In honour of a friend’s re-running the EQChronicles series, I’ve revisted Norrath for a final wistful farewell. It’s always hard to say goodbye. Sometimes it’s just better not to.
It is the first death. My level 5 Bard stumbles off the overhead ramps in the tree house city of Kelethin and plunges fatally to the emerald turf below. His corpse, when I finally find it curled peacefully in the fetal position, isn’t the only one there either. It’s a common way for Half-Elves to learn the dangers of their new home. Colourful platemailed Bards, pulsing with the power of unimaginable levels, often leap heroicly from the highest recesses of Kelethin, protected by their masses of hitpoints and Safe Fall skill. It is a dangerous feat to emulate, I learn.
A rush of impossible velocity, and I’m standing shaking in my proud blue boots, shoulder to shoulder with guildmates after porting blindly into The Plane of Hate’s small and desperately dangerous anteroom. The chants of scores of nearby mobs fill my chat screen with oaths of allegiance to Innoruk, Hate’s ruling deity. The orders to Don’t move! Don’t cast any spells! And above all don’t sit near the walls! are bouncing off the insides of my head as adrenalized nerves threaten to push my fingers into fatal accidental keypresses. The remaining groups of raid members are porting in around me, but I’m sitting anxiously with my hands off the keyboard, glorying in the giddy anxiety of it all. One of the newcomers moves too quickly and too far. For the love of all that is holy, stand still! They back up. Okay, it’s all good. Whew! Suddenly the room is filled with a mess of moving figures, gaudy spell effects, and angry cries of recrimination fill the guild chat channel. Our deaths are brutally swift.
Another blurred lurch, and my hands are shaking slightly on the keyboard as I rush my invisible bard through the twists and turns of the giant snake infested Ssrae Temple. I’m trying to get all the way from the entry to the lower floor with enough time left on my 5 minute runsong to attempt a run up the outside of a vertical tube and onto the top of a wall which leads to a named mob. Some slightly dodgy physics allow a runspeed buffed bard to climb the otherwise impossible surface, thereby avoiding a locked door only rogues can open.
I’m shaking because on top of the intense time pressure, it’s dangerous, and if the wrong mob comes by at the wrong time, I’m in big trouble. The encounter I’m rushing to has really been designed for an entire group but ingenious bards, in their desire for the song-enhancing gem sometimes dropped by the named, have figured out how to solo it. After many frustrated attempts and several very near misses I make it, and gingerly edge along the wall, peering into the darkness on either side hoping no see-invis mobs path near and discover me.
Whoosh, and I’m typing furiously into a chat program at 3am in the morning, trying to make my guild’s raid leader understand why his vision of uberness is not and never was the direction we wanted to go. He’s filling the screen with fast but badly constructed sentences, selling me an insidious mixture of impassioned sentimentality and coercion. I’m resisting, and his nice guy facade is beginning to crack. I’m hearing strains of something else from behind his increasingly forced rhetoric, and it isn’t honesty…
The scenes accelerate, the long hours and days between them compressed into frame bars of subtle contentment.
Standing knee deep in ice spiders on a frozen ledge in Velkator’s ice labrinth I sing my mana song as a single uber warrior and his cleric bot cut a careless swathe through a constant stream of mobs. My experience bar is moving faster than it ever has.
I run in comical circles through the snow in the Eastern Wastes following by a tight pack of 10 or more various wandering mobs, and laugh as they one by one drop to my modest but relentless damage songs. A bemused warrior in platemail looks on.
I watch the sticcatoed hilarity of my massive ogre Shadow Knight friend fall to a giant along the green hilled edge of the Plane of Storms, immediately rise again as my heal song and his high regeneration bring him back from the 10 purple hitpoints between unconsciousness and death, dodge a barrage of fatal swipes that should have ended him, and drop a final time with a pixel of health as his Feigned Death spell kicks in. In the same instant I at long last manage to mez the rampaging mob. We are both laughing.
Watching the giant terror Vindi chase our warrior to the strategic corner position in Kael Drakkal’s arena, I mistakenly hit him with my debuff song seconds early and gain the back of his massive hand in reward. Minutes later, from my inglorious respawn point outside the Thurgadin bank, I watch the anxious guild chat erupt into jubilation as he falls to our guild for the first time.
Chuckling at the increasingly ridiculous and clever pull and assist messages by members of our regular Karnor’s Castle Basement group, I can’t know, though I suspect, that the weeks spent here are the best group I will ever have.
Standing in a broad low room I watch as bright blue notes float randomly from the new sword in my left hand. Nearby a solitary friend cheers in congratulations. I’m feeling strangely subdued.
Passing across the transparent and slippery ice bridge leading into the dwarven city of Thurgadin, I stop to wave at a green robed Iksar Necromancer friend who has appeared in front of me.
I flail with happily raging guildmates on hapless undead mobs in the brooding Umbral Plains.
I’m treading water in a submerged tunnel, alone and waiting.
I’m running at high speed above dark green trees.
Rising in pitch and pace the images blur into a white naphtha streak three years long.
My view snaps into sudden clarity on a dark rock tunnel lit in dim blues and greens. A helmeted, polygonal figure is standing against the sandy wall. Every few seconds soft sparkles emanate from the centre of his body and fall away into nothing. Dangerously close on either side of the figure, hideous green monsters with tentacled heads, long clawed arms, and wild inhuman eyes writhe through cycling idle animations. Other similar figures fill the tunnel at irregular intervals in both directions. Ahead of him, another tunnel bends forward past more green horrors, and ends behind a waist high crystalline rock. A clear space next to the rock is empty.
The figure turns, rotating stifly on the spot, left and then right. After a pause he sits. Thirty seconds later he blinks out of view, and is gone. The monsters continue their endless mechanical, cycling gyrations.
It was almost five years ago that I first logged into EverQuest, struggled through the first week against the almost prohibitive learning curve, and then became lost in the wonder and glory of the world’s first fully 3D online RPG. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. For more than two years it was the only game I wanted to play, blotting out the desire for any other. For much longer it was the mainstay of my gaming interest, and pulled me back early from social engagements often for a chance at more and greater adventure.
Yet for all it’s expansiveness it was only a game, and all games have endings. Slowly the adventures ground to a natural halt, and one day they stopped altogether.
But how do you leave a character you have journeyed with over the course of 3.5 years? How do you farewell a world that consumed a significant portion of your waking life, and stole heavily from time you should have spent sleeping in the real one? How do you end an adventure that produced as many powerful memories as any real life story? What is an adequate way to close such a book?
If I was to be proportionate, there would be some sort of ingame gathering - a virtual wake where friends are farewelled, and unused money and items are distributed. My character would raise a toast among like minded adventurers who shared so many moments of online drama, and for the last time get completely smashed. Logging out finally with the screen comically skewed by the drunk effect and friends /waving and /weeping would be the bitter-sweet ending befitting such a journey. Many have done it that way, and I salute them. It is commensurate and apt.
For my Bard, however, there was no such end. There was no moment of closure, no grand finale. He is currently camped just out of reach of dangerous and repulsive Thought Horrors in The Deep, waiting for another chance to win a needed shrink wand from a nearby named mob. He has been there for over a year. Twice at odd times during that period he has stood up, looked around, contemplated further action, and then reseated to resume his long vigil. It is likely he will remain there until the Tarew Marr server is shut down for the last time and he is consigned finally to oblivion. Such is his destiny, and always was.
Ignominy seems a melancholy ending, yet I don’t think he’d want it any other way. Going out in a blaze of melodrama is not his style. After winning so many battles and overcoming such odds with daring and muse, he is used to backing his own chances. Far better to rest alone and invisible in a corner of some dank dungeon part way through another of his many journeyings, than to splurge everything on a fatalistic exit. Better to wait on the scant chance of renewal than to gather his regrets into resignation.
And to be honest, I’m glad he’s still there - undaunted, undefeated, ever constant and vital; paused mid-step on a continuing adventure. If there must be an end, it’s the only one that fits.