During SOE Fan Faire I had the opportunity to speak with Dave Georgeson, Executive Producer behind EverQuest II about the just announced expansion, Age of Discovery. We in the audience learned a little bit about the expansion during the opening address, but I wanted to speak to Dave to see what else we could learn about Age of Discovery moving forward.
The addition of the Beastlord as the 25th class in EQII was something that we saw a lot of people buzzing about at the actual show. It was something that people had been requesting to see in the game for a long time and the players were quite jazzed to discuss the addition. I decided to ask Dave about the motivation behind adding the Beastlord at long last and what we can expect to see from it that may set it apart from Everquest's class of the same name. Because of the desire to not trickle content out over the next year, Dave explained the EQII team's desire to release a major content update every quarter, taking into account the desires and wants of the community. This process started with Velious (which launched in February) and saw further content released in May. More content will arrive in August, February 2012, May 2012, November 2012 and then once again in February 2013. All this makes it the “biggest expansion pack ever made for any MMO by the time it’s finished.
Interspersed with the Velious content, Freeport will be completely revamped in November “turning it into a multi-level quest hub, making the city come alive. It's very exploratory.” This will be by an overhaul of Qeynos later on. This is how content is going to be distributed moving forward with EQII. So when the time came for them to begin building for an expansion pack, the first item on the list was the Beastlord, something the community had been asking for for years. Dave succinctly put it as “be(ing) stupid not to put the Beastlord in, but we didn't just want to cram a 25th class into the game, because if it wasn't any different, then who cares?”
With Beastlord, the team wanted to minimize the amount of skills that were going to be a part of the Beastlord's makeup, while improving and exploring the potential of the Warders (the pets you bond with as a Beastlord). Pets will gain their own AA Tree, skill bar “and there's interaction between its skill bars and your skill bars, so you're controlling two things at once. Much more advanced than a typical pet class”. I asked if this was essentially concurrent levelling with both the Beastlord and his/her Warder to which Dave was quick to reply: “It's even better than that because there are a lot of Warders out there. You can level each one up independently”. This seems to buy into Everquest II's focus on the “collectible” mentality. While the Beastlord is, essentially, a pet class, this goes far beyond the typical approach.
The addition of the mercenaries coming in as an “AI-For-Hire” sort of system was also a noteworthy addition that I wanted to touch on while I was speaking with Dave. “This touches on the collectible mentality again” he started off, before launching into a broader explanation of what exactly the mercenaries will be within the game. Dave decided the best way to approach the topic would be by using an example, so he presented the option of hiring a Halfling healer from Qeynos who would heal you, stand behind you, maybe buff you once or twice. He contrasted this with a Dark Elf healer from Neriak. Dark Elves are a much more aggressive race so “their healers will play different, they start casting offensive spells, they don't buff you, they heal you when you're in need, they don't run away as much. That sort of thing.”
Individual behaviors are being brought to the mercenaries through Racial Identity and will affect the way they interact. Each mercenary will take a cut of your pay and XP. “It opens up huge amounts of gameplay for people... There's a huge cloud of players out there that is solo oriented. The mercenaries are huge for them. If you have three people and they each have a mercenary, you've got a six player party”. Another interesting tidbit about the mercenaries is that they're “almost completely customizable”. After you enlist the services of a mercenary, “you can give them appearance gear that you've collected and they'll wear it. You can change their name. You can change their facial appearance and hair. You can even teach them to say things”. The mercenaries, once purchased, will level with you.
Reforging will also be included in Age of Discovery albeit with some limitations. “All you can shift around are the secondary characteristics, rather than the primary characteristics. So, for instance, if it was strength bonus vs. health bonus, you couldn't really do that. But if you wanted points in multi-attack or more points in defense, or resist, or something like that, then you could shift those stats around. The item becomes more fine-tuned to what you want”. This is an attractive feature for min/maxers. “But the sexy part of reforging,” he continued, “is that if a weapon has a particle effect on it, you can actually open up a new particle effect editor and change the appearance of your weapon's particles” which would allow you to change the base effects, the colors, maybe speed, or direction, allowing players to customize the way their weapon works. This decision was all born out of the User Generated Content build allowing players more immersion into the creation of their own character.
Design your Own Dungeon, a potentially huge new feature coming from Age of Discovery, will continue the idea of the player becoming more involved in the UGC. “What players don't necessarily realize is that MMOs are different from every other kind of game”, where development continues through the release process. Ultimately, the DYOD feature was born out of wanting to keep the game fresh and keep the audience involved, with UGC being the focus. Dave took us back to text MUDs:
“One of the really cool things about them was that if you (achieved success) the guy running the text MUD would say 'Hey, you're cool, why don't you build an area and tack it on”, which was a huge boon to the player. This is partly where the focus on UGC comes into play, as players who create their own dungeons through the DyoD feature will then be able to have that dungeon be played by any player of appropriate skill level. You can be a builder, who needs maps, spawners, traps and decorations in order to make a dungeon. These are all obtainable through questing in the game. “All of that stuff is available out there. Quests, raids, tradeskills, all of those different things can get the individual pieces. If you want a map that's based on Crushbone Keep in the Orc area, you go beat that area, when you beat the area, you get a map, ta-da, you can build a dungeon (based on) that area”. So the content you require to build the dungeon is unlockable. “If you want the Orc Shaman, then kill enough of them and bam, you get the spawners”.
It will give you a map layout where you can create a dungeon in a “start at A, make it to B, kill the boss” and that's it. You look at the lay out, pick your starting point, and your end point. The software looks for the possible routes. Challenge rating is calculated based on the spawners, the frequency of spawners, and the easiest route vs. the hardest route. Overlapping spawners, for example, will drive the Challenge Rating up and the CR is calculated based on the easiest route. From there, rewards are based on the CR. Upon completion of your dungeon, you can publish to friends only, or publish to the public, almost like a self-inflicted beta phase. Once published to the public, leaderboards come into play with categories such as “most recently published” and many more.
While in bullet point format Age of Discovery adds only a handful of features, the features that are coming with the expansion are proving to be far more in-depth than one could have anticipated. Not only do you see a new class coming into the fold, but the emphasis on user generated content seems to just add to the game's replayability and appeal. It should be interesting to see just where the game goes once the expansion goes live in November.