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Monday Morning Talking Points for EverQuest Next August 5, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
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I decided not to rush to post thoughts about EverQuest Next right away.  First of all, the initial presentation, while full of spectacle, was shy on details.  I walked away full of unfocused enthusiasm.  So I decided to see if further panels on the game would bring out more.

And I wanted to see if anybody picked up details I missed and to gauge my enthusiasm to see if my own lens on life was distorting anything way out of shape.  The blogesphere mostly obliged, so if you want further reading you can look at:

In that group there is a range of responses from excitement, to “meh, sounds like Guild Wars 2“, to predictions of failure.  I cannot honestly say I read every one end-to-end… too much to do over the weekend… but there are opinions in there.

In the end, I am not sure if I learned enough by waiting to focus my own enthusiasm.  I was able to fill in a few details, but hard data is still pretty scarce on the ground.  There is an official EverQuest Next wiki forming.  EQNexus is trying to collect data into an information index.  Hopefully we will get something that will stay up to date and pool updates as they come out.

I am cautiously optimistic.  A lot of what was said sounded like a pretty big change on the fantasy MMORPG front for SOE.  They appear to have stuck to a lot of what I divined in the past as “SOE Lessons Learned” and even managed to include a few items from my wish list.

However, what things will actually look like at launch… we’re still a long way from that.  Here is what I managed to cull from the data stream.  My list of items is after the cut as they go on for a while.

And what came to mind with all that I read and saw?

No Levels

Got my wish on this one I guess.  They cannot de-emphasize levels any more than that.  No obsolete content and no gap between players.  Veterans can play with noobs.  Or such is the promise, along with some vague hand waving about other methods of character progress.  Details are scant, but I can hardly complain about the overall idea.  At least it isn’t mentoring, where the player that levels down is always overpowered.  Now the question is, what alternate progression methods will there be and how will they actually distance an old vet from a new player?

And will there be a “no levels?” backlash?  For all I dislike about levels, they remain a simple and tantalizing progression metric, and there is a demographic out there for whom playing to the level cap is winning the game.

Limited Skills Available

I think I am for this.  One of my fond memories of EverQuest… and consequently one of my dislikes about EverQuest II… was the simplicity of classes.  You only got so many skills and that was that.  Even as a caster with many spells to choose from, you were limited to what you had access to at any moment.  In EQII you had so many skills… all available pretty much all the time… that hot bars multiplied.  Being held down to 8 of your choice sounds good, 4 skills and 4 weapon moves.  A constraint that will lead to interesting choices… so long as things are balanced right.

Skills Specific to Weapons

Your 4 weapon moves are dictated by the weapon you are wielding.  Sounds like Guild Wars 2, and that is not a bad thing.  And, it is sort-of what I asked for, making weapon choices matter.  We shall see how much they matter I guess.

Classes and Multi-classing

You can multi-class all you want, and draw you 4 skills from the classes you have.  And there will be more than 40 classes to go collect.

This one makes me a bit anxious.  You can pick up as many classes as you want and mix and match the skills into your set, advance them all, and change them up at need.

While I never played Ulitma Online, I recall tales of its skill system and the optimum mixes you had to have to survive in its open world PvP environment.  I really hope SOE can steer the right course on this so we don’t end up with a “must have” kit with rogue stealth and stun, warrior defenses, and wizard offense.

Races

Human, Dwarf, Ogre, Elf, Dark Elf, and Kerran.  That seems like a reasonable starting group.  I would rather that SOE keep that number small and focus on other things.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Where did that rat come from?

Of course, SOE is being a bit coy about what other races will show up.  They had a survey up about whether the ratonga should be a race.  I voted “no,” but was clearly swimming against the tide.  And the rat race is there in the EQN picture.  I expect we’ll see frogs and lizards at some point as well.

Destructible Terrain

This one makes me nervous, mostly due to not enough details.  In concept it looks really cool.  But what happens when Starfleet Dental shows up and Dear Leader declares than no object in the land should stand taller than him?  What happens when the determined clear cut a forest?  A “regrowth” time was mentioned, but no word on how long it might take.

And was it just me or did anybody else get the impression that the below ground tiers were going to be accessible by digging down?  Will we all be moving to the nether at some point?

Movement

The video looks good.  I hope the controls are… well… controllable.  I did notice that in the movement video a lot of time was spent going down hill.  That is nice, though I rarely ever have problems getting down from places.  Will we be climbing as well?  EQII had a rather stilted climbing mechanic that allowed you to climb at very specific locations.  It would be nice to be able to climb more freely.  Or will the answer be to just tear down the mountain?

Combat and Roles

There seems to be a great deal of unease over the lack of defined roles in combat.  We have been with WoW‘s holy trinity for nearly a decade now, EverQuest titles have had pretty hard and fast roles for classes up to this point, and for many years before that classes often fixed you into a specific role.  I did not role up a cleric in AD&D in 1980 with the idea of being a stealthy thief. (Though I could attempt to play him that way, he would lack the skills to be good at it.)  And while those fond of Guild Wars 2 will say, “Works for us!” (along with “Happened here first!” no doubt), in my limited experience it also meant that there was no reason to ever make a cohesive, coordinating group.  You would cooperate, but it was “Wham, spam, thank you ma’am!” and off to your next venue without a word spoken.

So color me nervous on that front as well.  But I come from the age where class choice meant role choice and I am most comfortable with that.  That is what drove grouping out in West Karana back in the day.

To balance that anxiety out, there is hope that better mob AI will make playing as a real group more of a requirement.  I could live with that.  The big quote from Jeff Butler on the topic:

I think one thing that you’ll see from us and we’ll demonstrate this as we get deeper into combat, is that we have a very detailed and intricate plan for moving around and fighting. The NPCs are capable of executing strategy and tactics and you’ll require your own intricate tactics to overcome them. We are saying that no one specific role or pair of roles is required in unlocking the strategy to defeating an encounter. It’s not to say that we are walking away from roles and it’s certainly not to say we are walking away from responsibility, both personal strategic and tactical responsibility….

Effectively we want every single person playing the game to have fun, I refuse to have my guild fall apart because one member doesn’t want to play anymore and he is our primary healer. This is a responsibility that we created as game developer and we are abandoning it, we are not going to put players through that, we have seen the damage it has caused over the past 15 years and we are moving past it with this design.

We shall see.

And then there is actual combat.  The combat shown seemed rather Diablo III-esque in nature, with lots of splash and a very visceral nature to it.  It is my hope that what we were seeing was on the extreme side of things.

Crush the kobolds!

Crush the kobolds!

Then again, it might have been the camera angles they chose to demonstrate combat.  Once you get the camera off to the side, things feel more like Diablo than an MMO.

Emergent NPC AI

This is the Storybricks magic, the NPC world “remembering” you and your actions and responding accordingly.  And it sounds great.  But this will be the big test.  The logic of, say, kobolds moving away when then get pounded on in one location seems realistic enough.  But what happens when the keep getting pounded and keep moving further and further off?  Will all enemies end up living in a distant periphery around every collection of players?   Or will we just be chasing them around in a circle in a specific area?  Or will they give up and disband only to reform fresh and untainted.

I just remember Richard Garriott and others talking about their whole balance of nature ecology plan for Ultima Online and how players never saw it because they slaughtered all the wildlife and scraped all the resources like a plague of locusts.  Will we overwhelm the emergent AI?

User Interface

Being somewhat under the spell of Skyrim at the moment, I appreciated the lack of things on screen.  Is that how things will end up looking when the game ships?  No idea.  Does the UI shown mean that EQN is destined for the PlayStation 4 as well?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

Graphic Style

The style is stylized.  But they said it would be way back when.  And I am honestly happier with that than I was with the uncanny-valley baiting pseudo-realistic character models that came with EQII.  I suppose the big draw of playing frogs or rats or cats in EQII was that they did not look as painfully awkward at times.

Kerra in Stormwind Armor

Kerran in Stormwind Armor

Armor, looking stylized, was immediately comparable to armor in WoW, at least to my mind.  Not a bad thing I suppose, but it does come with some emotional baggage at this point.

The world itself looked good.  There were a number of “looks like PlanetSide 2” comments after the demo, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising.   Other sample areas, like Feerrott had their own feel.  I don’t think there is a jungle setting in PS2, is there?

Nice lighting... destroy it

Nice lighting… destroy it

Changing the world sounds interesting.  No word on how big it will be or how many distinct areas there will be at launch, but it should look good.

Player Studio

Player Studio looks to be on steroids with the EverQuest Next Landmark tools in place.  And the part where you can take somebody elses work, add it in to your own, and when you sell they also get a cut seemed to be genius.  I expect that there will be people out there making such components to piece together.

Landmark

The Minecraft analogy is obvious.  I wonder what Notch will say?  He’ll probably be positive.

As a tool it looks pretty amazing.  And the whole it’s a game, no it’s a tool, no it’s a multi-level marketing opportunity aspect of things probably ensures that a lot of people will give it a try.  I am not sure I understand the whole thing even after reading the FAQ and a write up on it.

But it is supposed to be available by the end of the year, and there is not much of 2013 left at this point.

World Changing Quests

Giant events will occur in the world that will require people to show up and do things.  But there will be no concrete list of things to do.  And the rewards will be the memory of being there.  Or something.

This sounds like one of those things I will need to see in action.  On the plus side it sounds like a way to give players something bigger to focus on in Norrath beyond the next batch of kobolds.  Of course, it is in my nature to wonder what is going to go wrong with this sort of thing.  Will it pull too much of the world’s population into one small area?  Of course, maybe that will let the rest of the world recover.

The “Sandbox” Nature of the Game

EverQuest sandbox? I’m not sure… will there be spreadsheets? Oh, and I need a really crappy UI, I mean like hurt my eyes crappy.

-What it will take to get EVE Online players to switch

Does all of what was said make EQN a sandbox or not?  I am not sure.  It certainly sounds wide open relative to the WoW model.

Outstanding Questions

And then there are the bits I was looking for that didn’t come up in anything I saw.  Did I miss any of these or are they just in the future as of now?

  • PvP
  • Server size/population
  • Crafting beyond Landmark (a ray of hope on this)
  • Player economy
  • World size
  • Mounts and Travel
  • Home towns/Starting areas
  • System requirements
  • Limitations on “free” players
  • SOE All Access access and benefits
  • Station Cash Store

And Then What?

And now we wait and see.

We’ve been told some tales, shown some video, and had a few basic questions answered.  But a lot of what was said just raised more questions in my mind.

What stood out for you in all of this?  And what deal making/breaking questions are still outstanding?

Comments»

1. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 5, 2013

I guess the class/roles anxiety and worry that it will be too much like GW2 is building, as Dave Georgeson is working on a response to try and tamp this down. The promise for this is “Soon,” but we know what that means.

2. Sres - August 5, 2013

Planetside 2 based on forgelight can handle 2000 players per continent, so that might give you some ideas on that

3. Ahtchu - August 5, 2013

I honestly believe that this game’s success hinges entirely on this class system and lack of combat roles. I scrapped my response to your OP upon seeing that he has a twitter ‘standby’ that he’s issued.
In so many ways this game (and the genre) need class and character interdependence. Barring anything short of ‘each class will have multiple class-defining abilities that will be desired by everyone else in both combat or general social groupings’ then this game is almost sure to flop. Also, a derivative of this: anything short of needed roles like buffing, healing, tanking within a small group dynamic is sure to cause this game to lack traction needed to make it what it aspires to be.
Everything else about the game is either inspiring or just a neutral ‘that’s nice’. This aspect, however, is so crucial in the design that it would render everything else meaningless. I’ll comment more when we learn more, but this is a huge red flag right now.

4. Matt - August 5, 2013

I was struck by the lack of any talk of socialization or community. The only real advantage an MMO has over a SP game is the multiplayer part, but how is EQN going to take advantage of that?

5. bhagpuss - August 5, 2013

I’m enthused, that’s for sure, but then I was pre-sold. We all need to get some perspective, though. Every major MMO is ten times the game at this stage than what we get at launch. Most of this stuff will either never happen, only happen in beta or happen in a Live form that makes it virtually unrecognizable.

That’s fine. It’s partly hype, partly over-reach. All I ask is a recognizable version of Norrath with something approximating MMO gameplay. Outside of that, everything’s negotiable.

The list of what wasn’t mentioned is interesting. PvP was mentioned often, always in the context of “it exists, we aren’t allowed to discuss it”. Same for crafting, except always with the corollary “you’re going to be very happy”.

Someone said somewhere that the starting size of EQNext would be larger than the size of current EQ and EQ2 combined, which I simply don’t believe. EQ alone has almost 400 zones! Even if we take that as including the entirety of the Tiered below-ground procedural content, surely it can’t be that vast? Although I guess procedural content is theoretically infinite…

Apparently there is ongoing controversy over starting areas. SJ was fuzzy over whether there would be one or multiple. Not heard that from a primary source.

Servers, mounts, travel, systems reqs, limitations on free players and SC store – not heard a single word on any of them. No Dev mentioned any of that and no player asked, not in anything I watched.

All Access was asked in the Q&A and SJ fudged a maybe but with spin on probably.

I thought Jeff Butler was a revelation. So dry and understated and making so much sense. When he made the speech you quote he was positively messianic, though. If there’s any reason to hope this might turn out well it’s his influence.

Everyone’s saying the voxels will mean a flat earth covered in penis statues but that’s so obviously an issue it’s impossible to imagine it won’t be engineered out. I’d bet on the whole “destructability” thing being far, far more limited than they’re claiming before I’d bet on a total free-for-all.

Emergent AI is the most interesting part. I remember some dev, possibly Mark Jacobs for DAOC, saying a decade ago that it was easy to give mobs very sophisticated AI but they didn’t do it because players would hate it. I think that’s still a real danger. Players bleat on endlessly about how they want dynamic worlds, constant change and unpredictable gameplay but as soon as they get even a hint of it they run a mile. Another feature I would expect to see heavily toned-down due to player demand post-launch.

The Trinity thing is blowing up in their faces. Watch the class panel Q&A at the end. It’s a line of large, adult men with years of playing tanks behind them queuing up to say how uncomfortable they are with being told they’re no longer wanted. Yet again, this won’t survive long after Live, if it even gets that far, or if it does EQNExt won’t have many EQ/EQ2 players playing it.

And so on and so on. I really want to get into beta early for this one because I’m certain sure the only version of the game we’ll ever see that looks anything like the one they’re describing will be in early-mid closed beta. I’ll play whatever they make but I’d quite like to play the game they just told me about.

6. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 5, 2013

@Bhagpuss – I always like to listen to Jeff Butler, in part because he came from TorilMUD and played when I did, so he always seems to speak my language in a very subtle and nuanced sort of way.

That said, there was a podcast interview with Jeff Butler and Jeff Green back before the Vanguard launch that was great and got me excited about the game primarily because JB pressed just the right buttons for me. And then Vanguard was an unplayable mess at launch. So I have a big, red sign in my brain reminding me to beware of his words.

I have read any number of places that they could just make the AI go for the healer or the DPS and that would be that, everybody would quit. That always struck me as a non-answer when players ask for smarter MOB AI, since that doesn’t actually seem smarter, just different. Make the AI ignore aggro and you’re done. And in the long run it would just change the group dynamic to another “every fight is the same” routine. I am hoping for something a little better.

Roles. As you noted, so many players identify strongly with their role and enjoy the fact that they are needed. And SOE went and said, “you’re all replaceable now.” They will need a good story if they want to get past that.

There is a long road to go on this one. I just hope we don’t go into one of those SOE “burst of news, long stretch of silence” cycles.

7. milliebii - August 5, 2013

For me the whole 4+4 button thing the outrageously overblown combat moves and several other things simply reeks console play.

Giving players 160 plus character abilities (40 “”classes”” x 4 abilities) and then limiting them to only four at a time is a completely arbitrary restriction. Why 4 and not 8 or 12 or 24? Well cause you cannot do that easily on a console unless you force a keyboard and mouse.

Then there are the warrior abilities shown. That whirlwind thing, if that was used by a character the character should wind up dizzy and defenseless, but I bet it does not. That hammer smash on the ground should knock over allies as well as enemies leaving the warrior exposed to attack by enemies that were out of range and the allies exposed on the ground to be cleaned up separately but I bet it does not work that way,

They make much reference to comic book characters and “fun to play”, to me it looks frivolous rather than fun. If it stays this way it will attract mostly tourist players who will play for a few weeks and move on.

If they really want the stable population they claim to want (a 10 to 15 year game) a change of philosophy is required.

8. Wilhelm Arcturus - August 5, 2013

@milliebii – Indeed, that is what I meant by the “Diablo III-esque” comment. My hope is that they were showing off extremes of combat for a “wow” factor and not showing us what every battle was going to be like.

9. milliebii - August 6, 2013

Just found this John Smedley Quote on GamesIndustry:

“You’re not going to Disneyland. The equivalent is we drove you to Africa in the middle of the biggest wild animal preserve there is and handed you a jeep and a gun, and said have fun.”

John Smedley

Anyone else find it deeply disturbing that Smed is suggesting going to an animal preserver to kill endangered wildlife is a good thing.?

This and the emphasis on “destructability” rather than creativity shows some one is pushing the wrong message.

10. Other bits of EQ Next | Party Business - August 6, 2013

[…] others have been more critical- The ancient gaming Noob has a nice opinion piece and a collection of links to other bloggers (including me- thank you for that, […]

11. Jeromai - August 6, 2013

I’m seeing plague of locusts and vast destroyed craters scattered across the landscape for the first few weeks of overwhelming hordes until they tweak all the sliders correctly. Perhaps they should start off with an apocalypse storyline and rebuilding from the ashes as players start to slowly get accustomed to living within the systems’ limits. :)

Still, worth keeping an eye on. I just don’t see much to get excited over until more actual gameplay sees the light of day and one is better able to judge.

12. spinks - August 6, 2013

Nothing much on the in game economy, but a few notes on the RL “you can buy this with cash” one :)

13. tithian - August 6, 2013

Regarding the limited action buttons:

TSW does the same thing with great success. And if you think that build-creation in that game is a simple affair, just go take a look at the forums and witness a theorycrafter’s version of heaven.

If you think limited buttons = dumbed down console play, then you clearly haven’t been looking at the entire picture.

14. Jenks - August 6, 2013

My wishlist was all about community (defined roles, no soloing, etc) but instead they went in a different direction that has me interested, focusing on the world – emergent AI, destructable terrain, etc. I sense that this will be my favorite MMO in a long time, but only because I haven’t really liked an MMO released in the past 8 years.

My gut feeling is this will fall somewhere between the 5+ year games of old, and the new ’3 monthers’ (or for me, 3 weekers). The world will keep me coming back for a long time, but it’s community that really keeps you there for years.

15. That EQNext Update and whether we should be excited | MMO Gypsy – Wandering online Worlds - August 15, 2013

[…] more than that green picture ever since the big Quakecon reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls […]

16. MMO Gypsy: THAT EQNEXT UPDATE AND WHETHER WE SHOULD BE EXCITED | EQN Extra - August 19, 2013

[…] than that green picture ever since the big Las Vegas SOE reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls […]


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