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EverQuest Next Column: An EQ Noob’s Reaction to EverQuest Next

By Michael Bitton on August 07, 2013

I have never played the original EverQuest. During the title’s heyday, I was playing DikuMUDs (what EverQuest was based upon) and I was a teenager, so I didn’t see the sense in trying to figure out how to pay monthly for a graphical version of what I was already playing. I did play the newbie island of EverQuest II, but that’s honestly as far as I got. SOE’s presentation for EverQuest Next has me thinking that EQN may be my first real foray into the series and today I wanted to offer my own EQ newbie reactions to what I saw last week.

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Despite being an EQ newbie, I do know that EverQuest has always been a classic, high fantasy MMO in which players played as one of many distinct classes and races available. While the presence of these races and classes (to some extent) appear to be intact, it’s clear, even to someone like me that what SOE unveiled at SOE Live was a departure from the series.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first and talk about the game’s art style. When I saw some of the assets coming in for our coverage prior to the official event, I knew the art style would be a source of controversy. Stylized or cartoony art styles always are. But for EverQuest, a series long focused on a more realistic, high fantasy aesthetic, this was probably going to be the most obvious and contentious issue amongst fans.

This sort of aesthetic seems to be all the rage at the moment. Star Wars: The Old Republic’s ‘stylized realism’, FireFall, and WildStar are just a couple of examples. The latter two are even sometimes confused for each other, likely due to usage of a similar art style.  Aside from creative reasons on the developer’s part, there’s a simple, more practical reason: cartoony art styles hold up better over time. Compare World of Warcraft to EverQuest II from a purely visual standpoint. Mind you, I’ve always hated the art style of World of Warcraft, but it sure looks a lot better in 2013 than EverQuest II does. MMO games are inherently designed to last for long periods of time, so it’s a no-brainer that more and more developers are leaning towards this sort of art style nowadays.

EverQuest Next’s particular usage of the style doesn’t bother me much. It’s maybe slightly generic, but the character art (aside from the Tony the Tiger Kerrans, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see change given all the feedback) and visual effects are compelling to me.  SOE has been pushing the SOEmote tech for a bit now and a cartoony style really lends itself to increased levels of expressiveness. While SOEmote looks goofy in EverQuest II, it actually looks like it will be a great addition to EverQuest Next.  I think the feature could go a long way for roleplayers and it’s nice to see SOE paying attention to that sort of thing.

Aside from the visuals, I find myself genuinely excited over SOE’s high-level approach to the game. It’s clear the genre seems to be shifting towards more sandbox-like games at the moment. This is at least partly due to the fact that developers have recognized that it’s nigh impossible to keep up with the amount and frequency of content demanded by players playing themepark games. Instead of just following the trend as it is, SOE seems to be taking a unique spin on the issue and is serving up a direct answer with its plans for EverQuest Next.

It’s one thing to focus more on systems and less on developer created content in your typical sandbox game, it’s another to find a different avenue for perpetual gameplay options (aside from PvP) in making your game world procedurally generated and constructable/destructible a la Minecraft or CubeWorld.  A strong emphasis on exploration for progression both in terms of gear and skills and a procedurally generated multi-layered world design could go a long way towards keeping players busy and engaged even if whatever content SOE designs dries up before they can get the next bit out there. I don’t think SOE is taking the traditional sandbox approach of eschewing developer created content for pure systems focus, but instead, the goal appears to give players a world that continually entertains players as the game’s foundation, with some level of hand-crafted content layered on top of this.  This approach, coupled with the innovations in creature AI makes for some impressive possibilities.  It puts the game world front and center and takes the primary focus (and pressure) off of developer created content as a result.

We’ve all seen how addictive Minecraft and its ilk have been for gamers, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone decided to take the recipe of that success and use it as a foundation for an MMO. That said, I do have some reservations at the moment. My biggest issue with EverQuest Next so far is the way SOE is communicating about the game. Maybe it’s because they’re doing so many different things with EQ Next, but I feel a bit off-put by the focus on discussing the game’s technology.

I see all the cool tech and new whizzbangs and I’m definitely wowed by it, but despite being an EQ newbie, I have to ask myself: What makes EverQuest Next, well, EverQuest?

The last time I recall feeling this way was with The Force Unleashed. That game was basically a tech demo for LucasArts’ neat licensed middleware with Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) and Euphoria physics. The game looked the part, but it didn’t really feel like a Star Wars game. I got the sense the developers were all too impressed with themselves and their fancy technology and ended up creating a soulless game in the process. It’s ridiculously early, but I can’t seem to shake this slight sense of déjà vu I’m having at the moment.

Will all this impressive technology that SOE is leveraging for EverQuest Next support a Norrath that looks and feels, first and foremost, like an EverQuest game? Or will it all take a backseat to showing off all the neat underlying technology? We’ll have a better idea for this as we observe how SOE talks about the game in the weeks and months ahead.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB


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