The next-gen MMORPG offers a destructible world, intelligent monsters, and a whole lot more.
EverQuest Next will feature destructible environments, procedurally-generated quests that stem from independent monster behavior, and a revamped crafting system. If the team at SOE actually pulls off what they want to do with the next-generation MMORPG, then it could truly be the long-awaited next step for what has become a largely stagnant genre.
Lately, MMORPGs have existed on something of a linear continuum. On the one end, you have your strictly enforced amusement parks like World of Warcraft. On the other, your free-for-all sandboxes like EVE Online. However, Sony Online Entertainment Director of Design David Georgeson doesn’t think EverQuest Next fits on that continuum.
“EverQuest is another point in the triangle,” he says. “We’re creating a triangle; it’s not just a line anymore.”
It’s a sort of massively multiplayer Minecraft with elves, crafting, monsters, and all of the other trappings of a fantasy RPG.
It sounds like a bit of a cop-out. After all, what game wants to be directly compared to the competition, unless it’s the in the most positive light possible? But there’s some truth to that statement as well. EverQuest Next definitely isn’t as linear as World of Warcraft, but it’s not quite like EVE Online either. In essence, it’s a game where players shape the world together, a sort of massively multiplayer Minecraft with elves, crafting, monsters, and all of the other trappings of a fantasy RPG.
As the name suggests, EverQuest Next is meant to represent an evolutionary leap for the venerable series. It’s not a traditional MMO, Georgeson says. The original concept behind EverQuest, which was fresh back in 1998, has been done to death. It’s time for something new.
“What we need to deliver with EverQuest Next is something really original, so what we did was tear it down to the bedrock,” Georgeson says. “We pick what we liked, what we didn’t like, and we came up with a list of holy grails that we as designers had always wanted to do, but never had the time or the intestinal fortitude to try before.”
Georgeson, obviously, is confident. He points to the experience of his team, which averages about 10 years. Most of the leads have four or five MMORPG under their belt. Georgeson himself was the force behind the original Planetside and Tribes 2, both of which are highly-regarded today. That experience has allowed them to iron out most of the technical issues early.
“It’s intimidating, but we’ve been breaking these things down into categories and attacking them one at a time, so that we can polish up what needs polishing before moving on,” he said. “We’ve also prioritized all of our heaviest risks at the earliest stage to prove that we can get them done. Now we’re past all of the R&D hurtles, and we’re at the point where we’re doing what we know how to do, which is build an MMORPG.”
Of all the new features that EverQuest Next brings to the table, the ability to alter the world is the most intriguing, since it fulfills a promise that was seemingly made way back in the early days of the genre. When we hear, “Massively multiplayer player-controlled world,” we tend to think of a world where players can do whatever they want. That hasn’t really been the case though, what with all the careful moderation and linear quests. Sure, we’ve seen player-created cities in Star Wars Galaxies, and EVE Online has long given complete control of the galaxy over to its players. But by and large, online worlds remain static until the development team comes along with the next batch of content.
Every player can work together to build a permanent settlement.
In EverQuest Next, a rallying call with periodically go out across an entire server; and for the next two months, every player can work together to build a permanent settlement. Along the way, there may be subquests or monster attacks, and construction may be delayed. But when it’s all finished, it’s very much permanent.
This degree of control extends to the world itself. Teleport away from an attack, and you’ll leave a little dent in the ground. If you’re an Earth Wizard, it’s possible to raise barriers out of any part of the ground, or create sinkholes to trap monsters. If a large party of enemies happens to be crossing a bridge, then a spell can knock out the bridge and send them plunging to their doom. Of course, the bridge will be gone as well, which opens up a new set of challenges.
This is all accomplished with voxels – the fundamental building block of EverQuest Next – which allow for more convincing destruction. Players will occasionally be prevented from destroying things, Georgeson says, because otherwise “player cities would become player parking lots.” Monsters, however, can and will show up to wreak havoc, and left unchecked, they can do plenty of damage to player settlements. A dragon, for instance, may come in and knock a castle wall down, necessitating repairs.
Jump to another server, and a city may be where a field is supposed to be, or it might not exist at all.
Over time, individual servers in EverQuest Next are meant to become their own worlds. Jump to another server, and a city may be where a field is supposed to be, or it might not exist at all. It will be possible to dig deep into the ground and make all kinds of interesting archaeological discoveries. And to keep things fresh, SOE will occasionally use an earthquake to shake things up and open up new areas.
Rather than a static playground, EverQuest Next is meant to be a living breathing world. Many of the quests will be dynamic, and monsters will have likes, dislikes, and general motivations for their behavior. Orcs, for example, love gold, and will go anywhere they can get it, which can result in a battle for territory as players fight to establish a city. Exterminating one group of monsters can rile up another group, prompting them to attack; or it may result in them picking up and moving on to another location.
On a micro level, Georgeson hopes that all of these actions, reactions, and dynamic quests will allow players to build up individual histories; to allow them to say, in effect, “Oh yeah, I was there when the southern regions were hit by the Great Goblin Invasion of 2014.”
“We want people to develop a long, detailed history of their character,” Georgeson says, “so that when they tell others that story, they actually care, as opposed to, ‘Yeah, yeah, I did that quest.'”
For EverQuest lifers, of course, many of the elements that have defined the series over the years will still be in place. Crafting will be a huge part of the EverQuest Next experience (“Crafting is us. We love crafting,” Georgeson says), especially with the battle system being revamped so that hotbar actions are innate to weapons. Many of the familiar locations from the past games will also be present, albeit with much better graphics. SOE is also encouraging players to help build up the world of EverQuest Next by releasing their internal toolset to the public. Fans can build landmarks; and if the developers like them enough, they will be put in the game.
A human wizard and a Kerran warrior break through a cavern floor into a magma chamber.
Having been in development for more than four years now, EverQuest Next has been something of a mystery to fans, to the point that it’s been regarded by some as vaporware. Now that SOE has taken off the wraps, it’s clear that they have some very interesting ideas for the MMORPG space. With World of Warcraft on the decline and no clear successor ready to take its place as the dominant MMO of the generation, the time is ripe for a new MMORPG to rise up. It’s still early, but EverQuest Next has at least established itself as a strong contender for that position; a worthy comeback for one of the genre’s founders.
[Note: Sony told IGN, “We’re not releasing that information right now” when asked if EverQuest Next would, like several other SOE MMOs, also be released on PlayStation 4.]