You'd be right, but all of that pales in comparison to two very special words (no, not Station Cash):
Flying frickin' mounts.
OK, that was three words, but the third just serves to illustrate our excitement all the more. I mean, just last week I fantasized about Butcherblock cliff-diving and lo and behold, Uncle Smed delivered (sort of). While I was aiming for more of an Aion-esque airborne character motif, that was mostly because I never considered flying mounts in EQII a remote possibility. The cynic in me desperately wants to write something snarky about the epic flying dragon of badassery costing a mere 2500 Station Cash, but I can't quite pull it off because of the goodwill generated by this unexpected news.
Yeah, I've still got some major concerns about EQII going forward, but allow me to be a fanboi for a few minutes. Flying mounts are one of my MMORPG holy grails. Partially because they're just the definition of awesome sauce and partially because I've never attained one, they've taken on this quasi-mythical quality. Lineage II has them, but I couldn't stomach the grind. Vanguard has them as well, but again I never made it to the cap (or whatever level was required to begin the quest, I forget). That said, I do return to the world of Telon every so often just to flit about on those rent-a-steeds that are now commonplace.
I'm quite interested to see EQII's version of the flying mount, simply because I don't believe the zones were originally designed with them in mind (unlike Vanguard or Perfect World, for example). SOE is curiously silent in terms of details, though I'm sure that will change as we get closer to the winter months and the current buzz from the EQII Extended news has faded a bit. In terms of flying mount implementation, I'm not sure if the beasts are only available in the new Velious zones, or are time- and/or altitude-restricted, or some combination. My gut says they'll likely be zone-restricted to the new areas, as the game world wasn't necessarily built to allow limitless exploration, particularly vertically. I hope I'm wrong on that, as it would be quite spectacular to be able fly anywhere. Something tells me that players would find a way to exploit such a mechanic though, so we're more likely to see something along the lines of Aion than Vanguard.
The elephant in the room
In any event, flying mounts aren't the only new things coming down the pipeline, as you've no doubt heard of the EQNext project. According to Lazaretto over at Complete Heal, the game is further along than SOE's information trickle would indicate, as it is currently up, running, and explorable on internal testing servers. The new title also reportedly makes use of the Free Realms engine, but that's where the similarities end. "People think that because we made Free Realms that this game is somehow going to be like Free Realms -- going to be for kids. It's not. This game is in no way being made for kids," says SOE president John Smedley. Lazaretto also reports that the Fan Faire panels revealed several old school EverQuest developers hard at work on the new project, and mention was made of "hard core" and "corpse run" servers, which drew a large round of applause from the assembled audience.
A couple concerns
Despite the fact that SOE representatives are currently saying all the right things about EQNext, I can't help but be a little bit concerned about a couple of issues. First is the roadmap for classes as compared to EverQuest II. Apparently, Sony feels that EQII has too many, with John Smedley joking that he's not clear what a dirge is, and that EQNext will have significantly fewer classes. It says here that one of the primary charms of Norrath Reloaded is the vast array of character possibilities, due in large part to the game's huge number of diverse class choices. Trimming it down a tad might simplify things for newer players, but SOE seems to be gunning for the core EverQuest fan with this game, so the signals being sent on this particular issue are mixed.
Also curious is the current plan to keep both EverQuest and EverQuest II running alongside EQNext. While I'm in no way advocating the closure of games that many people (including myself) still enjoy, running three separate MMORPGs based on the same universe and featuring similar mechanics would seem a good way to dilute your brand and ensure that none of the titles has much in the way of a respectable player population. Add to this equation the separate servers for the EQII Extended experiment and you've got four separate titles, all competing for the same players. Even if hundreds of thousands of people were inclined to play three or four MMOs simultaneously, there simply isn't time enough in the day, and one (or more) of these games may suffer as a result.
In any event, these are all good problems to have, as SOE has successfully elevated Norrath into the collective gaming consciousness over the past few weeks and is now faced with the challenge of managing a revitalized franchise. Despite the above concerns and the general lack of hard information on EQNext, I'm fairly optimistic about the future of the brand. At the very least, there will be no shortage of things to discuss over the next several months.
Jef Reahard may be an eternal EverQuest II newb, but he writes a weekly column about the game anyway, through the eyes of a Ratonga Wizard (or any one of 3,720 other alts). If it has to do with the huge and ever-expanding world of EQII, it's been jotted down in The Tattered Notebook. Send Ratonga fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.