Incoming: Everquest Next

The big news of the week was the official announcement of Everquest Next.  Everquest was really the game that started the MMO genre.  It had the first ‘success’.  Games such as WoW owe a lot to Everquest.  SOE are trying to reclaim some of that glory by attempting to push the boundaries with its new incarnation.  After Dark describes this as a reboot in the way JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek.  What are they planning thats so different?

  • EQN is a sandbox MMO.  WoW and previous EQ games are what you would call themepark MMOs.  These offer something for everyone and channel players into restricted routes.  A sandbox, in contrast, is an open world that players can choose to explore in different ways.
  • You can build the world. EQN will incorporate world building tools (Landmark) to let you build the world around you.
  • You can destroy the world. The world of EQN, once destroyed, stays destroyed (unless someone actively repairs it with Landmark I would guess).  This makes the world malleable and changing.
  • Organic questing and effect. You intervene in the world and this gives you rewards and opportunities.  It also changes the world.  There is not a set outcome – players can evolve an outcome.
  • Artificially intelligent mobs. A bit of machine learning means that the mobs will adapt to your play style.  You therefore need to keep your playstyle varied.
  • Multi-class all the classes (all 40 of them). You have 8 action bar slots.  4 skills depend on classes, 4 on your weapon.  That makes for a varied set of possibilities.

My response to this was that EQN sounds very much like an evolution of things we have been seeing.  Guild Wars 2 has brought us the evolving world.  Players want to feel the world change around them and to have an impact on those changes.  When Neverwinter came out, for all its flaws, the idea of player made content attracted a lot of attention.  This removes some of the restrictions on a development team who can only ever be so big.  Smaller examples of player built content in other games (Rift Dimensions, Guild Wars 2 sPvP servers, etc.) seem to be successful with players thinking of innovative ways to use them.  Guild Wars 2 has attempted the organic questing and weapon based builds with restricted bars.

I’m particularly interested to see the AI mention.  Machine learning and AI have been around for a long time now, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in an MMO.  Its another great way to keep the world feeling alive.

A note of caution
If EQN is pushing the boundaries, it faces all the risks that come with this.  The AI is a great example here.  It needs to really learn and adapt, not just provide variation on a theme.  It needs to be unpredictable, and this is going to be extremely difficult in a world constructed within a PC.  The big things need to actually be big.

The second concern is the sheer openness of the world.  It seems very unstructured to the point where many players might find it confusing.  Some players like neat paths.  They like guides.  They like to know that the city will be there when they log back on.  They like to have consistency.  Also, players don’t like to miss out on things.  Imagine you log out in a city and log back in to find its gone?  Not only are you now lost, but you also missed the entire battle.  The kind of havoc a few late night players could cause is substantial.  Tools such as achievements and lore collections and other ways in which games provide rewards will be more difficult.  Its hard to explore an evolving world, for example.  An achievement telling you to visit 10 towns has a problem when those towns cease to exist.

Bring in the metaverse!
The MMO metaverse is important to MMOs.  I honestly think without the Dulfy guides, many aspects of Guild Wars 2 would not be as successful as they are.  On Dulfy’s site, players come together to pool information.  Players comment with additional images and details.  Wowhead and the like are very important for WoW players, helping them find information that is difficult to find in game.  Those systems are not going to be as effective in EQN.  Guides will quickly be out of date.  That will be great for some players, but those who lack time might find it a barrier to engagement.  SOE needs to think about how to manage that – how to bring some order to the chaos.  Preferably, that metaverse should stay meta and SOE should provide the tools for the community to direct itself in the game.

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