Why the original, 1999 version of EverQuest is still one of the best MMOs to play today

Everquest key art
(Image credit: Daybreak Games, Keith Parkinson)

EverQuest released all the way back in 1999, but despite that it's still one of my favorite MMOs to play today. I'm not really talking about the live game though, which incredibly is about to receive its 30th expansion, Laurion's Song, in December. I'm talking about classic EverQuest, where meditating for mana took forever, a lull resist could wipe your whole group, and there was no such thing as a microtransaction. 

Thanks to fan projects, it's still possible to play EverQuest as it used to be. The latest fan-run classic EverQuest server, Project Quarm, launched on October 1. Like other unofficial fan servers the Al'Kabor Project and Project 1999 before it, Quarm strives to present the game as it existed back in the first couple years of the game's life—warts and all. Unlike Project 99, however, this server will progress through the classic era all the way through the 2002 Planes of Power expansion, seen by many to be the peak of the EQ experience.

(Image credit: Daybreak Game Company)

Its developer and lead administrator, Secrets, has been working on this for a long time. They had the same experience I did in 2001 when the Shadows of Luclin expansion came out. Even though the expansion was great, it featured a graphics overhaul with new character models that a lot of us thought were a substantial downgrade—mushy potato figures that all kinda looked the same and lacked some of the unique flavor from the originals (why weren't the trolls scratching their butts any more?!?). We wanted to go back, and we couldn't. It was my first brush with thinking about game preservation.

The code for Project Quarm is taken from the Al'Kabor Project, a longstanding (and painstaking) effort to reverse engineer all the content from classic through Planes of Power as it existed back then. It's also open source, which is really important to Secrets. They not only want to preserve EverQuest as it was, they want to make sure Project Quarm will remain a place to enjoy it, come what may. "Let's say I was to get hit by a bus," Secrets mused to me in an interview. "I want to make sure that in the future we all have access to this. It's a preservation effort. I'd like for someone's grandkids who played EverQuest to be able to play the same game they did to understand how games used to be." 

Game preservation is especially tricky with live service games and MMOs. The developers are interested in moving forward, not backward, and sometimes the way the game was is lost to time entirely. Things are patched, changes made, bugs fixed, graphics updated. I may never get to experience the same thrill I did the first time I dropped into the Vault of Glass in the first Destiny or smash leets again with a pre nerf sledgehammer in Anarchy Online, but thanks to lots and lots of hard work by fans, EverQuest's history is safe for now.

Why EverQuest is worth playing now

(Image credit: Daybreak Game Company)

And it's a history worth saving! You may wonder why I would play an MMO from a hundred years ago when there are so many other options, but there's really something special about the original. Some of my favorite things about classic EverQuest include:

  • Cooperation: Monsters are tough, and soloing is challenging. You can certainly still do it, especially on a pet class, but Everquest incentivizes players to work together. Whether it's a duo partner to kill monsters, a Druid to teleport you to another continent, or a Rogue to pull your sorry carcass out of the depths of a dungeon, the systems in EQ push players together and create bonding moments. 
  • Competition: There are no instances in classic EverQuest⁠—if you want loot and experience from mobs or camps, you have to go take it, which means another player can't have it. It's important to note that the best servers are not the wild west (although I would love to see a no holds barred server at some point if only for the train wrecks), and Project Quarm definitely isn't—they have a robust ruleset to keep things civilized overseen by the co-administrator, Ailia. But competition is integral to the experience.
  • Not every group is the same: In most MMOs, you settle into the same  formula of a tank, a healer, and a few dps hustling through encounters with safe, but boring strategies. It's not like that in EQ, though. Sometimes your group will have a swarm of pets, or use a Necromancer to fear things while Rogues stab it in the back. There are dedicated team members just for pulling things into camp or crowd controlling adds. There's so much more variety to the group compositions, and all these years later I'm still learning new ways to get things done. 
  • No cash, no cosmetics, no nonsense: Thanks in part to the grey legal status of fan servers, PQ is totally free. Unlike the official time-locked progression (TLP) servers run by Daybreak, there is no cash shop, no Kronos, and no cosmetics. It's a pure old-school experience. 
  • Stuff takes forever: I know, I know, this isn't really upside. But Brad McQuaid (rest well, Aradune) famously said he wanted meditating for health and mana to take a long time to foster social relationships between players, and it works. You can go get a cup of coffee, answer an email, or have a chat with your Warrior about their cat. You just don't get this kind of lull in modern games, and I can't tell you how many real conversations I've had with real humans because we had to wait a minute or two on a mana bar. 

(Image credit: Daybreak Game Company)

EverQuest certainly isn't for everyone: It's dated, the gameplay is kinda clunky, and as much fun as I had waking the Sleeper on Project 1999's Green server, the raiding in EverQuest can be a toxic morass of degenerates and elf lawyers (ever read a 30-page report with headers, evidence screenshots and videos, reference to established server case law, and footnotes with GM comments about a contested dragon? Cause I have). I'm really glad these classic servers exist though, and it's nice to see the game in the hands of  stewards who take it seriously. 

That sort of engaged, hands-on management of servers will be especially important for ensuring a healthy raid scene. Currently, Project Quarm is rotating raid mobs with guilds taking turns, but other systems will be tried out as well. They've even considered adding more spawns if the assembled guild leaders (all of whom are in contact with Secrets on the PQ Discord) request it, with Secrets arguing that "while that will alter the game, it would also help sustain a server with more people than what players are generally used to." 

(Image credit: Daybreak Game Company)

Changing the respawn of mobs is typically taboo on classic servers, with their focus on an "authentic" classic EverQuest experience, but being pragmatic about these QoL issues, especially with backing from the community, has me optimistic about the server's prospects for attracting and retaining players.

It's a great time to check out classic EverQuest if you've ever been curious—Project Quarm in its first few weeks has been a delight. Prominent EverQuest community member, LevelUpLarry, put out a quick start video that helps smooth out what can be a fussy installation, as did streamer CohhCarnage. If you have any questions beyond that, the PQ Discord is super active and has lots of helpful adventurers who can help you out.