SoE talks the talk on Everquest Next

I’m pretty surprised at how good the announcements coming out of SoE Live about Everquest Next actually are. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read about bloggers and forum-posters wanting a proper sandbox game (other than Eve), will EqN be the game to deliver with enough content AND enough polish to succeed?

A couple of background points, that I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have never played a proper sandbox MMO for long though I am curious to try one. Secondly I do rather love the world of Norrath as presented in EQ2 – it reminds me so strongly of the “Known World” (aka Mystara) the first setting I based my D&D campaigns in back in the 1980s.

Norrath is a crazy patchwork of zones, with lots of high adventure and very high magic elements. But somehow the early content at least just works for me, personally, as a player. The dialogue is written with heaps of charm and wit and the characters are memorable. I like that the world has alignments, and that this has an effect on the world (e.g. good characters should stay clear of an evil city). It’s a more nuanced version of factions (e.g. Horde vs Alliance or Guardian vs Defiant) since there are three base alignments – good, neutral and evil. You can (or at least could) switch between them and this would change your characters access to areas and NPCs in the world. The religion system may be just another grind, but it has wonderful flavour and provides optional extra abilities and variety to character building.

I could go on but the point is that a sandbox set in Norrath could be a very powerful contender for a fantasy sandbox that actually gets traction in the market. Despite all the inexplicably questionable management decisions SoE have made (NGE for SWG, real money transactions in EQ2, ProSieben Sat sell off) the company does actually produce some great games at least from the perspective of breadth of gameplay.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this, if EqN avoids the open world PVP trap of most sandbox MMOs, and if it brings Norrath to life as is hinted at this could be a huge step forward in gameplay. Smedley mentions in passing “We’re changing what AI is in these games to a degree that we’re going to bring life to the world.”. This could be a very, very big thing as all MMOs suffer from terminally stupid AI in PVE Content.

His example of the druid class interactions with the world are interesting as well, the need to gather spell components in the wild and find a glade to pray to my deity – that’s potentially very powerful stuff for RPG nostalgics, harking back to the genre’s RPG heritage and tying your character nicely to the world. Sure it won’t please people looking to run chain dungeon-finder instances in the WoW model as they’ll have to go outside the city to gather stuff before a dungeon or raid. But for anyone wanting a more varied experience this could be a good direction to head in. Guildmates could go help their druid friend gather materials if there are serious challenges to be faced along the way. Or maybe that’s a reason to group with other druids to head out together on a pilgrimage. Lots of possibilities if SoE Can deliver on this concept!

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