Editor's Note: It's always difficult to accurately rate a MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game), as every person will have a different experience. Therefore, please keep in mind that this review is written after approximately 40 hours of gameplay with a level 19 bard.
EverQuest Online Adventures (EQOA) is the first real MMORPG to arrive on a console. They are commonplace on the PC, but aside from Phantasy Star Online (PSO), online console games of this style have been unavailable. Unlike PSO, the world in EQOA is an evolving-state world, meaning updated content can always become available. And while it may appear that my score implies otherwise, EQOA is not a bad game by any means and shows excellent effort in the field of MMORPGs. Unfortunately, however, EQOA ends up falling short of most PC MMORPGs by a large margin.
Characters in EQOA look like they are made of little more than 600 polygons each. As such, character models appear a bit blocky, but otherwise look comparable to a first generation PlayStation 2 game. This is not a negative aspect by any means and actually has the positive effect of reducing lag during periods of heavy activity. Animation for these character models is excellent, especially considering the low polygon count. Environments are built well, and although long treks between towns are repetitive, the appearances of certain locations change based on the race to which they belong. Subtle variations such as this aid in making the game appear more graphically dynamic. All in all, EQOA looks like any PC MMORPG on low graphics settings: decent, but not anything special.
The sound of EverQuest Online Adventures is at similar level as the graphics. Not horrible by any means, but not spectacular either. The music is just there. It does not add much to the atmosphere but helps to ward off imminent boredom. The sound effects are done well, but the timing is often out of synchronization due to lag. Sounds will come without an accompanying animation, or a few seconds before or after. This is particularly true while performing special attacks. While both lag and sync errors are expected in MMOGs, I would have expected a lot more in this particular area.
The original EverQuest is still going strong after 4 years. The engine is not that robust, but it has something that keeps players coming back. EQOA is seemingly much like the PC EverQuest, but lacks the charm that makes its predecessor special. There are no arenas in EQOA, so Player vs. Player (PvP) combat does not exist. Players may only fight monsters. If the combat engine were fun, this would not be such a bad thing. However, EQOA's battle engine requires only that you attack something once to initiate combat. The battle is then automatic aside from inputting special abilities. These abilities are of the standard fare typically found in any MMOG: Stat Boosters and Quick attacks. None of the abilities I encountered had any flair and all had the same animation. Given that my character is a Bard, I fully expected him to be pictured playing music or dancing a jig instead of generically raising his hands while surrounded by multicolored light. In addition, the game's player-operated guilds lack excitability since purchasing one is easy, inexpensive, and attainable by anyone.
Quests in EQOA are boring and somewhat trite. There are two types of quests: fetch quests and bounty quests. Fetch quests have the player scrambling halfway across the world to get an item or to deliver a message to someone in exchange for a random trinket or spell. Bounty quests require that you to kill a certain creature or a given amount of a specific type of creature. The quests have some semblance of a linking story, but end up becoming monotonous and bothersome rather quickly. For example, characters go on a set of quests to get a suit of special armor at level 17. However, these quests are just as tedious as every other one, making them a rather humdrum goal.
The cornerstone of any MMOG is player interaction. This is yet another area in which EQOA fails. By pressing the L2 button, a set of stock phrases appears from which the player can select an expression to speak automatically to their immediate area. Although such a system works in PSO where group interaction is not as important, EQOA suffers greatly from these communication barriers. The fact that most people do not have USB keyboards for their PS2 is a severe detriment to communication. Because of the difficulty in expressing long, complete sentences, most of the messages seen are in a difficult-to-understand form of shorthand that convey the necessary message succinctly, but blandly. Had Sony distributed keyboards with EQOA or released a USB keyboard under the PS2 name, players would be able to communicate with greater ease. But as it stands, most find that communication in EQOA is simply a chore.
The control scheme with the Dual Shock 2 is intuitive. Except for the difficulties in communication, performing the simple, necessary actions to play the game is relatively straightforward. Combat in EQOA is not in real time, so responsiveness is not a real issue. In addition, control is smooth while moving around the world. Those who would prefer keyboard movement will be disappointed because, although the PS2 supports a USB keyboard, it requires the Dual Shock 2 for movement. Logitech has released a controller/keyboard combination that works well, even if it is quite bulky.
The story of EverQuest Online Adventures is disappointingly flat. The game takes place a few hundred years before the PC version in the land of Norrath. That is all. Granted, most MMOGs do have a shallow story, but this game lacks even the compulsory explanation as to why these characters are adventuring in Norrath. Anarchy Online has the strife between the Clans and Omni-Tek, while World of Warcraft has the war between the good races and the Burning Legion. But EQOA simply does not have purpose in any facet of play. Even when compared against other weak MMOGs, the story here is far too lacking.
Overall, Everquest is not a horrible game, per se. It is an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, average MMOG. Much can be forgiven due to EQOA's brave attempt to blaze the path for more online RPGs to appear on consoles, but not all can be forgotten. Perhaps in an expansion or sequel, Sony Online Entertainment can add PvP combat or a more worthwhile clan system. With the PS2 HDD being released in the beginning of 2004, SOE has far more with which to work than it did during EQOA's development. As it stands, EQOA is worth the current $19.99 price tag, even if played only during the first free month. After that, my advice is to wait for the expansion, switch to FFXI, or rely on the PC where MMOGs are generally far more enjoyable.
© 2003 Sony Online Entertainment