EverQuest Next Revealed and Why You Should Pay Attention

It seemed to me that with all the EQNext news and excitement that I should do a video. So here it is. This is something different from my usual style of video where I just sit and play and ramble. Much more work, what with scripting and editing and all that. But I think it turned out fairly well.

EverQuest Next Q&A Session, Part 1

Embedded below is Part 1 of the EverQuest Next Q&A panel from SOELive. But I watched so you won’t have to; the breakdown of answers of everything significant that was said is also below. Part 2 soon.

  • Smokejumper will not commit to whether there will be one or many starting areas at this time.
  • Users in the EU will be able to participate in the betas.
  • The decision to use the title EverQuest Next Landmark was a business decision to clearly link EQNL to EQN.
  • Lots of lore will be trickling about on the website. The Q&A panel didn’t want to get into this.
  • There will be transparency regarding numbers and mechanics. Folks can of course ignore this if they wish, but there won’t be any effort to obfuscate the way things work to try to cull min-maxing.
  • Expect to see inventory items show up as actual 3D items in the world. Maybe this will just be inside housing. SWG specifically is a target they’re shooting for.
  • By “tiers”, the devs are predominantly talking about the levels above or under ground. How this ties into advancement is unclear; I’m getting the impression of some backing away from Smokejumper’s earlier statement that progression would be predominantly horizontal rather than vertical. There is talk of advancing classes once you unlock them.
  • There will not be true darkness in the classic EQ sense, but lighting will be a major factor and there will be deep darkness possibly extending to total darkness in some areas. Characters will sometimes need or want light sources. Butler specifically says that going underground without a light source should be scary. NPCs will also react intelligently to the day/night cycle.
  • EU players may or may not be able to play on US servers. Notable is that Smokejumper did not commit to saying that EU players would be forced onto ProSiebenSat-run servers.
  • Mob AI is good enough that they can learn from what’s happening within a combat and react accordingly. This probably isn’t something that we’ll see in every encounter, but encounters intended to me more difficult will be characterized by smarter AI.
  • No launch date has been announced for EQN in part so that player reaction to some game elements can be measured in EQNL. No doubt a certain amount of testing of the procedural generation will happen there as well.
  • No comment on death penalties just yet. This seems like a softball question, so I wonder if the quick “no comment” conceals a wrinkle that folks might not expect. Maybe a permadeath server?
  • World-affecting changes re: Rallying Cries will happen in real time when the server is up, not just on patch days. When new events are rolled in the plan is that they’ll trigger in the future.
  • The devs want environmental damage to be in the game, for example from a destroyed bridge falling on someone.
  • No comment on loot mechanics yet, re: how classes can be mixed and matched. Also no comment on group and/or raid sizes and configurations, but Smokejumper says we’ll like the answers when they’re revealed.
  • The six announced races (dark elf, ogre, human, dwarf, kerra, and whatever kind of elf Firiona Vie is) are not the full list of planned character races.
  • Players will be able to disrupt a Rallying Cry via various means, but the intention is not to allow it to the point of serious griefing.
  • Feldon is approximately 13 feet tall.
  • No comment on whether EQN will be included in the All Acces Pass… but that’s really a business question rather than a design question, and Smokejumper says he’ll be surprised if EQN isn’t part of All Access somehow.
  • The game’s ‘faction’ standings, for lack of a better term, will be locak rather than global. The example given is that if you steal a muffin, but no one seens you do it, your standings with NPCs are not affected, but the baker may react to his muffins being stolen in some way.

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.