Finally, I had the chance to sit down with Brad and Chris of Visionary Realms to actually play the pre-alpha of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. Now, MMO demos are always tricky. I didn’t explore, or try to muddle along with tons of systems, rather I got a feel for what delving into one of the many open dungeons will be like with a party of friends. That’s the crux, the core gameplay of Pantheon - playing with friends. And even in this early state it’s both refreshingly classic and visually progressive.
This is a pre-alpha build, which about 800 of the most devout testers have access to, and I tried my hand at both a Rogue and a Wizard, the latter because the former sort of bugged out on us in the build. We also played in a never-before-seen dungeon - the Black Rose Keep. While we didn’t get too much into the details, Chris and Brad were keen to point out that as the game gets more complete, the entire location will be littered with quests, story details, and mysteries to solve.
Only it’s important to note that quests in Pantheon won’t be ! and ? all over the place. Rather, they’re going to unfold as you explore, as you discover new things, and as you happen upon new NPCs who give you jobs to do in the world. Much of what you’ll find to do in Pantheon will be tied to the perception system - a way in which the game will lure you to locations and objects without abjectly having a big bold exclamation hovering over it. As your perception skill rises, more things in the world will beckon you to discover them. That golden shining tower in the distance will call to you, or those cave drawings at your camp will suddenly remind you of something from long ago. It’s a bold way to handle quests in a world that got far too used to just giving players !’s and icons telling them where to go.
Combat in Pantheon is, and I’m pleased to report this, traditionally tab-target based. I love action games too, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for really well-done strategic tab-target combat. Classes must work together, mezzes actually matter, and AOEs can bring sudden doom on your party in tight spaces when you aggro mobs that hide out in the next room - something I did all too often with my Wizard.
Pantheon may have a long way to go before it launches, but what I’ve seen so far harkens back to the days of EverQuest beautifully, while updating the visuals and offering some quality of life UI elements that never quite made it into Norrath. Brad and Chris and the rest of the VR team have a really strong core vision to build a foundation for an MMORPG with a long tail. They want to get the exploration, the comradery, and the dungeon delving right from the get go. Feature creep is not in their vocabulary. And so far, that’s really working in their favor, as Pantheon may wind up being the best classic MMORPG in ages. Time will tell for sure.