Cool classes and flashy combat only get you so far. Even a fully destructible voxel world can get dull if there’s nothing to do other than bash random things all day long. An MMO needs content, and even the best systems in the world can’t save your game if there’s nothing interesting to do.
And EverQuest Next looks very interesting.
In addition to the EverQuest Next keynote speech at SOE Live, I also sat in on the “Content of EverQuest Next” seminar hosted by the guys from Storybricks, who’ll be working with the EQN dev team to craft their content. What they described was a living, breathing world, which would function just fine and be interesting even without players – but they’ll let us in anyway.
A world in motion
The basics first: There are no quest hubs and no NPCs with exclamation points over their heads. Stories and events are happening all over Norrath, and it’ll be up to you, the players, to determine which ones you interact with. Senior Producer Terry Michaels told me that the content is tiered, so there is some increase in difficulty as you progress, but it’s fairly minor, meaning that you’ll be able to (mostly) freely move about the world to tackle what you want. “The difference between tier one and tier two might be, say, 5%,” Michaels said. The goal is to make sure that players who come into the game later can still play alongside their friends who have been there since day one.
Your guide to finding stuff is the Rohsong, a kind of magical book that’s like a quest log on steroids, that will suggest content to you based on your previous adventures. You helped the dark elves? Here are more dark elves that need help. Want to do PvP? There’s some going on over there. The land will be broken down into regions, each with their own interesting features, and NPC factions will follow their goals in those regions, taking over territory and often coming into conflict with one another.
The rudimentary example we were shown started out with a bunch of kobolds. Their goal is to amass wealth, so they spread north into regions with mineral riches. This puts them into conflict with the dark elves to the north who would then ask players for help via their Rohsongs. (It wasn’t said whether the kobolds would also ask for help.) Our panelists assumed that the dark elves would get that help and wipe the kobolds effectively off the map and claim their territory.
Now the dark elves have built a Shadowpit and need to fuel it by converting nature essence into shadow. This pits them against dryads in the nearby forest, and players from both sides can contribute to the battles between them, gaining reputation with the faction of their choosing. Again, our hosts advanced the story to the point where the dark elves took over roughly half of the dryads’ territory.
But this isn’t as simple as dealing with the kobolds! Because of their dabblings in shadow magic, the dark elves have awakened an ancient darkness, which threatens to engulf both them and the dryads. This triggers a large event known as a rallying call, and it’s now a three-way struggle between dark elves, dryads, and the shadow, with the fate of the world – or at least this part of it – hanging in the balance.
They ran the simulation a few times – completely automated – to see how it would go. The first time, the dryads actually survived, which they said was very unusual. The next few times, it came down to the dark elves versus the shadow, with the dark elves usually being triumphant or at least working a stalemate. The crude map looked a little like a territorial game like Civilization, Total War, or even PlanetSide 2, with control of individual areas shifting as one faction or another took control.
All of this will happen on an individual basis per server. The Kithikor rallying call, described above, might be triggered on your server but might not come up on your friend’s (or alt’s) server until several weeks later. It all depends on how the fight between the dark elves and the dryads goes, and how many players help them. I’d love to see SOE set up one server that nobody can log into – except maybe invisible admins, to look around – to see how the world progresses without any player input.
That’s all the large-scale interaction of NPCs and NPC factions. On a smaller scale, NPCs have their own lives and react appropriately to events. If a kingly character walks among them, NPCs will bow down. If a vile necromancer rides through town, they’ll cower in fear. It remains to be seen just how impressively this will be executed – pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, for instance, run away when there are gunshots nearby, so it’s not a totally new concept – but it should at least provide more than what you see in most MMOs.
I’m a little concerned at how players will “game the system” by intentionally triggering rallying calls because they want the gameplay and rewards that come with it rather than because they actually care about the factions or earning rep for them. Very early reports, from last year’s SOE Live, gave the impression that it might take weeks or even months to build up to the events that trigger a rallying call, but I hope SOE is prepared for the hyperaccelerated pace that an MMO, especially a hotly anticipated new MMO, will progress at. Players typically burn through content about 10 times faster than the devs ever imagined they could.
One thing you won’t have to worry about is missing content. Moment-to-moment gameplay might come and go; as Michaels explained to me, “If I participated in an attack on a farm, a week later, it may be totally safe now and you don’t get to do that.” For the bigger events, they’ll have some system in place, like a time-travel device or somesuch, that lets you experience a rallying call even if it’s been months or years after it was originally triggered. The main difference is that your character won’t really have experienced it in the game world, so NPCs and the game world (and, presumably, your Rohsong) won’t react to you appropriately. As a Guild Wars 2 player who’s heard every argument against limited-time, one-off events, this comes as welcome news. MMO companies are finally learning that they just can’t do one-time events and keep players happy.
If you’re like me, you’re salivating at how amazing all this sounds – but also have quite a few questions about the specifics. The content seminar was near the end of my time at SOE Live, after I talked to Michaels, and I hope to schedule a follow-up interview in the coming weeks. In the meantime, what do you like, dislike, or just wonder about regarding EverQuest Next’s content system?