Could The Granddaddy Of the MMO Reinvent The Genre A Second Time?
After months of waiting, chinese whispers, and downright teasing, Sony Online Entertainment finally revealed what they had up their sleaves with Everquest Next last night, and while there are still a lot of unanswered question what SOE did show was definitely something worthy of the hype they have built up over the last several months. During the keynote at SOE Live in Las Vegas, the development team took to the stage and showed how exactly they plan on making EQN the next step in the evolution of the MMO genre. We’ve got the details, including the keynote itself, for your perusal after the jump.
Be seated comfortably though, because this one, as they say, is a doosy.
So, what exactly was announced? Everquest Next will take place in a reimagined world of Norrath, allowing iconic locations and familiar faces to return with the existing backstory whilst providing brand new areas and storylines to be experienced in what SOE are calling the largest sandbox ever made. Utilizing a modified version of the Forgelight engine used for PlanetSide 2, the game world will apparently be completely destructible. What this means is that, because the game world is made out of tiny voxels, abilities that are cast by the player (or NPCs) will visually change the landscape. For instance, a charge into a pillar or wall will knock it down, or a magic blast over a bridge will cause it to break, sending anything on it at the time to plummet below. A huge smash will create a crater, do it again in the same place and you might open up a tunnel to a lower plain…
… which segues me nicely onto the next point that there will be four levels of depth to the game world, all the way from the surface all the way to the molten caverns way below. Each will have their own resources and enemies to fight, each with destructible environments that allow the player to forge their own path (in a real sense – no need to wait for the world to open up to show you a new area, just grab a pickaxe and create your own tunnel to a new area with its own quests.) On top of this, the game world will have a day / night cycle with dynamic lighting all across the game world, allowing for what the devs are calling “a true night, which is a truly exciting thing to adventure through.”
The denizens of Norrath have had a visual overhaul, described as a “heroic fantasy” approach to their looks and armour design, with the Humans, Elves, Dark Elves, Dwarves, Ogres and the Kerrans all making a return. The artstyle has gone for a very cartoony approach compared to previous EQ games, but this has almost certainly been done to allow EQN to age far better than its predecessors.
To ensure that they made a true roleplaying game, SOE have included SOE emote (which uses a webcam to track your facial movements) and manual emotes to allow players to show a wide range of expressions in-game. Players will also be able to wear whatever type of armour they wish, regardless of their character class. Want to wear full plate armour as a spellcaster? Go ahead. Want to wear a chainmail bikini whilst holding a broadsword? Go nuts.
Exploration will be a key part of EQN, so to help with this SOE have developed what they call a “heroic movement system” that allows for parkour-esque traversal across the landscape. What this means for the player is that they can vault over low obstacles, or slide down a hillside, or grab a ledge to pull themselves up – all without having to press an additional button. In addition to this, each class will have their own movement ability, so Wizard can teleport sort distances, while the Warrior can do a huge leap to get ahead quickly. Special items will also allow for additional abilities, so some shoes may allow the player to glide through the air.
The presentation also gave us a few examples of the combat abilities in action. The Wizard can use a Chromasphere to knock enemies down, but perhaps the most impressive ability was the Vortex – allowing them to warp away and leave an explosive black hole to annihilate nearby foes.
When players begin the game, they will be presented with 10 different classes to choose from with their own set of abilities, but thanks to what SOE are calling Multi-Classing players will be able to discover and learn new up to 40 new classes as they play through the game, mixing and matching abilities to create the right setup for their play style – all of which can be changed on the fly. This concept of mix-and-match also applies to weapons, allowing you to customise your gear both visually and statistically, but no further details were given other than crafters will have a lot to do in EQN.
SOE have also created what they call Emergent AI, which allows for the game to react to the player’s action, be it from simply questing or going out and slaughtering nearly enemies. The example given explained the system in action – the game will release a bunch of Orcs into the world (so no more static spawn points of endlessly respawning foes) who will search the world for a prime spot to harass people for their treasure, but will stay away from cities because they have guards. One possibility is that players stop going through the spot where the Orcs have set up their ambush site, so the Orcs will move on to a new spot in hope of finding people to attack. However, if the players attack the Orcs, they might be driven away to find a new spot to harass… or their mighty leader could get fed up and round up a raiding party to attack the nearest settlement, meaning players will have to band together to defend the town. This is just the first way that SOE plan to create a dynamic and natural world that doesn’t stick to static areas of interest.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of info came on the topic of Permanent Change. Using something called Rallying Calls (better known as public quests in other MMOs) all players on the server will be able to take part in what could be a four month long story arc that will progress without visible checkpoints for the players. So, for example, one such Rallying Call could see players setting up a town from scratch, gathering wood for structures, building them up, and eliminating any local threats from nearby areas. Doing one of those to a certain degree might set off the next stage of the RC, where Goblins attack the village and set fire to everything. Players can then decide if they wish to band together to raid the Goblins, or they might decide to start mining stone to create buildings that won’t burn down so easily – but that in turn might cause new enemies underground to start attacking the miners. This scenario might build up to a climax where the Goblin King raises a huge army to attack the town forcing the players into a final stand, all the while the creatures underground are attacking players and goblins alike.
But that’s not the most interesting part – each server will be different in terms of its progression and its story. One server might survive the attack and have a glorious settlement for years to come, while another might not make it that far and the settlement is lost. Another server that survived the goblin attack might end up having a civil war. What this means is that every server and every player will have their own unique story – no two servers will be the same.
And that’s Everquest Next….. but that wasn’t all SOE announced last night.
Coming this Winter, SOE will be releasing Everquest Next Landmark, which will provide players will all of the tools that the developers have to build whatever they wish in procedurally generated worlds. What happens is that players will be able to stack a claim in the world (or group up together for larger areas if they wish) on which they can build their creations, and they will have to go out into the world to gather resources, head to a crafting station to making items, and then head back to their claim to place them. While this sounds very similar to something like Minecraft, EQNL will allow players a huge amount of customisation beyond just placing blocks. In short, stone walls can be chipped away and smoothed to look warn and broken, and spherical items can be created and placed.
EQNL will also be paired up with SOE Player Studio, allowing players to sell their creations to other players for real money. Perhaps most exciting is the royalty system, which will allow someone who builds an item bought by another player, who then puts it in their own creation and sells that on, to get a small cut of that sale. Create a tower that is then used in somebody’s fort, and you’ll get a small cash injection for every sale of the fort. In addition to building on the procedurally generated continents, there will be one continent where SOE enforces a restriction for creations that are in keeping with the EQN art direction. It is here that players will be able to take part in contests where their designs can become a part of the main game, with the most popular submissions earning a place in the virtual world of Norrath.
Oh, and Jeremy Soule is doing the Soundtrack, which is nice, but it’s probably not as nice as the news that all of this will be Free To Play.
That is all we know about Everquest Next right now, and while there are still a lot of unanswered questions it’s a lot of information to process. Its sandbox features are definitely sounding promising, and the unique nature of each server could create unique player experiences that are normally reserved for games of a much smaller scale. If this has whet your appetite and you want to get involved, you can head over to the official website to learn more about the game and to sign up for the beta for both Everquest Next and Everquest Next Landmark.