EverQuest Next – Mob AI and the Love of Wandering

It’s time for mobs to use their mental and traveling pathways to add some danger back into your life.

Since its initial reveal at SOE Live this year, we’ve heard a lot about the AI (artificial intelligence) of the mobs in EverQuest Next. I hope the team can deliver on its promises because I’m pretty excited about them and let’s face it – mob AI has generally been beyond stupid for over a decade now. This, despite the original EverQuest having some pretty interesting takes on mob behavior. In fact, there are some aspects of that AI system that we need to see make a return.


One of the (many) things that bugs me about most current games is that no matter what, a mob will never try to get away once it’s engaged in combat. Why? On a fundamental level, it doesn’t make any sense. Rather than stand there trying to kill a player, even when it’s obvious the battle is not going their way, why don’t mobs turn around and run away? Well guess what. Back in the day, they actually did.


Despite the limitations of programming and computer power in the late 1990s, the AI of individual mob types appeared far more thoughtful than what most mob AI consists of today. Sure, there are games that have healer mobs that bolster their buddies, but at the end of the day, you know they’re still going to stand right where they are until one of you is dead.


In EverQuest, most mobs would turn around and run when they got down to 20% health. If left uncontrolled, the amount of wrath this could bring down on a group was nearly limitless. It was bad enough when it happened on the surface, in a large and open zone area. When it happened in the depths of a dungeon, it could very easily spell disaster for not only your party, but everyone else in the same dungeon. While that mob was running away from you at full speed (it would slow down the lower you got its health), it was also aggroing everything around it. The trains this could cause were epic, to say the least.


Not every mob was like this though. Some would only run away if they were the only mob fighting with you. Others would stay and fight as long as any other mob was engaged in the fight. Others still would only stay to the bitter end if there were another mob of the same type embroiled in the battle. For example, a goblin might stay in a fight if another goblin was attacking you at the same time, but would run off when it hit 20% health, even if a skeleton had come along and joined the battle. At the same time, a wolf may see a fight through to the end no matter else was attacking you, but would turn and run if it were by itself. Mobs such as any undead would never run, and why should they? They’re undead.


The system may have been implemented over a decade ago, but for me, it still added more depth than we see in games today. It took players time to learn the behavioral patterns of each mob when they started hunting in a new zone. For me, this was half the fun of exploring new zones and dungeons. You never knew just what type of fights you were going to find yourself embroiled in.


Keeping the above system in mind, imagine this in a zone that was wide open, but had a constant random sampling of wandering mobs. Rather than always following the same path, these mobs were also programmed to start in a direction a set number of degrees in addition to the last mob that spawned from that point. This meant that you constantly had different mobs coming in from varying divergent paths on a regular basis. Combine this with the need to sit for significant amounts of time in order to heal up and regain mana and you added yet another element of interest in the game. With very few exceptions, finding a safe spot to camp and hunt from was not an easy task because you never knew when some mob was going to wander by and clean your clock while you were still recovering from the last battle.


Now to be fair, if the system only worked as I described it above, that would kind of suck – always having to be standing by ready to DPS burn a mob as quickly as possible every single time it got to 20% would get old quickly. Once again though, the EverQuest team designed multiple game mechanics that all relied on each other. In this case, enter the power of class imbalance, but specialized roles.


Enchanters may have had a hellish time trying to fight anything on their own past level 5, but there was no other class in the game that could keep complete and utter control over a large-scale fight. By keeping various mobs mezzed (frozen) for significant amounts of time, it allowed the group to take down mobs efficiently and quickly. I think the art of crowd control (it really was an art) has been lost over the years. It needs to come back.


Along with an Enchanter, a Druid or Necromancer was invaluable in these groups as well. I’ll go ahead and stir up a little controversy here… Druids were good for snares (being able to slow a mob’s run speed down significantly), but Necromancer’s were even better. Sadly, a lot of people didn’t group with Necros since they had a reputation of being a solo class, but we were so much more. Why do I think we were better at snaring? Easy – it’s called the Engulfing Darkness line of spells. Not only were they a DoT (damage over time), but the spell had an additional ability that the Druid snares did not. A mob would turn to run at 20% or so. Depending on the mob, the Engulfing Darkness line of spells caused it to stop dead in its tracks once it hit 15-10% health. That may not sound like much, but in a tight dungeon, having a mob stop on a dime rather than continuing to move forward (even slowly), was a massive benefit.


With all we’ve heard about the amazing AI that’s supposed to control each individual mob in EverQuest Next, I’m pretty damned excited. Personally, I hope we see a return of some AI behavior that makes true crowd control a valued skill again. Of course, that’s not the only thing I want to see a return of. There are plenty of other topics. Like the need for stats to actually matter, for example. Back in the day, it took forever to find your first magic item and that sole addition of +1 it granted your strength was great. But as usual, that’s a topic for next week!


While you wait for next week’s piece, catch up on any previous EverQuest Next articles you may have missed! If you’ve got questions, old-school aspects you’d like me to cover, or anything in between, shoot me an email or hit me up on Twitter!

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