There’s been a lot of talk lately about revolutionizing the MMORPG. Every time a new game comes out with features different from World of Warcraft, the gaming community freaks out that it will be the one to usurp the present monarch and give rise to the future. We heard this with Star Wars: The Old Republic, we heard this with GuildWars 2, and we continue to hear it with Elder Scrolls Online. But in a rather amusing turn of events it looks as though one of the early games that started it all will be the one to revolutionize it with Everquest Next.
Everquest Next is looking to revamp the entire MMORPG genre. There are a lot of interesting things they are looking to do, and some that I’m less than thrilled about. But let’s start with the good, shall we?
For me the single most important thing Everquest Next is bringing to the table is proper player consequences in the world. One thing that has always bothered me about World of Warcraft is the idea that you are a great, famous war hero and yet nothing you do really feels all that important. Nothing you do feels permanent. You have extraordinary powers, but you don’t ever use them for anything other than death to your foes or health for your allies. With EQ Next, this is going to change. Your actions affect the physical world in that an earth spell can blast a crater in the ground (which if it’s deep enough you can explore) or you can use your magic to raise barriers. The world is voxel based so in theory just about anything can be destroyed. NPCs will attack and destroy structures that will not miraculously reappear the next day (or hour). Many of the things you do in game have permanent ramifications for the world.
What’s most interesting, however, is not what you can destroy, but what you can build. Throughout your time in the game you will have the opportunity to experience Rallying Calls in which NPCs put out a call to players to help them build and protect a settlement from, say, Orcs who are attempting to invade. You and those around you will have to build this settlement and it can remain standing indefinitely unless NPCs or (possibly) other players knock it down.
The game is built around the idea of your character having a history that is not necessarily the same as every other player’s. In an interview reported by IGN, Sony Online Director of Design David Georgeson says, “We want people to develop a long, detailed history of their character so that when they tell others that story, they actually care, as opposed to, ‘Yeah, yeah, I did that quest’.” This means only certain players will experience certain things depending on whether or not they were online at the time. The game is alive like few other games are able to be. The NPCs have motivations and preferences which dictate the decisions they make. For instance, an article recently published by Polygon explains “Orcs will be designed to like gold, to like attacking unguarded caravans and to like farming settlements on their own.” At other times, NPCs may decide to pack up and leave a zone if they don’t like the actions being taken around them.
Brilliant, right? I confess this is everything I’ve been looking for in an MMO. A world that is dynamic and alive, enemies and allies with exceptional AI, and the opportunity to truly leave my mark on the world and take part in epic events. It’s an exciting new look at how players can interact with the virtual worlds we love so much.
I must admit I’m worried. IF they manage to pull all of that off successfully which I am desperately hoping they do, there are other aspects that have me a little concerned. They are not just looking to add a genius new functionality to what an MMO can do, but are attempting to fundamentally change what an MMORPG is. One such change is their decision to go back to their roots and abolish some of the most basic MMORPG building blocks: the D&D aspect.
I’m a little torn on this. I am not a math person. You give me numbers and I’m that person who automatically groans, regardless of how simple or complex the equation. When playing video games, something I do for fun, there are few things I hate quite as much as number crunching. I tried for a period of time to optimize my gear stats they way I was “supposed” to in WoW, but I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the headache. Numbers are dull to me and that wasn’t how I wanted to play the game. So I didn’t. And by not worrying about having perfect stats, and by not having a recount timer, I found that I enjoyed the game far more.
That said, numbers are part of RPGs. And there are many people who enjoy numbers and figuring out how best to configure their stats. Who am I to say they can’t have fun doing something that I personally find boring? To take this away means to take away one of the keystones of MMORPGs. The leveling system will also be removed. While I think leveling your abilities (or in this case, your “classes”) as opposed to your character works great in a single player RPG, it feels a bit off in an MMO. Will there be no way to differentiate between players? With the ability to mix and match gear you most likely won’t even have a visual cue. What about the lack of the holy trinity? Is all of this customization a good thing? I don’t care much for the idea of rogues wielding a staff simply because it doesn’t make sense. I also don’t think that limiting what people can do as far as class and weapon combos is a bad thing. The cries of “I want to do it the way I want to do and they need to allow every option available to every player, otherwise they’re telling ME how to have my fun!” strike me as pathetically immature. Of course they’re telling you how to have your fun–you’re playing a game based on their rules and their parameters for how it functions. A specific class with a particular role in mind means you have to sacrifice one thing to get another. You have to make decisions based on what’s best for you, not on what’s the best way to make the most OP build there is. I don’t see why you can’t mix and match tank, dps and healer depending on the fight with varying numbers of each. But you lose a fair bit of the complexity when classes cease to matter.
Yet the end of the D&D styled MMO is not what concerns me the most. While I absolutely love the idea of a dynamic world and player created content, I’m worried about what this means for the lore. Will there even be any? Or will it just be filler content that is so soulless it’s just pathetic? Massively revealed that quests will adjust to the state of the world (the example given is whether the cave you’re sent into is inhabited by Orcs or Gnomes). This would suggest that perhaps smaller quests can be influenced by the world around you, but what about the main storyline? Is there one? How can it change in a way that allows for it to remain coherent, yet also take into account the situations and politics brought about by player actions? So much focus of late has understandably been on what the player can do to the world, but very little has focused on the story of the game. Why are you there, what is your relationship with other players, etc? As a person who plays games almost exclusively to interact with a world and story, this lack of attention to a main narrative has me exceedingly uneasy.
Other information that has yet to be discussed in depth concerns endgame, PVP and guilds. Will there be endgame? Since you don’t level is there even really a way of achieving endgame in the first place? What about PvP? I imagine one of the features of the structures players build is that other players can then tear them down. Do we get guilds? Can said guilds build their own towns and cities which must be protected from other guilds as well as from NPCs?
It’s too soon to say, but these are definitely things to keep in mind and I urge people not to prematurely focus all of their energy and excitement into this game. They are still in early development meaning many things can change and many more have yet to be revealed. The prospects look exciting but it is hard to make an informed decision for or against at this early stage. If you want to help them make some of their decisions for the game, be sure to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. They periodically ask fans directly for our thoughts on certain features of the game (one such question was whether or not female dwarves should have facial hair though, so I’m not entirely convinced they’ll be asking us questions of great importance.)
If you are looking for a more in-depth breakdown of the features offered in the game I suggest you check out this article and the videos posted here. And if you would like to be involved in the Beta you can sign up at this link, though they have no set date for when the beta will begin.
This could be a truly amazing game, or it could crash and burn so badly it’ll make Star Wars look like a roaring success. I am hoping for the former because, if it goes as well as they want it to, it will, as mentioned before, be one step closer to my ideal game. But they have a lot of work ahead of them to get there, and I wish them all the lucks with their monstrously complex endeavor!