Almost exactly two years ago, when Brad "Arudune" McQuaid unleashed his ill-fated Kickstarter campaign to an embarrassed shuffling of feet and jingling of pocket-change, the great EQNext project was still all systems go, even though none of it was actually going anywhere. Smed was still in charge of the the EQNext roadshow with Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson as the ever-grinning master of ceremonies.
Compared to their three-ring circus act, Brad's indie effort looked like a dog and pony show. Once the Kickstarter went down in flames barely half-way to its goal most observers thought that was curtain down for ever. There was even a little speculation over whether the Great Smed would wave his magic wand over poor, deluded Brad once more, the way he'd done when Brad so spectacularly failed to realize his vision with the launch of Vanguard, and haul the Pantheon project on board the good ship SOE.
|Hero's Song. For a very small value of "Hero"|
And now, here we are in 2016. EQNext is dead. Sony Online Entertainment is dead. Smed is...well, he's failing his own Kickstarter for a game that sounds vastly less-ambitious and less interesting than anything Brad ever put his name to over the last twenty years. There would have been some serious money to be made had anyone run an accumulator on those odds.
I didn't watch the Twitch stream live as Brad and a bunch of his co-developers at Visionary Realms showed off their pre-alpha build to anyone who cared. I only vaguely knew it was happening. My interest in Pantheon, never strong to begin with, pretty much fell off a cliff after the Kickstarter failed.
Brad, however, turns out to be made of stronger stuff than I or probably anyone who'd vicariously winced at his career downhill since the infamous parking lot firings would ever have believed. Instead of rolling over and giving up, Brad and his Visionary Realms crew (VR - that's an unfortunate acronym) have rolled on, picking up funding from who knows where.
Two years on not only is the Pantheon project still alive, not only does it have a smart new website, no, much more than that, against all odds it appears they are actually making a game. Ald Shot First, who is far more on board with Brad's vision of a fully group-centered retro retread of EverQuest running on a modern game engine than I will ever be, has full coverage of this weekend's big reveal.
So far I've only watched the first fifteen minutes of the hour-and-three-quarters of footage that's up on YouTube. That was more than enough to convince me that Pantheon is the real thing after all.
It might look rough around the edges. The animations and spell effects might look faint and sketchy. There might not be any lens flare, light shows, spectacular explosions, giant lion-men walking on their hind legs or buildings falling down but by all that's holy those guys are playing an MMO!
To be precise, they appear to be playing EverQuest. Only with prettier pictures. The dream is real.
Ald observes that "More surprising than anything is how modern the interface appeared. I was worried we'd get some sort of terribly clunky interface all for the sake of either EQ nostalgia or some sense of stubbornness many old school players seem to have. So far i'm not seeing that." I take that to mean he hasn't played EQ for a good while, because that interface looks remarkably similar to how I have EQ set up today.
|I like my spell bar on the left but otherwise that's just about perfect.|
The entire thing just screams EverQuest, from titles of the classes to the text in the chat boxes to the names of the mobs to the placement of the camps. And, of course, to every last detail of the gameplay. Starting with the pulling, through the the adds and the fights to the brief territorial tussle between two groups of players vying for the same Orc Camp, to (and this was the capper for me) the minute's sit-down for the entire group after a big fight so the casters could get their mana back, this could be me playing EQ a decade and a half ago.
I'm not in the least bit convinced that's something I want to do. I did it already. It was fun while it lasted but those days are gone. I'd like to think I've moved on. I know for sure the world has.
Still, it really is good to see that someone, somewhere is still holding the faith. EQNext, had it ever appeared, seemed set to erase every last vestige of affection for the look, feel and gameplay that supposedly made EverQuest the world's most successful MMORPG of its day. Jeff Butler, one of the original architects of that success, seemed particularly determined to ensure none of That Kind Of Thing ever happened on his watch again.
When Pantheon eventually becomes something we can buy and play (and it looks more likely now than ever before that that's a thing that could happen) I will almost certainly give it a try. Curiosity, nostalgia, and the knowledge that, for all his multifarious shortcomings, Brad has been the visionary force behind two of my all-time favorite imaginary worlds, make that much a certainty.
With the heavy emphasis on all group play, all the time, and the very unattractive lore, it's extremely unlikely that I'll make Pantheon my new MMO home but I wish Brad and his team all the best in making it happen. Just don't screw it up again, this time, okay?