EQ Next - First Impressions
Of course by now you have all seen the big reveal of EQNext (part 1 - skip to minute 27 for the juicier stuff, and part 2, and Q&A). I went through it stoically (I dislike hyping-up rituals and obligated clapping) and saw a few things that I liked and a few things that I didn’t. I also saw the absence of some topics of interest that I expected to be disclosed on day one.
Let’s start with what I liked.
The Visuals - This is a relatively subjective matter that I can only argue with personal preferences. I prefer my games the comic rather than the realistic way - bright and colourful and pretty. They also have an advantage that SOE must have realized quickly: they age better than the coarser realistic-uncanny graphics.
Emergent AI - Enemies acting on behavioural patterns? That is one great addition to the world of Norrath and to what constitutes a virtual world in general, and even if EQN doesn’t succeed on this one, perhaps Blizzard could snatch it for their next MMO-killer. As I had been arguing last week on Tower of Azora and EQNext, the world factor has been systematically disregarded with each new MMO and WoW expansion. Every little thing that can retrieve that feeling of ‘in spite-of-yourself’ and not ‘because-of-you’ will be well-received. And this is not a little thing. There is a lot of the real world and virtual worlds that we process through inference, and a lot can be communicated of orcs, goblins, and their kin by showing the players how they react to the world surrounding them. I would like to see this applied to more complex degrees that would set players wondering why a particular mob acted in a seemingly erratic way, and let players discover something about the creatures they kill by observing their behaviour.
Rallying Calls - Even though the example Georgeson gave was not that compelling (building a village wall and defending it from goblins) when confronted with similar scenarios that were much more epic (the opening of the gates of Ahn Qiraj), I can see this being used in an effective manner to shape the world from its usual immobility to something pervious to change. Although Cataclysm’s revamping of the old world was not received kindly, it could be entirely the fault of the botched job it did. The psychology of the players’ attachment to their static world is complex. Rallying calls may affect it positively or negatively, I couldn’t say.
What I didn’t like:
Destructibility - I do not dislike it in itself, I merely dislike the thought process that made this into a ‘holy grail’. I have never read any serious post here in the blogosphere about how disgruntled players were about their inability to break down a crumbling ruin and make it topple on a goblin’s head. As Bhagpuss put it: ‘a desire to wreck one's environment is not a universal constant of human nature’. I don’t even remember having heard it commented from other people while I played any MMO. Players just took for granted that the environment was a fixture. I could even argue that, even though having the capacity for breaking things is realistic, the actual breakage is a negative action on the world. Give the ability to players, and they will begin wreaking havoc on all that is beautiful. This feature presupposes too much of an optimal situation where the player is a respectful, to some extent, role-playing character (she would not go out-of-character to destroy for the sake of it, but would enjoy the small-scale collateral damage of her swinging a sword), and it also presupposes that this is virgin land, where you encounter the ruin as it was designed and not as a hole in the ground. I could see how it could add some immersion to come across altered terrain, yet I am highly skeptical of the real impact of this feature. One thing is to see some stones strewn around, and another to walk a wasteland one of those hyperactive monkeys had shaped with the form of his genitals.
I wondered, as the conference went into full-blown ecstasy about throwing around rocks and corpses, what exactly does this feature add to the genre? What problem, of the many, many we have been exposing here in the blogosphere for years, does it specifically solve? You could argue that, even though it doesn’t address the main concerns of the MMO audience, it is a nifty little feature that adds immersion. At which cost, though? Having to deal with players destroying everything, and thus requiring a fix to a problem that did not exist before. It could be done through instancing (Elder Scrolls: you may interact with your environment, but not with someone else’s), or what SOE seems to have gone for: terrain regeneration. I bet they will be needing a patch on day one to increase the rate at which the land needs to recover from our ravages.
No (enforced) Holy Trinity - I’ve talked about this before, when GW2 dynamic features were announced and afterwards. I believe the same thing as I did then.
Theoretically, you could pull off a system of free roles without reducing it to a zerg. According to SOE, they have worked on an AI that can react to different combinations of players and be challenging to any composition. Even if they had succeeded in doing that, I cannot see how any player would prefer tanking or healing over dpsing when there is no need for such roles. Out of personal preference I would tank, but I would not feel comfortable with doing so in a game which has no threat system and I could not protect my allies from harm, as a tank is supposed to do. A dps will be prefered. Each one to fend for himself.
The holy trinity can and should be updated, upgraded, evolved. I agree with making changes so that tanking and healing would become more interesting to those that had only tried dpsing before: make the healing less UI-centred and more involved with the battle; the tanking, more active and potent (as WoW did with tanks on this expansion, one of the few things I agreed with); and, most importantly, make the dps less about damaging and more about supporting in various ways, as it used to be before with CCs and threat-control. Make the three roles equally responsible in a group setting, instead of placing the burden of guidance on the tank and the burden of failure on the healer. This is the way it should be addressed, not by making the trinity optional and archaic.
I cannot trust what SOE has in store for EQNext after hearing a developer’s ignorant statement: ‘Going all the way back to the original MMOs, and even some single-player games, where there were multiple characters on the screen at one point, we had this sense of simplistic tactics where one character absorbs the focusing damage of one or more attackers and one other character keeps that character alive while all the other characters get to effectively do whatever they wanted to and have fun’ (emphasis mine). And this other one: ‘I was the off-tank in my guild for many years. I also played that role because I liked being the person that everyone depended on, because I knew I would be there for everybody. (...) All love to the healers and tanks who’ve sacrificed in some cases their own personal enjoyment.’ (emphasis mine)
I never sacrificed my own personal enjoyment. I was enjoying very much my healing and my tanking. What I might have sacrificed was my comfort because of the added pressure of performing my role for others instead of with others in LFD. With statements such as these, I am not sure that they know what they are doing with the roles in the game. Some people do enjoy tanking a dragon’s maw, while others like playing with health bars, and others like being thrown into the egg cluster and pop all the dragonlings.
What I expected to see and was not mentioned:
Emphasis on the social - ‘The best way to have a living world is to fill it with players’ (spinks)
I would have wanted to see the topic of community being brought up, for good or worse. It is, after all, one of the topics that has occupied us the most in the blogosphere. The main difference between the older MMOs and the current titles is that the former placed an emphasis on group play due to a number of factors (harshness of the environment, class interdependence, group quests and dungeons over solo play), and allowed a community to be formed within the confines of each server.
I would like to know if EQNext is going to implement a Looking for Group tool and whether it will be server-wide or cross-server. If there will be solo content and to which ratio with regards to group content. Whether players will be the heroes or mere adventurers (as you already know, I prefer the latter).
From what I have seen on those laconic videos, I gather that it will be a casual-oriented game: we have been shown two characters doing what seemed highly soloable tasks, ‘wading through mobs’. If they wanted to reinforce the EQ1 model of venturing out with friends, we would have seen exactly that, not this. These are only speculations, but I believe I am not wrong on this one. If they wanted to showcase grouping, they would have said that the rallying call quests require a group to be undertaken. They would have showed dungeons and raids, and challenges that require friends or unknown potential friends. What we saw was the warrior and mage pairing that didn’t seem to be working together much.
PvE content - Raids: flexible or rigid, existent or non-existent. Dungeons: instanced or open-world, flexible or rigid. World bosses and events. Something for the love of Banjo the Clown.
PvP content - Will I have to watch my back as I pick those flowers or will the zone be restricted to my faction as in TESO? Battlegrounds or open-world PvP?
I seriously have no idea what the game is about from both a PvE and a PvP perspective.
What I don’t care about:
EQNext Landmark - Its much vaunted feature being the ability to create an asset that can be used in the ‘real’ game, I can only think of this appealing to what I call the Minecraft geniuses. The average work of most of us would sit there ungazed at and serve no purpose. A true housing system would at least create a personal space that, even though it would bring you no awards, could be shared in-game with your friends, and used in roleplaying. I am not interested in a Minecraft set in Norrath, but I can see how it could be fun in itself for people who enjoy Minecraft in the first place.
What I suspect:
Casual emphasis - I gather this from the absence of comment on traditional raiding schemes, from the display of a group of two players that seemed to be doing fine on their own, from the shedding of the holy trinity system.
I was expecting innovation in the form of a return to the roots, but I didn’t see anything like that. At this point, an involution will be a form of evolution. I was hoping this game would go against the tide announcing a return to the Era of Commitment of Vanilla WoW and EQ1. If they haven’t done this on this first major announcement it is because there is no such revolution, or regression if you will. They focused on technicalities that did not seem to address the concerns of the MMO crowd. Some of these technicalities, like the emergent AI and the rallying calls, are certainly appealing, but not enough to pull me in.
I was expecting to pick a class and stick to it, commit to it, instead of collecting classes and swapping them around. I was expecting to be required to form groups to venture into the wild, and to require a specific setting to beat some encounters. If not for other reason, because it meant that you had to meet lots of people to fill those groups. If I could have done everything with four random dps within my guild, I wouldn’t have needed to meet other tanks and CCers outside of it. Of course, this is an added effort and commitment that the casual crowd does not want anymore. I can understand that, and share it sometimes. I just wish EQNext to have been the MMO to cater to us that want to commit to its world (and not necessarily break it apart).