When it comes to a launch, rough winds are pretty much expected. But surprisingly, EverQuest II’s progression server launch on Tuesday was pretty much smooth sailing — especially compared to its older sibling’s run just a couple months prior. The server was up right when expected, players could actually log into said servers despite the load, and a lack of crippling lag made play possible. Even better than all that is the fact that folks landed on the infamous boat that started the original journey over 10 years ago. In many ways, it really is a blast from the past, albeit with a few changes.

So now that the opportunity to recreate those glory days of starting EQII for the first time is here, how does the experience measure up to personal hype?

Smooth sailing
There’s no doubt about it: For a launch, this one went surprisingly well. Sure, there was some lag involved (how could it be an authentic experience without it?), but at no time did I find the game completely unplayable, nor did I hear any such complaints from others. Heck, there wasn’t even a queue to log in, and I had logged in both right when the servers came up at 3:01 p.m. EDT and then twice more later, once at prime time before my launch-day stream. It wasn’t because people weren’t playing; within minutes, the server load on PvE Stormhold went from light to medium, and before terribly long it moved on up to heavy.

It could be that Daybreak learned from mistakes made during EverQuest latest progression server launch. However, EQII also had a few advantages, not the least of which being an instanced beginner island that could spawn new ones to handle the load. At one point there were 19 different instances of the Isle of Refuge — and that’s just one faction! More than just getting into the game, the existence of so many instances was key to actually getting the chance to play it; the island itself is pretty small, and having other instances you can easily move between via the bell on the dock or your group window helped lessen the tripping-over-other-players feeling that usually happens when everyone is starting at the same time, doing the same quests, and needing the same mobs. Basically, the Isle of Refuge is the perfect way to give folks the space they need to accomplish their goals while still granting access to plenty of other players if they need them.

Do I think this launch was a success? Oh yeah! It delivered what veteran and new players alike were craving: That true EQII beginning. A couple of days later the crowds on the isles have thinned out a bit as players have moved on to the cities, but there are still multiple instances to hop between, a fact I just took advantage of in order to find a mob that I needed for a quest but was farmed out on my current island. Even at 10:00 a.m. EDT on a Friday morning, there are still three Overlord’s Outposts to choose between.

Thanks for the memories
While starting over from scratch with none of the cool goodies years of veteran status and play affords is not everyone’s idea of fun, there is definitely something to be said for visiting the Isle of Refuge. I know players who had no interest in playing long term but made a character anyway just to ride the Far Journey again and help Captain Drake Varlos when the drakota (a smallish dragon) swoops down and sets things on fire, loosing the rude little goblin who begins chasing the first mate. It’s hard to resist the allure of skipping along the waves with the captain, then helping out the reps on either the Queen’s Colony or the Overlord’s Outpost to curry favor with your chosen city. I admit, I literally stood on the boat for hours before moving on. As such, I didn’t really experience any of the lag some folks were noting initially. I just wasn’t ready to leave the boat in a hurry; I soaked up the ambiance until I simply couldn’t resist the pull of the island any longer.

Oh, the Isle of Refuge! Saying it has been incredible seeing all the familiar places again is an understatement. After 10 years, there are some differences — the experience isn’t completely true to the the 2004 island adventure — but that doesn’t diminish the waves and waves of nostalgia that crashed over me. Once again, I swam seeking Bladefin, I climbed the treehouse, I visited the cemetery, I collected shinies, and I gathered resources. I ascended the stairs of that little mage tower, and I descended into the tradeskiller’s workshop below it. (I may not be able to die at the forge again, but I can certainly smile at the memory of it.) And I traversed every single inch of the space, not just to make sure I hit every single discovery but to revel in being there again. I also took not a few screenshots!

Of course, as the two versions of the isle are quite different, I had to run both instances of the isle. I made both an evil and a good character, which necessitated both deleting an old toon I hardly used and also buying a new character slot! On Overlord’s Outpost, I stood for a moment and just listened to the statue of Lucan D’Lere, taking a moment to remember the man who truly brought the Vissage of the Overlord to life (thank you Christopher Lee for sharing your amazing talent with us). The whole time I was delighted at each new rediscovery.

In all, even if I didn’t want to continue with the time-locked expansion server, which I most certainly do, the 15 bucks it cost to have an All-Access pass for one month was well worth it just to revisit this haven of memories. Possibly the only thing I didn’t miss was the hideous beginning armor! I can’t wait to change out of it into something better (thank you, appearance slots!).

The difference is in the details
Although much about the starter experience is the same if not similar, those who played way back when can pick out the differences. For one thing, as in the current iteration of the game, you pick your class at character creation; there are no archetypes and advanced classes. The crafting is also the same as it is in the live game, without the subcomponents and the chance of death by needle at the hands of the vicious loom.

Another difference that I personally took advantage of is the fact that players on the Overlord’s Outpost can choose to go to Neriak instead of just Freeport. When the game launched, there was no Neriak to go to, but since I created a Tier’Dal, it felt better to send her to her racial home instead of the streets of Freeport. Speaking of the main cities, I can report that they are their revamped selves, not the original iterations.

Other differences include selecting races that weren’t available at the game’s initial launch. It actually was a teeny bit jarring to see an Aeraykn on the isle, reminding me that I wasn’t back in 2004. Of course, Frogloks are also available, as are Freebloods for those who have purchased that unlock. As for added classes, however, those two have been locked to the expansions that introduced them: Age of Discovery for Beastlords and Tears of Veeshan for Channelers.

On top of all this I don’t remember the island being quite so easy. Obviously 10 added years of play in EQII — and MMOs in general — could account for quite a chunk of that; so many things are second nature now that were brand-new to me back then. Even so, it still seems much easier than that. If it weren’t for my wanderings to soak up the ambiance, I would have pretty well blown through the content in no time. And as the island truly is soloable the whole way, traveling with even a single companion makes it that much easier, never mind playing with a group of friends. Luckily, I am in no rush, though I am looking forward to seeing how life after the isle stacks up.

The future’s so bright
I see a great future ahead for this progression server. New players and returning veterans alike can get in on the ground floor and not feel constantly behind the curve. Current players have the chance to be a part of building a new community and experiencing each step of the way without having to feel rushed through 10 expansions. And plenty are taking advantage of this opportunity; it is amazing to see chat light up constantly with requests for groups.

Well done, Daybreak! I’m already having loads of fun here, and the journey is just beginning. Have you taken the plunge? Soon, we’ll have a guild based in Qeynos on Stormhold. And from there it is only a hop, skip, and a jump to taking over Norrath!

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