With that pesky SOE Live embargo out of the way, we can finally stop speculating and start talking about EverQuest Next! And if you're a sandbox fan, you're going to love it because when SOE declared last year that it was doing something really, truly different with EQ Next, it wasn't kidding. EQ Next is set in the realm of Norrath, but this is a rebooted version of those lands. Veteran players will find familiar places and names in the lore and setting, but they won't have a monopoly on the knowledge of this world; players new to the franchise can be equally comfortable because everyone is discovering this new world at the same time.
On two separate occasions over the last few weeks, I got to sit down with Franchise Director Dave Georgeson to learn even more details about the game in preparation for today's SOE Live reveal. Want to see what all the fuss is about? Then join me for a tour through some of the key aspects and features of the upcoming sandbox.
A whole new world of voxels and depth
When we're talking about how vastly different something is from what we're used to, what better place to start than the foundation? Just understanding the basics of this version of Norrath is going to give you insights as to what EQ Next has to offer. There are two main aspects of this world that really take things to a new level in gaming, and both involve composition, just in different ways.
First, everything in EverQuest Next is made of voxels -- the ground, the plants, buildings, everything. What's a voxel? Think Minecraft cubes, only you can actually form and shape each bit in a very organic way. Just look at the images embedded in this article -- do they seem blocky to you? Nope.
So why is having a world made of voxels important to you? Because it means everything in the world can be destroyed! If you wanted a way to affect the world, just envision actually blowing up a bridge to keep mobs from getting to you or collapsing a tunnel so no one else happening by for a while can find the cavern and quests underneath. Although these changes aren't totally permanent, they will be around for a while; after a time the world itself will respawn, thereby preventing players from completely destroying the world -- and therefore the game -- forever. [Edited with newly revealed information]
Although these changes are not truly permanent, isn't that level of permanency in games something many a sandbox fan has just been longing for? Well this is only the beginning true permanence is a theme throughout the game (see questing below). [Edited with additional information revealed] Of course, just because everything can be destroyed doesn't mean the devs will let you! As Georgeson explained to me, if some areas weren't restricted, Qeynos would become a parking lot in no time thanks to all you pyromaniacs. Keep in mind, though, such restrictions are only on players, not mobs.
The second compositional aspect is the fact that the world of EQ Next is not restricted to its surface. I am not talking about a few scattered underground caverns, either; I am talking about a completely designed world from crust to core. Since you can start digging pretty much anywhere, you will actually find content as you go deeper and deeper and deeper still. This layered content isn't necessarily static, either. Lower levels are procedurally generated and can be closed off by dev-induced earthquakes or crop up elsewhere.
Questing in this EverQuest
It has quest in the name, so you know there are going to be quests. Even the "ever" part fits in, but not in the way you think. While players will still come across typical MMO tasks to complete, the whole process will be more organic. If you see a need, you fill a need. There are no glowy icons floating overhead.
Consider this scenario: You come upon a band of orcs attacking a small settlement. You can continue on your merry way, or you can jump in and aid one side. But which one? Do you protect the humans, or do you assist the orcs? Helping the humans can open up opportunities for you to work with them in the future because they will remember your deeds and react accordingly. On the other hand, helping the orcs can be advantageous as well; it might just be that they offer you training in a class you couldn't access otherwise. (We'll get back to what "class" means in a moment!)
Next up is the big world-wide public quest. Dubbed Rallying Calls, these public quests are a bit different from what you are used to. For one, they aren't quick. These quests will develop over a few months' time. And again, choices matter here; what players do during that time will affect what happens at the next stage. Let me illustrate: A Rallying Call to build Halas starts. First, you might make a little tent settlement. But what if gnolls start attacking? Do you go hunt the gnolls, build up a wall for protection, or pick a new spot? Every action will have consequences, even if not immediate. This whole thing will develop based on what players do. When one Rallying Call finally concludes, another will roll out. Once one is done, it won't start up again with the next batch of players. In other words, when Halas is built, it stays permanently built.
Choices matter and the unique experience
As we surmised when Storybricks joined the EQ Next team, NPCs will retain memories about your choices and will react accordingly as the game goes on. Think of the orc scenario above: The orcs may become your allies, but townsfolks and guards sure won't be liking you very much, so chances are you will not be privy to quests they could have offered. See how your choices will matter?
The mobs will also be more intelligent in EverQuest Next. The AI will be programmed with a set of likes and dislikes, so NPCs and mobs will move around and live in the world according to that set of ideas. You won't find a static spawn in the same place indefinitely. Those orcs from earlier? They like to live along quiet roads, not near guarded cities. They also don't like being beaten to a pulp by adventurers. So if a city starts encroaching on their habitat or adventurers keep handing their butts to them, the orcs are going to literally pick up stakes and move to a more hospitable environment.
As you can see, the world is not going to be the same over time; it's going to evolve. If you leave the game and come back later, things aren't going to be just how you left them. Your choices combined with the evolving world mean that you will have a personally unique experience in the game. And not only that, but because conditions and choices cannot be mimicked, even your own alts will have a unique experience!
Combat and movement
Until I've seen a few more panels in person, all I can give you in regard to combat is a glimpse. Combat will not be what you are used to, especially if you're an EQII player. You won't need eight or more hotbars like my poor Fury! Combat will consist of four skills and four weapon moves at a time. The weapon moves depend on what weapon you have equipped, and what skills you have at your disposal depends on what classes you have discovered and learned. That's classes plural: You can multi-class indefinitely. And you get to mix and match the skills from the various classes to make a build you like.
There are also no levels or in this game, although your character does still progress. And in a really neat twist, all players can play together regardless of how long they have been in the game, even if one friend is a three-year veteran and the other is brand-new. Instead of mentoring or sidekicking, the older player can just choose to work on a set of skills that s/he hasn't developed yet.
As for movement in the game -- do you like Parkour? Do you think characters should be able to vault over obstacles, slide down inclines, or jump up and grab a ledge to pull up? If so, then you are in luck! Avatars no longer have just three movements of walk, run, or awkward jump; now they can move along the terrain in a more natural way.
As you can see, there is simply no way to fit all the EQ Next information into one little package, so stay tuned for even more details, interviews, and insights to the upcoming game! The topics of lore, building the world, classes, and more are still to come as SOE Live continues -- and don't forget to check out the six EQN videos in the playlist below!