Your Daily McMaster: on an everquest for early access

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I’m obsessed with early access games. From Minecraft to the new standalone DayZ release, I can’t stop paying for half-built games. I usually end up regretting it in the end, but I can’t help myself. To that end, I’ve spent a bit of time recently trying to understand my sickness. I think I finally figured it out.

After the jump, Fippy Darkpaw and the dangers of Blackburrow

I ended up, somehow, in the phase 3 beta for the original EverQuest. I was wicked excited for the game, as many others were, and couldn’t believe my luck. It came on several discs, which I immediately began to install. At the time EQ was still in development, the best you could hope for was a serious internet connection (T1, T3) or ISDN. I had neither. The installation and patching took many, many hours to complete. I left it on overnight.

The next day, I couldn’t wait to get home from work and log in to Norrath. Since my early years, I’ve been a fan of RPG monks, so I made a human monk and started off in a city called Qeynos. Qeynos was kind of the good guy city where Freeport handled the more… unsavory individuals. The game loaded up and I began my journey.

The graphics for the original EQ leave quite a bit to be desired nowadays, but back then, it was the most amazing looking game in the world. Qeynos was quite mesmerizing to wander through, and so I did for quite some time. I walked by fountains and shops, looked at other players and tried to jump on top of buildings. After a while, of course, all of that gets a bit old, so I decided to make my way outside.

The areas around the cities in EverQuest were almost always newbie adventure zones. You’d spend hours killing bugs and weak versions of standard D&D monsters while on the hunt for the next experience level. In EQ, if you died, you’d lose experience and have to go back to get your body, so leveling could be slow going sometimes. Eventually, I hit level 5 and decided to move on out a bit farther.

I encountered a high level (he was level 15) paladin not that far from Qeynos. I remember, in striking detail, how he was clad in patchwork armor of all sorts. He also had a sweet mustache. Before I could go too far, he warned me about Fippy Darkpaw and the dangers of Blackburrow. Though most of this made no sense at the time, it at least gave me some perspective about this guy Fippy Darkpaw that had been shouting like an idiot across the zone. I dropped back and watched the paladin fight for a while and inspected the surrounding area. I even wandered into Blackburrow, though the friendly paladin warned me against it. He was right, but not for the reasons you’d think – I fell through the world when I zoned through. That seemed like a good time for dinner, so I logged out.

After dinner, I had about an hour of play time before I needed to move on to my next activity. I logged in and decided to go on “walkabout.” I wanted to know how big this world really was. Since the ocean was to the west and falling through the world was to the north, I headed east. I then ran for, what feels like, over an hour. I kept hearing about this place called High Hold which was up at the top of this mountain and it sounded pretty cool. On my adventures, I somehow attracted a lion, so the last half hour of my run was dogged by an angry kitty. I ran and ran and ran until I found myself on a steeply inclining path in a mountain – the mountain I was looking for. I ran and ran, the lion still on my tail. Finally, the doors to High Hold appear and I breathe a sigh of relief… right before the lion killed me.

I let out a long sigh and sat there for a minute. All that time running just to be killed by a stupid lion. All of my stuff was on my body, way up in the mountain. I had no real idea of how to get back to it or any of the other tricks about the game. There were no hint sites or well mapped out guides – just me and the wilderness. I couldn’t wait to get back in.

The excitement of discovery at my own hands, without a guide, in a dangerous new world was enough to keep me playing EQ for quite some time. I played quite a bit with my friends and we formed a group that ended up conquering a large portion of the original game and its first few expansions. Of course, by that time, the new wore off and the excitement died down. What was once a world filled with wonder and excitement became old hat and we moved on, but I held that memory dear.

With the possible exception of the World of Warcraft beta, I’ve yet to find a game that even comes close to my initial EverQuest experience. I think that’s why I jump into so many betas and alphas – I want that feeling of wonder. What I wouldn’t give for that feeling.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a book that was published posthumesly entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. In it, his main character, George Webber, bemoans:

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

I can’t go to Qeynos again.