Now that the dust from SOELive has settled and there’s been time to digest the EverQuest Next announcement as well as the content of the panels, FAQs and follow-up interviews, and we kind of have some idea of what sort of game EQN is supposed to be, I’m ready to talk about some overall impressions. Read all this with an implicit disclaimer in mind, information being subject to change and/or blogger misunderstanding.
Artistically I think EQN looks very strong. ForgeLight has a wonderful lighting engine that I hope SOE takes advantage of, as the devs say they will. EQ2 has all kinds of cool racial vision abilities that are of no use because ambient light is basically the same everywhere and night isn’t much darker than day; I’d love to need a torch or to have an actual use for infravision. The landscapes look great, but some folks are complaining about the “cartoony” character models. Personally I have no objection to what I’ve seen so far. The look is stylized but distinctive without being anime-esque, which in my book is a good thing. It should also age very well, avoiding the issue of too much photorealism.
Right now EQN multiclassing sounds a lot like the professions system from pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies. There are a limited number of available classes for new characters, a whole bunch more that can be unlocked, and a small number of “tiers” for each that you can advance through separately. This sounds terrific to me at a glance. Some people are saying that crafting will also resemble that of SWG, but I don’t see where that’s coming from, aside from various devs having expressed admiration for the earlier game and the one or two broadly compatible dribblets of info that we have (like copper being of use for all crafters rather than becoming useless after you hit some tier line.) Certainly there are worse models, but the fact is that we know very, very little about how crafting will work. If it gets a minigame I hope that it’s more engaging than the mind-numbing excuse for one in EQ2.
Combat looks a lot like Guild Wars 2 combat, with AoEs painted on the ground, dodging, and a limited action bar that depends on your classes and weapons. I’m of mixed feelings on this; on the one hand I like GW2 combat well enough out in the world, although I think it suffers from a lack of variety and flexibility. In dungeons it’s not very interesting at all, with everyone just hammering on mobs until they die. Smokejumper has said that we’re going to find that the resemblance to GW2 combat is superficial, but right now this is what it looks like. I’m not terribly enthused about being limited to eight abilities, although I certainly agree with trying to eliminate the profusion of hotbars a laEQ2. I’m not sure just how strict that will be, though — might there be non-combat (like a mount summons, for example) abilities on a separate bar?
I don’t have the impression that EQN is going to abandon the “holy Trinity” as such, but many people have the idea that the trinity is rooted in class or ability design rather than in primitive mob AI. GW2 failed to replace the trinity with something at least as effective because it fixed the symptom rather than the disease. In EQN, multiclassing will allow characters to fill multiple roles, and exactly what those roles will turn out to be depends on how the mob AI functions. We simply do not have any details about that, nor do we know how narrow the classes will be. It may be that there won’t be well-defined roles at all, which I am okay with in principle but leery of how it will work in practice especially if characters have a very low number of abilities available at any one time. This is a big wait and see.
“Heroic movement” looks cool and fluid but seems like a minor feature. It could end up significantly impacting how characters get around in the world, but based on what we have now it doesn’t look like it’ll do anything that mounts of various kinds wouldn’t provide. Unless there’s another page taken from GW2 and there’s no mounts. Which would be lame but not game-busting in my opinion.
Of the four “holy grails,” emergent AI is, I think, the most interesting, the most ambitious and the most difficult. Ultima Online flirted with “virtual ecosystems” before launch only to remove the feature after players genocided every critter in the world and broke the whole mechanism. The EQN idea as stated is roughly similar but not identical; mobs and NPCs will spawn but will behave naturalistically upon release into the world. This will be tricky to balance without having some undesirable equilibrium develop even before players try to break things. This is in my view the biggest potential pitfall with the concept — that it will fall apart upon contact with players. But I don’t think it’s an insoluble problem despite the failure of UO to conquer it 16 years ago. Having enough space in the world should help mitigate issues as well, and the EQN world is said to be big. If SOE makes this work it will be a huge leap for the virtual world genre.
Rallying Calls as I’m understanding them seem very dependent on this emergent AI to generate day-to-day player activities without having devs hand-script the content. To make this work as advertised, especially with different events on each server, each event will need to be comprised of some manageable amount of code that will then be interpreted procedurally over time by the world. It seems to me that the world’s ability to react to individual stimuli needs to be very robust for this to work. This is another announced feature where I really don’t see how it’s going to function with the information we have today. This is the other reason that Emergent AI is the single biggest question mark for EQN as far as I’m concerned.
I am very excited about the largely procedural world itself, however, which should in principle face no serious technical hurdles (look what one-man indie operations can do with a game like Minecraft.) For one thing it should — potentially, and I’ll be very disappointed if it’s not so — give us the kind of very, very big world that all MMORPGs ought to have at least in theory. It may need to be big to fit in player structures without getting cluttered, and to absorb the kind of player misbehavior that scuttled UO’s virtual ecosystems.
I am mildly concerned about the performance impact of the voxel-based world, and I’m unclear on how the destructable world will “heal,” as it was phrased in the world-building panel. After a player digs a tunnel or blows the top off a building or whatever, does the world revert to its procedural state on its own, or do the changes stay until something specific happens, like a Druid casts “Heal the Land,” or the city’s residents repair the damage? The latter scenarios are much cooler, but I think the answer is the former.
I’m very interested in seeing Landmark. Some folks are saying that they expect to spend more time there than in EQN, and if it’s as addictive as the devs say, that’s a real possibility. Even if it’s not, it should also give us a good look at a couple of the points mentioned above and help clarify a number of things about EQN proper. A great deal will on how much and how quickly EQNL is embraced by the community, which in turn will be affected by the power and ease of use of the tools.
All in all I have cooled slightly on EQNext. There’s a ton of question marks and a lot of gray areas, and ambitious talk won’t carry a game that can’t deliver. But as of Friday EQN leapfrogged Star Citizen as the super-ambitious MMORPGish title I’m looking forward to most, and right now it’s still there. If it can deliver it’s going to blow up the whole stagnant genre. I now have my ear very close to this project.