I’ve just returned from a rather extensive first look at SOE’s sandbox MMO Everquest Next. As I rode up the elevator to my hotel room, I mulled over what I had seen and found it hard to narrow down exactly what wowed me the most.
With each passing minute during the presentation, SOE showed us feature after feature which completely blew away my expectations of what MMOs were capable of. As you can already tell by the title of this article, the first thing and indeed perhaps the most important feature, is the fact that EQ Next is entirely voxel based. Voxels may immediately remind players of Minecraft, but to be honest this goes way beyond the capabilities of Minecraft.
Everything in EQ Next is affected by the fact that the world is built with voxels, for the simple reason that everything in EQ Next is destructible. See that building? Smash a hole in it. See that bridge? Smash a hole in it. See that tree? Well you get the idea…
And it’s not just the fact that everything is destructible. We’ve seen destruction in other MMOs before, but in EQ Next destruction is completely free-form. The extent of the destruction is dependent on the angle of attack and the driving force behind it. Smashing a hammer into the ground may leave a small crater, but use an ability with a little more explosive force and you may find yourself (and your enemies) falling through a chasm into a whole new level. Which brings me to my next talking point. Tiers.
Everquest Next does not function on a singular plane. It is in fact a collection of planes stacked on top of each other which can change based on procedural generation and through player actions. Each of these planes offers new enemies to fight, resources to collect, and areas to explore. Underground areas are nothing new to MMOs, but the way we’ve explored them has always been the same. Zones typically have fixed entrances and exits, but by giving players the ability to make their own paths, zones no longer need any fixed entry points. Players can simply grab a shovel and start digging.
These tiered planes aren’t statically separate from one another either. By opening up a pathway to another plane, players may unintentionally awake ancient evils which can then emerge from the newly created pathways and cause havoc for those above.
For those of you worried the world will be left in ashes a few hours after launch, don’t be. While world destruction does allow for new gameplay interactions and experiences, the damage will heal over time. Buildings however, are a different story. SOE did make it clear some cities would be impervious to player attempts at griefing, but that may not always be the case. SOE says that while some areas are off limits to player destruction, dynamic world events can occur which will destroy some cities permanently.
But how does it play? After-all, what good is a destructible environment if the combat is lackluster? Thankfully, SOE appears to be at least somewhat on the right track. I say somewhat because there was no UI featured in the presentation, which means we only got to see how combat looked versus how it functioned mechanically. From the look of things, the combat appears to be action-based with some telegraphed attacks and an emphasis on player movement. Don’t expect to stand in one spot simply whacking away at the enemy.
Two of the 8 base classes were featured during the presentation, the mage and warrior. Both very traditional classes in their own right, each can choose to wield a handful of weapons which affect what abilities a player has access to. The weapons themselves can even be altered to change what they do. But these are just the base classes and as players explore they will encounter opportunities to gain new classes. Just how many? Try over 40.
Not only can players accrue new classes, but at any time a player can mix and match classes to create their own style of play. The more you find the more you can customize.
To give you an idea of what kind of abilities players can utilize, a mage for example can use her Vortex ability to suck all surrounding enemies into a tightly compacted ball while simultaneously teleporting her backwards and then exploding said ball of enemies. Warriors can whirlwind to send enemies flying while destroying bits of the environment around him as he spins.
All of the abilities shown had physics effects tied to them and nearly all of them had some sort of destructive element which damaged the environment.
A big complaint concerning most MMOs today is in regards to players having a permanent effect on the world. Kill a group of mobs and complete a public quest in any other MMO and a few minutes later the area is once more in peril. According to SOE this is not the case with EQ Next.
Unlike traditional MMOs where enemies spawn in fixed locations at certain times, EQ Next features “Emergent AI”. Instead of populating the world with respawning groups of enemies, SOE has given mobs the choice to move where they want to move. The way this works is through tags.
Everything in the world of Everquest Next is tagged. Mobs have particular sets of interests which cause them to seek out tagged areas which fit those interests. An Orc for example, doesn’t like to be around cities due to the patrolling guards, but they do like money. So a released group of Orcs may decide to settle down near a lonely stretch of road, away from the guards and in an area where they can easily gank players who may have purses of gold. Something the Orcs desire very much.
By alerting the city guards to patrol these paths or by simply choosing not to traverse them, Orcs will suddenly find the area unsuitable and will move to find a new home.
This reactive AI doesn’t just affect where players will fight enemies. It will also effect what they can do in the surrounding areas. While not exclusive, a good example of this can be seen in Everquest Next Rallying Call system which brings all the elements mentioned above together.
The Rallying Call represents a worldwide objective for players to complete. Think public quest but on crack. The Rallying Call is a random event which takes place somewhere in the game world and can take up to 2 or 3 months to complete in real time. While the Calls do have multiple stages, players won’t know which stage they are on or what will cause the next stage to begin.
SOE gave an example where players were called to build a city in a previously unoccupied area. The city starts out small with players building log walls for early defenses and roaming the nearby country to dispatch of any lingering enemies, in this case some goblins. However, the act of driving goblins from the surrounding area can piss off the local goblin king who may send his troops in to burn down the wooden buildings and fortifications. If players manage to drive back the invaders, the villagers will begin building stone walls which require them to dig down in order to collect more resources. Players can choose to help build the walls, mine the resources, or defend the miners against enemies which emerge from the quarry.
Eventually, the Goblin king may return with a siege army necessitating a huge number of players to defend the city. If players are succesful, a new Rallying Call will begin, somewhere else in the world or maybe even there. The city at this point becomes a permanent fixture, filled with NPCs that can open up new opportunities for players. However SOE mentioned that while the city is permanent, something like say, a dragon, may come along and burn it to the ground at a future date.
These Calls aren’t meant to be simple repeatable encounters, but world shaping events which have lasting effects and actually serve to further the history in-game.
The game is of course, still a long ways from release, which was apparent due to the large amounts of concept art and the small tech demo shown in the presentation. Still, Everquest Next shows SOE is serious about bringing something brand new to the table. We knew to expect something different out of Everquest Next. This was apparent after SOE decided to throw out two different iterations of the MMO. But I don’t think anyone could have expected such a fundamental shift in what is expected from a fantasy based MMO. Certainly not one based on an MMO built 14 years ago.
Expect more details to come over the next few days including class info, interviews and a breakdown of Everquest Next’s sister title, Everquest Next: Landmark.
By Michael Dunaway