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2014 in Preview: Can Everquest Next Take MMOs to the Next Level?

Everquest Next is doing something no MMO has attempted before: smushing Minecraft and Molten Core together. Yeah, Mike and Cass had the same response.

Sometime last year, Cass joined hundreds of others in the yearly pilgrimage to Nevada. There, amid the lights and the dust and the surgically-enhanced show girls, she learns of Everquest Next -- the next evolution of Sony Online Entertainment's repertoire of MMOs.

And you know what? It sounds pretty damn neat.

Mike and Cass, the former an alumni of the original game and the other a fledgling convert to the cause, get together to recap on what they know thus far about Everquest Next and what makes them go into paroxysms of delight over the upcoming game.

Landmark: Minecraft for MMOs

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Cassandra Khaw Content Editor

Pardon my Brittishism, but sod everything else. I'm mostly here for Landmark. To be honest, I wasn't really into the whole idea of mine-em-ups previously. I dabbled with Minecraft -- enough to be able to cough up "best mods" lists across the Internet. Terraria? We hung out, but I didn't like the way it fought. Asides from a fanatical interest in Starbound (which came up long after I checked out Landmark), these kind of sandboxes have, by and large, always inspired a bit of a shrug.

But, Landmark. Wow.

There are various reasons as to why I love the idea of Landmark. Part of it is the notion of being able to, say, potentially build up an intricate-looking township and then host a totally kick-ass Dungeons &amp: Dragons game in it. According to this article from PC Gamer , we'll apparently get Dungeon masters tools. Which is really, really, really neat. (I may also know of a group of people who have already sworn a blood oath commemorating their desire to to participate in such escapades.)

I'm also drawn to the fact that at least part of Landmark is built around Miguel Cepero's Voxel Farm, an awesome voxel-based, procedural engine. Now, this wouldn't be such a huge thing for me were it not for the fact that Voxel Farm's a proven horse. Check out this video, Mike. Voxel Farm doesn't just deal in blocks -- it allows you to smooth and flatten surfaces, to work with peculiar angles, to make your own darn voxel brushes. I'm not sure if Landmark will be retaining those features but I'd be happy with Sony Online Entertainment retains even half of the features in this playlist.

(Seriously, look at all this stuff first -- such awesome. So much cool. Very neat.)

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Mike Williams Staff Writer

I just watched someone walk down a digital mountain for 15 minutes. Huh.

Landmark looks like it going to be a pretty awesome tool, especially if it has the wide variety of options shown in the Voxel Farm videos. I've been into Minecraft and Terraria for a while now and I just got into Starbound big time. I love the idea of a digital dream machine: something you can use to bring ideas and thoughts to life. That's why I love this specific style of sandbox game; you're given the tools to make whatever you can imagine.

I find the big drawback I have is I rarely have enough time or energy to capitalize on my dreams, even with the tools given. I'm honestly wondering if that's going to be the case with Landmark as well. Player Studio should partially fix that problem for me because you won't need to build an inn for your town. Just jump on Player Studio can pick from one of the pre-build assets available. It's easier when someone else has already put in the grunt work for you and free you up to focus on whatever you decide your magnum opus is going to be.

Cass: But did you see what they did with that mountain? I've probably mentioned it before but I'm going to do it again: the idea of not being yoked to blocks thrills me to no end. You weren't there during SOE Live but I can tell you that there were plenty of people blown away by the concept of being able to, you know, build actual spheres instead of blocky, imperfect facsimiles.

Imagine being able to sell this to unsuspecting friends.

Speaking of Player Studio, have I mentioned just how much I adore the concept of being able to monetize my architectural designs? I'm bewildered by the fact that this isn't a common practice with, say, the Minecraft community. If it was up to me, I'd stick a price tag on that replica of Westeros. http://westeroscraft.com/. How are these downloads going for free, Mike? How?! As such, it's pretty awesome to think that these fine content creators will finally be able to get what they deserve.

That said, I'll admit that I share some of these hesitations. I'm impatient and prone towards straying from games. But Everquest Next promises recipes and treasures, things to retrieve and drag back to the home turf. This is one of the reasons I am so charmed with Starbound. I like the option to pillage, plunder and engage in cross-era home decoration. And knowing that might be an option in Everquest Next, I'm kind of pumped. What about you? Do you feel more motivation when there's the possibility of gaining persistent furniture?

Mike: I admit, one of my favorite things about Starbound is pillaging existing town and taking all their stuff of my own. Finding a relatively high-tech dwelling is pretty awesome.

SOE needs to think long and hard about tagging items in Landmark. What if you see a tower on someone else's plot of land? And you take and it pay them automatically without asking permission? Or is it only available if they decide to put it up on PlayerStudio? I'd love to build /my house/, but perhaps I don't want to share it with the world. What other permissions will plots have? Can I chose to have my plot let everyone in, but they can't touch or destroy anything? That'll be like a digital amusement park if done right.

I'm just of questions about where the lines are drawn and I'm not sure SOE has the answers yet either. Hence... beta!

Classes: Talk About a Class Act

Cass:So, Mike. Let's talk classes. Better yet, let's talk about the "Holy Trinity" and by that, I mean the Tank, the DPS and the Healer. How do you feel about such well-defined roles? Many these days seem to prefer being able to dual-class or, heck, quadruple-classing their would-be avatars but I'll admit I'm not one of them. Weirdly enough, given how much I rail against the idea of being pigeonholed into certain roles, I actually enjoy being in a situation where everyone can, on sight, identify what my exact purpose in life. If nothing else, it certainly makes life easier when you're trying to convince folk to run to you when they're in need of teh healz.

How many ways can you kill a golem?

Needless to say, I'm a little leery about Everquest Next's abolishment of the holy trinity. But that doesn't stop me from being irrationally drawn to the idea of 40 collectible classes, each of which can be advanced individually. As you might have already guessed, I'm a bit of a Pokemon fan and that sort of persists in everything I do. I need to catch them all. The concern here is that it'd be an unnecessary extra rather than a legitimate way to play. Rift and The Secret World dazzled me with similar promises. In the end, however, it was just window dressing -- something you could have -- rather than anything fun. I'm not naive enough to think that Everquest Next might completely shatter the mold but I hope we get into some kind of rad middle ground.

Have I mentioned no leveling? Because there's no leveling. Not of the traditional sort, anyway.

Tiger people? They're g-g-g-great!

Mike: I'm a tank. I'm the guy who's happy to stand in front of the flames and take on the hate so that the rest may survive. Tanks are the thing that I play in every game. Even if you give me a freeform pick-what-you-want system, I'll probably lean towards choosing a tank, probably in the classic Paladin mode. High health, big shield, and the ability heal in a pinch. That's just the way I am and honestly the way I think everyone is to a certain extent. I find in MMOs with wider choices, you'll find players with a certain tight range of class make-ups once you get to the high-end of the game. Players min-and-max. The closer to absolute freeform you get, the more dungeon runs start to look like a big zerg, with everyone dog-piling every enemy.

But I'm open to Everquest Next's system. I think the collectible class idea is a great one, as long as certain mainstay classes are available from the get-go. Reminds me of other MMOs like Ragnarok Online or Final Fantasy XIV, that have unlockable classes based on other class choices. Throw in a special title with each class and I can see player hunting down all 40 classes just to be completionist.

No leveling is a big question mark for me. Will skills get better as you use them? How can I make myself better? I'm having a tiny mental breakdown here.

Cass: Short answer: No clue!

Long answer: No one's terribly sure as of yet, but there's a semblance of an idea there. According to Ten Ton Hammer, each class will be allowed two weapon sets and only two weapon sets -- it's to ensure "personalized animation and effects and focus on gameplay", you see. These two weapon sets will feature 4 class-defining, weapon abilities each. You also get a bunch of character abilities to toy around with, but that's not what we're focused on right now. While the whole setup may be somewhat reminiscent of Guild Wars 2, the developers behind Everquest Next apparently disagree with the comparison. It's supposed to be different. How? I don't know. But it won't be walking in Guild Wars 2's shoes.

Feel like positing a theory, Mike?

Also of interest, it looks like Everquest Next won't be limiting the way you spend experience points. Progression apparently operates like currency; you can spend it almost anywhere. Want to level up your wizard but can't stomach the idea of wielding a knobby-kneed, weakling of a mage? No sweat! Farm up what you need on your warrior, first. Or something. It's still vague.

Ah, so there will be leveling, it's just a bit more freeform and not tied to a specific overall number. I do think SOE will need to come up with a general rating thought, because grouping tends to require some sort of benchmark in order to figure that that you're not doubling up or wasting your time.

Mike: On the weapon side, it's somewhat like Guild Wars 2, but it sounds like the large number of classes will limit the ability to let each class use a wide variety of weapons. This also means that out of the 40 classes, some of them will probably break down into Holy Trinity slots with differences depending on the weapon. Staff Healer is the non-combat healer, Hammer Healer being the combat version, perhaps Sword/Shield Healer being the tank. That would easily allow for the 40 classes and make each class feel different, but is more of breakout than Guild Wars 2's system, which is based on weapon switching.

I feel bad for Everquest Next's designers, because this all sounds like it's going to be a nightmare to balance on a constant basis.

Everquest Next: Fully Destructible, Full of Consequence

Cass:I'll be honest. I've never played Everquest. I missed the cruise liner on this. My first MMO was Ragnarok Online, a game I find a little these days but relished with every fibre of my college-going being. As a result, I'm completely ambivalent to the idea of Everquest Next being built on a "rebooted" version of Norrath. Have you played the original Everquest games? Can you tell me if that's A Big Deal?

What I'm big on is the fact that Everquest Next is promising permanent consequence. There's a quote from the features' list that has me tickled: "Cities rise and fall, kings live and die, even the gods may change." Epic-sounding, eh? Personally, I'm concerned that it's a case of the developers overstating an idea. Are they really willing to risk subjecting their darling to the Internet? Permanent changes in an MMO could go very, very wrong. Yet, it's not impossible to make it into a selling point. EVE Online is testament to the fact that allowing people to be dicks is a viable strategy.

I know for a fact that changes to the terrain are not, happily, permanent. They'll persist for a spell before the magic of MMOs takes over and restore everything to its original state. Nonetheless, that doesn't stop me from being hideously intrigued. The idea of being able to bulldoze through trees and punching holes in the ground is absolutely amazing to me. Coupled with the fact that there's a procedurally generated subterranean level and, WELL.

Ah. Gotta love the classics.

Mike: I have played the original Everquest and its first expansion, Ruins of Kunark. It was my first MMO. I remember the dark days of zoning, corpse runs, Spirit of the Wolf, trains, and other assorted things that only make sense if you're played Everquest. My history with the game is not as long and storied as some player, but I've been there in the trenches. I even named one of my characters Ragnablade. Why? Because I was young and stupid.

But you don't need prior experience to see that total destruction could be either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. You just need to look at these two Cracked articles, full of stories of players banding together to be dicks. See, those stories are totally awesome, but they're only really awesome because you're viewing them from a distance. If you had a personal experience being on the receiving end of many of them, you'd probably rage quit for the night. And those are games without rampant destruction.

Everquest Next is about to hand the keys to the patients in the asylum. I have no idea how they're going to police the destruction, even though they've said some areas will be invincible. All I see is the smoking crater that was once Azeroth, with the occasional pristine city, where the new players hide. See monuments to geek culture, stone dicks 50 digital feet tall, and deep chasms of lava. I see hell itself, the abyss gazing back.

And God help me, I want to see it in action.

Story Bricks and Their Attempt to Make A.I Intelligent

Cass: I don't know this doesn't get discussed more but Everquest Next's perception of how artificial intelligence in a game should function has me pretty hyped too. Like, that's probably one of the reasons I usually keep the company of competitive games. I like unpredictability. I like the idea of entities that actually respond to my presence, who react as per needed instead of simply launching into a series of scripted events, you know?

And Everquest Next's emergent A.I promises that this might be a thing. So, just to recap, NPCs in Everquest Next do not function the way most would. Like squabbling babes armed with a medley of sharp objects, they're dropped onto Norrath and left to their own devices. Instead of just milling around, the NPCs will then set off to fulfill their desires and instincts. To utilize an example that Sony Online Entertainment used before, orcs are born with an inate loathing of guards and a love of gold. Because of that, they'll purportedly head off to find lonely roads where gold (aka loaded travellers) are a-plenty but guards are in limited supply. How awesome is that? Actual, smart NPCs.

What do you think?

Mike: I've been following the Storybricks developers - that's the AI system being used by Everquest Next - since GamesIndustry International started covering them back in 2011. Not only am I glad to see the fruits of their labor finally, I'm doubly glad to see the system in a game with a significant budget.

One major benefit to the entire AI system is fixing what remain a big problem with modern MMOs. When you get a quest or you're looking for an item, what do you do these days? Look it up. You go online and find the right answer because why waste your time finding widget #245413? With what Everquest Next is outlining for players, that's not possible. Or at least it will be more difficult. Looking for that tribe of orcs the villagers are talking about? They could be another two towns away by time you get involved in the entire thing, chased there by other players.

I also look forward to the emergent weirdness that comes together when you have complex AI and physics systems interacting like this. Skyrim was great for that kind of thing. I'm ready to be like a National Geographic cameraman, watching the world explode into a rainbow of buggy splendor while I take screenshots and video. Yes, it'll be amazing.

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