Everquest 2 Screenshot

My first EQ2 character, Wascal

The downside? There are two. First, the graphics. The game simply makes my eyes bleed. The oversaturated colors and low-detail textures create a world that does not appeal to me. Compare the water in the two shots below. The Everquest screenshot shows water with transparent and reflective qualities. The World of Warcraft water looks cartoonish in comparison. It practically glows. Compounding the graphical shortcomings is the lack of variety for character models. While City of Heroes boasts a powerful character creation tool, World of Warcraft offers you a meager choice for hair color, and that's about it. While many would counter that gameplay trumps graphics, a virtual gaming world is where I choose to spend much of my free time. How it looks matters -- and I don't want to spend my time in a world that looks like this. Subjective? You bet.

Everquest 2 Screenshot
World of Warcraft Screenshot

Making matters worse is that new characters spawn into racial villages, surrounded by players of the same type. The result is to be drowned in a sea of clones in a genre where immersion and individuality are king. The easy answer is to blame it on the lack of zoning, and that may largely be the case, but I find it interesting to note the contrast between games in their approach to graphical presentation. Maybe some day I can have my cake and eat it, too, but until then the choice is between great graphics and no zoning.

It's the Community, Stupid

Now for the second shortcoming I found in World of Warcraft. As with anything tremendously appealing to the masses, the problem of, well, the masses, arises. WoW is not the place to hold a Mensa meeting. My first memorable encounter with another player in this game involved a flypaper-like Hunter who simply would not leave me alone. Not only did he follow me around the forest, into the shops and then to a cave, hopping about and insisting that I team with him, but he did all this without me saying a single word. Not one. I was just minding my own business, reading some quest text when along comes Mr. Flypaper flapping his arms and making bird noises. From my short experience in this game, its bad rap for immaturity is well deserved. If only there were an online RPG that looked great, didn't zone and had a mature player base. My quest continues.

Continue to Part Three

Back to Part One

- Mike Mangold - 9/25/2005

My Year in Online RPGs (Part Two)

The overriding impression I had playing Everquest 2 was that of being in a Theme Park where the park mangers are paid bonuses every time they rearrange the rides.

This game has a lot of patches. Where City of Heroes might have a major content patch every couple of months, Everquest 2 has patches several times a week. And these aren't just small patches. Everything from new dungeons to combat and spell changes are pushed down the pipe to EQ2 subscribers on a near-continuous schedule. You'd think this would be a good thing, and it would be if the quantity were matched by quality.

It isn't. EQ2 is the buggiest damn game I've played in a long while. Each new patch introduces new bugs that lead to even newer patches in a vicious catch-22 of job security for someone who should have been fired long ago. One nasty bug in particular trapped players in "combat mode" even after combat had ended, handicapping health and endurance recovery. This bug was particularly prevalent among the pet classes, and as luck would have it I was playing a pet-summoning Conjurer. Dismissing my pet would sometimes clear the bug, otherwise I'd have to exit the game and log back in. Considering that combat is an activity initiated with some regularity in a game of this nature, fixing such a bug would clearly have been a high priority. Wrong. I just checked the message boards three months after I quit EQ2, and the combat lock bug still hasn't been fixed.

EQ2 is a textbook example of the mission creep that leads developers to sacrifice stability for new features. I really suspect there's something in the management model to blame. (Who gets bonuses when nothing happens?) New features should simply not be introduced unless all bugs have been fixed. A common retort to this complaint is that the staff working on new features are a separate group of developers from those working on bug fixes. Well reassign them and get the bugs fixed already.

The other big complaint I have with EQ2 is the constant zoning. While EQ2 is the most graphically-impressive game I've ever played, as well as quite immersive (it broke my heart to leave) there is a price to be paid. Whether in the quaint center of Qeynos City or in the shadowy depths of Nektulos forest, you're likely to come upon conspicuous doors, bells or other indications of the need to un-immerse yourself and stare at a loading screen. Zoning is a constant annoyance in this game, and it's a problem plaguing more and more games as hard drive speed and RAM capacity fails to keep pace with processor speed. All those lovely textures and billions of polygons have to be thrashed in and out of main memory with a frequency that seems to match every few steps of my character's stride. Or do they?

World of Warcraft

Bolting out of the gate in November, 2004, Blizzard's much-anticipated port of its popular strategy game has come to dominate the online RPG genre. Currently topping out at over two million subscribers, the game has seen tremendous commercial success, luring players with the promise of creating their own Warcraft character. What lured me into the game was the promise of no zoning.

You can travel forever in Warcraft without encountering an artificial zone barrier. Whether traveling on foot or by air on one the magnificent Gryphons, the game world just keeps rambling on seamlessly. I don't know how they do it, but I wish other games would take note and employ similar technology.