Tale of Two Games
Last week we had the somewhat bittersweet news that Everquest Next was officially being cancelled. For those who were utterly confused about what Landmark, Next and the rest of the EQ games actually are… here is a quick rundown. Everquest of course is the granddaddy of the big hit MMOs. Then mere days before the launch of World of Warcraft…. Everquest II came out as an attempt at rebooting the world. Everything in that setting happened after a huge calamity that saw Luclin the moon shattering and sending shards to earth. The world was changed, the land fractured, and in many ways it allowed for a much larger scale game world than the original. Everquest Next was the concept for what was ultimately going to be the third Everquest MMO… so in truth you can just think of it as Everquest III. Landmark on the other hand is ultimately the tool that they were using to build the world of Everquest Next. After playing around with it the folks decided that this was actually a really fun thing to play with in itself, in the Minecraft style. Landmark was really never a fully fleshed out game, but more of a sandbox toy that players could fiddle with. Since its launch they have made it more “game-like” but it still is missing a lot of the core features folks expect in an MMO.
Now in the above paragraph I mentioned a key fact… that Everquest II launched on November 8th of 2004… and then was completely overshadowed by the launch of World of Warcraft on November 24th of that same year. The two games took significantly different paths, and produced really different results. Everquest II was this rich tapestry of cultures and game systems that provided a really deep game play experience that worked on so many levels. World of Warcraft was a much more streamlined experience that asked less of the player, but ultimately became easier to pick up and play without an excessive amount of research. We all know how the tales goes… that WoW becomes the juggernaut of MMO gaming and EQ2 becomes this sheltered garden with an excellent community and lots of great content… but always treated as a second tier experience. Right now Everquest II feels extremely dated, like an artifact of a different era whereas World of Warcraft feels somewhat evergreen. The major difference there is that each time WoW releases an expansion they do significant systems overhauls that cause some sweeping changes to not only the fidelity of the game client itself, but also the back end systems. Everquest II on the other hand has been this “Weasley House” of MMOs with content constantly being tacked on top of the older foundation. The new content feels like modern content, but you experience a sort of whiplash as you shift between the different layers of the content and see just how drastic and inequitable the improvements have been.
Renovation Is Due
The above image has been floating around for a few weeks now and represents some work that the Everquest II team is doing to update the orc model. It seems that the newest expansion content that they are working on heavily focus on orcs, and as a result they are just updating the base model to bring them up to modern standards. Seeing this however made me realize just how bad the old models look. I mean it has always been one of those things in the back of my mind, but when you see what the team is capable of producing today… placed against something that has existed since 2004 it is staggering. Now that Everquest Next is no longer a thing… I would love to see them pour some of those resources into producing a graphical upgrade to Everquest II. The big problem with the game are just how dated the models and the animations look, and going back there is always an adjustment period and largely just hand waving off a bunch of details that get under my skin because the content itself is so amazingly rich. I realize this is a massive undertaking, and it is the sort of thing that could be rolled in over time. If you remember the original Everquest went through the same problems and with the release of Luclin they released new and updated character models. Unfortunately in the case of EQ2… we need a lot more than just characters. I would love to see this great game get a second life, because for so many of my friends that I have tried to get to play this game… the ugliness of the assets was a barrier they simply could not get past.
Now fixing the graphics isn’t going to fix the game entirely… but it would go a long way into making it feel more playable. Next up however we really need to talk about the user interface, that has always felt a bit cludgy. I’ve not played the game in the last decade without first installing some sort of third party addon user interface. For years I played with Fetish Nightfall, and within the last six years or so I switched over to being a Drums UI guy. With these UI extensions the game becomes rather good, but the whole process of acquiring a UI and keeping it updated… feels needlessly arcane in a manner I have not experience in any other game save for maybe Dark Age of Camelot where they had no official support for addons. So the entire User Interface could use a bit of a facelift. Finally we have to talk about the way combat works in this game. I feel like this is the step that would actually cause rioting in the streets by diehard Everquest II fans… but I also feel like it is the point that is the most needed. The game really really needs to simplify combat in a way that does not require me to use 30+ abilities in a combat rotation. The above picture is of my Shadowknight, and at least 30 of this abilities are ones that I pretty much used in every single round of combat. It was even worse on my Dirge and I had these super complex patterns memorized… that even today I can sit down at the keyboard and automatically cycle through them.
The problem is… it doesn’t really feel fun. I feel like I am playing some sort of a musical instrument instead of actually experience reactive combat in a video game. Now I am not saying water it down to the level that single hotbar games have done… or simplify it to the point of an action MMO. I just would love to be able to have one primary hotbar of abilities that get used every round… and then a bunch of optional abilities that throw in for flavor or when special conditions are met. The cooldown of EQ2 abilities is so long that you need something… anything… to fill in the gaps so you quite often are simply mashing the next button that is off cool down. Please understand that I am a huge fan of Everquest II… but every time I leave it is the cludgy combat system that eventually drives me away. For several months I can overlook it and just blend back into the rich and vast game world… but I always reach this point where I need to play combat that simply “works better”. I think maybe this is a ship that has already sailed, and after doing several combat passes early in the game… I am not sure if they have the intestinal fortitude to attempt another. All of this aid… simply making the game look better would go a long way into making this a more attractive experience to new players, but in doing this post I am talking about all of the things that I wish were different. Combat will always be a huge part of that.