One thing is certain when it comes to my gaming time – it will involve significant amounts of time on Project1999. This has been true for much of the last six or seven years, and I don’t see it changing. There is something about EverQuest that I cannot escape, no matter how many years elapse between its release in 1999 and the present day. I’m actually writing this post between solo pulls on my Troll Shaman Quinok. I’m going to attempt to talk about why I think I cannot stray far from classic EverQuest.
Party like its 1999
When EverQuest released on 16 March 1999 I was 14 years old. You all know what it’s like to be that age. I had played Ultima Online for less than a year and was already very much obsessed with online worlds. I had found a pre-release guild on a forum of another game I loved, Thief: The Dark Project. We were The Keepers, and I became part of the ‘High Council’ of a guild that didn’t even exist in-game yet.
Once EverQuest released, we formed our guild and set out on our adventures. What met us was a living, breathing world, full of surprises, myths, legends and rumours. My first character was a wizard, followed shortly after with a rogue and a bard. In those early days I didn’t have the patience that EverQuest needed to reach higher levels. These days MMOs propel you forward in a neverending chain of quests and daily activities. You had to seek out ‘xp’ and put in the hours in 1999.
One thing that struck me back in 1999, was that the developers had done enough to fool us that we were in a living, breathing world. It wasn’t set up to propel us upwards in levels, nor purely to festoon our character sheets with shiny loot. The world was there, and it was up to us to venture out, find things to kill, gather items to wear, and make our own experiences. I say ‘fool us’, because in many ways Norrath was extremely static. The monsters and enemies never changed. Players bought and sold thousands of the same ‘unique’ items. Mechanics bugged out – or ‘worked as intended’ – and produced unrealistic and sometimes unfair outcomes. But with the combination of collective naivete of the era and the lack of options in the genre, we players believed Norrath was indeed alive.
Not only did we believe Norrath was alive, but it was a method of socialising online well before the era of ubiquitous social networking. This is not to say there was no way of socialising online in 1999. By the time players first set foot in Norrath, tech like IRC, usenet, forums and instant messenging were well-established . But the universality of playing online with a large number of other players was only as old as Meridian59 or Ultima Online. Well before Steam, Discord, TeamSpeak and every game released having an online mode, we logged in and we socialised. For most classes socialising with others was the only way to achieve your own character’s goals. In this way, the forced socialisation to reach your goals, and the lack of other meaningful outlets for gamers to both game and socialise together, made MMOs in the late 90s and early 2000s quite special.
And now I can’t get away from Classic EverQuest
So I have looked back on my own experiences of classic EverQuest in what I and most Project1999 players consider the game’s heyday. I have also looked at broader MMO environment at that time and what EverQuest brought to the genre. From this, I can pretty clearly see what keeps me coming back year after year – not always constantly, but with some regularity.
The first is a primal desire to finish what I started. In 2001 the highest level character I owned was Level 32. Twenty years later and I still don’t have a a character that is Level 60 (the max level during the ‘classic’ era). I have two main characters on Project1999 – Celador, a High Elf Enchanter, and Quinok, a Troll Shaman. Celador is Level 57, and relatively close to 60, and Quinok is Level 44. Celador was started in 2012 and has been my go-to character during my multi-annual visits to Project1999. I shelved him earlier this year and started Quinok in March 2019. My progress has been much faster. I expect it will be Quinok, and not Celador, that sees Level 60 first. But the levels between 50 and 60 are punishingly slow, even for my two classes that have a lot of soloing and duoing ability.
The second reason is the nature of the game that makes newer MMOs feel hollow to me. The trope in classic EverQuest is more time equals more progress, which is not entirely false. But there is also a high value placed on knowledge of the world and its mechanics. Modern MMOs typically hand this to players on a silver platter, including EverQuest ‘Live’. I am not saying EverQuest is necessarily ‘harder’ than a twitchy reactive boss fight in World of Warcraft. I am simply saying that achieving something by ‘getting a mechanic’ in EverQuest is much more satisfying to me. Not to mention I’m getting old and my reactions aren’t as good anymore.
Equally, the game still requires cooperation – even for quite basic needs like transportation around the world, items and other services. I tend to solo a lot, but I like the fact that even as a soloer, I am interconencted into the world and I cannot exist as an ‘island’.
Smell the roses, embrace the grind
I think that classic EverQuest’s gameplay makes for a slower paced, more sedate experience. I can go find a group that requires me to be on my toes, casting buffs and debuffs and watching the action. Alternatively I can do what I’m doing while I write this post. I’m sitting on my butt waiting for my mana to regenerate, casually grabbing guards in the Ogre city Oggok.
If I want to travel around Norrath I can either walk, or reach out to other players to seek assistance. I can one day try for my epic weapon, and it is not something I can do alone. I could visit the otherworldly planes with my new Shaman, but I will go with other players and help them achieve their goals too. For a game so static – especially in the ‘stuck in time’ version that I play – there is a surprisingly large amount of gameplay variety.
The final reason is practical. Project 1999 still runs fantastically on my years old ThinkPad. The laptop has a discrete GPU but is clearly not meant for gaming given how hot it gets on my lap. I can play other games, but they do not perform well and the laptop becomes oppressively hot.
I can’t go past classic EverQuest and Project 1999 for a (mostly) relaxing game, that I can do while watching TV or chatting, that does not make my laptop cook my legs.
Send me a message and I’ll help you get started if you’re interested in trying Project1999.