So EQNext is officially more than that green picture ever since the big Las Vegas SOE reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls himself cautiously optimistic which is all I’ve ever been in regards to this title. Much is riding on the big name; very bold has been the sandbox boasting in the past. I’m not a fan of developers who talk more than they’re showing, so at least now we’ve finally got some facts and videos to add to that grand idea that is EQNext. So let’s have another brief look while I’m trying to reign in the MMO summer-malaise sarcasm.
As a Minecraft fan I am mildly excited by the Landmark feature, especially in regards to real world implementation. Player created goods and services are always healthy for virtual worlds, although I am not sure how much I care for the destructibility of the environment. It sounds like a gimmick given it’s restorative nature.
Classes and combat
As much as SOE try to be innovative, the combat and class system of EQNext sound like a perfect hybrid between Final Fantasy XI and Guild Wars 2 (which is not a bad thing). Tons of classes and cross-class combinations have existed in Vana’diel since 2002, while active combat with a very limited set of weapon- and class related active skills is one of the reasons why I like Guild Wars 2 as much as I do. Means, no complaints here from my end; I am all for class freedom and fast paced, minimal UI combat!
Levels and progression
Sadly the one big oversight in Guild Wars 2, I am happy to hear EQN will do away with leveled progression. As far as alternatives go, we have yet to hear how exactly player progression is to be paced in this game. Personally I’d like to know how grouping / group setup will be balanced and what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department.
Maybe the biggest disappointment for me personally was the overall look of EQNext, combined with the action scenes shown during Part 2 of the presentation. Nobody was more surprised than myself to see SOE go for the cartoony Disney aesthetic that comes dangerously close to the butterfly in my MMO venn diagram, rather than opting for a more traditional medieval / high fantasy style that so many Everquest veterans no doubt expected. While I’m no veteran myself, I had high hopes for EQNext to put a modern touch and polish on what I associate with the olde D&D vibe. Instead, SOE presented us with Belle and the Beast (who looks strangely like World of Warcraft’s alliance crest come alive) jumping, hovering and rolling their way through a dirt parcours in platformy fashion.
I’m having a hard time recovering from this blow. While graphics aren’t everything in MMOs, the chosen style dictates a lot of the feel and atmosphere of the world. As far as cartoony graphics go, there is almost always a level of slapstick, popculture referencing and general lack of seriousness involved. That is one WoW legacy I could really do without – although SOE might have more reasons for this move than trying to follow World of Warcraft’s wide appeal and “longevity factor”. I think one can greatly over-credit WoW’s graphics style in this context. People still play WoW because it’s consistently managing to be a polished package that has a great deal to offer. That’s why players are willing to overlook its by now dated, cartoon graphics – not vice versa.
In general, the emphasis on things like facial expressions and clothes movement seems strangely overstated in Georgeson’s speech. While it’s nice to have detailed character customization or flowing fabrics in MMOs, I found myself cringing at the above selection of comic faces. This level of detail supposedly adds to our characters “coming to life” – I guess that’s where the presenter lost me. I always treat my MMO characters like alter egos and I’d like to think that it’s me, my personality and way of playing them that adds life to them. Heck, players have breathed life into 8bit pixel avatars since the beginning of video gaming. So no, I don’t like these EQNext characters at all. As for how they move around terrain, I hope combat won’t be quite as platformy as it looks like. I am of course blown away by yet another mage with blink…
Emergent AI and NPCs
If there was any mention of AI and the role NPCs are to play in EQNext during this reveal, I missed it. Either way, this feature is still my biggest draw for the title (see this great article on US Gamer for some more recent info). I’ve been excited for Storybricks ever since Namaste went more public with the concept and I can’t wait to read all about questing and NPC relations in EQNext. That might be the one thing winning back some of my sympathies. Having greatly enjoyed Animal Crossing New Leaf for the last couple of weeks on my 3DS, I am once more amazed at the mightiness of complex AI in video games. If SOE are really looking to innovate, this is one of the great untapped goldmines in MMO gaming. Fingers crossed!