Updated Mon, May 20, 2013 by Dalmarus
Last week I discussed why I felt corpse runs were an important piece of EverQuest that assisted the developers in creating a fun, cooperative, and friendly community. I also explained why I want to see their return with EverQuest Next. While it's true that a death system as harsh and brutal as EQ’s would likely put off today’s gamer, that doesn't mean a similar mechanic with modern tweaks couldn't work. By having meaningful death penalties (and no, armor repair costs do not qualify), developers are able to implement different gameplay scenarios that haven't been seen in ages but were instrumental in EverQuest’s past dominance of the MMORPG market.
Meaningful travel, combined with our previously discussed death penalties, allowed for the implementation of a piece of brilliance in game design - changing zones. Kithicor Forest was a particularly famous and feared EQ zone. It served as a sort of roadblock to major parts of the world. Unless you wanted to spend an hour or more going around it, you had no choice but to go through. During the game's daytime cycle, the zone wasn't much different than others in the immediate area. There were Orcs, Bixies, and other minor mobs, but nothing a player of any mid-teen level couldn't get through on their own with little if any real trouble. At night, though... oh my. At night, Kithicor Forest was an entirely different zone.
Imagine you're a level 30 warrior and your travels bring you to Kithicor Forest. Not bothering to check the in-game clock, you enter the forest and ignore the local monsters. These pitifully weak creatures are unable to touch you, so you pay them no heed. While you're making your way through the winding paths, the sun falls and all the low level monsters disappear. Suddenly, they're replaced with undead... everywhere. The undead that rise from the forest's floor are some of the strongest in the game and the aggro range for them is insane. Now you're racing for your life, trying to make it at least to the edge of the zone before you're run down. If you make it, you might be able to risk coming back before morning so you can get your corpse. The levels of genuine panic during moments like this were incredible and happened frequently in EverQuest. Without a genuine fear of death, they never would have been. If EverQuest Next implements some of these systems, they can be so again.
Changing zones weren't the only way horrifically violent foes and the fear of death they induced was put to good (and unexpected) use. EverQuest was also famous for sporadically throwing a few very high level monsters in various lower level zones. The Sand Giants and Spectres of the Oasis of Marr, the Brownie Scout and Equestrielle the Corrupted of Lesser Faydark, Dragoon Zytl or Kizdean Gix of West Commons, and more. If there was no real fear of death, these wandering mobs would be viewed as nothing more than a minor annoyance if you happen to get caught by one of them. When you knew getting killed by one of them was not only going to make you come back for your corpse, but would also cost you experience (did I forget to mention you lost XP when you died back then?), you were sure to keep your eyes open. If you did get caught unexpectedly by one of these mobs, your heart would pound and race as you did everything you could to survive the encounter. Inevitably, you couldn’t escape every time. This built an extreme desire for revenge against these specific creatures and only fueled the cycle of saved and savior even more.
So what does any of this have to do with game mechanics that allowed for the building of community? Plenty. There's nothing like being seconds from unavoidable death in Kithicor Forest and seeing a full party of max level characters come charging out of the darkness to your rescue. When the Spectres would travel down the beach path from their tower in the Oasis of Marr, there was no sweeter sight than a high level necromancer coming along to strike them down. And guess what? When you got to be high level, you went hunting those Reapers, Sand Giants, and Brownie Scouts for two reasons – to help others out and simple revenge. When you were saved, it was an awesome feeling. When you were finally able to be the savior, it was even better. It was one of the coolest parts about finally getting your character leveled up high enough to take some of these legendary adversaries on. At one point, I spent days killing Brownies over and over and over until I finally got bored. Then I went back and did it again the next week just to be sure I’d made my point. Revenge was sweet.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? Multiple systems and mechanics in EverQuest combined to make the community work together and be generally respectful. Old players would help new. New players would be thankful and strive to level so they could then in-turn be the one saving some random stranger. The cycle repeated and multiplied.
Whether by intricate design or happy accident, these systems worked together seamlessly to continually reinforce helpful behavior. EverQuest Next has the opportunity to do the same and show the world why its predecessor was the game to play back in the day. Today's players deserve to see what playing with a helpful community was like. Only by implementing similar game mechanics that continually nudge players into various roles can this happen. And speaking of various roles - that's next week's topic!