EverQuest wasn’t the first MMO, but it took the genre into a real 3D world for the first time and when it launched in 1999 attracted more players to the genre than any before. It never hit WoW’s numbers, but it was breaking new ground at the time. EverQuest did some things better than any MMO ever did, and while many tried to exceed it there are some things that no other MMO since has managed to capture.
One problem with EQ is it’s impossible to truly capture the feeling of the original game. Over the last thirteen years, the game has gone through so many changes the original is lost. Project 1999 is one fan attempt to bring back some of the things below, but in a way the original EQ is like that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where the Binars created Minuet for Riker. No matter how much Riker tried, he couldn’t recreate Minuet as good as the Binars did.
A World That Felt Huge
Azeroth and other present day MMO worlds may technically be larger in actual size than ancient Norrath, but none of them manage to capture the feeling of scale that EQ did. Running from Qeynos to Freeport without Spirit of the Wolf actually took a long damn time, and the trip was pretty dangerous. When you finally saw the gates of Freeport approaching, you felt a huge sense of relief that you made it safely. Boarding a ship (before they broke) for a journey across the Ocean of Tears to Faydwer was an even more epic step. Over the years MMOs have grown to a more casual play style, and that means making travel much faster. The sacrifice there is it reduces the feeling of scale in the world.
Server Communities and Identity
The server you joined in EverQuest became your home and each had a community where the good players became legends, and some of their tales are remembered a decade after they passed. With things like the Dungeon Finder in WoW, modern MMOs have lost one of the things that made the genre so appealing to so many people. With instances replacing contested dungeons, the players become more isolated from one another and the community barely has time to form before more instances are added.
A Real Fear of Death
When you die in WoW or TOR you just need to spend some in-game currency to repair your gear. I’d love to see the look on a modern MMO player’s face when they die in old-school EQ and have to run naked back to their corpse to get their gear and then grind more mobs to regain their lost experience. Death actually meant something in EQ. It was something to fear. In modern MMOs, death is nothing more than a free teleport that costs you some gold.
While WoW has begun adding Legendary items for classes that require some assistance from guilds, nothing can compare to the celebration one went through when they completed their Epic in EverQuest. These weapons were unique, provided awesome class-specific benefits, and required a truly epic effort to earn. A player would need a full and dedicated guild to complete their epic, and there was pretty much nothing else in the game that was as rewarding as finally holding that weapon in your hand.
Games such as WoW that have multiple races tried to copy the EQ model by giving them their own home cities, but until recently WoW combined races like Trolls and Orcs in one city (and Gnomes and Dwarves on the Alliance side). Same thing can be said about the new races they added with Cataclysm as they don’t have home cities. In EverQuest, every one of the races had a unique starting city with its own atmosphere and culture. Most players have strong nostalgia for falling off Kelethin or hunting Gelatinous Cubes in the Qeynos sewers. The unique cultures in EQ, and their cities, is one of the reasons people have some very fond memories of the game.