Occasionally, the group of us who played on the E’ci server in EverQuest will get to waxing rhapsodic about the “good old days” and how EQ was somehow “better” than more current games. Usually discussions like these can be dismissed as a “first love” problem, where the game that got you in to MMOs it always remembered better than it was and nothing later can give you that same rush. But, we’ve had these discussions often enough that most of the first love elements have begun to drift away and we’ve gotten more into specifics of design and approaches to game elements that were “better” back in EQ than the direction that later games went with it.
I’ve often tried to put my finger on exactly what the difference is between EverQuest and World of Warcraft, but I always seem to fall short. This most recent time around though, I think I have hit upon a comparison that really does encapsulate the differences between the two games and makes clear which game a person might prefer based on their tastes. So here goes…
EverQuest was like going camping or going on a road trip, while World of Warcraft was like a theme park.
In EQ, you were dropped in the world, there wasn’t much lore or story before that and you wandered around chatting with NPCs and fighting monsters. There were quests, but often they required some reading and figuring out, and they’d take days, weeks or even months to complete. You sort of did whatever you wanted. At first, there was nothing in the way of tiers, that came later, and in the very beginning there wasn’t even any level gating. When the Plane of Fear first opened there was no level 46 restriction. I saw my first dragon raid when I was level 30, though I died quick and wasn’t itching to get back until I had more levels under my belt. And there were people… like when camping there are other sites or on a road trip when you stop at diners and other places… and if you kept going back to the same places, you’d run into the same people, and if you all wanted to do the same stuff at the same time, you had to share.
WoW, on the other hand popped you into the world staring at an NPC with a giant punctuation mark floating over its head. From that first moment you are following the designated paths, doing the designated tasks, and if you leave the path, you’d often find there is nothing there. (Not always, sometimes you find some little treasure trove of mini quests or a random NPC in a hut put there on a lark by some developer.) You have to be this high to ride this ride, and everyone gets a turn.
For me, every time I have ever gone camping or gone on a road trip, they made memories that stuck. If this were that sort of post, I’d regale you with the story of going camping with the Cub Scouts and a few of us wandered off and found houses, and there was this girl undressing in the upstairs window… There is a lot more to that story than just some boys almost seeing their first real live boob, and maybe I’ll tell it some day, but the point is that I remember it. And I remember EQ, because all the choices were mine and I went anywhere I wanted, and even when the game did point me in a particular direction it still felt like it was my choice. When I go to Six Flags or some other theme park, I might remember the people I went with, or a general feeling of how I felt on certain rides, but lots of the details are gone. WoW feels like this. I remember the first time I entered the Plane of Knowledge in EQ (and that is years after the game launched) and what I did and who I was with as we explored, but the details of the day I entered the Burning Crusade or started my Blood Elf? Gone. Mostly from WoW I remember going from punctuation to punctuation, walking into towns and seeing a sea of punctuation which meant I would be busy, but very few of those punctuations stick out. But from EQ, I recall details of days sitting in the Plane of Storms or The Overthere, pulling and grinding mobs, and chatting with people, and leading a group into Kaesora or the City of Mist or Kedge Keep, running from Qeynos to Freeport. I know I led groups into the Scarlet Monastery, but for the life of me I can’t pluck out any details of what we did there beyond “we completed some quests”. I went to the Deadmines and plenty of other places, but I don’t recall much of what we did.
Of course, not everyone is like me. There are those who love and remember theme parks the way that I remember camping and road trips. People for whom EQ was a neverending grindfest of wall sitting that blurs together, while WoW was a carnival of instances with their favorite group of friends and they can tell you stories about every one. But it boils down, I think, to the difference between camping and theme parks. When you go camping you have to make your own fun, but when you go to a theme park someone has designed the fun for you. EQ more easily let you do what you wanted (even if it was boring and sucked), while WoW had its fun laid out for you, and its up to each player to know what sort of experience they are looking for.
I wish more games were like camping.