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EverQuest Next Could Completely Overhaul MMORPGs

A little over a decade ago, Sony Online Entertainment released EverQuest. Developed by 989 Studios and Verant Interactive, the game quickly became the benchmark by which all other MMORPGs were measured. For years, it - and its successor, EverQuest 2 - stood at the top of the MMO world, until both were defeated and dethroned in one fell swoop by Blizzard and World of Warcraft. Both games still exist in some capacity, but they limp on as mere shadows of their former glory.

Even so, their legacy lives on. It's safe to say that EverQuest and its ilk defined a genre, and a generation. Now, SOE is looking to recapture some of the old magic. In short, it's looking to define the MMO one more time. Ladies and Gentlemen...EverQuest Next.

It's not a traditional MMORPG by any stretch. 

Currently, the world of MMOs labors under the tyranny of the reigning monarch, World of Warcraft. Blizzard's game - the most popular MMORPG ever released - has led to an industry where virtually every MMO ever released is judged based on how it measures up to Wow. Worse, many developers have become seemingly afraid to deviate from the trends, techniques, and mechanics used by Blizzard.  As a result, most MMOs suffer from a sort of 'sameness,' and at the end of the day, they all end up feeling the same. Some have even hyperbolically stated that World of Warcraft has killed an entire genre

It hasn't...but it's made a good go at it. Even on the opposite end of the spectrum from WoW - where the sandboxes are set up for play - things aren't so great. The most intense and in-depth of these sandboxes is EVE Online, which features an entire living, breathing universe effectively created and defined by the players. Most sandbox games don't even come close to this level of mutability, instead offering a few token freedoms for their players. Again, there's that grind, that sameness, that boredom.

We're getting a bit off track. IGN has gone so far as to say the entire genre exists on a linear continuum: WoW exists on one end, while EVE Online rules over the other. SOE Director of Online Entertainment David Georgeson and his team set out to break that continuum, and in the process, cure MMOs of their long-present sickness. 

"We're creating a triangle," he explained to IGN. "It's not just a line anymore. The original concept behind EverQuest was fresh in 1998, but it's been done to death now. It's time for something new. What we needed to deliver with EverQuest Next is something really original, so what we did was tear it down to the bedrock. We picked what we liked, what we didn't like, and we came up with a list of holy grails that we as designers had always wanted to do, but never had the time or the intestinal fortitude to try before."

EverQuest Next is the end result of that laundry list of goals and dreams.

One of the most promising - and fascinating - features of EverQuest Next, and the thing that sets it apart from all other MMORPGs is the ability to alter - and I mean, truly alter - the environment.  Through the use of a powerful voxel engine developed by Miguel Cepero of Procedural World, the EverQuest Next team has created a world with environments that are well and truly destructible.

Want to assault a keep by blowing a hole in the wall with magic? You can do that, and the hole's going to stay there until someone comes to repair it. Want to dig down to the center of the earth in search of rare treasure? Go ahead, but don't be surprised if you encounter a few less-than-friendly inhabitants along the way. Want to destroy a bridge to halt an advancing army? Go for it, just remember that the bridge is gone for good (or until someone decides to rebuild it). 

Even something so small as casting a teleportation spell will leave a small dent in the ground. 

Of course, given that people have a tendency to take such freedom way too far, Georgeson has admitted that this functionality will be limited in certain regions of the world (at least for players. Monsters can pretty much go where they please - but more on that in a moment). Without this restriction, he says, "player cities will become player parking lots."

Yeah, that sounds about right.

SOE also plans to release the tool that their own development team used to construct the world. Known as EverQuest Next Landmark, it's effectively a sandbox that allows players to create their own objects and buildings. Projects created in Landmark can be shared with friends, and multiple people can collaborate on a single build. Even better, if a particular build catches the eye of SOE staff, it'll actually find its way into the game proper.

Coupled with this system of destruction and creation is a dynamic quest system and what seems to be truly intelligent AI (or at least, AI smarter than what we see in most MMOs). Monsters, Georgeson says, have likes, dislikes, and general motivations for that they do. Orcs, for example, love gold, and will do whatever it takes to get more of it. As such, if players decide to establish a settlement on a land filled with riches(by answering a special event known as a 'rallying call'), they'll likely find themselves in a pitched battle with the local Orc tribe. Should this tribe be defeated, nearby greenskins might either launch an attack of their own, or flee to greener pastures. Because of this, quests are going to be dynamic and procedurally-generated.

Ultimately, what this means is that each server is going to turn out a little different than its peers. On one server, you might find a large, crater-scarred battleground at a particular location. In the same spot on a different server might be a bustling city, or a lush forest on another. Georgeson says that he hopes this new system might allow players to feel more closely connected with their characters.

"We want people to develop a long, detailed history of their character, so that when they tell others that story, they actually care, as opposed to 'yeah, yeah, I did that quest."

All of this will be tied together by an in-depth crafting system (an extremely important part of the EverQuest experience) and an overhauled combat and class engine.  Next isn't going to feature levels. Instead, players will be given the chance to mix and match abilities from somewhere around forty different classes, developing them as they move forward. Here, the engine will attempt to learn from the player's choices, offering up suggestions for what they can do. Further, many of the attacks available to a player will be based on what weapon they currently hold. 

 

EverQuest Next is an incredibly ambitious - and impressive - undertaking, with the very real potential redefine the MMO. I know it's been said time and again (and it's almost never true), but if SOE plays its cards right, we might just be looking at the contender that finally strips WoW of its long-held crown, and it's the franchise that originally held the crown at that. In so doing, it might just help rid us of the ennui that's settled over the MMO franchise; a crippling "sameness" that's persisted for far too long. 

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Nicholas Greene
Nick's Games Haven
InventorSpot.com
Follow me on Twitter @OmniscientSpork