Continuing our look at EverQuest Next's key features
Each week, Chris "Syeric" Coke gives his unfiltered thoughts on the MMO industry. Taking on the news and hottest topics, Chris brings his extensive experience as a player and blogger to bear in Experience Points. Join him as he continues his journey reviewing the features of EverQuest Next. Read part one here!
Welcome back to another edition of Experience Points. This week we’ll complete our two part series reviewing EverQuest Next's features. Last week we examined everything from the game's stylized graphics to movement to multi-classing, but that only told half the story. Today I want to delve into destructibility, StoryBricks, and just how different Rallying Calls really are from what's being offered today – just to name a few. There is a lot to discuss, so let's dive in.
One of the cornerstone features of EverQuest Next is destructibility. The developers have designed the game using a voxel system, not unlike the indie hit Minecraft. Imagine that game's cube-based construction taken to the next level; every building, every pillar, every tree is made up of the dozens of little bricks smart enough to know what they've come together to build. That means if you swing a greatsword into a statue, you'll feel the impact of that hit through precisely timed explosions of stone. And the gaping chunk missing from its side, of course.
Everything not specifically protected by the developers can be destroyed, including the ground. A giant battle might leave the landscape pockmarked and smoldering. Over time the land will heal, but Sony's plan is to handle this dynamically. Scars won't be the same everywhere you go; some will regenerate faster than others.
I love this feature with a capital L. One of my biggest gripes with action combat is that it's inconsistent. How much sense does it make that I can send a bad guy flying but find it impossible to hit a solid wall? Everything we've seen in gameplay videos shows that Sony wants us tearing and rending. The sense of impact and sheer power appears to be all important to EQN's combat style and it's cause for excitement.
The oft-muttered (and well-founded) concern is that players will destroy everything in their path, leaving Norrath a wasteland for their peers. I'm not so worried. Sony has made it clear that the regeneration rate will be quick; somewhere in the neighborhood of five minutes. This is a world intended for thousands of people, so it would be silly to assume all of this destruction will last more than a few minutes. Destructibility, in this case, is very likely just an accessory to combat. It's not there to let players tear the world down and rebuild it. That's what Landmark is for.
Digging into the World
One of the coolest aspects of Norrath being destructible is that it allows Sony to build under the game world. If you're pulling stones from the soil and then dropping them down in a ball of fury, it's possible to crack open one of the earth's many thin points and fall through its surface. At SOE Live, the developer's promised thousands of years of civilizations hidden in that subterranean landscape. They described players digging deep, finding dungeons and treasure, and experiencing it as if it were their first time. This is made possible through a procedural generation system that allows the servers to intelligently reconstruct the underworld each time it is created. Such a system means that no two digs should ever be exactly the same.
The potential of this system really excites me. To hear the developers describe it, you should be able to dig a hole almost anywhere and uncover something new. The procedural generation system will means the caverns under the world will be consistently remade, with the exception of key areas. It all sounds amazing and dynamic and an explorer's dream, but almost too good to be true. If the networks are truly random and being made on the fly, I have to wonder if the quality will hold up. Procedural generation systems are great for keeping things fresh but can lack the developer curated polish of handmade levels. My hope is that the system Sony employs is intelligent, robust and connects its pieces on fun first and random second.
A great side-effect of this system is that it will be much harder for guides to be written. Sony has made it clear that they believe game guides undermine exploration. That shouldn't happen here.
MMOs used to be shrouded objects of mystery. When everything gets pinpointed into steps and bullets, that shroud falls apart like an old tapestry. EverQuest Next wants to keep us guessing and that's a sentiment that I can get behind.
Imagine a world where each NPC has its own motivations. Where every single character has likes, dislikes and life goals that they desperately want to achieve. Where they could look at each other, and you, and decide whether they like you or not and how they want to interact with you. Imagine a world where the thoughtless begin to think. That world is EverQuest Next.
EQN will be using a system known as StoryBricks to bring its world to life. Originally introduced to the world as a story-making tool intended for players, Namaste Entertainment quickly shifted its focus to game development and hasn't looked back since. That original path is fortuitous for eager EverQuest Next fans, however, since there's a ton of information available on just how the game's AI system is likely to work. These YouTube videos break it down pretty well but this developer diary accomplishes even more. Information started to become scarce after Namaste partnered with Sony but if these early reveals are any indication, things look good, folks. Very good.
One of the more interesting, if overlooked, notes from Fan Faire is that Sony even intends to apply this intelligence to wildlife. For the first time since Ultima Online a game is attempting to bring its world to life with ecology. Think about the potential this system has. If players hunt too many deer, the wolves may start attacking a farmer's cows. The farmer, whose motivation is to protect his livestock, may turn to hunting wolves instead of guarding his borders. The orcs, seeing the farmer besieged, decide that it's a good time to attack. Then it's up to the players to send them packing. This is the stuff of living worlds, people. It failed in Ultima because the players butchered everything too quickly for the system to get started. It failed in Ultima because the world was too small to support it. If EQN's is large enough, as it seems to be, we could finally see the next phase of virtual (MMO) world evolution.
Both enemy and friendly NPCs will look at you and react to your deeds. They will live their own lives. Animals with ebb and flow, more alive than they've ever been. Storybricks could be one of the biggest movements to take us into the next generation of MMORPGs.
One of the single most compelling reveals of the August 2nd announcement is that EverQuest Next will feature permanent change to its world. Events, called Rallying Calls, will take place over multiple months and the reactions, successes and failures of players at each stage will determine the future of the game world on a server by server basis. A new shard opening years after release will be fresh and new and, if the system delivers, totally unlike one that's existed since launch. Even two servers of the same age aren't guaranteed to be the same.
While I'm cautiously optimistic, my hype senses are tingling. The example Rallying Call shared by the developers sounded eerily like a drawn out public quest; or, perhaps more accurately, an extended World Event in RIFT. Where I think the two systems will differ is that at each stage of the event, players succeeding or failing will determine how the rest of it unfolds. Rallying Calls seem steeped in variables and alternate endings. I just hope the months of build-up don't turn into slow-ticking checklists on the side of the screen.
This is what players have been asking for: meaningful change. The ability to reach out and make a difference. One and done events that you have to be there to have seen. If there was any question of whether Sony has been paying attention these last few years, let it be put to bed now.
Finally, we have Landmark, the interesting side-game that is an important element of EverQuest Next and yet still separate. In essence, Landmark is a more powerful Minecraft set within Norrath and using EQN assets. It will be server-based, multiplayer and those taking part will need to collect resources to build and create objects of their own. Players will be able to sell their creations for real money and the cream of the crop might just make its way into Next proper. Contrary to the rumor started with misleading headlines such as this one, Landmark is where the majority of building is taking place, not Next. What does occur there, of which very little is currently known, will have to be earned and occur only in sanctioned spots. There is no need to worry about phalluses dotting the landscape.
As a huge Minecraft fan, I'm particularly excited to get my hands on Landmark. The tools being packaged with it are powerful but don't seem unwieldy. You won't be programming scripts or anything too advanced, but you will be able to add extra detail to your creations with much smaller voxels, blend them together, and even smooth out the rough edges to get rid of blockiness. Coming from the pure block placement of other builders, that's power.
Landmark will be an excellent way to experience Norrath before Next launches. It won't be the actual game world, but it should certainly feel like it with the same assets and graphics engine. I'm looking forward to exploring almost as much as I am building in the sandbox.
EverQuest Next is bringing a lot to the table, no one can question that. I've spent two articles and nearly 4,000 words breaking down the major features and I've barely scratched the surface of what's to come. Some of these will surely be hype but, if a few deliver, we'll have a quality game worth being excited about. Dave Georgeson believes that EverQuest Next should be the game to reinvigorate innovation in MMORPGs. I agree. Sony started this train and it should be the one that pulls AAA back onto the tracks.
Chris "Syeric" Coke
Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight