It is hard, really hard, for me to congratulate SOE on anything. After all, they still have my heart locked up in some backroom safe and only bring it out every once and a while to tread over it while wearing Star Wars Galaxies promo shirts. SOE has a track record of playing second fiddle to the rest of the market. Everquest 2 was destroyed by WoW. Planetside 2, while an OK game, is a game for five years ago. Star Wars Galaxies was shelved when The Old Republic was released. SOE seemed content with simply making sequels that didn’t advance anything other than the bottom line.
With Everquest Next, SOE is looking to shed the persona of comfortable. Everquest Next does not simply feature a single game changing idea; it features several. Every pillar of what makes modern MMOs is being touched.
Everquest Next starts with the very fundamentals with a game changing voxel-based engine which allows the entire world to be torn apart and remolded on the fly. This engine is not simply a gimmick. Alongside the voxel engine being used to generate the game world, SOE is launching a tool called Landmark which will allow players to build their own pieces of the world. Objects and buildings and
The best voxel-based engine still does not make for a great game. Sure it’s great that a player can dig a hole to the middle of the earth or erect their own private castle, but what drives players to explore? What pulls players together? What makes this an actual MMOG and not just a giant box of legos? The answer is again in SOE’s willingness to step outside of the norm.
The first item is the Rallying Calls which are an evolution of Public Quests from other MMOs such as WAR and Guild Wars 2. With the voxel-based engine these can take on an entire new meaning. The world can be permanently changed on the fly by the developers or the players or the AI. These changes can be different across multiple groups of players and a player starting today is going to have a completely different experience than one that started a year ago. There will be real story telling and world building at the hands of the players.
Next is emergent AI. Gone are the monster camps of dumb monsters standing around waiting to be killed and in their place are actual functioning groups of enemies with a purpose and goal. Bandits may realize a town is not frequented by players so makes the perfect place to raid and plunder. As time goes on the Bandits build up their camp nearby and take over the town until players come and kick them out. During rallying calls the players may be building a city and goblins may start appearing in the woods. If the players don’t take care of the goblins they may raid the fledgling city and set it back or destroy it outright.
There is a danger though. These ideas have been tried before. Ultima Online tried emergent AI over a decade ago and it didn’t work due to players simply killing everything in sight and it has not been tried since. The infamous “time until penis” phenomenon has plagued any and all user-generated content games. The MMO genre is famous for promises that fall flat in the face of yet another WoW-clone launching. The disappointment I have met in the MMO genre is epic and SOE was at one point the center of that disappointment. If there is any MMO developer that can fuck a good thing up it is SOE.
However, with that said, SOE has clearly listened and paid attention to the gaming scene (not just the MMO scene). They have taken innovative ideas from Team Fortress 2 (players selling assets to each other) and Minecraft (voxel-based engine and world) and brought them to a genre that no one expected to see them in: MMOs.
SOE is not making a WoW-killer with Everquest Next and I don’t get the feeling that massive success is on their mind. They are making a true MMOG with a living and breathing world aimed at the core gamers that have stuck with them as a company over the past 14+ years. This is a game that they as developers and gamers actually want to play. This is a game that I want to play. I am excited beyond words to see what Everquest Next can accomplish. I applaud SOE for taking a bold step into the minefield that is new ideas.