While its intent - to unite thousands of players simultaneously within a huge game world - is similar to other online role-playing games, EverQuest delivers on its promises much more assertively than the competition, though not always gracefully. Between its excellent graphics, its performance, its rich fantasy setting, and its propensity to force you to cooperate with, rather than hinder, your fellow players, EverQuest is the best game in its class. At the same time, it is loaded with problems. Most aren't serious, though many are glaring, but just as you're liable to notice its flaws, so will you be inclined to look beyond them once you see how much the game has to offer.
EverQuest looks so good that comparing its graphics to any other first-person RPG would be a disservice. Its colorful, 3D-accelerated visuals instead rank with first-person shooters in terms of quality and detail, although in all fairness, they don't rank very highly because the quality is inconsistent. Certain player classes, monsters, and areas of the world look spectacular - at its best, EverQuest is picturesque and realistic. Then again, other parts of the game look silly or downright bad. There also isn't a lot of variety in the way of customizing your character's appearance, and nighttime tends to be oppressively dark even if you have a good lantern. But you'll constantly be amazed at how huge the world seems, and since the game includes practically every type of landscape you can imagine, from mountain on down to dungeon, you'll soon find a setting that feels comfortable.
It should also be mentioned that the game's look - from the come-hither high elf on the box to the overly endowed female characters within - seems aimed at a male audience, which is unfortunate considering online RPGs needn't confine themselves to specific types of gamers. At least EverQuest sounds all right, with a nice but forgettable fantasy soundtrack and an interesting set of sound effects for all the different monsters. But all of it's repetitive, so you'll be turning down the volume before long.
While its graphics set it apart right away, EverQuest is going to last, not because it's pretty, but because it plays well. On the technical side, gameplay is smooth and mostly lag-free even over a 56K modem. Lag is rarely problematic even when it happens (you'll find yourself complaining about the long loading times between regions instead), though the occasional "lag death" has been witnessed. Otherwise, EverQuest offers dozens of different race and class combinations, which is perhaps the most enticing feature in the game. You can play a comparatively mundane fantasy character - a dwarf warrior or a human cleric, for instance - or you can choose something more exotic, like a dark elf necromancer or a troll shadowknight. The race you choose will critically affect your experience of the game, since most every race has a unique hometown, which you'll have to stick close to for the first several weeks of play. The class you choose is just as important, and all of them play differently, and most of them are fun. You'll want to try several combinations before you commit to one, but you can't realistically cultivate more than one or two characters.
That's because EverQuest isn't for casual game players, as it demands a huge time commitment. Building up your character to around the tenth level, at which point he can traverse the land without too much interference from its indigenous life, demands dozens of hours of combat. And while combat isn't particularly interesting - indeed, as a warrior character, you do little more than watch your enemy's hit points dwindle, hoping they do so more quickly than your own - there are plenty of monsters lurking around. Thus, EverQuest weaves the illusion that it's action packed. In fact, gaining experience is a terrifically boring process, but fortunately your character becomes noticeably stronger with every level. Even after many months of play, you'll keep learning new abilities and powerful new spells, or if not, you'll be purchasing far superior equipment. Safe to say that if you're looking to spend a great deal of time with a game, you'll be hard-pressed to find a worthier suitor than EverQuest.
Then again, if you're picky about details, EverQuest may not be for you. There's no denying that the game is very rough around the edges, and you'll know it from the moment you start the game and must sift through its lackluster menus. The actual interface isn't much better, the manual is even worse, the game is loaded with hilariously bad textual errors, and all in all, it's guaranteed to frustrate you regularly. If nothing else, you should expect to get killed a lot, at which point you must make the arduous journey to retrieve your belongings from your corpse. As you grow more powerful, you'll die less frequently, but you'll lose experience when you do, and reclaiming your pricey equipment will be much more critical. It'll also take a lot longer to heal all your hit points between fights, since you'll have more of them, yet your healing rate remains constant.
Luckily, EverQuest offers a one-step solution to almost everything wrong with it: You need but find yourself a good group of friends to make your problems go away. Fighting alongside someone makes combat much more interesting. Chatting with that person passes the time while you recuperate, and working together, you're much less liable to perish. EverQuest is loaded with features that promote, even demand, collaboration among players. For instance, spells increase in potency from continuous use, so clerics are encouraged to heal any injured players they come across. Once you get to be around level seven, you'll have a much more difficult time fighting creatures on your own; healers must back up the fighters, fighters must back up the magic users, and the magic users can keep the healers safe from harm. It sounds crude, but the balance is more delicate than overbearing.
Likewise, you need not worry about other players robbing you or stabbing you in the back, because they simply can't unless you play on a server designated just for that. EverQuest also includes features that automatically split loot and experience among party members, and parties must be composed of similarly powerful characters, so you can't just ride on a stronger player's coattails. Meanwhile, most of EverQuest's trade skills, such as fishing and tailoring, represent viable alternatives to fighting for money, and you'll find that money is nearly as important in EverQuest as it is in the real world. The game's economy altogether feels realistic and versatile. You can buy things from shopkeepers, but again, your best chance is to try to get a good deal from one of your friends.
It shouldn't surprise you that EverQuest promotes cooperation. Like any online RPG, at its core, EverQuest is an interface for interaction between players, and in this respect it's excellent. Sure, the combat may be a little boring, the manual may be horrible, the quest system half-baked, and the game not without its small share of miscellaneous bugs. But all you need is to find a like-minded adventurer or two, and all of a sudden EverQuest stands to become one of the most memorable gaming experiences you've ever had. Exploring the land, hunting monsters, fleeing from certain death - all these things are incredible fun in EverQuest so long as someone else is along for the ride. Although it might have been better in almost every respect, it is, like any good online RPG, a work in progress. And there's no question that it's the best game of its kind.