EverQuest Is Making A New Game. And I Care Because… Oh. Oh I see.

My Introductory Rant

A few days ago SOE revealed “EverQuest Next” and “EverQuest Landmark.” How to describe this?

First, let me just say I’ve never been interested in an EverQuest game. Not because I was too young, oh no, I was way too cool for it. See, back in those days I was playing on a MUD (go ahead, read up on your history) and I just knew graphics would ruin it. Afterall, how could a few polygons compete with me “dissevering the orc with a power unknown to man!”

Well, I was half-right. MUD’s days were always numbered so I eventually upgraded with Star Wars Galaxies. Mostly for the Star Wars license. It was cool, and I was surprised how quickly things could be changed. Things changed daily on the MUD and they changed weekly or at least monthly in SWG which surprised me. Still, I left that game mostly because changes I wanted were months if not years away. On the MUD I could actually change the code myself, if I wanted it badly enough (I turned in way, way, more lines of code on that MUD than I ever did in any paying job.)

MUD’s superiority over the unwashed MMO space notwithstanding, I stopped playing MUDs and starting bouncing from MMO to MMO. I never settled down on what I called a “cookie-cutter” MMO – what is now known as a “theme-park” MMO (aka WoW.) I was looking for one that would really embrace the “dynamic world” concept. Unfortunately, SWG was tarred with such a brush that all its good ideas seemed to be kyptonite for years to come. WoW’s success was so phenomenal it took literal decades for MMOs to consider anything different… barring one evolutionary offshoot, right at the MUD common-ancestor – the sand-box MMOs of which EvE Online is the poster-child.

Both sand-boxes and theme-parks were OK, I suppose, but I always felt the former was too chaotic and didn’t feel like a world – more like an internet forum where you just screamed, ranted, and attacked only with flashier tools. The latter was too restrictive. Almost like – why am I even playing this multiplayer? Everyone is doing the exact same quests as me… The multiplayer felt basically tacked-on. You could GROUP to do the exact same quests. You could group into REALLY BIG groups and do the exact same thing every week. It was fun and all but it felt like we were all clustered around a painting of a nice world. Static. We’re outside, looking in. But – hey! At least we’re all looking at the same picture at the same time!

So I dreamed up an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone built a dynamic world. One where, say, an ogre spawns and gets hungry so he goes and eats some sheep. The farmer who owns the sheep posts a bounty in the local village to find out what’s eating his sheep. If no-one takes the bounty, the ogre starts to terrorise the villages, so they go to nearby cities seeking help, and posting bigger bounties. Players pick up the bounties and hunt down the ogre. That sort of thing.

Well, it’s been many years, but from the sounds of it, EverQuest Next is trying to make my dream a reality.

EverQuest Next and EverQuest Landmark

So I guess I should try and put you in the right frame of mind. EQ Landmark is minecraft except much, much prettier, and EQ Next is the next EQ game… with the minecraft elements from EQL coming over. They’re both free-to-play, but that’s neither here nor there. That just means you can demo it for a while before you’ll have to subscribe.

So how is it going to work? Details are vague, but I can speculate.

The engine both the games are built on is centred around voxels. So that means the terrain is going to be fully destructible, complete with digging out your own mines. That’s just a fantastic idea in an MMO space. I can see your mind reeling already, so let me assure you there’ll be limits. You won’t be able to just flatten a player city, for example, but out in the wilderness … go digging. Why not? Down below the surface it’s all procedurally generated and who knows what you’ll find – that’s the point.

The above world is fully destructible by creatures, and mostly destructible by players (just the exceptions like above.) So imagine mages opening craters, and raising earth walls. Massive strikes taking chunks out of walls. Giants blasting a hole in the ground and sending your whole group to the subterranean levels. From what I understand, these things will eventually heal, but the idea is supposed to be that as you travel about you’ll see great scars of battles that have come before.

So won’t the most popular mob areas just be totally flattened, pretty much constantly? Well, from what I understand mobs don’t spawn like in regular MMOs. Look back at my concept of the hungry ogre… the devs are talking about goblins raiding caravans (because they have an in-built want for gold), but if the pickings are slim, they might move off to a different spot of road. If players keep coming along and interrupting their banditry, they might retreat to somewhere less well-travelled… or a leader orc might rise up, muster a massive orc horde, and start burning the country-side.

On top of the dynamic, procedurally-generated stuff the devs are also talking about giant earthquakes and other events to completely change the countryside. This could double as a fun event, as well as wiping out the mess that might have been churned up by players and NPCs digging and building all around the place.

What about EQ Landmark? How does it play into all of this? For starters, it’s coming out first. This year some time. This means the devs will get a chance to dry run a lot of these interesting ideas. From the player’s perspective the best-crafted gear can get ported directly from EQ Landmark over to EQ Next. Furthermore, they can sell their creations for real money. The example was given of a player building a kick-ass tower. Another player adds the tower to his castle. That castle gets sold a lot, so the original tower-builder gets a cut of every castle sale.

It’s all very… new. With newness, comes risk.

I really love what they’re pushing for. EverQuest has gone from “yeah, yeah, there’s no denying it spawned the whole MMO genre as it stands, but what can it really bring to the table?” To something for which I’m desperately hungry for more details.

I have a healthy scoop of sceptism that they’ll be able to pull it off. It’ll be hugely different – if they even follow through. I would not at all be surprised to see them cull back these grand ideas to something far more mainstream before release (or perhaps, like Guild Wars 2, they’ll successfully hide the fact it’s mostly mainstream with a few tweaks until after release.) Perhaps they’ll go the whole nine yards, and it just won’t resonate. It won’t be fun. In the right frame of mind, I could really see myself logging on each day with no idea what I’m going to be doing. I’ll just be like “Let’s log into EQN and see what’s happening! Hmm. An orc uprising, eh? Yeah, that sounds like fun. Let’s do it!” – or – “Nothing immediately obvious. Think I’ll swing by City A, and Village B to see if there are any bounties, and failing that I might go mining. You never know when you’ll burst into a demon’s lair.” In a different frame of mind, though … sometimes I just want to get my next skill unlocked and all I’m thinking about is the fastest way to do that. “So if I do that quest and that quest, then hand them both in, then head to this area which is 2 levels higher than recommended (but I can handle it) I should have that skill in no time! I can’t wait to try it out!” If I can’t count on my next victim, er, villian, my next XP fix, how soon until it all turns into a chore?

I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this one, henceforth.

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