I feel like I'm constantly referencing EverQuest Next whenever I'm talking about future MMOs. I know it's because that project is the one that really drew me back into the genre (one I had been quite distant from for several years). I admit that a big part of the allure originated with some of my first MMO experiences back in the original EverQuest - but that isn't where it remained. As I spent the past couple years diving headfirst into every snippet of news and coverage known to man about EQNext, that original interest blossomed into something much bigger.
EverQuest Next isn't just another MMO on a long list of upcoming games. It also isn't just a reimagining of the EverQuest franchise. The more I've researched, the more I've theory crafted the described systems and core grails that were originally debuted at SOELive 2013 (RIP), the more I realized that EverQuest Next is a revolution - or at least an evolution - of the genre. The jury is still out how the game will weather the Columbus Nova / Daybreak storm, but the fact remains that it is still in development and so far, the design goals haven't changed.
Bad News First
EverQuest Next (barring any further dramatic setbacks) will still eventually happen. It is disconcerting that some of the most public and leading developers on the project were part of financial cuts, but in a world of business that is bound to happen. It happens everywhere. When you're on a limited budget, the most expensive and overlapping positions are the first to go. While there is definitely an argument that everyone is unique and Daybreak doesn't have another Dave Georgeson on staff, that doesn't mean that another creative mind can't step up and shine.
It is undeniable that the future game of EverQuest Next will be different than it would have been with developers like Dave Georgeson, Jeff Butler, and Steve Danuser in the mix (just to name a few). However, that doesn't mean that it won't still be good or even great. It just means it will be different. Because of that, I think players everywhere need to look at the project with fresh eyes and ignore the ideas and concepts present back in 2013 at first reveal. Some of those will certainly remain intact, but right now we just don't know which ones.
On a Slightly Lighter Note
Development continues to move forward. The EQNext Workshops in Landmark still continue, and Landmark itself remains the driving force behind the creation of EverQuest Next's core engine components. It's a lot of messy R&D, but when you're truly trying to innovate as much as SOE/Daybreak is - it's going to be a bit messy. Just imagine how some of history's most famous artists, inventors, and creators probably looked in the middle of creating some of their masterworks. I bet they were dirty, sweaty, and covered in paint, sawdust, and grease. Landmark should feel a little bit ugly right now, mechanically. If it didn't, I think I'd be much less interested in the project.
Some ideas will pan out, others won't. That's just the nature of R&D. Either way, the fact remains that this game is unlike any other, and Landmark is a testament to that. It's so different that without seeing the complete picture, it's very difficult to find a purpose in the game. Given the fact that Landmark becoming its own unique game sort of sprung up out of the ground like baby Dwarves, it should make sense that the game feels rather rough in concept. After-all EverQuest Next has been in design for years, and Landmark is still an infant, barely older in thought than it is in [early-access] release. I feel like a lot of people forget that and judge the game a bit harsher than most.
Of course, it doesn't help that the game is trying to gain traction in one of the most dangerous environments a game can live in: Early Access. I get the open-development concept, and I've seen first-hand the near-impossible gains EverQuest Next is getting out of player-driven creation, but I'm not totally sold on whether or not all that outweighs the extreme risks and downsides to this volatile process. Time will truly tell what becomes of both these two games and whether or not this path of development was the right one. Unfortunately if there are reservations by the team, it's too late to back-track now. They are committed to this process.
It's Not All Gloomy
Let me tell you right now that the builds happening in Landmark are awesome, stunning, and downright mind-boggling; especially if you have any idea of how Landmark's building system works. I'm no expert, but I do consider myself fairly voxel savvy in the game. I can pull off several advanced techniques and still I look at some builds and just scratch my head. It's breath-taking. More importantly though, it's all going to be a part of EverQuest Next.
Whether you like the process or not, I find it hard to believe that there could be more than a handful of people out there that can look at the best of those workshop builds and say "No thanks." I know not everyone is into voxels - particularly MMO veterans who have done just fine without them for almost two decades. I get that. However, the potential of a future highly-refined, highly-optimized voxel matrix for an MMO is more powerful than the average person will ever realize. The things you can do with that kind of world are leaps and bounds ahead of anything you could ever achieve with a traditional poly-plane mesh. There's just no comparison, even in its current and very-rough state.
For that alone, EverQuest Next is still on my radar for innovation; and is effectively still leading the charge when it comes to innovating in MMOs. I may be much more inclined towards Revival right now, but that mostly has to do with personal taste. If EverQuest Next is somehow able to achieve its previous Emergent AI plans with the loss of Storybricks then the battle for my favorite upcoming MMO will be much closer. I'm not entirely sure they can pull it off. That being said, learning more and more about how Revival's Emergent AI works is enlightening me to the fact that it's not impossible either.
EverQuest Next, despite public opinion and all the rumors, still has a lot going for it. They've got a massive IP, an established audience, and a lot of amazing ideas that still hold water. I just don't see this game fading away anytime soon. Even if the timeline gets pushed back again, there's just too many things I like about this game to give up hope on it for that reason alone. I'll continue to patiently watch and wait for more information.
I really hate that this process demands core-followers to be strung along on a wire extensively, but it is what it is. Knowing what I know now, I may have opted out of getting into Landmark as early as I did, but I still would have done it at some point. And honestly, I know that the money I spent is ultimately going towards the development of EverQuest Next and the reality that this studio is literally trailblazing for the genre yet again. They did it with the original EverQuest and they're doing it again now. (Technically they did it with EverQuest II also, but the parallel development of WoW overshadowed almost everything innovative they did with that title.)
I'm going to keep one eye on EverQuest Next. The story and concept is just too intriguing to dismiss. If you read the most recent lore-book (the epilogue to what happens in Last Stand of the Teir'Dal), then you'll understand what I'm talking about. I wanted to talk about that story and touch on a lot of the things that dark and shadow-filled book illuminates, but I know it is something deserving of its own separate piece entirely.
Daybreak is somehow still stringing me along on this project. I don't like it, but it's at least tolerable (which is not exactly how you want your most passionate fans to feel - again, one of the many massive pitfalls of early-access and open-development).
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