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.
Was listening to a podcast today, and the subject came up regarding “catching up” to other players in an MMO, and questioning whether it was worth playing the game since everyone else had gone on to the higher levels. I believe the quote was something like “the game had passed them by” and so they would probably not give the game a try. I remember this same feeling as a latecomer to World of Warcraft; the game had been out for years – two expansions were already out, and I was just figuring out the game at first level. Thankfully, my brother, a longtime gamer took pity on me and rolled up a low-level character to show me the ropes. Over the following days, I realized how much patience he had to have to come to those early stages of the game; I was learning everything – how to play my toon, to the trinity, to how dungeons worked, grinding. It was fun at first, but over time, I could see he wanted to get back to his primary character, and eventually, I ended up leveling on my own.
Some of the most fun times I’ve had playing World of Warcraft (WoW) have been running dungeons with our guild. My brother and I and several friends would group up and tackle a few of them every Sunday morning, and it truly was an event. I’d grab my coffee and don the Ventrilo and we’d be off, joking as we made our way through the trash mobs on our way to the bosses. The camaraderie was a big part of the session but a big part of the fun, for me at least, was tackling the dungeons in the area we were already adventuring in. I had already finished up the questing in a number of the surrounding zones, knew the story and background of the area, and finishing the dungeons was a nice way to wrap up those storylines, as the bosses frequently were the final bad guys in those quest chains. The dungeons were the culminations of those tales. The trouble for me started when we began doing two things: random dungeons and pick-up-groups, or PUGs.
Not too long ago, there were only a few MMORPGs on the landscape; the genre was relatively new. The big names started with Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, then EverQuest and EverQuest 2, and finally, the ultimate behemoth, World of Warcraft (yep, I know your other favorite was in there somewhere as well, but those are the biggies). Since that time, the genre has literally exploded; currently, there are almost 600 active MMORPG’s available, from every genre imaginable, with emphasis on one feature over another, browser-based, to mobile, and even some targeting consoles. How the heck do you choose? I say this because to many folks, an MMO is a long-term commitment; many are looking for a game home that will provide off-hours recreation for a good many years; many solid friendships and even marriages have come from people met in-game, so finding that right mix is essential. Keep in mind that as you ask yourselves these questions, there is no right or wrong answer; everyone has their own preferences for play, just be honest with yourself.
It pays to narrow down the options, so let’s start with…
One of the comments on my last blog got me thinking about how many of the features we take for granted in today’s MMO were not so common in early games in the genre. In the same way technology has made huge changes in real life, those same kinds of convenience features have appeared in the MMO—to the point where these features are expected, and a game is considered deficient if they aren’t included.
One of the most criticized and praised elements in more recent “themepark” MMORPGs is the concept of “endgame.” A themepark MMO is a static world that remains largely unaffected by player actions. It can be described as a backdrop where players are “led” through quests (with many pointers and hints making it difficult to fail at the task.) Players critical of themeparks joke about games being “on rails” like a rollercoaster ride at a themepark. Eventually—the time varies depending how frequently the person plays—the character completes most of the quests and reaches “max level” or “level cap,” and endgame. This is simplified, of course; there are often additional ways to reach max-level besides questing, including player-vs-player (PVP) battlegrounds, crafting, and instanced dungeons.
So The Secret World (TSW) went ahead and implemented something that, upon consideration, seems a no-brainer—they added an in-game web browser. Hit the “B” button and you’re taken to Google, and from there, you have access to the entire internet from within the game. In makes complete sense for an MMO set in the modern day, especially given the need to research clues and solve things like Morse Code puzzles. Sure, we could do all that in an outside browser as well, but having the browser right there not only keeps the player in the game, but also makes for a more immersive experience. In several quests, it’s actually necessary to browse out to a website created by the TSW developers to solve the puzzle. Given the number of times I’ve popped out of other games to look up information in the browser, I’m wondering why more games haven’t attempted to present their lore in-house.