Experience Points: EQN Features Reviewed (Part 1)

EverQuest Next is bringing a lot of changes, but will they live up to the hype?

Each week, Chris "Syeric" Coke gives his unfiltered thoughts on the MMO industry. Taking on the news and hottest topics, Chris brings his extensive experience as a player and blogger to bear in Experience Points. This week he breaks down the upcoming features of EverQuest Next and asks if they're all they're chalked up to be.

Sony rocked the MMO world last Friday. With the announcement of the much anticipated EverQuest Next, David Georgeson and his design team laid their cards on the table: this is the future of MMOs, not “the same game” everyone else is making, and we hope it's the game for you. There are a lot of interesting ideas being offered and some of them could even be revolutionary. Others, well... let's just say that the hype machine is in full motion. We did our best to cover it here and bring you the news as it broke. Over the next two columns, I'd like to look at each of the big features, from destructibility to Landmark, and separate the amazing from the overblown. Join me and share your thoughts in the comments below.

Enhanced and Stylized Graphics

EverQuest Next is a departure for the franchise. Both EverQuest and EverQuest II aimed toward realism and, sadly, rendered each game ugly over the long-term. Next is taking a stylized, exaggerated approach to its artistry, one much closer to that of World of Warcraft than fans might have been expecting. What we've seen of the world is reminiscent of the films of Pixar, especially in the funny, overly-emotive character models. What stands out most to me is the game world. Everything feels mysterious and magical but also non-threatening; it feels like a place to be explored rather than hidden from.

This is all a stroke of genius. One need look no further than EverQuest II to see what a folly realistic graphics are. Put simply: they age. In time, they drive players away rather than lure them in. I want to play a game with vision, and one with a sense of identity that isn't a shallow mimicry of real life. Stylized graphics free players from the Uncanny Valley and allow them to accept the world as an imaginative artwork. Once the heavy lifting of acceptance is done, the silky set-in of immersion can begin.

Heroic Movement

Movement is one of the features that MMO players take for granted. How complicated is it to make a character model move, after all. Do we really need innovation? Then a game comes along that actually innovates on these ideas and we get major game sites writing articles about it. Movement is a given but that doesn't mean we should settle for the status quo.

EverQuest Next is taking that idea to heart with its Heroic Movement System. When your character comes across a low obstacle, he'll vault over it. When there is a steep hill, he'll slide down. If you encounter a small gorge, you can double jump, blink, or power leap to the other side. Items, such as speed boots, can be donned which let you give your best impression of a gazelle.

All of this is neat but overblown. Heroic Movement is a solid addition to the genre, but it's also one we'll stop noticing in mere days. That is the nature of movement after all, it should disappear: if it feels natural, it stops standing out and starts blending in. In other words, it's good that Sony is talking about it, but something that is forgettable by design won't be what sells me the game.

Action Combat and Limited Abilities

Since Guild Wars 2, there has been a trend away from action bars. Sony, like ArenaNet, doesn't want you focusing on the user interface while you play. Instead, they want you in the heat of the battle. You will have limited abilities stemming from your class and your weapon (also from Guild Wars 2), and they'll chain together naturally to create visceral, heavy-impact combat which literally leaves craters in the ground.

I am of two minds on this. Action combat is the direction of the industry. It is the middle ground between the console action experience and the MMO kill quest, and an all important factor should EQN make its way to the Playstation 4. It is also the utter degradation of player friendships. When you're dodge rolling, you're not talking. That said, there's no sense being a curmudgeon about it. Action combat can be a blast and the feeling of making contact against an enemy (or group of enemies) is hard to argue with.

What I'm not a fan of is the limited abilities. With only eight total at any given time (four from the class (offense, defense, movement, and utility) and four from the weapon, I'm let down. And I'm sorry, but Guild Wars 2 didn't do this industry any favors with weapon-based “let's remove the fun part of leveling” ability system. Thankfully, EverQuest Next is only adopting part of that and giving players class skills and weapon skills. It will be interesting to see how things develop, but I'm tired of the cattle-call that fewer abilities is better. Isn't one of the core criticisms against RIFTthat the macro system leads to too few abilities to use? There is no having your cake and eating it too. More abilities is a good thing so long as each one has a use. It's time to move on from the over-simplification.

That EQN allows you to mix and match from each class, and switch weapons, is a boon but I'm still skeptical that it will be any better, if not a little more restrictive, than traditional MMOs.

No Levels and Multi-classing

Conceptually, I love the idea of a game without levels; one where you can hop in and start accomplishing things right off the bat. Practically though, it's a non-starter. There has to be an element of progression. Players need to climb that hill meet other players at the top. They need to experience the repeated dings of the upward climb. If everyone can do everything (“the endgame starts at level one!”), your game isn't much of an RPG. It's a problem.

Next's answer is to base progression around collecting new classes and exploring the world. I am in love with this idea. Purposeful exploration is something that has been sorely lacking in this industry. We explore to strike off a checklist. We explore to complete quests. In EQN, we'll explore to find those quests, gain new abilities, and to discover all that the game has to offer. What we know so far says that there are no markers over quest giver's heads. We'll have to talk to them and find out. If they don't have a quest, maybe they'll have something else of value like a little nugget of lore to draw us further into life in Norrath.

Centering progression on the multi-classing system is incredibly smart. One of the key problems facing level-less games is that they often lack the repeated reinforcement that levels provide. It feels good to fill that experience bar and earn a boost in stats with a golden flourish. It feels even better to unlock a powerful new ability. Next's reply is to replace those flourishes with whole sets of abilities that can be mixed and matched into something completely new. There is also some vertical progression within the tiers of each class. The system is so open, however, that classes might simply be more of a marketing term than a description of a system as we know it.

Too Many Words, Too Little Time

That's all we have time for this week, but there is so much more to talk about. For example, I am dying to talk about EverQuest Next's holy trinity-lite system, where tanks tank and feel important but aren't required to tank to feel important. Make sense? Me either, and as a tank, I'm worried. Or that players can explode holes into Norrath's surface and uncover entire new zones. There may be more there than meets the eye. What really excites me, though, is the emergent AI system. I know one of the developers behind it and couldn't really be more hyped. All this and more in next week's follow up, EQN Features Reviewed (Part 2).

Chris “Syeric” Coke 

Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight

Comments

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Don't be so quick to condemn "adventure gaming"
# Aug 18 2013 at 2:02 AM Rating: Decent
2 posts
While it might be scary for some of us older gamers, the industry is starting to lean towards more "hands off" methods of communication in games. For example, they showcased how in EQN your character will be able to recognize your facial expressions and imitate them. Even EQ2 has built in VOIP even though few enough players use it. Most of us in guilds are already running TS or Vent as a standard part of our gaming experience.

A few games have done auto-join VOIP well, and when it works, its really a great thing. I think that your concerns about action gaming killing the social structure of MMO games is bred from the frustration of shifting technology - not from games suffering from being too "hands on".
Cartoonish Characters
# Aug 11 2013 at 6:52 PM Rating: Decent
12 posts
I can't stand the cartoon look either so I am going to Elderscrolls to play. The cartoon look is why I did not play WOW, cartoons are for children.
Cartoonish Characters
# Aug 11 2013 at 9:50 PM Rating: Decent
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Vaxrus wrote:
I can't stand the cartoon look either so I am going to Elderscrolls to play. The cartoon look is why I did not play WOW, cartoons are for children.


Not all... HA! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adult_animation
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zone
# Aug 11 2013 at 9:18 AM Rating: Decent
10 posts
I think that they should make a zone that the only way you could get into the zone is to have say 4 or maybe even 5 real people in the group. That way it would bring back full groups. Your group won't be the only group in there, all 4 or 5 peep group would be in there.
Just a thought.
No Levels is a Good Thing
# Aug 09 2013 at 9:13 PM Rating: Decent
7 posts
One of the benefits (I hope, I hope, I hope) of not having levels in the game is that it MIGHT help mitigate ever-creeping inflation due to the increased "rewards" for killing critters at higher levels. This phenomenon has been widely discussed in the gaming literature and no real solution found -- until perhaps now.

With no levels, and theoretically with any character able to kill any mob, the rewards shouldn't be copper for a "low level character" and gold for a "high level character". The two are doing essentially the same thing, the only difference being that the higher level character has been in the game (or power-leveled) longer. It also reduces the potential for early players to spurt ahead leveling their characters in order to generate excess gold for their alts.

I'm also hoping that "itemization" issues that have so bedeviled EQ2's developers in transitioning from tier to tier and which have made coordinating various qualities of item between close tiers and levels a never-ending source of player discontent will be reduced by the lack of levels. I'm sure there will be something in place so that a very new character cannot simply don the ultra-uber Armor of the Phoenix and be invincible. But so far as monetary rewards go, I'm very hopeful that the lack of levels will be a giant leap forward in game play.
No Uncanny Valley
# Aug 09 2013 at 8:57 PM Rating: Decent
7 posts
In the presentation they specifically commented on the REASON for the cartoonish characters -- to enhance the use of SOEmote and to be able to recognize faces and expressions at distance.

I've played EQ2 almost since the beginning, have leveled half a dozen characters of different classes, and have NEVER been off-put by any of the appearances of the characters being too uncanny. Even their "alternate" character appearance sets (supposedly based on some sort of Japanese animation standard) weren't that bad, just different, in a fierce kind of way.

SOEmote is an interesting idea and feature, but I feel that it is driving the character design (and maybe part of it is that it is harder to make more realistic looking characters move fluidly). I have experimented with it in EQ2, but frankly, it adds very little to the enjoyment of the game. Far more fun are the various social emotes and actions (dance, flirt, etc.) that one can have one's character perform.

The combination of the cartoon characters with the plastic snap-on armor and weapons appearances are far more off-putting to me than a less-than-perfect realistic appearance. I'm not looking for them to achieve a holo-deck-like verisimilitude for the game, but I do prefer that my avatar look less like a cartoon figure and more like an illustration rendered with some degree of fidelity. Same goes for the weapons.

With respect to the weapons, I think the reduction in types may be a good thing. I don't need to have every variety of every weapon that was ever conceived of in fantasy or reality at my disposal. I don't need to be able to distinguish at close range (let alone distance) that my opponent has a gladius rather than a cinquedea. I'm fine with whatever detail they can put in to make the accoutrements look cool and different, especially those attributes that can be modified by the players (either through crafting or questing). BUT, I do not at all like the armor set shown on the lion (still can't bring myself to call him a Kerran). Even at the scale of the illustration, it is chunky and toy-like in appearance, something I'd expect to see on a small G.I. Joe knock-off.

They have a done a fantastic job with the environment, giving it many qualities worthy of a next-generation game. When I play, I want to feel as though I'm watching a movie unfold, something where the costuming isn't from the Roger Corman school, and I want the result to be somewhat better than the Rankin-Bass 1980 version of Return of the King.
Old school thoughts.
# Aug 09 2013 at 6:18 PM Rating: Decent
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After the initial shock of how the toons are going to look, I can get over it. Ya, they are cartoonie, but there is a lot worse out there. I am more interested in the gameplay mechanics, and long term playabilty,
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Old school thoughts.
# Aug 09 2013 at 4:28 PM Rating: Decent
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Call me old school but I do not care to explore other classes.

I have played, and always will play a caster. I have played a Necro since 2002 and am not interested in exploring Chanters, Mages, or any other class that can cast spells, and even less interested in classes that cannot cast spells. Now, that does not mean that the other non-Necro classes are bad, but I simply do not care to even look at them.

Call me closed minded, or stubborn, but I am bound to my character like glue. If I wanted to play a Warrior, I would have made a Warrior, If I wanted to play a Druid, I would have a Druid toon.

I sincerely hope there will not be a handicap for people that like to play one class. It will really **** me off if, to advance in this game, one will have to "master" all of the classes to gain bonuses (more HP, Mana, etc).

Just my two cents on multi-classing.
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Old school thoughts.
# Aug 10 2013 at 3:10 PM Rating: Good
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Not collecting other classes will inhibit the breadth of options you will have and the flexibility of having a range of abilities to use in order to specialize in certain functions.
Playing one class should not hinder you at all in terms of raw power.
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Old school thoughts.
# Aug 10 2013 at 5:40 PM Rating: Decent
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Jarimor wrote:
Playing one class should not hinder you at all in terms of raw power.


The whole "should not hinder" part is what I will be waiting to see.
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Old school thoughts.
# Aug 09 2013 at 7:04 PM Rating: Excellent
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In the classes panel they stressed that if you don't want to multi-class, you don't have to. It's simply an option.
Old school thoughts.
# Aug 09 2013 at 8:09 PM Rating: Decent
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Ya, just like the Necro Epic is going to be fixed "soon". Been hearing that since DoD.

I'm not holding my breath believing everything I heard on the panels.
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Old school thoughts.
# Aug 09 2013 at 6:07 PM Rating: Decent
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I have the same thoughts, also, If I wanted to cartoonie character graphics and huge armor I would have played WoW
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