This review originally appeared in E73, July 1999.
Despite the massive popularity of firstperson shoot ’em ups on the Internet, few attempts have been made to create truly online games that take full advantage of the possibilities of player interaction. And those that have – most notably Ultima Online and Meridian 59 – suffer numerous flaws. Now, however, Sony-owned 989 Studios and developer Verant Interactive have raised the bar a notch with EverQuest.
Like Ultima Online and Meridian 59, EverQuest is a roleplaying game – perhaps the gaming style that most readily lends itself to online play, and certainly one of the most established (text-based multiuser dungeons predate the Internet). Unlike Ultima Online, its world is presented in glorious 3D. And unlike Meridian 59, the technology used is right up to date – a 3D card is essential – resulting in great visuals, even by comparison to many of today’s firstperson blasters.
EverQuest is set in the fantasy world of Norath, populated with numerous staples of the genre plus some unique new concepts. The result is a game world that most RPG fans will find easy to get to grips with, but still offers a sense of mystery.
Although based on the standard ‘class and level’ format (an RPG standard ever since Dungeons & Dragons), this is combined with a more modern skill development engine. Your race, class and level determine what skills your character can use, but they increase by use and practice. Skill ‘caps’ based on your class and level limit the maximum rating in each skill: while both a Warrior and a Cleric may have the 1H Blunt weapons skill, the Warrior can increase it to a higher rating .
Unlike the vast majority of RPGs, both online and off, there are no ‘killer’ classes in EverQuest. Not only does this emphasise cooperative play, but only if you choose to activate player killer status for your character can you attack or be attacked, and then only by other player killer characters. That’s great news for those who’ve been permanently scarred by bad experiences in Ultima Online.
One critical fact of EverQuest is that it can be very tough at the start, when even a measly rat can kill you. Even after you’ve gained a few levels, the game remains very unforgiving. The system emphasises combat very heavily – although there are many quests to complete, the rewards are normally meagre – which can become a little repetitive. It requires a lot of time and dedication to build a decent character, which easily translates into huge phone bills if you’re not careful.
Nonetheless, EverQuest is the best online roleplaying game yet, and offers months of enjoyment while pointing the way towards multiplayer gaming’s future.