By Andrew Dodson on August 5, 2013 at 2:08am
The first MMORPG I ever played was "Everquest." I was in middle school at the time, and my first character was a gnome warrior named "Allondo." It was a bizarre combination, but I loved the idea of a tiny, tinkering warrior rushing into battle against all sorts of larger foes. That game basically consumed my life for years after. I would wake up early in the morning, skip Saturday morning cartoons, and power through Crushbone Keep, the Estate of Unrest, and Kithicor Forest. The game seemed so unbelievably huge, and I was playing with real people from all over the world. That made every single time I logged in seem new.
I suppose that’s why it got the nickname “EverCrack.”
Somewhere in there, “World of Warcraft” crept into the picture, and I slowly made the transition from Norrath to Azeroth. I never got into “Everquest 2.”
On Aug. 2 at PAX East, game developer Dave Georgeson revealed the next step for grandparent of MMOs: “Everquest Next.”
“Everquest Next” has been in development since 2009 but has been delayed and restarted as the developers struggled to make this next chapter of the "Everquest" series something that is actually different from other MMOs out right now. It looks like they nailed it.
There are two parts of this release. The first part is due for release this winter: “Everquest Next Landmark.” “Landmark” is essentially "EQ Minecraft." Players will be given some virtual land and access to the same tools that the developers have. What happens with that is totally up to the user. Like in "Minecraft," the player will explore the land provided, gather resources, and build whatever they can imagine. What they build can then be uploaded to the SOE Player Studio, where other players can see it and purchase it for their own world. A player can even get royalties for features they make that get used by other players.
When the actual game comes out, users will be able to use “Landmark” to purchase certain plots of in-game land to place whatever it is that they've created (as long as it lives up to certain standards, I'm assuming). It has also been mentioned that the best player creations could be picked for inclusion in the official “Everquest Next” game release.
The actual “Everquest Next” game is promising to be quite the deviation from the standard MMO formula that’s developed over the last decade or so. Dave Georgeson (EQ Director of Development) had this to say:
We've rebooted our own game. About a year and a half ago, we changed the team out, we tore it down, and we rebuilt it from the bedrock up. We were really serious about it. We wanted to figure out what was fun, what wasn't fun. There's a lot of stuff people don't like about MMOs, and we didn't want to rebuild that again because 'that's an MMO,' and there were all these Holy Grails we wanted to put into a game but never had the courage or resources to make those kinds of changes. But since we're doing something brand new, we wanted to start from scratch and try to build something that's very, very different from regular MMOs.
How is “Everquest Next” going to differentiate itself from other MMOs of the time, from the MMO model that the original “Everquest” basically set?
One of the most exciting bits of news that we've gotten is about how the world can be changed and how that change will be persistent.
The example that the developers talked about involved a message going out across the server, directing people to a single location. There, the players would build a tiny tent city and grow from there. While they gather resources and create a more permanent community, the game may send waves of local enemies at the half-defended settlement. Perhaps some significant problem with construction will occur, and the players will have to work together to find solution(s). With each of these “rallying cries,” the server will be changed permanently.
These server-wide missions aren't going to be “we'll finish in a night” type of challenges; Rome was not built in a day. It will take real weeks (or even months) and tons of player support to convert a tiny tent city into a thriving town. Ultimately, it will be up to the players to decided whether or not a “rallying cry” is worth it.
Rallying cries also ensure that each player's home server will be radically different from another player's.
Each little bit of “Everquest Next” will be constructed out of voxels (unique points of data in a 3D grid), and these voxels can be interacted with through player action. That means that environments will be destructible. In the gameplay videos that SOE released, it shows a wizard destroying a bridge and dropping a group of goblins to their deaths. It also reveals a huge golem-type of creature crashing through the forest after a player and then smashing open the keep that the player tried to hide inside.
This is has never been done successfully in an MMO, and it will be interesting to see if “Everquest Next” pulls it off on the scale that the developers seem to be describing.
Not a ton has been revealed about character choice in “EQ Next.” What we know is that there will be a set number of starting classes, and characters will be able to freely pick and choose which skills or abilities they like from these classes. As the game progresses, the player will be able to discover additional classes to add to their repertoire – as of now, there are at least 40 classes to be discovered, which opens up an entire world of character customization, allowing players to play the exact type of character that they want.
Currently, the revealed classes are warrior, rogue, tempest, wizard, and blademaster. The five (revealed) races are human, ogre, dark elf, dwarf and kerran (the cat people).
Norrath is a huge world, so there are going to be tons of places to explore especially when players start getting involved and adding their own content to the game. That isn't the only cool feature, though. Tapping into the game's destructible terrain, the player can dig down in certain places and break into huge underground caverns. These caverns are procedurally-generated and can contain hidden treasures, buried history, and pieces of lore, or you might be the unlucky one and break into a cavern holding a Void Goliath and awaken it from its slumber.
“Everquest Next” looks like it is truly going to reward people for poking around in places where most would not consider going. Sure, there could be danger and a horrifying death ... or you could find a lost piece of treasure and really give your character a new edge. What is adventure without a little risk?
What I am really excited about and I would really want to hear more about is the AI of the various enemy creatures that inhabit the world. In the original “Everquest” (and most MMOs that followed), you could always count on creatures to spawn at certain locations and wander outward from there. In “Everquest Next,” it looks like creatures will no longer just hang out in the same area. They will learn. They will be attracted to certain locations with things they like, and they will flee from areas with things that might cause them harm. For instance, a band of orcs will act like you imagine they should. They'll hang out in the outskirts of towns and ambush people in the forest or on the road. If too many heroes brave the wild to hunt them down, and the band will see that they are losing and travel further away from town in search of easier prey.
Just before “Everquest Next” was official released, John Smedley (President of SOE) gave away that they had hired on composer Jeremy Soule to do the music for the game. If you don't know Jeremy Soule's name but you're reading this article, then you most definitely have heard his music. He is responsible for the music of “Skyrim,” “World of Warcraft,” “Knights of the Old Republic,” and so many more iconic games. With that kind of musical firepower behind “Everquest Next,” you can be sure that the soundtrack will be something memorable.
Before I Ramble On Too Much....
There is so much about “Everquest Next” that seems super revolutionary and almost counter to the basic model of the MMO that "EQ" set in the first place – which is exactly what needs to happen. Every MMO for the last decade or so has felt like more or less the same game but with a different world. If you're lucky, the developers graced you with an extra mechanic or two. When “Everquest” was released in 1999, it changed everything we thought possible with massively scaled online games (“Ultima” helped too, I guess). It provided a model for a generation of amazing games that have provided people millions of hours of entertainment. It looks like the world of Norrath is poised for a grand return and help us completely reimagine the MMO experience.