How does action combat work within a world of consequences?
The initial reveal of EQ:Next placed it firmly in the action combat category. In this, it’s not so much innovative as it is playing into the current hot-feature in MMO’s. The system revealed, and mirrored in what we see in EQ:Landmark, is one of wide cleaving area of effect attacks and splash it fireballs replete with red-splat warnings for avoidance checks.
I am not a fan of this type of combat. I understand its short-term visceral appeal. Done right, it’s got a lot of potential to increase the engagement in combat. In practice, unfortunately, it winds up being little more than a different way to bang out a combat rotation while playing through the synchronized swim of boss mechanics. To quote one redditor discussing Wildstar combat: “backing up while spamming an attack isn’t all that engaging.” I’ve killed pirates in Conan, tanked BAM’s in TERA, slain all the fun bosses in the Secret World, and stabbed a few things in Neverwinter, I have seen more than a few action combat systems. While I haven’t played Wildstar, I understand that redditors quote.
But that’s not my concern for EQ:Next. My concern involves how this aoe-fest style of combat works within a world of consequence. Picture a scenario. You come across a farm being invaded by orcs. Everywhere you look, farmers are fighting orcs. You decide you are going to jump in and help. Farmers? Orcs? Whichever, it’s your choice. Remembering it’s a world of consequence, you make a choice. Your actions will change the future of the region. This isn’t a far-fetched scenario, it’s drawn directly from a release reveal of EQ:Next from their own developer team.
But how does that mesh with an aoe-fest action combat?
You jump in to help the (farmers/orcs) and walk up to the nearest (orc/farmer) and mightily swing your weapon. It winds up hitting both the farmer and orc fighting and now both (and their respective groups) register you as a combattent out to harm them.
The thing is, I can see how this works in a tab-targeting world. It’s not that tab-targeting is superior, it’s that it’s more precise. If I want to kill (orcs/farmers), I have the freedom to target (orcs/farmers).
This question isn’t so much about my preferences for one system over the other, although clearly my bias frames how I think about the question. I genuinely want to find that place where orcs are fighting farmers. I absolutely want to help one of them. I don’t want the combat system to get in the way of enjoying that world.
What does this mean for dungeons and other classic Norrathian capitals?
The EQ franchise has numerous iconic dungeons that players will be looking forward to. Crushbone, Unrest, Guk, Befallen, Blackburrow, Castle Mistmoore and others (just to stick to vanilla EQ) are all parts of iconic Everquest.
How does an adaptive world of consequence handle NPC outposts and dungeons?
In places like Gukta and Crushbone, you can kind of see how the idea of an adaptive AI plays perfectly to those zones. The Guk dungeon was built around the premise of a constant fight between the upper level living frogloks and the lower level undead. The gates of Guk features a conflict between Trolls and Frogloks. That idea of a three-faction conflict centered around control of the Guk fortress/dungeon has some really great promise to it.
Which points back to my first question. How do you preserve the dungeon and thrill of exploration in the face of players?
I would hope that in a modern MMO-market replete with ideas like open-tapping and personal loot, a game like EQ:Next could hearken back to classic MMO staples like vast, complicated shared dungeons. I certainly could see how instancing makes sense for the voxel-based randomized underworld, but it seems like EQ:Next is screaming for open-world shared dungeons. Is it?
What is off-limits (flagship NPC’s)?
As with its iconic destinations, the EQ franchise has many famous NPC’s. Firiona Vie, Antonia Bayle, Lucan D’Lere, Mayong Mistmoore, Fippy Darkpaw, Garanel Rucksif and others were all key parts of bringing EQ1 and EQ2 Norrath to life. It makes sense that these people aren’t likely to be present in the next chapter of the franchise. Except Mistmoore perhaps? Others signature NPC’s will take their place certainly?
What’s off limits in a world of consequence?
If there’s one thing MMO’s have conditioned us, as players, to do is to stick a sword into anything with a Capitalized Name. Just seeing uppercase letters on a moving NPC makes me wonder what’s on the loot table. How does EQ:Next handle this? One way would be to resort to respawns and returns (in different places in the world perhaps) while another would be to simply replace the named leader with an heir. Maybe EQ:Next uses both, maybe neither?
How do you handle player griefing?
The video makes it pretty clear that PVP is opt-in only, but that you can support different sides of a conflict. This is certainly going to put players against each other in their agency and, for the most part, that’s a really interesting thing. Server dynamics and outside interaction potentially become important. Even more interesting, server drama no longer means “he camped my spawn.”
Assuming this plays out as billed, there will undoutedly be some frustration as your goals supporting one faction are offset by others advancing a countering action. That part seems like a natural, and possibly neat, part of the system. But that’s not the fellow that has me concerned. The fellow that has me concerned is that fellow who has no allegiances to any faction. He (or she I suppose) just kills. Wantonly, indiscriminantly, constantly.
That player exists. (S)he takes serious pride in just mucking things up for everyone. Wipe out a human village and then move on to destroy the dark elves who had been their opponents. In classic MMO’s, this player was held in check by artificial rules. Certain NPC’s weren’t targetable and you were PVP flagged for targeting others. How does EQ:Next handle both aspects of player conflict their system is designed to create? It’s not PVP, that’s made clear in the video.
I want to make clear that I’m not playing naysayer here and I don’t want to be pedantic and suggest that “I’m just asking questions,” either. I am asking questions and they are, to me, fairly important questions. But I think EQ:Next deserves a ton of thanks for what they are striving for.
I haven’t found myself questioning how things would work in any MMO released in the past ten years. Sure, there were always questions but they were pretty bland questions (how many raids, how many dungeons, what’s the death penalty, yada-yada). EQ:Next is charting some serious new territory. The questions that come with it may seem fairly incredulous because the ideas driving them are potentially quite game changing.
To be clear, I want to play the game I see in the linked video. I’d be happy to toss money to play that game. I’m not sure it plays well as an MMO, but it would be an amazing single player or small-group coop game. Will it make a good MMO, though? Potentially. But MMO’s have player problems. A non-PVP sandbox, with extensive player agency, hasn’t been tried before with MMO population numbers.
Over the next year we will certainly learn more about EQ:Next. Some of our questions will be answered along the way, and those answers will certainly generate new questions. It’s actually pretty cool to have questions of this scope, though. Whether this all works or not remains to be seen. But it should be very interesting watching it develop.
What types of questions do you have about EQ:Next? What are your hopes/fears for this game? Are you planning on sitting in the middle of Freeport killing guards on patrol? Because if so, brother, get in line!