Thursday, August 8, 2013

EverQuest Next Blows Targeter's Mind

What the fuck.  It has taken me 6 days to process what I saw last Friday at 3pm Eastern.

Dave Georgeson just dropped a nuclear load on our collective heads, spreading his arms wide afterwards as if to say, "Are you not entertained?!"

Unlike many MMO players, I didn't get my start in EverQuest.  I missed that train by a couple of years (fun fact, my first 'MMO' was Puzzle Pirates!) but got caught up in the WoW juggernaut.  I still log into WoW occasionally, believe it or not ... for all its foibles, there is some solid gameplay there.  Yes, it tends to fade quickly after that initial rush of nostalgia, but it still provides a good experience.

Many of my friends (including many in my SWTOR guild, Vanguard of Norrath) *DID* get their start in EQ though, and when they reminisce about it, I'm enthralled.  Truth is, I've never felt a kinship to an MMO like they do with EQ.  It was more than likely due to a few factors: 

  • EQ was the first game of its type (commercially successful Western MMO)
  • EQ was incredibly social
  • EQ burst onto the scene when the internet really began to take off
  • EQ was a completely different type of experience than RPGs of the day
  • EQ was pretty damn hardcore

They speak with such reverence about EQ that I can't help but want that for myself.  Sure, I'm attached to WoW but there's no real emotion there.  I like the people I play with (mostly) and I like the game (mostly), but if I quit tomorrow ... who cares?  I'd probably log back in at some later point again because WoW's such a sticky drug, but I'd feel no real connection to it.

Same with SWTOR.  It's a fantastic game, and although I'm on a break from it at the moment (only log on once a week when I get time), I can't say I'm all that devoted to it.  If the servers were shut off tomorrow, I'd feel sad but there'd be no real loss.  My friends and I would just move on to the next game.

But when my buddies talk about EQ, they speak as if the actual game world was their friend.  The world was a character and they just happened to live on it.  And it's so fantastically amazing to me.  I want that type of experience!

Friday, August 2nd.  A day that may have well changed ol' Targeter's perceptions about what an MMO is and what it could be.  Everquest Next is the newest iteration of Norrath from the boys and girls at SOE.  Let's just run down what I found interesting about the game:
  • Destructible environments
  • No leveling (seriously, there are no levels in the game)
  • Multi-classing (with no artificial limit on how many classes you can have)
  • Radiant AI for enemies
  • Persistent, player-driven change to the game world
  • Multiple strata of the world (that can all be explored)
  • No button bloat (8 ability slots only)
  • No holy trinity (roles can be played, but aren't required)
  • Crafting that matters
  • Hugely social
  • Free to play
Yeah.  If you need some time to process this, or just need to see it for yourself, I highly recommend seeing the debut video (skip to 26:30 if you want to head straight to the reveal ... but I highly recommend watching the whole thing), the lore panels, and the class panels.  Lots of good info there.  Plus, it'll keep you busy for about four hours.

What the videos cover is an MMO, basically, that I've never seen before.  Ever.  Oh, there have been tidbits here and there, scattered across other MMOs; multiclassing is vaguely like the souls in Rift, static action bar is similar to what Guild Wars 2 has, the lack of a trinity reminds me of the new experiment SWTOR is trying with the Czerka story modes, crafting reminds me of what WoW crafting used to be like back in vanilla and BC.

But when you throw in radiant enemy AI, fully destructible environments with multiple layers of the world that can all be explored, the lack of leveling (although it may just be dressed up and called 'tiers'), player-driven change through world-wide Rallying Calls, the intense social experience that EQN will require, and all of that wrapped up in a free to play package with a subscription option?

Holy shit.

Now, let's put on the practical hat real quick.  Can they really deliver on all this?  Can they really just 'release orcs into the world' and let the enemy AI provide a compelling gameplay experience?  Can mobs really display the behavior in-game that the debut video mentioned?  We'll have to wait and see.  But if they can deliver on only half of what they promise ... well, that'd be a helluva an MMO.

Now, let's get on to stuff that really impressed and/or worries me:

The enemy AI is of particular import.  They say that they will generate enemies and then release them into the world.  When released, they'll follow their own AI paths to determine where the best place to place down stakes and be nuisances.  Now, in theory this sounds AWESOME.  It will be like a living, breathing world where enemies react to their environments and shift strategies appropriately.  My biggest fear is that the AI will not be as smart as they claim, and the enemies will wind up just patting back and forth between two points.  And how will the AI react if there are tons of adventuring groups start pounding on them?  Will they see this as a trigger for releasing a massive attack?  Will better equipped players be able to 'sabotage' new player areas by modifying the attack patterns of mobs?  And will this all even work?  Or will it just be a mish-mash of standard AI constructs that are masquerading as advanced AI?

Destructible environments are absolutely amazing.  In games like Battlefield 3 and Red Faction, you can modify the battlefield by destroying the environment around you.  EQN plans to bring this to MMOs with destructible terrain via voxels.  Furthermore, this destruction can open up brand new areas of gameplay located below the surface world, providing new adventuring opportunities.  This opens a wealth of adventuring that players can take part in, both above- and below-ground.  And the neatest thing is that with destructability comes constructability.  Players will have the option of using server-wide Rallying Calls, basically huge public quests that folks can participate in to create or destroy new cities, forge new empires, attack enemy forces, etc etc.  They will also have access to magic that builds structures around them to prevent attack; the enemy then has to go around (or through) that structure.  This type of gameplay has all sorts of ramifications for players ... what are the opportunities for griefing?  Can this be exploited in PVP?  Can this be exploited in PVE to create an 'ultimate' combo for killing mobs?  And exactly how much of the world can be destroyed before it 'heals back?'  Will the devs have to curtail how much we can blow up in order to keep the world together?  And if they do curtail it, then does destructability then become a gimmick to be used at certain times at certain places in the world?

EQN gets rid of levels.  We won't have to grind to max cap in order to participate in cool stuff.  This, honestly, has been the biggest gripe of mine for a long time.  It takes so long to level up to get to the 'real game' that the leveling experience just becomes an annoyance.  Now, according to Dave Georgeson, EQN will have a horizontal progression as opposed to a vertical progression, represented in multi-classing and tier sets.  You'll gain power as you go all Pokemon on those classes (collect 'em all!) and then you'll have opportunities to power up some of your abilities by completing certain requirements.  So, hooray for no leveling?  Or ... does EQN just very smartly hide its leveling behind tier sets?  They claim to have horizontal, not vertical leveling, but I don't know if this is actually the case.  I see it as more of a hybrid.  You've got a cap for each class, aka the highest tier available in the game (let's say it's five).  So, a cap of five in each class.  Now the goal is to tier cap in each class that you like to play, thereby 'reaching max level' by gaining as much power as you need.  They've not really talked a whole bunch about what this means for gamers, but we can infer a few things:
  • All content will be available for play as soon as you find it
  • You won't be able to do all the content if you are a low tier player
  • You can play with your friends of lower tiers by switching from your high tier classes to a lower tier class
That's very exciting to me.

I've got some other issues, like character models and the graphics in general (very busy combat graphically, and characters have poor vaulting animations/don't seem connected to the ground), the combat demo was over the top and not representative of what you'll see in-game, and other stuff, but we'll save that for another post.

All in all, EQN looks intriguing.  It definitely has ol' Targeter's eye.

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