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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why Everquest Next is drifting off my radar

18 comments
Over the past few weeks I've really started to develop a sense of disinterest in Everquest Next. I'll still play the game for sure and give it a fair shout, mainly because it's free and many of my friends will be playing it. However the more I read and hear about the game the more I'm starting to realise it probably isn't for me.

There's no reason why it should be a game for me of course, other than the Everquest name, but I can't help feeling disappointed in just about every announcement that is made about the game at the moment, and from the look of things the direction that the game is moving in is one that I'm not particularly excited by to say the least. My initial excitement after the first announcement has slowly been whittled away to a sense of mild disinterest.

Is anyone else getting annoyed by recent developer comments and the lack of real info?
But why? Everquest Next is certainly trying some new things in terms of emergent AI and destructible landscapes, and it's those things that are still keeping me slightly interested. It may be that it can yet get me excited. If it is to do so however the developers need to actually start showing us something. Absolutely everything we have seen and heard so far amounts to short tech demos (which look quite heavily scripted) and design document wish lists. We have seen absolutely nothing of substance whatsoever (since the initial reveal at least), and the cynic in me that has seen a myriad of broken MMO promises fears the worst.

It's more than that however. Whilst nothing is locked in stone it's the design decisions that the developers seem to be taking that have me worried as well. A game that seemed to be offering something truly different now seems to be devolving into a copy-cat, vanilla experience with no challenge and designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

I'm now going to make up for my relatively slow rate of blog updates recently. Cue long, stream-of-consciousness rant!

So, let's get specific.

I've already mentioned my issues with the changes to the lore aspects of the game. Since writing that earlier post I've actually read through the first two e-books that SOE have released, and whilst I don't have a major problem with the new lore itself (it's quite well written and interesting) I do have some issues with what it might mean for the game.

First of all, other than the names of places, races and characters, there is hardly anything in common with the lore of the original Everquest games. Now let's be honest, the EQ franchise has had some pretty awful, cliched lore itself, and it's only gotten more complex and slightly ridiculous over the last 15 years (since the first few expansions of the original game at least). However the changes made in the new lore mean that the game is basically nothing to do with the original EQ I.P. at all. It is far more than the J.J. Abrams style "re-imagining" that has oft been quoted by the developers.

Good, but is it EQ?
One of the major things the new lore seems to do is remove the extreme characterisations of some of the races and gods. No god of hate, no god of fear, no Tunare, no Bristlebane, no Innoruuk, no Cazic, no Rallos Zek... what we have instead is a very neutral pantheon. One could say "lacking in character". In fact I shall. The new pantheon is lacking in character. There.

Dark Elves have not been twisted into being by Innoruuk. Ogres are no longer stupid, dumb creatures created for war by Rallos Zek. Don't ask me what's happened to the Halflings, Barbarians, Wood Elves or Erudites, I have no idea. Again, this is nothing like the Everquest I.P.

The inclusion of firearms and "modern" elements, that according to a recent video will almost certainly make it into the game, moves the game even further away from the original I.P. These elements are not at all "everquesty" as the developers claim. In the video they seem to be making excuses for decisions that have already been made, despite them supposedly taking fan feedback into account via the Roundtable system. Several mentions of firearms during the EQ Fanfaire make it obvious that the decision to include them had been made well before the Roundtable question.

The results of the modern concepts Roundtable show only 34% of people responding positively to the suggestion, and 49% responding negatively (at the time of writing), yet the video twists these results to give the developers the answer they wanted all along.

Other Roundtable discussions have me worried with regards to the game mechanics. There was a similar negative reaction to the Roundtable question about whether all races should be able to play all classes. 54% of people voted against the idea, yet the developers decided to go the other way. It's not even the idea that the developers are ignoring the will of the community that has me worried (after all, they are the developers, not us), but rather the reasons they gave and the suspicion that they had already made the decision prior to the Roundtable vote.

The primary reason they give for allowing any race to become any class is that they don't want to limit or "punish" players for decisions they make, especially when the decision is made at the start of a character's life. They say they don't want to inconvenience the players (a refrain they seem to utter regularly). This seems completely nonsensical to me.

First of all, without inconvenience you don't have a game. Another word for inconvenience in gaming terms is "challenge". Limiting races by classes forces the player to make a decision, and choice is the fundamental concept in any roleplaying game (and even more so in a sandbox game). It means decisions matter, instead of effectively giving each character a different skin. In a game decisions should matter, and they should have consequences (I'm just coming off playing The Stanley Parable, which is a game that illustrates the importance of choice and consequence more than anything else I've played).

Class/Race limitations give inter-class dependance
The decision not to impose limits in a class based game leads to other questions. Will there be no racial abilities such as infra vision or swimming (after all, we wouldn't want to inconvenience some players)? Will there be no racial languages (just another inconvenience!)? Will some equipment be limited by class or race (but that would limit or "punish" players!)? All these things are a part of the EQ franchise, but it sounds like what EQNext is going to give us is something much more vanilla, homogenised, middle-of-the-road (and boring?).

There are other issues I have with the direction that the game seems to be taking with it's mechanics.

Now I'm hoping that some of these issues only apply to Everquest Next Landmark, where to be fair I can see that they may have some advantages. If they make it into the full EQNext game then my fears that the developers are trying to please everyone and will end up crafting a middle-of-the-road experience will have been confirmed.

First up, fast travel. EQNext Landmark will have a fast travel system, based on lines of power. You will even be able to travel between different servers so that you can tour and see the creations of other players. Sounds neat in a Minecraft-alike game right? This would be a terrible design for the main EQNext game in my opinion however.

Fast travel systems make a game feel like a game and not a world. They remove inconvenience (challenge?), making many modern MMOs seem like little more than chat lobbies with a load of instanced content. They do nothing to foster a sense of community. Travelling across a large and dangerous world can actually build community. People group up and help each other and have time to communicate and talk. And in a game that is boasting of an ever-changing world the journey from place to place is important.

Any fast travel system should at the very least require the input of other players. Then you might get druids and wizards helping people out like you did in the original EQ. Of course, if any race can be any class then we can all be druids and wizards, and just fast travel ourselves, meaning we don't have to do any of that messy "talking to other people" business.

The worst thing EQNext could do would be to allow fast travel to different servers. Such a move would completely go against developing a sense of server community.

My next fear is that we will end up with yet another game with a terribly weak death penalty. Most MMO developers talk up their death penalties before launch, saying they will definitely be a deterrent to dying. After a couple of months people are killing themselves on purpose in order to effect a fast travel across a zone.

Death penalties based on item wear or cash-to-revive systems just offer no challenge once the game has been around for a little while and the economy has grown slightly. They are no deterrent at all. Death is hardly even a minor inconvenience after the first few weeks.

Some developers excuse easy death penalties by arguing that, if an encounter is challenging enough, players will be encouraged to keep trying new tactics until they overcome it. They say if the death penalty is too harsh they will give up too soon.

I remember well some of the discussions in the beta forums for The Old Republic on this subject. I wrote about it some time ago (and even before then too!). The systems designer wrote the following:
By adding this system, we are able to create content that kills the player once or twice until they figure out how to overcome it. We can create challenges and players are given a chance to overcome them. They can afford to fail, regroup and try again instead of spending 15 minutes sitting around while some player tries to make his way back to the group.

If you are looking for hardcore and punishing death penalties that weed out the weak players (e.g. the ones that don't have infinite patience and time), The Old Republic will not be your game. That does not mean we're attempting to make an extremely easy game with no challenge.
That all sounds fine. Except that developers always seem to overestimate the difficulty of their encounters. I love The Old Republic for lots of reasons, but let's face it, none of the content is challenging. The death penalty in TOR might as well not be there.


One game that does have challenging content compared to most modern MMOs is The Secret World. Even in that game (another game I love by the way) death is no penalty and is now used as a way of crossing the zones quickly by most players.

Whilst not advocating a return to the corpse-runs of old (they were a major pain in the ass at times, especially if your corpse timed out leaving you with literally nothing) I do think it is worth considering some of the benefits (yes benefits!) such a harsh system brought. Apart from making death a serious matter, corpse runs actually helped engender that most elusive of things - community. It was often necessary to persuade (or pay) a friendly necromancer to summon your corpse, find a wizard to make you invisible whilst you made a mad run to safety, dragging your corpse behind you, or even find a group to help you recover it. When you were in a group and someone died you found yourself helping that person out of a sense of duty, even though it might mean spending a couple of hours doing so.

In the Roundtable poll on death penalties I found it interesting that 61% of people have voted for a tough death penalty (perma-death, corpse run, or lost xp), whilst only 39% have voted for a minor (or zero) death penalty. It will be interesting to see which way the developers decide to go in light of this poll, and the answer may confirm my fears for the game, or put them to rest. I have a horrible feeling this will be yet another Roundtable poll where they decide to go against the will of the community however. After all they are trying not to inconvenience players (or give them "denial of service" as one particularly horrible developer quote put it).

There are some signs of hope. The developers have said that most of the content in EQNext will be contested rather than instanced. This is a good thing in my opinion. You don't need to create carefully crafted story-based content if your emergent AI and voxel technology is up to the task of creating a dynamic open world. The developers have also hinted that there will be no auction house, raising hopes that players will have to actually communicate with the community at large in order to buy and sell goods (the East Commonlands tunnel even appears to be present in some of the concept art).

EC Tunnel? /auction WTS Rubicite Breastplate!
I could leave it there of course, having a bit of a moan about the direction I feel the game is progressing in. Instead here's a list of the things I would love to see in the game:

  • Racial abilities
  • Class limited by race
  • No auction house
  • No LFG (looking for group) tool
  • No DPS (damage per second) meters
  • A serious and harsh death penalty
  • Social utility skills for classes (group ports, feign death, group invis, etc)
  • No universal fast travel
  • Innoruuk!
Most of the above is why I am looking forwards to playing Camelot Unchained so much. An old-school MMO that focuses on server community, with strong sandbox elements won't be for everyone, but it has me hopeful.

There is still plenty to look forwards to in EQNext, especially seeing what the developers can do with the emergent AI and voxel systems. I'll still be trying the game. It may be, after all, that it's simply not the game I am looking for, and that is OK. I just hope it might turn out a bit different because, well, this...

However, after the initial buzz and excitement following the reveal of the game there has been nothing concrete from the developers. Until they give us something real to see (real gameplay or system details perhaps) then I'm afraid my attention is wandering to other places.

18 comments:

  1. Good points, I agree with the race/class restrictions, but not sure about no AH etc.

    For me a big part of playing an mmo is finding/ making awesome items and then selling them. Trading is a big thing for me and auction houses allow me to trade with people even if they are in a different timezone.

    What are your thoughts?

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    1. Thanks James!

      The problem I have with auction houses is they make things easier, but remove the player interactions that build community. When people buy your stuff on the AH they aren't really looking at the name of the maker/seller, they are just looking for the cheapest option. If you can have another kind of system where you meet other players, take orders from them and so on, you start to make a name for yourself.

      Delete
  2. As a fantasy purist, I share your reservations about unrestricted class/race, but I still agree with the Dev's decision. Though I personally like my orcs and ogres brutish and war-like, and my elves, woodsy and magicky, as an old school pen-and-paper rpg player, I have to admit that the most interesting characters to roleplay are those who break the norms. How did an Orc learn high magic? How did that Dark-Elf become a paladin? Taking these options away from players makes the game blander. Having said that I am not against such unusual decisions having repercussions. Perhaps the questline to unlock the paladin quest will result in radical faction changes that prevent that Dark Elf from returning to his home city. Maybe the orc mage can't find spells for sale in his homeland and must engage in a long trek, or learn a new language or do some quests/faction rewards before he can purchase spells from human or elven vendors. I feel this is a nice compromise, it will keep unusual race/class combos minimized because most players will take the easier path, but it won't limit those who wish to be unique/unusual.

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    Replies
    1. I imagine few players will be role-play motivated to make characters that have lore breaking class combinations. Most of these players will be trying to create overpowered characters.

      Delete
    2. The compromise you suggest would lessen the problem somewhat, as would locking out some classes based on the players actions rather than their race (for example, stopping them being a paladin if they do bad things). The danger is that everyone goes for the perceived cookie cutter best build.

      Delete
  3. You should really look at Trials of Ascension... thats going to be an epic MMO, perma death, real player driven world!

    The kickstarter is going live today!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks GridPoet. Permadeath sounds a little harsh, but I wasn't really aware of Trials of Ascension (had heard the name but know little else). I'll definitely check it out :)

      Delete
  4. If nothing else, I dream of this game being difficult. I want to be scared when running through somewhere I shouldn't. I want to get lost. I want to fear death. These are the things that will keep the game exciting for me.

    I'd go so far as to say that I think I would enjoy the experience more if there was no map and no fast travel.

    Being scary is what kept the first everquest interesting. Being scared is what motivated me to make friends (not just people to talk to, people to share challenges with). Being scared made accomplishments worth celebrating (and worth talking about in real life with other players).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great point! Fear was certainly a great motivation factor in the original Everquest. Not just being scared, but working together to overcome really tough challenges (such as the original epics introduced with Kunark).

      Sadly the challenge level in most MMOs now is ridiculously low. The vast majority of MMO content nowadays is face-roll easy, which might keep players paying their dollars, but I feel is poor for the long-term success of the game.

      The original Everquest (and UO and DAoC as well to some extent) may have had small worlds than many mdoern games, but they felt much bigger due to the adventure and danger of crossing them.

      Delete
  5. Also, I don't think auction houses make sense in a fantasy setting. I enjoyed the tunnel in east commons. It wasn't just a place to sell stuff; it was a place to gain propinquity with other players that play when I do. I met a ton of people there trying to sell their wares. Auction houses and bazaars make things to impersonal. A big part of the soul of EQ1 resided in the tunnel in east commons.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great article. Very reasonable arguments.

    It's been a while since I followed EQN's news seriously (though I glance at the reddit's top articles every day) so my memory may be fuzzy. I apologize for not sourcing what I'm about to say.

    The race/class Roundtable response was actually just what I wanted (and what I expected they would say; like you, I suspect they often make decisions in advance). It highlights the distinction I think that you fail you notice, which affects several of the problems you have with EQN: "punish" versus "limit" (well, for all I know SOE might be mixing these terms lazily, but I'll define them to draw a distinction here).

    Some players (like me) will want to RP a single character, and be able to have that character travel the world and experience all sorts of interesting things, developing as complex a history as possible. That's RP/character building in terms of the world itself. Now if my ogre wants to be a bard, or something that is very unprecedented (I'm not familiar with the lore though), it certainly would not make sense for me to walk up to a local ogre bard trainee office, because no way in hell does such a thing exist (again, at least according to my imagined lore where ogre culture is completely opposed to that kind of thing). So it doesn't make "sense" for an ogre to be a bard--but SOE doesn't (and I don't) think you need to obtain that effect by distorting the social fabric of the world to make it impossible for ANY NPC to EVER agree to let an ogre train as a bard. You can obtain that effect by just making it 100 times harder to become a bard if you're an ogre. Whether in terms of term or in terms of difficulty, but preferably difficulty. They could even, say, make the class tier advancement process rate proportional to the square of certain stats like strength/intelligence. And of course, the NPCs needed to acquire and advance in the class could be very hard to find, perhaps even moving around in high-tier areas, or normally KOS for ogres.

    So for me "punish" means "arbitrarily say that a major part of the world's setting is going to be inaccessible to a character no matter what they do, so they're forced to create a new character they don't necessarily have any RP attachment to, just to be able to check out a specific class". And "limit" means "impose checks and balances" e.g. of course you won't let wizards wear heavy armor, because allowing it would make them overpowered, and it's no problem to not allow it because it's a simple aesthetic choice that players can live with, not something they're going to want to create a new character to try to obtain. Hopefully I articulated that properly. Anyway that's just my opinion, and I do realize that SOE needs to tread carefully with race/class combos to make sure that lore plays a strong role there, rather than just acting as a cosmetic stepping stone.

    Anyway, I'm somewhat optimistic based on comments SOE has said (not that I can cite them...) that they will do travel right, and I'm fairly optimistic about the death penalty (at least I'm sure it won't be effectively trivial). I won't say that firearms will wreck EQN, but I think firearms should be very rare and a weak weapon if it's implemented, just as firearms were inferior to swords in war for hundreds of years...

    Like you, EQN has mostly drifted off my radar because the things that would interest me are more REAL demos, more concrete class/race reveals, and the release of Landmark. The hype has faded a bit, and tidbits mean little.

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    1. Great response, thanks for taking the time to write it up :)

      I actually agree that the ARAC ("All Races All Classes", yup us MMO players sure love our acronyms don't we!) isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the final result will depend on implementation. If it is truly a hard and difficult task, possibly one that requires the help of other players, for an ogre to become a bard, then that would do a lot to put my mind at ease.

      It's just that cynical part of my brain that has heard many of these arguments before fears it won't really be that difficult at all (and will become almost negligible once the "how to make an ogre bard" guides start appearing on the internet). I really hope I'm wrong!

      Anyway, if the "checks and balances", as you put it, are serious barriers that pay heed to the lore then the issue becomes much less important. I just worry because this is SOE...

      Regarding firearms, I'm not against them in a fantasy game per se, I just feel they aren't very "everquesty".

      You're right though. If SOE release some real info (demos, concrete mechanic details etc) in the next week or so I'll probably be firmly back on the hype train!

      Thanks for the great reply :)

      Delete
  7. OP: sounds like you're looking for EQ1. It still exists, you should play that. This is a new game, and while I would like to see that they do some catering to the Hardcore players, it shouldn't be expected to just reskin an old game.

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    Replies
    1. If you think I just want a reskinned EQ1 you can't have read my post properly! I understand that your comment is the standard response to people who express concern with the direction EQNext seems to be taking however.

      EQ1 does still exist, but I stopped playing it in 2002. Why would I go back? There's plenty I don't care for in it's design.

      However I do think EQ1 along with DAoC and UO did do some things right. Challenging content, virtual worlds, harsh death penalties that gave social benefits, some systems that encourage social play (no AH or LFG tool), meaningful travel, etc.

      This article isn't about EQ1 though. It's about how my interest in EQNext has waned due to no real info (just endless PR), a farce of a roundtable system, and the direction some systems seem to be heading in.

      I'd love to have my mind changed. Here's hoping. Anyway, thanks for the feedback even if it was a straw-man argument. :)

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  8. I agree with the idea that risk is what makes games fun. Nothing to loose equals nothing to gain.

    I also agree there is no place in a fantasy game for firearms.

    I am curious about how to solve a long standing problem. How can we make an MMORPG that allows both hard core and casual players to interact? Inevitably my real life friends play a significantly different number of hours. Within a few weeks of EQs launch we were unable to group. Our solution was for some of us to make alts to play when others were online. But, I too like to play one and only one toon.

    Any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
  9. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1588672538/pantheon-rise-of-the-fallen
    brad mcquaid's new MMO

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Renee

      yes, I'm aware of Pantheon and I am interested in it, but I won't be pledging to the Kickstarter. Nowhere near enough solid info, and still feel burned by Vanguard.

      Delete

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