SOE Live 2013: EVERQUEST NEXT Reboots, Rebuilds and Reinvents the MMO
Screen from Everquest Next
A visibly impassioned President of Sony Online Entertainment John Smedley took the stage to introduce EverQuest Next as, “The culmination of the dreams of our team,” and went on to earnestly describe the new title as the result of the process of hard choices, of biting off more than they could chew on purpose to create a game that could be number one.
Next and for the bulk of the presentation, EverQuest Director of Development Dave Georgeson took the stage to state that the EverQuest Next team wanted to create something brand new, something both 'heroic and social' but something that doesn't leave their loyal fans behind. The answer is a reboot of the EverQuest universe. A return to a Norrath that's “familiar but filled with new stories.” He even likened the process to the recent Star Trek theatrical reboot.
The renewed Norrath is a place of 'heroic fantasy,” meaning a rough lived-in world filled with humans, dwarfs, elves and other races that have been redesigned with larger, more excessive faces (to better connect to the web-cam face-tracking SOE-mote system, that causes your character to react in-game based on how you react in real life) and attire that is not tied to states, allowing players to achieve and maintain a certain 'look.'
Though not a lot of information about controls or user interfaces were revealed, EverQuest Next will also seek to enhance the game's movement system by incorporating 'parkour-style' moves, double jumps and class specific traversal skills (which can be enhanced by items) to better allow the players to move around the world that, at least in the demo footage, looked in the fashion of a console platformer.
Georgeson then excitedly revealed four “Holy Grails,” four elements of EverQuest Next that its developers hope will break the MMO mold and bring the game success. The first is a change of the core game's progression/skill acquisition mechanic. EverQuest Next seeks to help the player avoid having to make game changing decisions early in each players' experience by developing a multi-class system. Players can discover and learn new classes as they explore the world and mix and match the skills of that class with any other skills they learned to create a hybrid character that fits their playstyle. Coupled with that, player character weapons react to the player's class and attack with unique animations.
The second point is that EverQuest Next introduces the element of destructibility to MMOs. The new Norrath was built using voxels, virtual blocks that can be shaped, colored, placed in-world and then blown up. Georgeson explained that “almost” every element in the game could be destroyed by the player, demonstrated by a mage destroying a small stone bridge to kill a small horde of charging orcs. This world changing is not limited tearing stuff down; a reset of the above scenario has the mage summoning a crystal wall to block the attack, though the wall itself can eventually be destroyed. Alleviating worries that this shapeable Norrath will quickly be become wasteland though the actions of thousands of players battling all over the place, important elements will regenerate after a period and places like core cities will be immune to attack (“at least by the players,” hinted Georgeson). The Director of Development was excited to announce how destructible walls and environments will allow for new PvP game modes like castle sieges.
Georgeson then revealed that this destructibility allowed the developers to create a world that exists in layers. Underground players can find whole new areas that exist in real time with the overworld, and not at just that one subterranean level. In the demonstration a pair of heroes sent underground by an earth elemental’s attack finds themselves in a cavern and in the process of trying to find their way out, they dig down into another cavern, this one a lava chamber, where they battle a powerful lich.
EverQuest Next will also feature a enhanced world AI that will react and learn from the player's actions. Instead of set spawns for enemies, mobs will be released upon the world and their own AI will allow them to seek a place to 'camp' based on their own virtual likes, dislikes and how the players have been playing the game. In the given example, Orcs would abandon a region if players become committed to driving them away from an area, either on their own or as part of a mission.
This element of lasting change in the world leads to the final concept: Rallying Calls. These are large-scale public quests that can take months to complete. In the example, the humans are seeking to found a new city, players can help in each stage of its construction. Early in the mission they can work as a crafter in a nearby forest to complete materials for the city, or work as guards to keep wild animals out of the simple encampment. As the city grows as a new persistent mission hub, crafters can start quarrying stones for the walls (though its pointed out that this action could breech one of the aforementioned underground areas, releasing monsters) or they could repel attacks from Goblins who are angry at this human incursion. As time goes on still, the nearly competed city can fall under siege by an alliance of enemies in a climatic battle for the region. Georgeson explained that these Rallying Calls will allow players to create the lore of EverQuest Next for themselves as they shape the development of persistent elements.
After describing how powerful and fun to use the voxel design tools that built the new Norrath was, Georgeson then announced that SOE was going to give them to the players in the form of a pre-release game called EverQuest Next Landmark. This new companion title will allow players to stake out a plot of land on an open world to mine/craft their own structures with tools that can smooth, slope and resizing individual voxels that can virtually eliminate the blockiness seen in other world-building games.
This new title will also tie into the SOE Player Studio system that will allow approved structures to be sold alongside crafted items for real money. Taking it a step further, if someone incorporates an element that you've built and retailed into a larger structure, you will get a commission if that larger building is itself sold.