Everquest Next, A Much Needed Forecast

With all the commotion on hype, Everquest Next stands out as a true next-gen game and SOE isn't letting up.

There’s a lot of commotion about the hype surrounding Everquest Next, but is SOE concerned about the negatives? No, it’s all about the positives from here and they’re not letting up.

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When you hold the title of “The Godfather of 3D MMOs,” it’s like being the heavyweight contender in the Massive Multiplayer Online industry similar to Nintendo and their position on console gaming. Sony Online Entertainment has set grounds for themselves since 1999 as the first, 3D MMO paving the way for developers across the world; including Blizzard, who have credited their success to Everquest and its foundation in which they built their World of Warcraft idea from.

However, like most title belt holders, it’s very difficult to maintain your status over the years as you continue to pump out more and more games. SOE has relished somewhat of a rough reputation throughout the years with their games in an attempt to hold their ground as the king of the hill. When Dark Ages of Camelot released back in 2001, SOE’s answer to the new competition was Shadows of Luclin rehashing all their content with new graphics, a new race, deeper lore and more. However, their strength in the generation of MMOs would be short lived with Blizzard’s MMO giant World of Warcraft in 2004 taking every concept that made these MMOs great and pushing it to new heights becoming the “King of the Frozen Throne.” Over the years, SOE has managed to keep the legacy alive for their core niche of fans with 20 expansions over a 14 year span, a sequel to the legendary Everquest series and now a revamped title of the legend itself: Everquest Next. It was a great day when it was announced last year and it’s been a hot topic since across the web breathing new life into gamers both old a new.

Is it obvious that there is a large cause for concern as well?

World of Warcraft creators owe it to Everquest.

Although we can assure ourselves that the development team behind the Everquest saga may not have been the cause of demise over many of their other titles, SOE hasn’t exactly been the “Golden” name in the industry since its release. Planetside, Everquest Online Adventures, Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, PoxNora, Vanguard are some names to be mentioned in the rough-sketch, niche market they’ve tried to place themselves in over the years and have failed miserably.

However, with that being said, SOE still has held grounds over the years with several titles to keep them a, somewhat, feasible level of competition in the western market with Planetside 2, DC Universe Online and their Everquest franchises. With developers from the original Everquest team with the likes of Bill Trost heading to Trion to create Rift, there were cause for concern for EQ fans as to whether or not the veterans of the development team would be enough to keep their attention for long on this tall order they’ve made with Everquest Next.

Assemble the Dream Team

Bill Trost (left)

Woah, wait a second… Bill Trost left Trion to come back to SOE for the development of Everquest Next? Terry Michaels, Jeff Butler, and Rosie Rappaport are there too? Brad McQuaid won’t be part of the EQ Next future but hang on for a sec, let’s take a further look into all this: nearly the entire original development team from the original Everquest team is taking a piece of this action with Everquest Next.

We’re talking about practically everyone who created this famous franchise is back on board with SOE to make a dream happen. What happened to the team throughout the years of the original Everquest? Was it the lore being torn to pieces with crazy new content such as cats of the moon? A lot of the team’s been there the whole time! As far as the drama with McQuaid and others? Who knows the full details; but with a revamped story, a jaw-dropping voxel based engine and a concept of an MMO utilizing the “three holy grails” of MMOs has definitely piqued the interest of not just the fans, but the whole group from the original as well.

Let’s remind ourselves that this idea has been scrapped three times before they’ve finally come up with an idea that they like. On top of all this, SOE is taking the fans along for the ride during development asking them tons of questions with their Round Table to make sure tons of details are being created the way fans want them to be. With a huge niche crowd of gamers who’ve had their own experiences with Everquest back in the day, this is a great opportunity for SOE to get relevant ideas out, and delivered the right way rather than assuming they’re always right.

Let’s highlight some of the finite details surrounding these ideas SOE has in place for us: Everquest Landmark is going to be a standalone, Minecraft-style game that allows players to, basically, create content for Everquest Next; that’s really all it’s there for: to keep the fans occupied with a fun voxel game, to experience the engine and help SOE piece together their game. This will enable SOE to perfect their engine once tons of players start diving into it, help speed up their development process with content made from the players, and continue to uphold the idea that everyone has a voice and create the fantasy that this game is actually being made by the players themselves.

It’s a genius marketing ploy and a great way to jump start their development. Consider it like a pre-pre alpha of Everquest Next where you will have the opportunity to spot bugs in the engine and get a chance to make your mark in the future title itself. Along side Landmark, SOE is punching out tons of Round Table questions throughout the development and keeping a very well updated video stream on their website and YouTube showing that the developers are listening to everything they’re saying. The interesting discussions that are surrounding this that confuses people like me is: what’s the issue? Look at the MMO giants like Blizzard and ANet. These two companies hardly keep their fans in the loop with new content or carry them alongside development.

Sure, Blizzard holds an annual Blizzcon and ANet is throwing out bi-weekly updates to their Guild Wars 2 title but are you getting poll questions or developer responses during the whole development process? What about these not-so-specific quarterly producer letters to the players? If so, why are so many people complaining about things these guys are doing? Mists of Pandaria was a controversial release for Blizzard, and everyone playing Guild Wars 2 is wondering when ANet is gonna release larger content. So, why are there concerns sitting around Everquest Next?

The reason there’s so much commotion surrounding Everquest Next is purely due to the fact that they announced this title extremely early in the development process. They had just finished the engine they want as well as the lore. The cause for concern was based around the credibility of the development team, at the time of the announcement, as well as the question of “how are they going to put this together?” Well, let’s reassure ourselves that nearly 90% of the original team is on board, along side some new blood that’s probably got some fresh ideas to help the development along.

SOE is definitely dumping a lot of money into this title; picking up nearly the entire cast from the first Everquest, the all-star video game composer Jeremy Soule who has worked on famous soundtracks to include the original Guild Wars, The Elder Scrolls, Supreme Commander and Dungeon Siege as well as collaborating with Storybricks and Intrinsic Algorithm to perfect their AI implementation in Everquest Next. There’s a huge cast behind the development of these game, both creatively and technically and, on paper, this is a development dream.

So what can you expect from Everquest Next?

The best advice to be given to anyone who’s curiosity has been sparked by the announcement of EQ Next is look at their website. The whole development team is posting their own little insider notes on their twitter accounts which are scattered all over the website, a Round Table discussion on specific elements of the game, a huge forum community that’s got the developers giving feedback constantly to the fans, constant video updates and much-more-specifc producer letters about what’s going on behind the scenes. In reality, I have never seen any company get so personal with their community like SOE is doing with Everquest Next. So much passion seems to be coming from their doors to the community as a whole and they’re constantly keeping people up to date every step of the way. By the end of the day, however, there’s some things you all should keep a level mind about in regards to the road to EQ Next:

  • Landmark will probably not be as stable as everyone believes. This is SOE’s first attempt at releasing their voxel-tweaked Forgelight Engine (demonstrated here) which has been completely overhauled since Planetside 2. It’s going to be buggy, glitchy and definitely going to need some work once the masses start breaking it down. Landmark will enable SOE to tackle all of these problems during its launch to perfect the engine for EQ Next which, in my opinion, is a much more important outcome.
  • It’s going to take awhile for EQ Next to come out; we’re talking a couple years minimum. Once again, you have to remind yourself that EQ Next was announced at a very early stage in its development. The reason being was so that SOE could get the community’s life flowing and allow their marketing to flow with getting the fans involved and help push the development in the right direction.
  • They have a very knowledgeable team with them, 14 years in the MMO business and the pioneers of the 3D MMO. It’s probably safe to say their resume can uphold some decent results.

A New Kind of MMO

EQ Next is going to feature tons of stuff that people aren’t probably aware of yet. The original Everquest was popular do to its heavy promotion of social interaction. This was due to the old-school, hardcore grind-fest that gamers loathe nowadays. This focus enabled players to be forced to group with each other and spend hours on end with their particular party allowing them to make new friends and acquaintances. Well, those days of grinding are pretty much over and SOE has to find a new way of encouraging that great social aspect; which they have.

EQ Next has already been said to have huge world events that players participate in together to help accomplish large tasks like building cities, for example. Players will be allocated (automatically) to groups that will have a focus on a particular task. These tasks can end up taking a large portion of time. When you’re partnered up with a group of players to accomplish a common goal, social interaction is bound to happen. SOE has already confirmed that these large events, or Rally Calls, can take days and even weeks to accomplish. The idea that no particular server will have the same world in general encourages players to forge their EQ Next experience the best way they see fit.

On top of all this, SOE has already talked about adventure which has always been the centerpiece to the Everquest experience. The Everquest Next world will be layered which means that you will have the top layer: which you will generally be doing your typical adventuring, and several layers below near the core of Norrath which enhances further adventuring. All this can be accessed at any point in time with the right tools. Plus, whatever action a player takes throughout the game will be recognized by NPCs throughout the world. Think about this with the game Fable: if you do something evil, NPCs will see you as evil and either be indifferent, scarred or hate you. The same concept will be applied in Everquest Next but on a massive scale.

The entire story of Everquest has been revamped as well. In the original, you were placed in a world that didn’t have a concrete lore in the sense of: where did everyone come from? Why is this happening? Unless you read books throughout the game or found the lore on SOE or fan websites, you were generally left in the dark. Plus, remember the cats on the moon? Yeah, that’s all gone (thankfully). In Everquest Next, players will be pilgrims of Norrath who are the remnants of slavery in the Combine Era:

The Age of Exile

The Fier’Dal, an elven social subset that was welcoming toward other races, joined with some of the races the Takish had oppressed–including the ogres, dwarves and kerrans–and formed an alliance of equals called the Combine Accord. The Combine struck back against the dragons, ushering in The Dragon War. The battle was long and costly. Unfortunately, no matter how strong their spirits, or how fiercely they fought, the dragon forces proved too powerful. The Combine suffered death and devastation on a massive scale, and were finally forced to flee.

As The Combine prepared to make their exodus, the Teir’Dal, an elite force of elves, fought to buy them time by making their last stand at Bastion, led by Keramore Thex. [These events are told in the ebook, The Last Stand of the Teir’Dal.] The allies fled to Kunark, an unexplored wilderness, where they could attempt to regroup and reestablish the remnants of their society.

But the shissar were also on Kunark. And they were not alone. They had subjugated the local iksar, and bred a race of soldiers. Their forces swept in and enslaved the Combine races. Eventually, the iksar longed to be free of the shissar’s control, so they allied with the Combine to drive the shissar back. But old habits die hard, and a large subset of the iksar society couldn’t help but fall back on the ways of their former masters. An iksar named Venril Sathir rose to prominence, and soon certain factions within the iksar became determined to possess the old knowledge of the Combine. They intend to use the Combine for their selfish purposes, but the Combine refuse to yield. Once again, they were forced to flee. Along with some iksar who were sympathetic to the Combine’s cause, they made the decision to return and retake their homeland.

EQHammer Excerpt

To conclude, Everquest Next has a lot of hype around it and the hype will continue to be questioned. By the end of the day, it’s going to be one hell of a game that everyone should try out. I don’t expect it to be a “WoW killer” but it’s about time someone started working on a true “next gen” game and it’ll be great to see the grandfathers of 3D MMOs make a comeback into the industry with the most legendary MMO in the industry. Check out the Everquest website to find out more about the development process because they keep you informed and a lot of stuff they’re coming up with is simply phenomenal.

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Steve Silencyde
Aspired music producer with so many creative hobbies I don't even know what to do with my hands.