2014 was an eventful year for myself. It was long overdue return to MMO gaming, as the prospects of Landmark and EverQuest Next finally lured me back to the genre I've always loved the most.
I got hooked on MUDs and other text-based RPGs back in my childhood, playing things my mother would have never let me play - if she'd only known. She had forbidden me to play the tabletop version (and boardgame version) of Dungeons and Dragons, so of course I just ended up doing it online. It's so much easier to explain to your parent "what you're doing on that damn computer" when there are no pictures or other indicators to let them make up their own opinions about the matter.
I'd been a gamer before that, racking up countless hours on mine and my brother's Sega Genesis, our first gaming console (coming from a bit of an underprivileged family). I still dearly remember and love the Shining Force Series (I & II), which were built much along the same lines as the Final Fantasy franchise, albeit with a much more Western approach. (Of course I loved Final Fantasy as well, though I never really got the chance to fully play one until Final Fantasy VII - which is still my favorite to this day.) Long-progression games have always been my favorite, and nothing really beats an MMO in that regard other than perhaps true Sandbox games - which is probably why I also dumped hundreds of hours into Minecraft.
It was an odd experience playing Minecraft as a man in my late 20's, where the majority of players I encountered were still in their teens (and many not quite in them yet). I tried not to give them a hard time or beat on them too mercilessly in PvP, since I myself was surrounded with people twice my age when I first got into MUDs and other text-based role-play. I digress. The game was just so much fun, and so different - creativity was really placed at a premium in that game - which only further distanced me from present day MMOs, which offer little to know creative freedom whatsoever. Unless you're engaging strictly in roleplaying, or are playing an MMO that happens to be balanced enough to allow theorycrafting in PvP - MMOs over the last five years don't favor creativity at all.
Then came Landmark Alpha, which although very raw and rough, was still being built much in the same vein as the openly developed indie phenomenon Minecraft. When you add the fact that Landmark is going to be the platform from which EverQuest Next arises... it's all the more tantalizing. I spent so much time in the original EverQuest that it's easier to count in years than in hours. Not necessarily for the game itself, but for the social features and the freedom it presented.
Everyone likes to brag about the incredible grind and cruelty of EverQuest and that the increased difficulty and effort was what made that game different and better than it's countless modern counterparts; but I disagree. It wasn't the difficulty alone that made EverQuest's gameplay so alluring. It was the fact that every single system in some small way (and most in a major way) caused you to rely on other human beings. These things that caused players to work with each other would be called "flaws" in today's MMO mindset. The fact that EverQuest had so many issues is why I believe it was so successful.
Consider the tough grind for a moment. Quests didn't necessarily grant you much of an experience edge over just killing any mob within your leveling range - and there were so few of them early on that they were just a tiny supplement to mob-hunting or dungeon crawling in general. They weren't the primary income for experience. Add to that the fact that some quests were quite challenging and time consuming (by forcing you to actually talk to NPCs and investigate) that they were more of a side-adventure than part of the core gameplay. Yet that fact alone allowed EverQuest's leveling system to feel much more sandboxy than the linear MMOs of today. Since most mobs were relatively equal in the essential time/effort to experience/reward ratio, there wasn't much of an "optimal path" to take. You could just group up with your friends and explore and adventure freely.
And the cruel death penalty made things fun and interesting, not because combat was suddenly more thrilling with more risk involved (which it was), but mostly that it required even more interaction between players and often led to lots of downtime while you were waiting on health, mana, rez sickness, or the ability to even get to your corpse. Some of my most memorable moments from EverQuest actually happened during the downtime, and I don't believe I was an exception to the norm. The majority of the community was engaging, helpful, and full of interesting types. You didn't have to have friends to play with. EverQuest's community provided new ones.
It was just a magical experience that no MMO to date has been able to replicate. I feel for the MMO players of today who never got to experience vanilla EverQuest. Your opinion of MMOs would forever be different if you had. However, that doesn't make you broken - it just makes you different. There is still plenty of time for you to experience and amazing social community and environment similar to that original mainstream MMORPG.
Which is why I'm so excited that 2015 has arrived.
While I don't necessarily believe we'll see EverQuest Next hit the shelves anytime this year, we will finally get to see the game emerge from the "vaporware" category that it has been in for so long. Landmark's mechanics are solidifying and the additions of refined AI, Storybricks, and other EQNext related elements this year should make the game even more tangible. We're going to see EverQuest Next come to life this year - even if we don't get to play it until probably next year.
It is the Obi-Wan-Kenobi of the MMO genre, in my opinion. The MMO genre is on the decline (despite the overall increase of active players - spread across far too many games), MMOs are becoming less and less attractive and consistently seeing declines in their staying-power in the market. For too many reasons to list here, MMOs are on the decline - no matter what anyone else tells you. Something has to change to slow the blood loss (or better yet, reinvigorate the genre with new life and new blood). EverQuest Next is the only game - mechanically speaking - that I've seen that stands a chance of truly revolutionizing the genre.
However, EverQuest fans everywhere better prepare themselves... because this game is going to be radically different than the original title. It will be made in the same spirit, but the gameplay is going to be 100% different. It has the potential to provide much more socialization and freedom-of-paths to partake, creating a much more sandboxy and engaging experience... but it's also tapping into a much wider audience. With mechanical infusions from TCGs, MOBAs, Action-RPGs, Voxelcraft sandboxes, and even First Person Shooters - you'll have to leave all of your preconceptions at the door. This game won't be a traditional MMO; and in fact, it can't be. The developers have actively chosen to drop many of the old mechanics and redesign from the ground up.
All of those reasons add up to why I've voted for EverQuest Next as the Most-Anticipated Game of 2015 in the poll we've got running here on TenTonHammer.