This isn't a review.
There probably won't be a score at the bottom. I haven't decided yet. We'll see how the muse takes me. My guess will be not, because - well, if given the choice, which I have, who would give any MMO a review score? By the time you've written it, problems could be patched out of existence. Or problems could be patched into existence. Even if nothing changes, the experience alters according to the player base. And - worst of all - to really get a sense for one of these things, you have to play it for the lifespan of a small child.
Er... opinions about a finished game and no review score. That's actually one of those "First Look" things, isn't it? I knew there was a proper term lying around somewhere.
However, even within those boundaries, this is something of an alternative take. I've started writing this just after my first session with the big EQ2, and I'm going to note down anything particularly brilliant or rubbish I come across. Essentially, what you're getting is the anecdotes I'd tell you if you sat down in a pub opposite me and me what I made of that EQ2 thingy. My thoughts, raw and uncut. Bar most of the swearing, for this a family videogames website.
I reiterate: this is going to be terribly honest. I'm making no pretence of filtering opinions which will offend the EQ masses. So, yes, I'm pretty sure about half of it could be labelled flame-bait.
Got that? Good. Onwards.
The game starts aboard a ship, where your initial training takes place. To learn combat you have to - and even as I write this, I can't believe a developer could still think this a good idea - purge the vessel of rats. My character is a seven-foot Amazonian woman. The rat is a foot-long furry thing with a tail. It looks utterly ludicrous. The millions of pounds spent on trying to create a beautiful graphical world to lose yourself in, entirely wasted by something so bloody stupid. Yes, every RPG does it. This is because every RPG is rubbish. And - as I've been informed since writing this - if the developers thought it was actually a joke, they should have played it as one. Just doing it again isn't a gag. It's not even a clever reference. With nothing other than its context, doing it again is just doing it again, and doing it again is RUBBISH.
A little later, I'm on land. I get given my first real quest, to assist fighting off a goblin attack to the west of town. That sounds splendid. I jog up there, to be presented with a curious scene. It's less a Goblin attack, and more of a Goblin picnic. In the specified area, Goblins wander around, not caring about the player until they pick a fight with them, even if you're slaughtering their best mate. The atmosphere vents into the harsh vacuum of space. They're not even trying.
A little later again, and I'm on a quest. It's one of those traditional ones where you have to kill a few baddies of a certain sort to collect a certain item to give to a certain NPC. The baddies are Skeletons, so I trundle off to the one graveyard on the island. Here I find a group of a dozen or so fellow adventurers, waiting. It seems that a couple of these bone-fellows spawn every minute or so, leading to a backlog of people hanging around for their chance to bash the boneheads. It may just be me, but the supermarket checkout queue approach to fantasy adventuring leaves me oddly unsatisfied.
First play session ends, and - well - clearly my memories aren't too positive. The good stuff - the beautiful gold waypoint thread that can guide you from place to place, the well judged series of tutorials that ease you into the world and the variety of possible roles, races and character-looks from the off, don't affix as much as this retrogressive nonsense.
Second session and I feel better. The little joys inherent in the straight Fantasy MMO start kicking in: my character is getting increasingly dressed up and actually becoming a character, for example. Three main memories.
As I arrive in my chosen city - you're given the option of Good (Quenos) or Evil (Freeport) sides at the opening - I'm given a room to make my own. Stepping in, putting down the three initial items of furniture makes me momentarily feel like I'm playing some renaissance-fair version of the Sims. There's a soft blush of pleasure. In my mind's eye I imagine this room, or another much like it, fully decorated with the profits of my adventures or the craft of my own hand, months or years down the creative road. The thrill of a blank sheet of paper, knowing that there's all the ink in the world to write with. Whatever EverQuest's faults, it doesn't lack scale. Some people are going to shape lives here. This will be people's living room, in the most literal way.
Second is as I'm in the process of gaining my Citizenship, I'm set the simple task of talking to some people and deciding if they're traitors of not. Multiple options appear, leading to a chance to kill each or let them go free. Very simple moral dilemmas are played out. Now, the examples in the game are hardly Planescape Torment, but the fact the game's got the mechanics for this sort of plot-related choice is full of potential. The writing's mostly terrible but... well, they could use this for good quest mechanics. Voiced NPCs is a small, but significant, boon too.
Thirdly, is another example of its terrible mind. I'm told to go and kill some creatures in the forests outside the town as a service to the city, collecting five tokens as I prove myself worthy of that Citizenship malarkey. Now, the beetles and the razor-headed chipmunks are so weak as to be boring. The Bears and Dryads are slightly too hard. Just the right level are... Fauns. Or Fawns, as the Americans would have it. So, to become a true and noble citizen of the centre of good in this land, I beat up baby deer. Vicious little tykes too. Spending ten minutes or so Bashing Bambi doesn't really make me feel much of a hero.
Third session I abandon the suggested quests which I was given post citizenship and start to follow my wandering inclinations. My plan is some general exploring. While I've got a half dozen quests already, I fancy heading into the sewers (Adventurers always do this. Real people never do. This is because there's no NVIDIA 3D-stink cards. You do wonder why no-one says, "No, you can't come into my shop. You stink of poop." I digress) to see where they lead. Head off there, get lost, and eventually find my way out to a completely different part of the city. Rather than the urban squalor of the Gravestone Yard, I find myself in Baubleshire, a hobbit-flavoured bucolic idyll. There I wander around, find someone to train to improve combat techniques, pick up a handful more quests and... the size of the world is suddenly underlined. Depending on my character class, I'd have ended up in any one of these little boroughs... and I can head off in any direction, at any time, for a change of style. As long as it stays away from the monsters, it's a convincing fantasy world. While a game like City of Heroes centres on making the action atmospheric, EverQuest is far more successful in the non-combat elements.
That's stressed by my second memory. When fighting a centipede in the nearby forests, I slay the scuttling beastie and the game drops a chest. Having long since decided to not question things like giant chests appearing from the remains of little wormy things, I fly it open. The chest is trapped. It explodes, delivering enough damage to kill my character even if she were on full hit points. Those centipedes are pretty cunning, for arthropods.
Thirdly just meeting someone and talking nonsense about me being too tall for hobbit houses, which ties neatly in with the first memory. Hobbit houses, understandably, are tiny. Going into the bar, lead to my Valkyrie crouching for her entire stay. This attracts attention of an elvish cleric. We chat, make bad gags, stay bravely in character and head our separate ways having added each other to our friends lists. Which is lovely, and the sort of interaction which the richer world of something like EverQuest - compared to, to choose an example, City of Heroes - can stress.
So: three sessions with Everquest. You may think I'm being a little hard and... well, you're entirely right. I am being a trifle mean, but it's more from simple disbelief. These odd conventions of the genre are ludicrous, and if any videogame which wasn't an MMO did a tiny fraction of them, it'll be given a stern kicking. Macho baby deer facing off against towering warriors is one of the least convincing things I've seen this year. Baby deer run away. The reason they don't - presumably - is because MMO developers have spent too much time in artificial worlds and not enough in the real one. The genre is starting to grow up, but it needs to pick up the pace somewhat.
That said, when starting to write this article, I thought my final line would be the simply dismissive "I will never play this game again". Except it's kind of beaten me. When I've marched through Half-Life 2 and Vampire, I plan to return to these clichéd, oft-frustrating fantasy lands. Yeah: That's a backhanded compliment, but it's the best it's going to get.
Were I the sort to make rash predictions, I think this generation of MMOs will be the last to even vaguely get away with the more laughable elements I've outlined above. Until that particular apocalypse falls, if you're willing to put up with these huge and sweeping failings, it's at least worth considering the EverQuest 2 party. The worst comes to the worst, you can join me in the kitchen making bitchy comments about all the other guests.