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?|
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?|
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|
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.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.
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.
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!|
- 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
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.