The next incarnation of the EverQuest MMORPG line, EverQuest Next, has been debut by Sony Online Entertainment and the game is now in full-blown hype mode. Looking for information on this obviously next-generation MMO published by a video game behemoth like Sony? Look no further, we’re going to go through the hype together and see if we can separate smoke from mirror—and if we don’t, at least you’ll have a rounded idea of what to expect.

“With EverQuest Next, we’re going back to our roots –a space we defined with the EverQuest legacy– and ushering in a new era of MMOs,” Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley said in a statement. “Today, many MMOs fail because players consume content faster than developers can create it. With EverQuest Next, we’re creating a living world that players are part of and empowering them to produce new content alongside the development team.”

If you’re looking forward to EverQuest Next, like we are, the registration for beta players is already up.

A constructible-buildable world

With the market success of Minecraft, it’s become obvious that people who gather together in MMO lifeworlds want to have a direct effect on them. Creativity is the hallmark of almost every community that has formed on the Internet or exists in a virtual world—and Minecraft has done much to exemplar that creativity and provide the necessary sandbox to enable communities to produce living works of art and places for avatars to gather.

With this in mind, SOE built EverQuest Next with a voxel-based virtual world architecture that encourages players to participate in the construction of new elements.

With a tool named Landmark, SOE intends to give players the ability to use what EQN developers use to construct objects, landscapes, cities, forests, dungeons, and entire regions. This voxel-based construction tool will enable persistent virtual worlds that will support thousands of players at one time and allow them to shape and change the very world. Although different phases will look totally different from one another (with virtual worlds overlapping and what may have been a sprawling city could be a craggy mountain range on another.)

To better foment the concept that players have a direct effect on the world, SOE is going to make it possible for impressive player-built monuments and cities to become part of the master template for Landmark. This means that if players come up with interesting cities, amazing landscapes, or creative dungeons, they can submit their work to SOE who can then take the construction and allow it to be seen in every phase—in this way players can have their work become part of the living world.

EverQuest Next Landmark will be launching as a free-to-play game and may have a place in shaping the overall look of the final EverQuest Next game.

A smashable-destructible world

Exactly fitting to the voxel-based design of the game, players and monsters will also be able to destroy the world. This means that players (and enemies) can use the very landscape itself as a weapon. With voxels taking a place in the environment, this means that players can drop arches down on top of foes, which add obstacles for them to vault over; or even so far as blowing out a bridge to prevent monsters from accessing players.

Player powers themselves can even affect the landscape such as a teleport spell leaving a divot in the ground after it’s used; or the warrior’s whirlwind spell cleaving entire sections out of a ruined wall.

More importantly: the world isn’t just a surface world. It’s made of multiple tiers of caverns, underworld, and depth—this means that players can easily have the ground smashed out from under them and fall into a misty underworld filled with new monsters and strange treasures. This opens up dynamic quest opportunities that give exploration a real name in EQN.

“Every piece of the world is fully destructible and players will have the ability to manipulate almost all of it… the EQN world will extend far into the heavens and deep into the procedurally-generated earth through 10,000 years of known lore and history.”

Furthermore, this underground realm will suffer earthquakes and shifts as players explore, so new caverns will open up—old caverns will collapse—and the world itself will be constantly changing itself. New content will emerge as the world remakes itself around the players themselves.

Highly expressive characters and animation artwork using SOEmote

In EverQuest Next character animation is extremely detailed with lots of attention to the motion of armor, facial expressions, as well as making them distinct and visible in the world itself. As avatars are important to players as an identity and

Adding onto the social experience, EQN is using a technology known as SOEmote. This technology is already enabled in EverQuest II, and it takes a webcam image of the player’s face that is then translated into emotions and emotes on the face of the avatar in the game—frown at the webcam, character frowns; smile at the webcam, character smiles. With this technology players will have a second-layer of social experience coupled with the finely detailed faces and character looks. In short, role players will love this; however, ordinary players may find having an extra layer of “body language” from other avatars might up their game when playing socially.

Heroic movement has been added to the game giving players an acrobatic style of movement that takes advantage of the landscape to provide a more fluid motion. Character will slide and glissade down inclines, vault over short obstacles, and even double-jump to cross larger chasms. This means that movement in EverQuest Next has an almost-parkour that players can experience just gallivanting across the very surface of the world—players can expect to gamble and caper through forests, vault over rocks, and leap canyons.

Players have an actual effect on the world with permanent change

No more will there be a world like previous MMOs like World of Warcraft where players are asked to kill 10 of one monster type (or 50 of another) and no effect is seen. When players return to the world, they will see actual ecological changes to regions: spend enough time beating up on the orcs or goblins in the forest? Chances are they won’t be there again for a while—after all, people are kicking their faces in extremely often.

Another thing that could happen: the orcs of the forest get pushed out—but the goblins nearby see this as a chance to take up their niche instead. So the goblins push into the forest to replace them with larger war-bands trying to push the players back out of the forest so that the goblins can set up camp and take over the territory.

“Players will also have the ability to cause the world to change around them, permanently, in dramatic ways. Through the concerted effort of the world’s inhabitants… city walls will be built and destroyed, large-scale wars will be fought and won, and epic stories will unfold over months and years.”

SOE has also added a sort of server-wide public quest called a “Rallying Call.” This has one of the major movers-and-shakes in the game call players into a region to start a mammoth construction or pacify a particular region. As this goes on, the call might be to move into a particular region, set up a city, pacify the enemies—as the rallying call evolves the city will grow up, the nearby environment (or at least factions of enemies) will respond.

As the call continues as the city grows up, wooden walls may be replaced with stone walls—with a keep constructed the nearby goblin king might decide to siege the city. Players will need to defend the newly built city from a besieging army (destroy siege engines, fight off infantry, stop sappers.) All of this leads to further dynamic quests in the region that call upon players to participate in the defense and upkeep of the city (different from before.) Eventually when the players win there will be a new city.

More to come

Here, I’ve covered what feel like the social-mechanical aspects described for EverQuest Next—but there’s also a metagame that involves the mechanics, classes, races, and many other things that put together a game world.

Stay tuned to the GameOgre blog for further news on this game.