It’s been fun watching the EverQuest Next news and reactions at SOE this year; after several development reboots, Sony finally showed off the latest direction of the venerable MMO title. For those who are not completely up to speed where EverQuest (EQ) fits into MMORPG history, it was the big MMO on the block after Ultima Online, but before World of Warcraft (WoW). It was known as EverCrack in its early days due to the addicting lure of a vast world with lots of stuff to do in-game. Later days brought EverQuest 2, but that wilted before the might of WOW polish and popularity. EQ and EQ2 have hung in there quietly all these years, while WoW has gone on to become the MMO standard. But Sony has been working on this new version for awhile now, and last year they announced they were going back to the drawing board with the game, with SOE president John Smedley basically saying it was too much of the “same old, same old.” Sony wanted to do something revolutionary with the next version of EverQuest, not a simply polish of old engines and ideas.
The race was on to differentiate itself from the admittedly large MMO-crowd, especially from the “WoW-clones” that had sprung up in recent years, and the word “sandbox” started to appear regularly when EQNext was mentioned. John Smedley talked smack about how so many MMOs are basically “movie-sets” with static cardboard characters and set pieces that never changed or evolved. EQNext would be different – the world would come alive; it would change. So what was the outcome of all that talk?
Well, it appears the developers have stayed true to at least the vision of an evolving world, though whether it will become The One True Sandbox is still open to debate. The feature that caused the most chatter was the idea of “world destructibility;” that is, every object, every building, every tree, every mountain, is in fact destructible. It is possible to blow up bridges and create holes in the ground in EQNext. This is all based on all game “matter” being built on voxels, or “volumetric pixel elements” that can be broken apart or pieced together to destroy or create objects. This simple change adds quite a dimension to the game, and also lends itself to all kinds of building ideas. People have compared EQNext to Minecraft even though the technologies are not exactly the same; the idea of construction and destruction plays a heavy part in that popular game, and some of the player creations in Minecraft are simply amazing. This plays into the idea of real change in the game world, though the developers have stated that the world will heal itself after a period of time to prevent it from being crumpled into a moon-like dust heap in a few hours as players rampage through.
The second leg of a changeable world is being introduced to EQNext by a company called storybricks, which brings some intelligence to the NPCs and monsters in the world. Instead of walking back and forth along the same path ad inifinitum, animals, monsters and NPCs can actually migrate, move around the world based on internal and external forces. A group of bandits may repeatedly be attacked by adventurers or city guards, to the point where they may move their hideout to a more favorable area. Deer and wolves might move based on the season and on the food supply. An NPC might travel between several cities on various personal errands rather than stay put in one place for all time. Developers have also stated that there will be no “punctuation” above NPCs heads indicating quests to be obtained. Either NPCs will walk up and talk directly to characters, or player characters will actually need to go talk to people to find up what they know. The storybrooks AI will be used in combat, too. Developers have boldly stated there will be new dynamics to fights and that the “trinity” (warrior/tank, healer, and mage/dps) will no longer be necessary. We’ll see on that one, but it’s interesting to note that EQNext will sport over 40 classes.
The final element of world changeability is the idea that different servers will have different states of building and destruction, as well as animal and monster migration, so that the game world will be quite different based on where you are playing.
Other Interesting Notes
Sony is releasing an early version of the world called EverQuest Landmark that will allow players to craft items and build homes that can be later ported into EQNext via crafting instructions. The materials will still need to be gathered and constructed within EQNext, but it’s an interesting way of getting some early experience with the building system.
There will be no level-based progression in the game, but individual skills can be progressed through a tier system. The number of active skills will be limited to 8. Similar to The Secret World or Guild Wars 2, the game will have many available skills, but only a limited number that can be equipped at a time. Finally, players can pull from many class skill sets so that a warrior/mage is quite possible to create.
So is it a sandbox?
It’s really still an open question. There’s more to be discussed regarding player-vs-player in EQNext; will there be open world PvP with consequences, or will it be limited to battlegrounds or designated areas within the game?
Are there multiple paths of progression in the game, and will linear story paths be shunned? Little has been said regarding questing, so this is a big missing puzzle piece; my recommendation, as always, is to leave the adventure threads hidden with NPCs and objects, but easily discoverable. Give us clues to possible adventures and let us decide whether or not to follow them. Make us work a little bit to find those adventures – give us an in-game notepad, and let us discover the story rather than have it told to us.
Finally, can we create our own adventures? Build our own scenarios?
Are We Saved?
There’s a lot to be excited about, but too many questions this early to call EQNext our MMO savior. Old Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online fans are playing close attention, but much remains to be seen. I’m optimistic about the prospects for the new Norrath; most of what I am seeing and hearing is sounding like the developers have taken a hard turn from the traditional themepark game, but are finding ways to make the world and systems interesting enough that it’s not a pure sandpark. It’s the closest to anything I’ve seen to a hybrid, or sandpark, but the questing system and PvP will reveal much, when we find out more.
What about you? Are you excited, or is EQNext just another in a long line of the same old stuff?