. For years, nerds world-wide dreamed of having a Middle Earth of their own. It’s here.
A great port of a classic game. Just as in the original, the learning curve is steep and you shouldnâ€™t sign on to the EQ party if you donâ€™t plan to hoot it up with strangers. For diehard MMO fans who waited for the genre to come to the Mac, youâ€™re day is here!
Rating: 8.3 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Ben Zackheim was born Ben Zackheim sometime before 1980 and after 1960 which characterizes him not at all. He's a writer of reviews, comics and screenplays, but aren't we all? Luxuries like food and shoes mean nothing to him. He's married to the most beautiful woman in the world, Robin, who reads all his reviews before he sends them in and says "Are you really going to write that for the public to read?" But I assure her no one reads my reviews anyway, only Charlie's, so it's kind of like a tree in the forest (without the cute little fuzzy things who smell their own poop - wait, then again there is Charlie...) She's a cross between Gillian Anderson and Hillary Clinton, which is a monster I'd love to play in Monster Rancher Advance 2. Photos are available upon request for a small fee. I'm currently writing this bio but have no plans beyond that. View Profile