Good News & Bad News

It was an eventful week for MMORPG fans. In bad news, EverQuest Next was scuttled by Daybreak and 40% of Wildstar’s staff was given the golden toe by NCSoft in preparation for that game’s looming closure. In better news, Black Desert Online launched with a decent bit of buzz and the live stream of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen surprised a lot of people.

The abortion of EQNext is symptomatic of two things, I think. One is the obvious haplessness of Daybreak, a company displaying no clear signs of knowing what it is doing at any level. The other is the relative decline in what I’m forced to call “Immersive World RPGs.” The perception is that there’s no longer a market for triple-A games of this kind. This may or may not actually be true, but with the cancellation of EQNext I can’t think of any that are in development in the west. Even the extant games are slowly shuttering or evolving away from the immersive world.

Of course, there are a host of such games brewing at the indie level. Two that I have my eye on are Richard Garriot’s Shroud of the Avatar and Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, both of which are slowly progressing under small development teams. In both cases some, shall we say, less than triple-A quality stuff has been shown; the early Pantheon footage was scarily primitive-looking.

But both games are coming along. On Friday, Visionary Realms streamed the first-ever gameplay from Pantheon, live and unscripted. It was “pre-Alpha,” whatever that even means anymore, and while we only saw a small part of the world, the game has obviously come a very long way indeed.

For one thing, it looks terrific. The Unity 5 engine has really come through here, and this looks as good as anything I have seen using that platform. The character and spell animations are obviously still placeholders (which the devs mention) and there was some graphical glitching but overall it looks tremendous.

More impressive, though, was the actual gameplay. Six devs just playing, with no cheats, and hashing out strategies on the fly, first for clearing out an Orc camp and then penetrating a cult’s mysterious sanctum. The novel Pantheon mechanics of colored mana and atmospheres were on display, but the coolest thing was that stuff happened that the devs didn’t expect. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this point; true emergent gameplay isn’t even seen as desirable in MMOs anymore. The Pantheon team appears to get why it’s awesome and why it belongs in an Immersive World RPG.

3 responses to “Good News & Bad News

  1. “More impressive, though, was the actual gameplay.”

    I’m struggling with comments like that, and not in a trolly way. How, specifically, was the gameplay impressive? Trying to “peel one away” and 5v1 zerg it?

    It looked like it played horrifically. I think it’s far too early to show, unless this is their best foot forward. And if that’s the case, there’s a whole other thing to talk about.

    • I think the fact that you needed a group and that the group to actually coordinate with each other to achieve their goals alone is a massive step forward for the genre. It’s sad that it is, but that’s just the state of things right now.

  2. I think it’s been summarized better elsewhere, but what impressed me was that actual tactics were required. You’ll notice that, a bunch of times, single pulls failed and the group bit off more than it could easily chew. It looked like probably some of those characters could have soloed those orcs easily enough, one-on-one… but not all of them, and if they pulled half the camp, they were toast.

    This kind of gameplay isn’t going to be for everyone, sure. I’m not even sure it’s for me. And there were plenty of obvious issues that will need to be addressed, some of which they talked about in the stream. But what’s there was surprisingly (to me) complete, given what we’ve seen in the past. You can see the mechanisms and the class synergy and the way the world impacts the gameplay.

    It’s obviously not ready, but nobody’s saying it’s ready. But I’ve also seen alphas that are actually already charging people that are much, much less far along than this.