Lately, MMORPGs have existed on something of a linear continuum. On the one end, you have your strictly enforced amusement parks like World of Warcraft. On the other, your free-for-all sandboxes like EVE Online. However, Sony Online Entertainment Director of Design David Georgeson doesn't think EverQuest Next fits on that continuum.
"EverQuest is another point in the triangle," he says. "We're creating a triangle; it's not just a line anymore."
“It's a sort of massively multiplayer Minecraft with elves, crafting, monsters, and all of the other trappings of a fantasy RPG.
As the name suggests, EverQuest Next is meant to represent an evolutionary leap for the venerable series. It's not a traditional MMO, Georgeson says. The original concept behind EverQuest, which was fresh back in 1998, has been done to death. It's time for something new.
"What we need to deliver with EverQuest Next is something really original, so what we did was tear it down to the bedrock,” Georgeson says. “We pick 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."
"It's intimidating, but we've been breaking these things down into categories and attacking them one at a time, so that we can polish up what needs polishing before moving on," he said. "We've also prioritized all of our heaviest risks at the earliest stage to prove that we can get them done. Now we're past all of the R&D hurtles, and we're at the point where we're doing what we know how to do, which is build an MMORPG."
“Every player can work together to build a permanent settlement.
This degree of control extends to the world itself. Teleport away from an attack, and you'll leave a little dent in the ground. If you're an Earth Wizard, it's possible to raise barriers out of any part of the ground, or create sinkholes to trap monsters. If a large party of enemies happens to be crossing a bridge, then a spell can knock out the bridge and send them plunging to their doom. Of course, the bridge will be gone as well, which opens up a new set of challenges.
“Jump to another server, and a city may be where a field is supposed to be, or it might not exist at all.
Rather than a static playground, EverQuest Next is meant to be a living breathing world. Many of the quests will be dynamic, and monsters will have likes, dislikes, and general motivations for their behavior. Orcs, for example, love gold, and will go anywhere they can get it, which can result in a battle for territory as players fight to establish a city. Exterminating one group of monsters can rile up another group, prompting them to attack; or it may result in them picking up and moving on to another location.
"We want people to develop a long, detailed history of their character," Georgeson says, "so that when they tell others that story, they actually care, as opposed to, 'Yeah, yeah, I did that quest.'"
For EverQuest lifers, of course, many of the elements that have defined the series over the years will still be in place. Crafting will be a huge part of the EverQuest Next experience ("Crafting is us. We love crafting," Georgeson says), especially with the battle system being revamped so that hotbar actions are innate to weapons. Many of the familiar locations from the past games will also be present, albeit with much better graphics. SOE is also encouraging players to help build up the world of EverQuest Next by releasing their internal toolset to the public. Fans can build landmarks; and if the developers like them enough, they will be put in the game.
A human wizard and a Kerran warrior break through a cavern floor into a magma chamber.
Having been in development for more than four years now, EverQuest Next has been something of a mystery to fans, to the point that it's been regarded by some as vaporware. Now that SOE has taken off the wraps, it's clear that they have some very interesting ideas for the MMORPG space. With World of Warcraft on the decline and no clear successor ready to take its place as the dominant MMO of the generation, the time is ripe for a new MMORPG to rise up. It's still early, but EverQuest Next has at least established itself as a strong contender for that position; a worthy comeback for one of the genre's founders.