EverQuest Next is a thing. This past weekend at SOE Live 2013 in Las Vegas, NV, Sony Online Entertainment finally pulled back the curtain on their upcoming and highly anticipated MMORPG - EverQuest Next. Yes, they actually kept that as the name. I'm not convinced it makes sense to officially name the game that, seeing as how, you know, they will probably release another game in the series at some point down the road...but minor annoyances with naming conventions aside, essentially everything revealed that fateful Friday was something special.
Before you tell me I'm just buying into the hype, let me explain why a lot of what was said on stage and shown on screen that night really is worth getting excited about. Whether or not it turns out to be a "WoW-Killer" or not is ultimately irrelevant, because EverQuest Next isn't focused on taking down Blizzard's flagship property - SOE wants to redefine the genre and ascend to a new plane of MMO gaming existence. EverQuest Next is a real thing and it's the evolution of the MMORPG that we've all been waiting for.
If you've visited our site a time or two over the past year, you might have noticed one, or two, or three, or several of my articles about Guild Wars 2 - I really, really, liked that game a lot. In fact, I still do. Looking back, it wasn't a revolutionary entry in the MMO genre, but it definitely contributed a lot of fresh ideas that shook up some of the conventions that have become stale over the years. No longer was combat a rigid affair of swapping blows while anchored to the ground watching cooldown meters refill, no longer was every attack a lock-on ability and no longer were NPCs with exclamation points over their heads populating cities and countrysides - Guild Wars 2 truly changed those things. However, at the end of the day, the fundamental quest-driven architecture that defines the MMORPG stayed exactly the same. New innovations like auto-scaling zones brought on new issues, such as forcing your characters to always have the same level of difficulty throughout the entire game. Did you hit the level cap and venture back to your old stomping grounds outside Lion's Arch? Too bad, those level 20 Moa's are still going to put up a reasonable fight.
Guild Wars 2 is an incredible game, but it's not a true evolution of the genre. In fact, it's not the first game we all hoped would usher in a new era of MMOs. Several other games in recent years have carried that banner, only to hit a brick wall of anti-innovation once they finally released. Rift, TERA, Star Wars: The Old Republic and even Darkfall (for those that pay particularly close attention) have in some way, shape, or form tried to evolve the MMO. At the end of the day, however, we are still watching abilities cool down on our hotbars, we are still trudging through similar quest-lines on our mains and alts and our interfaces have remained largely unchained since the original EverQuest made the genre the massive pop culture phenomenon that it is today. The original EverQuest created the playing field and every game since then has merely remained within that same field of play, making minor alterations here and there - EverQuest Next aims to create a whole new field altogether.
Before reading, you should first check out this nice news recap by own Tom Chamberlain right here for a more general explanation of what was discussed on stage that night. He breaks down each of the aspects I'm about to dive into with detail that's important to know before you read any further. Some of these facets have been explored a bit, but not to their full extent and never altogether in one massive gaming experience. With that being said, I want to discuss how EverQuest Next is evolving the landscape of MMOs.
1) Destructible Environments
Everything in EverQuest Next is fully destructible. Everything. Now, pause. Take a moment to really, truly, think about this and what it means. Everything in EverQuest Next is fully destructible. Imagine, if you will, how this will impact gameplay in MMOs for years to come. During the reveal, they showed things like destroying castle walls, blowing holes into the earth and knocking down trees in a forest - so take those ideas and extrapolate on them. Imagine tunneling beneath the ground to a spot below a structure and collapsing a building into the earth. Blowing apart a bridge as an advancing army attacks. Erecting giant earth-walls to protect your castle from catapult barrages. Creating underground bases protected from the above-ground elements. The list goes on and on. Applying these scenarios to player vs. player engagements - guild battles, team battles etc (while not confirmed) creates limitless opportunity. Never before in the history of MMOs or any other type of online gaming has anything like this ever been conceived or even come close to truly being achieved.
2) Emergent AI
This is the shakier of the six pillars of evolution, as it's impossible to show this in action without playing the game for an extended amount of time. Essentially, this is the idea that the AI will adapt, act and react to situations and the environment realistically and dynamically - as opposed to being based on a set of rules and guidelines the developer predetermines beforehand. The example they gave at the presentation was something along the line of goblins or orcs being camped out in a specific area of a forest. When the player starts to attack them and cleans out that area, the monsters may respond by migrating to a new area, or could actually push back and send reinforcements. The overall message seems to be that static spawn points and areas where you will find a certain creature will not exist in EverQuest Next, which is great. Spawn camping will be a thing of the fact and it seems like hunting monsters may actually involve tactics of, oh, you know, actual hunting.
3) Permanent Change
Once again, it's harder to really quantify or envision the level of impact something like this has since it is, by definition, a long-term effect. In fact, this is actually something that many other recent MMOs has made strides towards, such as Guild Wars 2. Essentially, this allows players and groups of players to directly influence the development and change of the game over time. Let's say in the month or so after launch, SoE decides to host a large event that has a war raging over a highly contested parcel of land. Players can decide which side of the battle to support and the winning side will take over the territory and begin building their new settelements. The side that wins will permanently change that area - which surely has far reaching consequences. Things like a destructible environment are only temporary - the game is going to repair itself so things don't get too out of control, but these types of large scale permanent change are unlike anything we've really seen in an MMO.
4) Life of Consequences
This is, without a doubt, the most difficult of the six pillars to truly capture accurately, especially when talking at a press conference on stage. Essentially, it feels like SoE want EverQuest Next to move away from the quest-driven gameplay that the original EverQuest created. Instead of players all following the same storylines and quests, players embark on their own journeys. Now, this would be the single most important advancement if it actually happens correctly. Imagine a world that was a true sandbox where players interacted and created their own journeys. My mind races with ideas and if there is any community in the world that would be open to trying this, it would definitely be the one for EverQuest.
This has been in MMOs in the past and has been a staple of Dungeons and Dragons for many years. Guild Wars 1 had multi-classing, Dungeons and Dragons Online has it and even some smaller MMOs like Minions of Mirth have it as well. How EverQuest Next plans to differentiate itself from these other games is unknown, but surely it will be more than just allowing you to pick and swap between classes or mixing them together. The way they explained it makes it seem like the different archetypes will be tired more directly to the world itself, allowing you to uncover different classes that can be used in the environment. With over 40 promised professions to choose from, mixing and matching to create a unique hero seems highly likely.
6) Everquest Next Landmark
This pillar ties directly in with the first one I mentioned - destructible environments. This winter in 2013, SoE are launching EverQuest Next Landmark as its own standalone title. Landmark will give players a full set of customization and creation tools to create their own...well, landmarks, in the game world. Everything from structures to objects and everything in between can be developed and SoE will actually use several of these assets in the game once it goes live. Whether this will extend to player-driven resources such as guild fortresses or player housing remains to be seen, but it looks like a fairly logical extension of the concept and hopefully it expands even further to encompass player-created content such as the Neverwinter Foundry.
This is the ultimate question, isn't it? Can SoE and EverQuest Next really evolve an entire genre? Frankly, if they don't, then who will? The original EverQuest may not have been the first ever MMO, or the first ever 3D MMO, but it was most definitely the first massively successful one. EverQuest 2 exists within that very similar framework established by the original, but EverQuest Next is aiming to do something entirely new and original. Never before have we seen a game that combines all of these features into one massive game and if anyone is going to do it, it might as well be EverQuest.
As it stands, if EverQuest Next can live up to half the hype its manages to garner over the past several days, it'll be a game worth remembering. Anything more than that will be pure brilliance.
Do you think EverQuest Next is the evolution of MMORPGs? Why, or why not? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below and check out the full gallery of official images. For videos, head over to our previous post on the game and its features.