Enough about internet spaceships for the moment and on to a topic that will loom large this week.
We are going to hear a lot about EverQuest Next very shortly. The clock is running down and SOE Live (formerly SOE Fan Faire) will begin this Thursday.
The big news will be whatever John Smedley chooses to reveal about EverQuest Next. Everything else will pale by comparison. And the reason it will be big is that just over a year ago it was reported that SOE was throwing out their current plan, which included some very basic lessons learned, and going for a much more dramatic change. A year ago everything you knew about EQN was declared wrong.
So now we all wonder what we shall see. And I am sure that we all have some hopes or wishes. I have teased Keen about investing himself in the idea of the new game, and I see Wolfshead has come out of hibernation to issue a list of demands, which I tend to agree with in spirit if not exactly on a point by point measure. The heroes bit resonates with me especially.
So I too have been thinking about what is coming, but it is tough to know where to begin.
There is the word “sandbox” that gets thrown about, even by Smed. Especially by Smed. That has been his opening. But “sandbox” can mean so many things in so many circumstances that I am reluctant to hear get invested in that idea until I hear what the SOE definition of “sandbox” is.
And along with that, there are the realities of the SOE business model. They have completely declared for free to play.
Well, who hasn’t, aside from Blizzard these days?
But free to play brings with it certain requirements. A high amount of churn is expected. A lot of people will try the game and for them to become paying customers, the game has to welcome them in and hold their hand for a bit, and presumably not just to guide them to the edge of a cliff so as to be better positioned to push them over into the abyss, ala a certain internet spaceship game I said I was not going to write about.
So EQN cannot be EverQuest of old, letting you create a character then dropping you on the doorstep of Qeynos with a pat on the back and a “have fun!” There is a certain lowering of bars to be expected for the opening. In free to play you cannot frustrate people straight off, you do not have their money yet! You have to get them pointed in the right direction, teach them how to play, how to group, and how to interact. (Who does the last two nowadays?)
And then there is the StoryBricks angle. StoryBricks announced at one point… and then turned around and denied everything… then got permission from the right people so they could announce it… that they were involved with EQN, which would be ‘the biggest sandbox ever designed.’ There is that word again.
Anyway, StoryBricks, if I can borrow a phrase from somewhere, is about bringing NPCs to life. So, one might presume that we can expect a more complex relationship with the world of Norrath and its permanent citizens when we get to EQN. Quests are unlikely to go away or become less common, but one would hope that we might be asked to dine on more than the common staple of ten rats.
And then, despite the rework of the system, I suspect that what previously seemed to be the lessons learned from previous games will still have influence. I recounted them as:
- Single world without the need to load zones
- Instanced dungeons
- Low system requirements
- Stylized character models
- Fewer classes, relative to EQII
- PvP from day one and “done right”
A single seamless world sounds so “2004” at this point, but I think it is important and I hope they stick to it.
Instanced dungeons will be controversial. Some insist that this kills the worldliness of a game. Frankly, some of my fondest memories at this point are of dungeon crawls with just our group without other people in chat, trying to rush past us, stealing mobs, or otherwise turning a group adventure into a bad trip to the mall. I think there is clearly a place for instanced content. It should be special and rare and have a connection to the full world. The instanced dungeons in World of Warcraft lost their charm for me when they ceased to be part of the world and, with the introduction of Dungeon Finder, became a way to avoid the world.
Low system requirements and stylized character models I think are pretty non-controversial on the surface. Not that SOE couldn’t screw this up and makes us hate it, but it could be good. And, with free to play in mind, it is probably a requirement.
Fewer classes relative to EQII. I have to agree. 24 classes at launch was too much. Adding a 25th years later was interesting, but not all that helpful.
PvP from day one and “done right” scares me. PlanetSide 2 hasn’t had a charmed existence in my world. I hope that “sandbox” doesn’t mean slaughter and fast respawns. It doesn’t have to. But SOE and PvP has something of a checkered past to my mind. I hear it was good in Star Wars Galaxies at launch, but what have they done since?
So given all of that, what dare I wish for? What would I like to see come to pass with EQN?
I would like to see a a lot less emphasis on levels and content that goes obsolete when you out level it. We have had Band-Aids applied to that problem in the form of various mentoring and leveling down schemes, but they have all been unsatisfactory to my mind. Yes, you have to have some sort of progression and character advancement. That is part of what drives many of us in MMOs. But our addiction to levels has to stop. They start off great, but always betray us in the end. They are a dead end street.
I couldn’t tell you how to replace levels, or even de-emphasize them sufficiently, but I hope that SOE has come up with something.
I want long, multi-stage quests like the heritage quests in EverQuest II. I realize that WoW does similar things with long chains of quests, but the start and stop breaks the concentration for me. Heritage quests are long term commitments, things you do not get done in a day, and which often require a group a various stages. I want that again.
While we’re on quests, and as a nod to my gripe about levels, I also wouldn’t mind seeing quests get out of the experience delivery business. They ought to reward items or equipment.
I want live, open world group content. I do not want to be able to solo every mob in the world. I do not want to have to go into an instance for every group experience.
And while we’re at it, I do not want to get punished for grouping. EverQuest had this about right. WoW did not. EQII started down the right path and then screwed up open world grouping completely. Trying to run our instance group through New Halas was an exercise in frustration because the whole thing expected you to solo.
I want my weapon choice to mean something. If I choose a sword over a dagger or an axe, I want that to mean I gain some benefit at the cost of something else. The damage per second calculation should not be my only factor in weapon choice. Lord of the Rings Online tried this, but I do not think they went far enough.
I want weapon skills back. I do not think I should spend ages swinging a sword and then suddenly pick up a spear and find myself equally adapt.
I would like to see crafting materials handled more in line with how EVE Online does things (sorry, internet spaceship reference again), where the materials do not change every ten levels. I want to be done with this sort of thing.
I want some staples that are in high demand and which anybody can harvest. And these should be good for making basic things. Then I want some rare items to mix in that can be used to create special things. And when I say rare, I mean rare. Special things should be special.
I want crafting to be a bit more… I don’t know… organic? Is that the word I want? Organic to the game as opposed to being something of a side effort where you make 38 blue silk hoods to level up your tailoring skill and then just vendor them because nobody wants them because the auction house is full of them being sold at under cost.
Speaking of the auction house, if you give me buy orders as part of things, you will probably exceed all my expectations. My view of such things is pretty low in the fantasy MMORPG realm.
And… and… and… well… a lot of things. I could ramble on ad nauseum about the minute and trivial. Basically SOE, make this all fit together with UI conventions that make sense. And what Keen said about stories. Mostly. You can tell me stories. You can make me part of stories. But just remember that my own stories about what happened to me and my friends, those are the ones that really matter.
So I am waiting to hear what Smed has to say. I realize that there are going to be compromises. They have a business to run and we live in the world of free to play where fantasy MMORPGs are over abundant. And I am going to hate some of the things he says this week. You watch. I know it will be true.
But I will be happy if I hear something new or different or exciting. It doesn’t have to be from my alternately vague and oddly specific and somewhat emotional list above. SOE is full of smart people. Hell, SOE has brought back some people who made EverQuest lately. They get it. They played TorilMUD and decided to bring that sort of experience into a 3D world. Find some of that essence for me. Combine the mundane into something beyond the sum of its parts, into something magical.
Make me believe again.
Is that too much to ask?
I will be watching EQ Next Wire for news about the game.
How about you? What do you want to see?