Emergent AI. Destructible environments. Permanent change. The features packed into upcoming free-to-play MMO Everquest Next reads off like a gamer's wishlist, full of whimsical, oft-promised ideas that the wizards at Sony Online Entertainment have reportedly made manifest.
I'll admit, it all sounds rather alluring—the trappings of World of Warcraft and (old) Everquest left by the wayside, we'll find ourselves in a world ready to be molded as we see fit. Driven by a team of experienced game designers working in concert with fans from day one, the latest entry in the classic Everquest franchise aims to turn the MMO-world on its head with lofty ideas—but will they pan out?
Clever little people
Consider the non-player character (NPC), mainstay of any narrative-driven video game. They're the quest-givers, and random baddies of your average MMO, doling out rewards or serving up a bit of flavor text so the world feels a little less empty. In Everquest Next NPCs will be given proper motives: in one example, a band of orc raiders roam their territory, judging trespassing players' relative strength before deciding whether or not to attack or give them a wide berth. They might also prey on wandering NPC merchants, who would in turn decide something must be done, and begin offering players rewards for dealing with the bandit menace.
It all speaks to the MMO-player's general fatigue with traditional systems, wherein players march along a nigh-endless content treadmill until the community dwindles to naught and the game is shuttered. Everquest Next will be holding on to many of the themes of your traditional MMO—there'll be classes to choose from, goblins to smite, and villages to save—but shaking up a player's daily interactions will help the world feel a great deal more lively
This land is your land
The world of Everquest Next is built on voxels, or volumetric pixels—think Minecraft's textured-cubes on an intricately grander scale. This will ostensibly allow for fully destructible terrain, with battles and the like reshaping the procedurally-generated world around you.
As wondrous as tearing the world asunder might read on a fact sheet, I've got to defer to my inner cynic. We've been promised this sort of thing for years (remember Red Faction?) and while I've no doubt that technology has advanced to a point where this level of terrain deformation is feasible, instinct tells me that things will be a lot more contained than the developers are letting on.
Anyone who's played Minecraft on a random public server has seen what happens when players are essentially given the keys to the kingdom: they level everything, poking and prodding at the world around them just to see what's feasible. Any landmarks or aesthetic flourishes will be ground into dust by the first player who wants to check out what their sweet new move would do to that wall over there, and the developers will be forced to relegate terrain deformation to pre-defined areas, re-load environments regularly, or watch as their world is gutted by a feral playerbase.
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