The Future of the MMORPG Lies in Norrath
It seems like ages ago, but way back at E3 2013 in June, we here at MMORPG.com were one of a very few select press outlets to step behind closed doors at the SOE booth and be treated to an early look at EverQuest Next. Director of Development Dave Georgeson let us through an in-depth look at the game’s systems complete with video clips, artwork, and of course everyone’s favorite: presentation slides! Right now, as you’re reading this the game is being revealed in Las Vegas, Nevada to just about the entire globe. Finally, after all these months of teasing and hyping, the gaming public is getting their own eyes on with SOE’s evolutionary MMORPG. But let’s go back to June 11th, 2013... the moment we first learned just what SOE has in store for the genre, and why if their aspirations can be met we’ll all be in for a treat when Norrath is made anew once more.
At the E3 presentation, Dave began by letting us know that the team had some original plans for EverQuest Next that poised the game as more of a successor to EverQuest 2. However, everyone at the company felt like they were making the same game over and over. Hell, they felt the industry has been making the same game over and over. A new idea was formed, a new direction for the EverQuest franchise, and the top brass gave Dave and his team the go-ahead to take EverQuest Next and make it the game they want to make rather than just another MMORPG.
During the presentation, we saw bits and pieces of footage from the early builds of the game, artwork, renders... the whole nine yards. But the key to EverQuest Next is in the details and those we have plenty of to share.
Movement and Combat
Two of the key ingredients in any MMO, right? Just like everything else in EQN (which we’ll get to) SOE is seeing fit to alter the way we interact with the world, starting with our characters movement and physical prowess. On the movement side of things, players characters will have smart movement... I know that sounds anticlimactic. But imagine the running and jumping and climbing of something like Mirror’s Edge, applied to an MMO and in the third person. You run up to a waist-high ledge, and instead of having to spacebar over it, you’ll just vault it naturally. You will be able to jump against a wall and then spring off it, run up it, and so forth. Norrath is getting all parkour.
A wizard and an earth elemental face off underground.
Then there’s the combat itself. SOE’s going somewhere between traditional tab-targeting and the action-combat of TERA with EQNext. You’ll have a limited amount of icons on your hotbar as is the current trend. The team doesn’t want you playing your UI, they want you playing the game. You’ll also be fighting with a mix of skills from your weapons and your chosen class (we’ll get to how you can mix and match classes a bit later). The weapons also work differently for each class. You might have a spear, and on your Ranger, maybe it’s more of a poking and prodding sort of weapon letting you weave and dodge in and out of combat. But maybe you’re a warrior instead, and the spear then becomes a method of controlling your enemy. You can lunge it into them, hoist them above you, and drop them behind you in a spear-suplex sort of maneuver. Oh, and there will be guns, suggesting some elements of industrialism in this Norrath too. Frankly, the whole thing sounds a bit like ArenaNet's take on combat, and while I'm okay with this I know others might not be. But let's be clear here: EQN will sport the trinity and traditional class roles. Healers, Support, Crowd Control, DPS, Tanks, rejoice!
Now, with that I think it’s time we talk about the four main pillars that EQN will be built upon, beginning with destructibility.
This is very important: everything in the new Norrath will be destructible... everything. We talked about combat above, but let’s keep going a bit more. You’re fighting a bunch of orcs with some guildmates, and they’re just rushing you too much. There are too many of them to take on at once. Your Mage then saves the day with a nice giant wall of rock pulled from the ground itself. Not just some animation, but quite literally pulled from the ground itself. If there’s rock underfoot, you’ll be able to use that to your combat advantage. You keep fighting the orcs, taking them out one by one, but as you do they break down the wall and now you’re outnumbered again. Luckily, one of your Wizard friends brought a nuke. He tosses the sucker into the thrall of orcs, blowing some of them up but more importantly... he’s blown a hole in the ground beneath the orcs and the survivors have fallen in. Your Archer and Mage step up to the ledge of the deathtrap and rain fire and arrows down upon them, securing your victory.
A nice early tech demo of the combat and destructible environments.
But destructibility doesn’t just tie into combat, or random vandalism in towns (don’t be that guy, folks). Nope, it ties into something else all together – exploration.
Thousands of Years of History Beneath your Feet... and Above
So let’s go back up to that combat scenario. You’ve blown a hole in the ground... great! Now, I don’t expect SOE to say that every time a player uses a spell a hole will be blown into the ground and it’ll stay there forever. But this time? This time the spell your wizard used will have unearthed a brand new set of ruins to explore. In fact, one of the key ingredients to EQN’s world design this time around is verticality. Not just into the air with mountains and such, but also down into the ground where old civilizations slumber. So that nuke you carelessly tossed opened up a brand new place for all players to explore. In fact, Dave told us that the world of Norrath goes multiple levels into the ground. You might delve into this newly found dungeon, and accidentally step on a crack that opens yet another region to explore below. On top of that, like so many gamers, the EQN guys are sick of repeating the same content over and over again. So while you will be able to delve into a subterranean layer multiple times, it will also be procedurally generated to make sure that it’s not the same each time. That same sense of exploration extends to the skies as well, as EverQuest Next aims to give us a Norrath with more to see and do than any other version.
You can destroy terrain, smash walls, blow up bridges, dig a hole in the ground that opens up into a cavern system that turns into a dungeon. You can even dig in that cavern and possible find even deeper caverns. We asked about what happens when a player, or players, decide to take a prairie and turn it into a crater field that looks like the surface of the moon. I was told that certain areas would regenerate over time. Some would happen slowly, some would happen within minutes. Also if a certain area was too important to the world they could make it immune to vandalism.
A human wizard and a kerran warrior look down below the world.
But uncovering the dungeons isn’t the only way the world will change based on your actions. When EverQuest Next launches, every server will be a clean slate with exactly how SOE wants the world to begin. But every single thing the players do, the decisions they make, and the way they progress the story will alter each server individually. SOE calls the mechanism by which this change is accomplished a “Rallying Call” and it introduces an idea that is brand new to MMOs, permanent change.
A World That Can Change Permanently
So, let’s explore the idea of permanent change in more detail. Rallying Calls are giant public quests that can take upwards of two to three months to complete. There will be steps to complete in the story arc in shorter intervals but the overall arc will take months. One of the earliest examples will be to build a city. As a crafter you can help gather materials and create items that the city would need to grow. As an adventurer you can explore the surroundings and make sure the area is free of hostile wildlife. The city could eventually require a quarry to be built so the walls could be upgraded to stone from wooden palisades. While the city is digging deeper in the quarry it could uncover a hidden lair of monsters. These monsters could then gather an army to support them launching a counter offensive on the city. The players would then be required to help squash this offensive. Once the enemy army was subdued and the city was final the Rallying Call would come to an end. Events like this will shape the face of Norrath.
This is a prime example of how not even castles will be safe from destruction.
One server might have the Orcs running Qeynos with an iron fist. But then your next server might not get to that stage so quickly. You might find one dungeon open on one server, but undiscovered on the next. You can start a character on day one, and then roll an alt a year later and have the experience be completely different because the world will never be the same as it was that first day. Stories of how the world is shaped and where the story goes will change from server to server. And of course, you can only imagine how cool it will be to one day see SOE announce a brand new server launching... so you can do it all over again differently. The world of EverQuest Next will truly be shaped by its players, and it will be different from day to day, month to month, and year to year.The world and the story of each server won’t be the only things that are changed based on players’ actions. On a more personal level, every one of us will living a life that has its own ups and downs based on our decisions.
A Life of Consequence and Multi-Classing
You’ll begin your life in EverQuest Next with one of handful of classes. That’s it... at least until you discover the others. There are no levels in EQN, all of your progression will come from exploring the world, unlocking classes and experimenting with weapons and spells. That’s right folks, EQN is bringing back the glory of exploration for purpose in that it’s going to actually ask you to, well, you know explore the world to unlock things. In the example Dave gave us, an adventurer comes upon a farmer who’s being besieged by legions of orcs. He begs you for help. Or, if you prefer, you can help the orcs take control of the farm and do away with the farmer. If you help the poor guy out, maybe you’ll find out he’s actually a hedge Wizard and will teach you the art of magic. Or perhaps you help out the orcs instead (because orcs are awesome, that’s why) and they’re so impressed with your combat prowess that they’ll teach you how to become a mighty warrior. There won’t be some golden exclamation point over the farmer’s head, and it won’t be clear from the get go how this whole experience would go down or what your rewards would be. And what’s more is that once you do it, it won’t be there for the next person. That’s not to say that others couldn’t learn wizardry or the art of war, but rather this will be EQN’s way of combating guides that lay out exactly how to find and do everything in the game. Dave and his team want to make sure that the sense of wonder, exploration, and accomplishment are put back into the MMORPG.
Oh, and did we mention that EverQuest Next will sport multi-classing? You’ll be able to mix and match skills and abilities from a bevy of the game’s several dozen classes, making your ultimate adventurer a possibility. Wizard + Rogue strike your fancy? Do it up. Want to play a warrior who can also casts spells? Sure, why not? Dave couldn’t comment much on the classes EQN would host, but chances are we’ll be finding out more on classes as you’re reading this. When I asked if they were worried about balance and how it’ll be obtained with all of these combinations and the many different weapon skills, the team just smiled and said, “We’re not worried about balance. We’re worried about fun.”
The Kerra are distinctly more lion-esque now.
In the beginning you will be able to choose between 8 classes that have four distinct core abilities. The available races that we can confirm so far are Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Dark Elves, Ogres and Kerra. As you adventure throughout the world Dave mentioned that you will be able to learn up to tens of other classes (Dave stopped after he counted by ten to forty, but who knows how many there will be?). You can then take the abilities that you learn from these classes and mix and match them to suit your desires. Weapons also have their own unique abilities. As you collect weapons and classes you will be able to further individualize the way that you play the game. On the surface this sounds great. They will however need to find a way to prevent players from feeling pressured to playing a role a certain way if they want players to really maintain a sense of individuality.
But let’s get back to that “orcs versus farmer” example for a bit to talk about another one of EQN’s main themes: Artificial Intelligence that reacts to the players.
Emergent AI - Where Storybricks Comes In
This is the part of EQN that studio Storybricks is helping out on. Those orcs that sacked the farmer’s livelihood have been encroaching closer and closer to Qeynos proper. They’re thinking of setting up an ambush a few miles from the city gates, because it’s really quite easy to attack and rob travelers when guards are far away. If enough players alert the guards, perhaps they’ll actually step out from behind the high-walled gates and do something about it. Or if players take it upon themselves, they can start mounting an offensive against the orcs, beat them to a pulp enough to make them pack up and move. No more static spawns, always just milling about no matter how many of their brethren you kill. The mobs and NPCs of EQN will act and react to the actions of each other and the players. Villages will get abandoned, gnolls will rove about in bands, wildlife will migrate. Finally, an MMO’s world will actually react to its inhabitants. And it’s about time too.
Norrath as it will be in EQN
With that, our little taste of what we’re getting a full five-course meal of during SOE Live wound down towards its end. But not before Dave and crew could drop a tiny bit of information on crafting, and just exactly how EQN’s sandbox will toss us all shovels, buckets, and tell us to go build and play.
EverQuest Next 'Landmark' Launching this Winter
Maybe you’ve seen Player Studio already in place with EverQuest, FreeRealms, and now Planetside 2. PS gives each game’s players some control over the content that appears in their game by allowing them to actually craft that content. EQN will be taking Player Studio one step further, by launching EverQuest Landmark this Winter. A wildly ambitious, creative, and sprawling predecessor to the actual EverQuest Next MMORPG, Landmark will essentially be like Minecraft in EverQuest form. SOE is giving us all the same tools they use to make buildings, land, and so much more and let us play with them and build stuff on SOE-hosted servers.
While they keep working on the full MMORPG version of the game, they’ll keep adding more tools and features to Landmark to see how we’ll use them. Content we create may even be added into Player Studio or EQN proper, and we’ll of course share in the proceeds from anything sold on Player Studio. PS will be a big part of EQN’s overall strategy, because like Tramell Isaac said recently about its addition to Planetside: it’s about building community. And there’s really no better way to do so than to allow players to make things within the world and share it with each other.
A tech demo of building in EQN: Landmark
Landmark is going to be the biggest and most beautifully rendered version of LEGO you’ve ever seen. There are voxels for everything from mud to snow and iron and everything in between. Each one reacts to what it’s placed next to, as well. Snow will shift and change shape if it’s placed next to a stone. Water will fill a space its laid into, or lie flat on a surface as a puddle. The example we were shown had rather large blocks (think Cube World), but only as a way to showcase the tech. The visual fidelity of EQN will be a stylistic and artistic take on Norrath, but the visual effects will be stunning, taking full advantage of the f Forgelight Engine as it’s also used on Planetside 2 (EQN will also use Forgelight).
On each Landmark server, one continent of the world will be reserved for Norrath itself, and each region will have specific landscapes (lava, winter, jungle, etc). The way Dave explained it, this will be like and the ultimate sandbox for players. They can each build stuff in Norrath, and see who can do what better. Who knows, maybe something you make in the style of Antonica will be there when launch arrives. The rest of each world will be like the Wild West of America. You’ll take your avatar and run out into the wild and claim a plot of land to begin building. At first Landmark will be all about the buildings and the scenery.
As the development of EQN progresses, more and more features may be added. It’s not only a great way to get involved in the development of EverQuest Next if you’re a devoted fan or creative type, but it’s also shaping up to be a very addictive sandbox to play in while you wait for SOE’s own take on the subject matter. And you just might make some money on an awesome weapon you make if it gets sold in Player Studio later on. They're even going to tell you what they want help building and experimenting with as Landmark progresses. EQN Landmark may just be the largest and most insane collaborative project between developers and players, and the beauty of it all is that it will be entirely free for players starting this Winter.
This time around, Norrath is decidedly more stylized.
As for actual crafting in EQN, we’ll have to wait and see what SOE Live holds for that, but as far as I’m concerned Landmark is the purest form of crafting. Players will make buildings, towns, wells, cities, everything from the ground up. The only thing that we’re not going to have control of in Landmark seems to be the mobs themselves (probably because the world doesn’t need anymore phallic-shaped enemies, I’d wager). But maybe you're sick of hearing about player-created this or that? Fear not. There will be an entire world of content, zones, dungeons, and so much more all crafted by SOE for the full launch of EverQuest Next. Landmark is just icing on the cake, and the player's way to "leave their mark on the land" or Norrath in EQN. And this is all just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, as you read this, the presentations on everything EQN are ongoing in Las Vegas. Rob, Suzie, and Garrett are all delving deep into the classes, races, combat, crafting, lore, and much more. But what do you think so far? Is this what you expected of EverQuest Next? Is it more? Let us know in the comments!
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.