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The MMO Sequel

Adam Tingle Posted:
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So it's happened, Sony have torn back the curtain and let us all ogle at EverQuest Next, taking camera phone pictures, and ironically Tweeting messages about "LEGO LOLZ". Being something of a Norrath fanboy myself, I can't say that I didn't squeal like a schoolgirl and dance a little excited jig when they finally got underway with the presentations. So today we are looking at MMORPGs sequels: and how they almost never, ever, get them right.

Sequel design is difficult. First you need to expand on an already established formula, add in extra bits, and most importantly: remember what you have already done. And that last bit, most creative's seem to fall just short of - crying indifference to what has gone before and taking to retconning with chainsaw wielding glee.

Without meaning to invoke the great gods of EverQuest once again, I felt this creeping sense of disappointment with SOE’s first bite at the metaphorical apple of successor design. EverQuest 2 over the years has become a fine game, but when it released? I still bare the mental scars of sheer disillusionment.

Because for all of the EQ theme music, the races, classes, and text font, it wasn’t particularly like the original. Gone was Norrath as I knew it, a giant land mass that felt real and tangible, instead replaced by something that felt like a bunch of themed islands. Here is Hobbit Land. Here is Snow Kingdom. Here is Evil Town. Here is Good Town.

It seemed so basic. So uninvolved. I’d spent hours traipsing around the original landscape, dreaming of better graphics, and when they came it seemed as though we had stepped back a football field’s length. And where the hell was Kelethin?

But as I stated previously over many years  the team behind EQ2 began to bend to my every whim and wish. And when I say “my” I do imagine that SOE have a picture of my gurning face in their office with the words “PLEASE HIM!” printed underneath. I’m not a fantasist.

And yet even with most of the original zones restored, some of my disquiet with EQ2 came from the fact that in reality, this wasn’t the same Norrath; and thus didn’t particularly share much in common with my original adventures throughout Antonica and beyond. It was a different game, masquerading behind similar monikers.

Which brings me to my meandering point: why has no MMO sequel ever tipped their hat to original world design? Each comes packed, part and parcel with some sort of excuse. The world was destroyed. Somebody unleashed a dragon. Someone else went back in time and stood on a thing which did a thing and now we live in a different thing: ENJOY NEW QEYNOS!

Why is it that these places that we came to know and love, are never truly recreated? And this isn’t just EverQuest but Asheron’s Call and Guild Wars also. That was another case of “mysterious cataclysmic event brought to you by SEQUELtm”.

Obviously I understand that due to graphical limitations both of the aforementioned games actually look slightly like a fever dream set in a 2000 videogame. Landscapes, once so vibrant, are actually just stretched textures. Trees are 2D sprites that follow you. Character models: well the less said the better.

Of course, recreating these worlds would have been fairly simple and uninvolved. But what is wrong with keeping the same sense of geography? Keeping a few key locations, just adding and refining rather than completely whitewashing? Am I really supposed to believe that after the Sundering the gnolls of Blackburrow put to one side their woes with humanity and picked up their hard hats, tools, and paint, and started renovating a completely new cave? Capturing some snakes for the bottom, hanging the furs with interior design fervour?

Yes, I am a nerd. But sometimes, developers can misunderstand the hooks that keep a player within a game. And now that an entire new audience has found a home and a sense of pyscho-geography in Norrath 2 it seems a little cruel to disjoint yet another community and present them with a completely new take on the world.

For me, the locations are essential, and I need that sense of knowing a place. I nervously await sequels because of the memories I have. Entirely retconning areas just fills me with a sense of pointlessness. Essentially this is a reboot and not a sequel. I await EverQuest Next, it looks fantastic, but is it EverQuest? Nah. That world, that game, that adventure will die along with the software.

What are you gripes with MMORPG sequels? As ever let us know in the comment box below.

Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humor, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle

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Adam Tingle