Ten years is a long to time to leave fans hanging for a new 'Everquest'. Yet if last night's SoE Live keynote was any indication, you'd think that fans were perfectly content with 'Everquest 2' and the older, original 'Everquest'. And it's not as if Sony Online Entertainment haven't been busy; just look at the 25-plus expansions that have come out for the franchise. Moreover, the evolving MMO market and the experience SoE has gained through their other games like 'Planetside 2' and 'DC Universe Online' have given the developer/publisher a ton to work with in making 'Everquest' once again relevant to the larger PC community.
'Everquest Next' is not only the next chapter in the franchise, but also a reboot. The developers have gone so far as to make analogies to what J.J. Abrams he has done to the 'Star Trek' movie franchise. That would turn off some 'Everquest' fans, but it's hard to fault SoE's confidence in saying "reboot" as a point of pride.
'Everquest Next' promises to hit most every checklist item of what one should expect in a new fantasy MMO in 2014: a detailed world rich in visual imagination, character mobility, flexible character class progression, and expansive lore, just to name a few checkboxes. Familiar races are given makeovers, often with cartoon-like facial expressions reminiscent of Irrational Games' work on Elizabeth's emotions in 'Bioshock Infinite'. One of the more general goals SoE cited was to inspire triumph and passion, something that I felt a got a hint of in the fast and fluid tech demo battles they showcased. I also got a sense of adventuresome pacing when watching characters move through the surface of Norrath with speed and agility. Certain races and classes will be naturally better at traversing certain landscapes but every type of character can eventually upgrade themselves to being adept travelers. While this was a hands-off demo, I felt that the vertical movement was a more refined version of the platforming in 'Guild Wars 2'.
You quickly learn to appreciate mobility skills in 'Everquest Next' as SoE promises an immensely vertical game in more ways than one. It's one thing to climb natural or man-made obstacles, it's another to accidentally fall through weak surface crust and end up in a chamber of magma. In a world rich in lore as Everquest's Norrath, you can bet that 'Everquest Next' will have literal layers of environments to explore, many indicative of the myriad eras in the land's history.
The likelihood of falling through the surface is also indicative of the game's emphasis on destructible environments. No, you won't be able to flatten the entire world, but you might be able to misplace a group of ogres if you destroy the forest they were hiding in. Oh, and the goliath in the screenshot below can make short work of the man-made outpost on the right, should you have the rookie idea of hiding inside it.
The fitting introduction of 'Everquest Next' at SoE Live is emblematic of the publisher's appreciation for its community, a community that will soon grasp its sense of involvement in the launch of 'Everquest Next'. Along with a multi-prong initiatives with the community driven site Wikia, there's "Everquest Next Landmark", an extension of "Next" that is the canvas for user generated content. Combine that with the SoE Player Studio, you're looking at new opportunities for players to dive deep in the same toolsets that made 'Everquest Next' and create art assets to sell in the Player Studio marketplace. Don't be surprised if some user generated objects make it into 'Everquest Next' upon launch.
You can look forward to the first set of 'Everquest Next' screenshots shortly.