ON MMORPGS, Immersion, Narrative and connection to characters

So, I’m pretty excited about Everquest Next, its an open world sandboxy MMORPG that will hopefully be out in the not too distant future, which features a dynamic world and strong character customisation, but it got me thinking. Why is it that Everquest Next is exciting me with its potential that so few others do, and havn’t since I played Ultima Online all those years ago?

 

Examining this I came to a few conclusions that I think are probably true for others as well as me.

 

Since Everquest, which was the second big MMORPG to come out, and one that overtook Ultima Online in popularity, people have loved the MMORPG Genre, and the Everquest model has dominated the market pretty much since it started. You choose a race, you choose a class, and you go out and do quests and adventure. This process has become progressively more streamlined, simplified and bad bigger and flashier by subsequent titles, such as World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Neverwinter, TERA et cetera. So why is it that none of these games have been able to hold my attention for a fraction of the length that Ultima did? I never even played the original Everquest, and only briefly looked at EQ2 before losing all interest.

 

I came to the following conclusion. It’s about relatability to your character, to personal narrative and immersion. When you play one of these games full of epic storylines and questlines, you’re not really playing your character, you are going through the motions in a preordained story, often doing quite epically dramatic things, which when you think about it, is what you do in a singleplayer game, and that’s fine, but it makes no sense in an online world. Just how many times does the princess need saving each day?

 

For me, this linear progression actually gives me less connection with my character, I didn’t make any choices, I just followed the plot put out for me, and so did everyone else. So when you go to talk to people to tell them of your adventures… what adventures? You did exactly what they did, and everyone else too, you didn’t have choice. From a roleplay perspective, this means that to give your character a history and stories, you need to IGNORE the world narrative, which further disconnects you from the world your character is supposed to be immersed in.

 

“Ah”, you say, “but then they started adding choices to these quest lines to better reflect your character” Well, yes, they did, but in a way, that’s even worse. What if you don’t like the options available? What if none of them are really you? And even if they are, when you talk to someone else, they’ve done the same quest, but with a different outcome, which further fragments the narrative, as in your personal history, the princess was saved, but in this other person’s personal history, the princess was murdered by an assassin. The narrative no longer even follows the same path, your disconnect from the narrative is now even greater, now when you discuss the events of the past, your stories don’t even match up. You must again, ignore the world narrative to have any sort of coherent history.

 

The same thing goes for classes. What if I want to play a former monk, who left his order to take up his true calling as a bard. Does he forget all his martial arts simply because he now plays an instrument? He’s no longer a member of the order, why would the restrictions placed on a monk even apply? Granted there’s some logical ones, for example, martial arts in full platemail probable wouldn’t work too well. Again I’m not playing *my* character, I’m playing a character with a prescribed set of abilities and traits, which may not reflect the person I am trying to portray.

 

Think about the content in the most recent MMORPGS out, they rush you through the main content as quickly as possible to get to the endgame, which is large PVP, Sieges and Raids. Most of the game is the stick, with the endgame being the carrot. Am I missing something? shouldnt the majority of the game be an enjoyable experience and not a means to an end? But the problem is people have no affinity with their characters anymore, because they’d had so little to do with their character’s construction. Even ability choices usually end up falling to a set of prescribed optimum builds that you must use or you’re useless at that class, so even that little bit of remaining individuality is lost. You play the character designed for you rather than play the character you wanted to make.

 

So what is it about this end game content that makes it so appealing? I propose that is it the unpredictability, the adventure and the teamwork that makes it exciting. You do it because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, for the first time in the history o your character, you have some control over it, your choices have consequences to your team, guild, clan or group, and it is to that clan, guild, group etc that your start feeling a bond to, rather than your own character. That’s what people play for.

 

In Ultima Online you had real freedom, there was no direction, you did what you wanted, when you wanted and how you wanted, there were so many different ways to do things, you could truly explore, rather than just move through, the world. You created your own story, you became attached to your character, because your character had a history and a narrative and fond memories that weren’t scripted in by a developer, they were created by you being at a place at a certain time and happening to come across an unexpected situation. Maybe it was an area you had never been to before, maybe it was some unexpected spawn, you expected brigands and discovered, to your horror, that there was a gazer in the area throwing fiery death at you. When your character died, that meant something, even if you knew you wouldn’t lose much or anything it wasn’t simply inconvenient, it mattered, you’d try frantically to stay alive, rather than just wait for your group to rez you. You had a story, and it was your own, it was unique and it was full of experiences that only you went through, others could relate, they had their own stories, but it wasn’t the same story, and that’s what I think has been lost, that narrative that bonds you to your character.

 

This is why I’m excited about Everquest Next, it has the potential to bring back that sense of personal connection, of identity and personal narrative. The world is always changing, that brings back the unpredictability and adventure, as sense of excitement that has long been lacking in the MMORPG Genre.

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Everquest Next

Website : https://www.everquestnext.com

 

Key Features as listed by the FAQ:

  • Full Destructibility — Everything in EverQuest Next can be destroyed. Destroy the ground beneath your enemy’s feet — or crush him under an avalanche you created. The possibilities are endless!

  • Permanent Change — The land of Norrath changes every day, based on the actions of all players… including you. Cities rise and fall, kings live and die, even the gods may change. You won’t want to miss a moment of it!

  • A Life of Consequence — Your choices will rule your destiny. Do you save a villager’s burning farm or choose to do nothing? Do you clear orc camps away from Qeynos or help them destroy the city? You will make your own story — and shape the story for those who follow you.

  • A Class Revolution — Our character classes are streamlined and designed to be mixed. Want to be a teleporting rogue or a backstabbing barbarian? The choice is yours!

So, this game has me excited. It’s a Next Generation Sandbox with a few novel features, such as the destructibility, which in it’self is pretty cool, I’ll go through the main features and describe them as best I can with the current revealed knowledge, which, admittedly, isn’t THAT much.

 

Deep World

In Everquest Next, there’s not just the land you’re walking on, underneath that land will be more places, more dungeons and caves, full of ruins and secret places, and of course monsters, so there’s lots to explore and plenty of new places to find, not just moving around the world, but under your feet too! Even more exciting, these places can be accessed and left via destructibility!

 

Destructibility

Another cool feature is the ability to break stuff. So when you use some earth shattering ability, it can be LITERALLY earth shattering. But not just you, monsters can do it too.

So you can create avalanches, destroy bridges and outcroppings, dig tunnels, all in the world, as far as we’ve been told, that’s not instances or phases, but actually in the permanent world, so you’ll know when a battle has been around!

 

Dynamic World

Finally! A world not based on a static places, but a changing one! This plays out in several ways:

NPC Spawns: The example they used was Orcs. Orcs like to ambush people for their gold, so they like to tackle lightly defended targets without guards or guard patrols. So if there’s a road that gets some traffic, but no guards are patrolling it, that’s a place orcs are likely to set up a camp. If someone tells the guards to start patrolling down that road and they do, or some adventurers wipe out the camp, that’s it, the orcs will move on to somewhere else, no more orcs at that location.

 

It also plays out in the rest of the world. There are these things called Rallies, which are sort of like public quests, except you don’t really know the objectives or triggers and they could take months to complete, but when they do, something will happen in world. Permanently.

So if you help build a palisade wall around a new village, there WILL be a palisade wall around the village. If you clear out all the goblins in the surrounding forest, there might be no more goblins, or the goblins might get some allies, so have a BIGGER goblin problem, or maybe they’ll get some orc and ogre allies and siege the town. OR they could leave the area, the villagers could expand and start a mine to build some stone walls instead, but when they get deep enough… they hit one of those underground places and monsters pour out, so you have to defend the village, explore the cave… or you could always help that orc invasion to destroy the town.

Once the town is gone, it’s gone. Destroyed. It doesn’t come back. The world has changed forever. Lucky new ones will be built, right?

 

Characters

They wanted characters to feel heroic, and to be customisable, they want you to play how you want to play. We’ve been told that if you want a chainmail bikini, you can have one, if you want full plate, you can have it. The hair and cloth moves in the wind, it looks quite nice. The characters are a bit cartoony, but that is partially to get the expressiveness of the faces using emotes and SOEmote

 

To add to the heroic feel of the characters, the move in a fairly acrobatic style through the world, doing a sort of parkour, leaping low obstacles, sliding down slopes, double jumps, as shown here.

 

As for the classes, well we’re told there are 40, and you can collect them in game, they don’t say how, just that you collect them, then you can add their abilities to your character. Each class is levelled individually, so you could be a level 8 warrior and a level 2 wizard, and apply your points or whatever (I don’t yet know how levelling works)  to whatever class you like to use abilities from there.

Your characters are constructed with a class, which determines what armor you wear (you only get one choice of armor type) and 2 weapon types, which play differently. Your class determines your weapon types (eg longsword and 2 handed sword) and your weapon abilities. Different classes will look and stand differently even if they’re using the same weapon, so they have different fighting stances and have their own unique feel.

On top of weapon abilities, you then have your ability slots, which are divided up into categories. Offensive, Defensive and Movement. Different classes will have different combinations. For example, a wizard might have 2 offensive slots, a defensive slot and a movement slot, where a rogue might have 2 movement slots and 2 offensive slots. These are not locked to your class however, if you have the abilities of another class, you can use any of those abilities in your slots, so you migth be a warrior, but you could have a wizard’s ability in your movement slot, a ranger’s ability in your offensive slot etc, giving you some unique templates, which you can then save and switch between whenever you like (out of combat). I assume you can also switch classes to suit your mood and style.

There is no trinity, there are no dedicated healers and no dedicated tanks, they want anyone to be able to fill whatever need and not be waiting for your specialist friends all the time to play.

There will also be items that will help with your templates, such as a ring that reduces the ability cost of movement abilities, or the boots of the zephyr shown in the video. Equipment, we are told, is not just a stat modifier, but a strategic choice, there will be differences between different types of longsword.

 

The combat is fast paced, dynamic and movement based, which fits in with the breakable world nicely.

 

Everquest Next Landmark

Landmark is coming out at the end of the year apparently, and is Everquest Minecraft essentially, with a procedural world where you can stake a claim, harvest resources and build anything you like, but better, if you build something that fits into the world of Norrath, you can import the plan of your design into Everquest Next, you can even sell your plan for real money, and if someone used your plan as part of one they’re selling, you get royalties based on the amount. So there will be custom buildings.

 

Best of all, Both of these games are free to play, so you have nothing to lose by trying it when it comes out if your interest has been piqued.

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