Friday, January 19, 2024

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#150 - 152)


#150 Everquest (PC) - Spring 2000

This is the game I've spent more time playing than any other game ever. Wasn't even sure where to place it on the list because how do you "beat" a persistent world MMORPG that adds new areas and bosses almost every year? Not just going to leave MMORPGs off the list though, that'd be silly given the time investment if I leveled up and did raid content etc in one. So I figured "the point in time where I really got into the game" would be the best spot for it.

World map of the main continent at launch. This was so cool back in 1999, looking at all these locations and wanting to explore them. The zones tying together the way they did was something you just didn't see much back then, especially not in a game world this huge. You could run from one end of this continent to the other and it would take several hours, seeing all kinds of sights along the way. I remember the north center (snow areas) and southwest corner (dark hilly area) being particularly interesting back then because they weren't actually in the game. They clearly have things in them on this map, so of course my brain went wild with the possibilities. Maybe they'd be secret areas! Well, nope, but later both parts of the continent were added semi-haphazardly as random parts of expansions. So that's cool.

By April 2000 I was done with high school and finished the GED after lots of painstaking practice tests that ended up being harder than the actual GED. The first EQ expansion, Ruins of Kunark, had dropped right around this point, and tons of people were playing. So it was a good time to get into the game "for real" and really play the heck out of it.

Here's Ruins of Kunark, back when PC games usually had these big beefy boxsets. Technically I got the game in like August '99, but didn't have much computer time to actually play it until April 2000. I tried a few different classes and couldn't get into them. Mage and Bard both seemed awesome on paper but I just didn't...get them. Finally I landed on Necromancer as my class of choice, a solo-specialist using entirely dark element spells and undead pets. Once I got that going, I actually made some progress.

While I liked the game right from the get-go with its massive 3D world (extremely new at this point in time), the thing that made me really get into it was the dragons. The dragon bosses in the game were really cool for 1999, as polygonal as the first few were in retrospect. Just the fact that you'd get like 20 people together to fight one was crazy, and pretty awesome. Then later that 20 became 40, then became 80, as the game got more popular and the bosses got more powerful. One time about 450 people got together (from rival guilds, no less) to kill a mob that was unkillable at the time.

I remember the first dragon that really seriously impressed me was Trakanon, the decaying poison dragon with the sharp teeth. Every screenshot of that beast made me want to get to max-level post-haste. When they first raised the level cap from 50 to 60, this thing was basically impossible to beat because his poison breath would essentially put everyone on a death timer. Once everyone was 60 with better resistances and more DPS, things were different. Then later in time a guy soloed this thing with a level 65 monk and a lot of skill.

Necromancer I didn't get to max level though. My Necromancer did pretty well and I was within striking distance of max level, but didn't get there due to the time commitment involved at the time. After finding out that Necromancers weren't great on raids due to dark magic being heavily resisted by bosses (back then bosses had a ton of resists, especially to that type of spell), I started over as a Rogue (which were regarded as very useful on raids due to their high DPS, and piercing worked fine against any opponent). Raids were what I cared about, that's what I was working towards. So Necromancer being great at leveling up and not great on raids was a problem.
Unfortunately, going Rogue was a mistake because the class turned out to be incredibly tedious to play as, with no soloability and little group desirability. Compared to the Necromancer which had zero issue soloing whatever it wanted, Rogue was a jarring step down. I kept at it and got to a high level with the Rogue as well, but still not max level. Raiding wasn't everything I hoped for at that point (because I wasn't contributing as much as I wanted to) and I struggled with gearing up. Ended up checking out on the game entirely some time in 2001.

I missed the game's highest population and notoriety era, which was 2002-2003, and returned in late 2004. This time I played a Monk, and it went waaaay better than before. The game was significantly less of a struggle to play at this point and had a lot of QOL improvements. Monk combined the high-DPS melee of Rogue with the ability to actually solo - not as good as a Necromancer, but pretty darn good regardless with a good weapon and mastery of Feign Death - which ended up working out real well for me. Actually reached max level at some point this time! And did some raids, which I could contribute a lot more with now.

Over time the visuals of the game gradually evolved and improved, as did the gameplay and everything else. I feel like I was rewarded for sticking with it / returning to it. Played on and off for a few more years. Late 2004 to early 2009 was definitely the "glory days" of the game for me and I really had a blast with it.
After that era, I played sporadically, like maybe a couple weeks once a year when something new dropped. In 2017 when progression/classic servers were all the rage, I went back to play all of the stuff I missed over the decades (as progression servers unlock new expansions every two months as opposed to every year or two, so you can really speed-run the game's lifespan with these servers). Went with the Berserker class this time, which was fun because who doesn't like mashing things with a battle axe?

However it's also one of the simplest, most utility-bereft classes in the game to the point of being potentially boring. Still, it was good for its time. 2017 to 2019 or so, before I stopped playing yet again, I got to see everything I'd missed in the past and really "complete" the game. At least until the next expansion. It IS called Everquest after all. In the future if I play again, I'm going Shadowknight or Paladin without a doubt, and finally playing a tank.

Awe-Inspiring Early Memory: Seeing a boat for the first time. So you're in your starting town, milling around, trying to figure out what you're doing. It starts raining and you're stunned by how calming it is. You stumble upon a dock, and next thing you know there's a giant ship coming in over the horizon and parking in front of you in the rain. Do you get on? Where does it go? Who knows. Whoa, this isn't just a game world, it's a game world.

Favorite Tunes: Katta Castrum theme, Steamfont Mountains theme, Sunderock Springs. What an incredible track for a very Grand Canyon esque zone full of secrets and things to do. There are a ton of others though. Here are several good ones:

Scarlet Desert

Steamfont Mountains

Katta Castrum (My favorite of the many hub areas for expansions).

Fondest Memory From Spring 2000: Going to the school library after the last GED test was done and printing out as many maps of EQ zones as I could find. Then I brought all that home and had a big binder of maps, which was a game-changer and made the game infinitely more fun to explore. I'd scribble notes all over the maps and point out good places to grind EXP or spots where an NPC dropped a particularly good item, etc.

Fondest Memory From 2004: As mentioned before, I stopped playing for a few years and resumed in late 2004 to try playing a Monk. This was incredibly fun to level up and hunt equipment for. I remember shopping in the Bazaar for the best possible weapons to twink up with.

Fondest Memory From 2007: Plowing through missions in the Atlantis-esque The Buried Sea expansion, fighting in underwater temples and ruins, climbing flying pyramids. All such a good time.
Fondest Memory From 2019: Getting the win over Unfettered Emerald Excellence, the toughest boss in the game's history. No picture available sadly. Well, he's a genie. Kind of Majin Buu-ish outfit.

Fondest Memory Overall: When they brought back Kerafyrm the Sleeper as "Kerafyrm the Awakened" and made him the new final boss of the game, I joined a real uber-guild for the first time because I had to be on board with the first slayings of the dragon. That entire phase of time, gearing up, getting into the uberguild, catching up on all the missions I'd missed in the previous lapse from the game, and so on, were all such a great time. I had a ton of content to catch up on and it was pretty much all great content too.
When the next expansion finally dropped and it was time to hunt down Kerafyrm, we had a whole progression of raid bosses to go through to get to him. Meldrath's Majestic Mansion was a particularly fearsome zone, and the final challenge before unlocking Kerafyrm's crystal palace. Every fight in Meldrath's Mansion was a real battle and a rush to topple. Finally, Meldrath himself and his army of mechs posed the greatest challenge I'd seen to date in the game, but we did it, and Kerafyrm awaited. Was Kerafyrm everything I hoped for? I don't know, but it was a cool fight, and his zone was one of a kind. They don't make expansions like that anymore.

Toughest Battle: There are a few that stand out as true accomplishments and triumphs of cooperation. Most famous is 400 or so players teaming up to kill a boss that was intended to be unkillable. They did this on a PVP (player vs player) server, no less, which makes it even more of a crazy accomplishment. As for me personally, I think the toughest battle I ever participated in was probably Unfettered Emerald Excellence in 2019, to this day probably the most challenging fight in the game to the point it could be considered an "uberboss". Another great fight was Commodus the Solar Construct back in 2007, a fight that requires everyone participating to really be on the ball and carry out their responsibilities. In-era it was much tougher than it is on classic servers. There was so much going on in that fight that it was insane. My job was just to punch the boss and stay alive.

Funniest Retro EQ Meme: Fansy the "Famous Bard" who would run around the Oasis of Marr with his high bard speed and round up all the high level Sand Giants in the zone, then proceed to bomb any "evil race" players (Ogre, Troll, Dark Elf) he could find by dropping the giants on them (quickly mashing them into paste). Then while people swore profusely in the zone chat, Fansy would go on about how it was another win for the "good guys", yelling "GO GOOD TEAM" while his mob trains murdered another group of players. It became a full-on meme, and a hilarious one (unless you were one of his victims, I suppose), and resulted in the game implementing new anti-training policies where people would be suspended for zone disruption.

Favorite Bad Guy: Probably Mayong Mistmoore. As obsessed as I was with the lore of Kerafyrm the Awakened and the dragons in general, Mistmoore was the more traditional supervillain of the game. He pops up throughout the game's history, being the higher power behind various evil schemes and other villains. He's the final boss of at two expansions that I know of and is the manipulator of events behind two more. Eventually Mistmoore even became a demigod, if not a full-on outright deity, and had to be defeated one final time.

Honorable Villain Mention goes to the legion of Discord, alien invaders who cross through dimensions and conquer entire worlds, adding the strong inhabitants to their army (via a lot of brainwashing and reconditioning) so they're forever gaining in strength and threat. They're based in part on the Dominion from Deep Space Nine, while also getting influence from the Reavers from the show Firefly. A lot of people didn't like the game's hard turn into sci-fi territory for a few years, and it coincided with Everquest's mid-2000's drop in popularity, but I attribute that more to the launch of World of Warcraft and it being a much more accessible game.

Everquest was always known for being "super hardcore" and while that definitely brought in a clientele of retro gamers and D&D fans, it wasn't going to last as a mainstream entity. Things like hours-long corpse recoveries and 13 hour Plane of Fear raids might seem like fond memories to people now, but at the time they sucked, and drove off a lot of people. Thankfully in the mid 2000's EQ's extreme 1980's level difficulty was scaled down significantly and became a lot more accessible (while still posing a challenge and demanding competency in managing the mechanics, unlike most of WoW). I think that was for the better because the game got a lot more fun over time as they adjusted it to be more in line with a normal RPG of the era with a normal difficulty level. Nobody should have to ever do an all-evening corpse recovery mission in any game ever again. This easing up of the gameplay also coincided with me returning to the game at the end of 2004, so that was good timing.

Back to Discord, this Dominion-like assembly of invader races made for some real interesting lore and a lot of mysteries. The game never really answered most of the questions posed by these guys, so they're still interesting to this day. They were also the villains of 3, yes 3 expansions, beating Mayong Mistmoore's record of 2. First we fought the Muramite branch of the Discord imperium as they tried to invade EQ's world, then we fought them on the other side of their dimensional portal in one of the other worlds they conquered, then later we got Muramites In Time as they went to various important points in the game's history to try and change events and weaken the world for their later attempts to conquer it.

I wouldn't put them in the top villain tier though, because I don't really feel like their storyline was ever resolved. Villains like Kerafyrm and Mistmoore had story arcs (sometimes over years), while these guys were more of a recurring antagonist that came and went and never got fully defeated. We don't even really know who their ultimate leader was, since Muramite kingpin Mata Muram turned out to just be a general for the overall collective of Discord. Maybe they don't even have a leader, maybe they're an amorphous mass of force-projection that branches out as needed to conquer new worlds. They should bring this concept back one final time.

EQ is certainly one of the great RPGs of our time and set the bar for everything after it in the MMORPG space. Mostly I just really liked the boat rides.

#151 Maru's Mission (Game Boy) – Spring 2000
Odd game here that I don't think many people know about. It had a short blurb at the end of, you guessed it, the Game Boy Player's Guide. I barely remember this one, but something compelled me to play it during my first week of freedom from school when I wasn't playing EQ. Huh. This is another one of those "get to the end of the game on one life" games and I don't know why anyone ever thought that was a good idea. At least you have a really large HP pool. Emulator helps a lot, just checkpoint yourself at the beginning of stages and before bosses. You know, like a normal game.

This game has an interesting visual style that looks different from most Game Boy games, like a console game that got greyscaled. Each of the six levels in this game is themed around a different part of the world, and you play as this ninja kid who jumps and shoots. That's...about it. It's a perfectly decent game though and deserved more recognition. I think it's mostly a "big in Japan" game, given that the MC of this game was a popular Jaleco character who had a bunch of games over there.

Most Notable Thing: Each level has a midboss that gives you their weapon when you defeat them, then you use that against the stage boss. What a bunch of Judases!

#152 Solar Striker (Game Boy) – Spring 2000

Basically the Game Boy version of Zanac or Space Megaforce. Except waaaaay inferior to those games. No special weapons, but at least you can power up your standard blaster to different degrees. While it may not measure up to its cousins, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this game regardless. I think it was yet another Game Boy Player's Guide game that I had to play. The thing that jumped out to me the most in the guide was the final boss, a giant fly called Reticulae. Even back then I was most interested in boss designs and boss fights. It's little wonder I'm so into Sekiro currently, a game that is basically just a set of really, really good boss fights.

Toughest Part: The big satellite boss at the end of Stage 4 is by far more difficult than anything else in this game. It's practically transplanted from an entirely different game: It fires a bullet hell type rain of shots and they travel in erratic directions at different speeds, rather than in consistent directions at consistent speeds like most of the rest of the game. And your ship really isn't agile enough for this kind of foe. Luckily there's a safe zone where you can bypass the fight, but regardless, it's the tough part. Oh yeah, and this is, yet again, one of those "get to the end on one continue" games. At least you have extra lives this time, but considering you can only take one hit, the lives are basically hit points.

Weird Thing About This: I was certain, like absolutely 100% certain, that I'd done a post on this game at some point. But apparently I didn't. Nada. And it's an important part of my history with space shoot-em-ups, so I went back and did it real quick. Still, real weird that I didn't do this in the past, yet remembered doing it.

Post HERE.

BTW, it's worth noting that despite all of the Game Boy on this list, and despite how much I played it, Tetris will never appear anywhere on it. It is the unbeatable game. You'd think I'd include it with the MMORPG clause, but nope. I never got super far with it anyway. Regardless, it can't be beaten.

Editor's Note: At this hour I've been informed that Tetris was indeed beaten. One of those whiz kids who play competitive Tetris managed to actually get to the end. That's pretty sick, and I love how people keep pushing the boundaries of what can be done with old games.

Also I can't wait to see what kind of new controller technique they come up with next to continue setting new records. Next evolution of controller technique is probably gonna involve Helicopter Dick.

I'm also patiently waiting for someone to beat Dark Souls while only holding the controller with their butt.

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