EverQuest Next Unveiled

I like to be wary of upcoming games. They might fail to deliver on their promises. They might fail to materialize at all. I might start taking the marketing spin uncritically or buying into fan overexpectations, or projecting the things I want into the gaps in what I know about the game that’s coming. Sometimes all the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction, the early play experience is great and you’re swept along in the tide of hype, but after launch everything falls apart. Some folks have gone through this dozens of times, and I’ve done it myself more than once.

All that said, EverQuest Next, as revealed at this weekend’s SOELive, sounds jaw-droppingly impressive. Embedded below are the videos of the debut presentation, including a fair amount of what is clearly very early gameplay footage.

Kerra warrior in a subterranean crystal cave-noscale

The basic gist of the reveal is this: EverQuest Next is actually two games. One is EverQuest Next, the MMO, with no announced release date yet. The second game is the awkwardly titled EverQuest Next Landmark, due out before the end of the year. This is what Smed was talking about when he said we’d see something — but not a beta — playable this year. EQNL will be a construction and exploration game, using some of the content creation tools developed for EQN, set atop an MMO-like framework of a massive persistent world that’s procedurally generated using the same tools that will be used in EQN. There will be crafting and character building of some kind in EQNL, but no combat, at least at first. You will need to find the stuff to build things out in the world with, and be able to claim plots that are yours to develop exclusively. It sounds a great deal like Survival Mode Minecraft built on an MMO skeleton and with modern graphics. Some stuff created by players in EQNL will be in EQN, even right at launch, and in turn some but likely not all of the world-affecting features of EQNL will be present in EQN.

SOE says that EQN will be the “biggest sandbox ever.” Evidently at launch the playable land area of EQN will exceed that of what’s currently in EQ and EQ2 combined. That’s… big. In part this will be procedurally generated, not just the surface world but at least two layers of underworld as well, with lore built in. Environments will be destructible, and you’ll not only be able to discover underworld locations by excavation, but you can affect combat by doing things like blowing up bridges.

Perhaps most interesting is a wholy new UI system powered by Storybricks. It’s the kind of thing only a few games have tried to do, and never successfully. Essentially each NPC or mob has its own motivations, so while a band of brigands might spawn somewhere, they aren’t tied to their static spawn point. Instead they will behave as their motivations direct them to do, finding a suitable place to camp where they can raid villages or molest travelers. Player action can affect this behavior, for example driving the bandits off into some other territory… where they might intrude on other monsters and in turn affect their behavior. UO tried to do roughly this kind of thing, before its launch, but couldn’t make it work so it was quietly deleted in favor of the same kind of static spawn system that we’ve seen in almost every other MMO since. I’m not sure SOE will pull it off, either, but even talk about it is exciting.

There will be races along traditional lines, but no levels. You pick one of eight base classes when you start playing, and then through play unlock other classes, with over 40 in all. You can then mix and match abilities from all of your classes as you like. There will be a single hotbar with eight slots, some of which will come from your classes and some from your weapon, in what sounds like a setup similar to Guild Wars 2. Combat, from what we’ve seen of it (a couple of clearly staged fights set up to show off the graphics,) looks akin to GW2 as well.

There’s more, including a Jeremy Soule soundtrack, Rallying calls that can change the world dynamically such that different servers can have physically different worlds, parkour-esque “heroic movement,” selling one’s creations via Player Studio… it’s really too much to try to encapsulate in one go. Just watch the videos, which include footage of characters, gameplay and environments, and a lot of information.

It seems obvious that EQN won’t be out in the next six months… and I’m not even sure about 2014, which would be the obvious time to release it. But we should get a good look at some of the underlying principles with EQNL, late this year. I was hopeful and optimistic but cautious before the announcement, but what SOE laid on the table yesterday wildly exceeded any expectations I had. It remains to be seen whether such ambition can be delivered upon, but frankly if any two of the four points talked about in the presentation comes through, it would be a big shakeup for a segment of the market mired in conformity. A big player trying something different and really leveraging the talent and ambition of their team is something worth paying attention to.

EQNext, Not Next Year

Massively reports, and Wilhelm remarks, that we shan’t be seeing any information on EverQuest Next any time soon. The relevant SmokeJumper quote courtesy of EQ2Wire:

EQ Next is still being built within a black box. The *earliest* we are currently considering that we *might* reveal info is late this year. We’re being very particular about what needs to be in the game before revealing it to folks, so until that stuff is ready, we won’t be showing anything. (Screens you saw from a couple years ago are completely obsolete now and are not pertinent to the current game at all.)

SOE is actually pretty good at trickling information out to the public, if you are paying very close attention. Naturally some individuals took the mention of the project as a sign that release was imminent, leading to the idea in some quarters by 2012 that it was vaporware. Of course, I don’t have to tell my readers these things take a long time to develop and that SOE isn’t the biggest or the richest development house out there. It’s gonna take a while. If we assume that serious discussions started happening in 2009 (as seems reasonable) then given a typical five-year development cycle we should expect to see a launch in 2014.

When SOE said that a new chapter in the EverQuest franchise was being planned back in 2009, it was clearly only in the thinking stages at the time, and when they started to talk about it at FanFaire in 2010, it was still obviously very early in development. So not hearing any details soon is not a surprise. 2013 is clearly going to be the year of Planetside 2 for SOE. They are mounting a big push for it and it’s drawing a lot of very positive buzz. My guess would be that we will not, in fact, see anything substantial on EQNext this year, as Creative Director Dave Georgeson implies is possible in the quote above. By the end of the year, of course, the narrative in certain quarters will be that more info was in fact promised, and that SOE is again the House of Lies. But you can’t unlearn stupid.

We may hear something at FanFaire… er, SOELive this year, or possibly afterward. Maybe even a screenshot or two. But I think we won’t start to see serious information until 2013, and possibly not before SOELive 2013. As for release, I think 2014 is possible, but I’m not holding my breath. I’d say 2015, possibly even 2016 are more likely.