Monday, August 5, 2013

Show Some Class! : EQ2Next

Watching the EQNext reveal, the one aspect that struck a warning note for me was the class system. Forty classes to collect sounds the death-knell for character play, at least in the short term. Others have been very concerned about the abandonment of the Trinity leaving us nothing but a desolation of endless DPS, which is by a very wide margin the most boring, tedious, unfun activity in MMOs (that's my opinion, others are available. They're wrong, but they're available).

It was with some trepidation, then, that I sat down to watch the EQNext Class Panel. An hour later almost all my fears had been allayed. It might not be the way I'd prefer things to have gone, but it will fly.

Part 1

Part 2

The panel itself was interesting. It begins with five people on stage plus a roaming moderator. Of those six, three never speak at all. After a few minutes Jeff Butler sidles up with his own chair, installs himself uninvited on the end and commences to dominate proceedings. For the quiet man of the original Everquest creative team he certainly has a lot to say, almost all of which makes an enormous amount of sense. What's he been doing all these years?

Right from the start we're back to Show Don't Tell. This time it's comic books rather than novels that provide the model but the intent is the same: it's all about evoking emotion. Classes have a visual language; the way you stand, the way you hold your sword, let's everyone know what you are. NPCs work the same way. Combat moves, particle effects, animations, everything you see is intended to stand as both information and entertainment. 

This is sweet music to my ears. All the way back to the beginning, from when I first played Everquest, I couldn't understand why we needed to be told everything, why we couldn't be allowed to infer. It's taken a very long time coming but finally we might be able to look at a screen uncluttered by words and numbers and still know what's going on.

Another "innovation" that should have been there from the start is armor that covers your character effectively and convincingly. Regardless of gender or role you can go adventuring with the necessary protective gear covering your delicate flesh. Oh, if you really want to distract the orc army with a skin show apparently that's still an option, but that's all it is: an option. And about time too.

So much for appearances. What about gameplay? What about those forty classes, for a start? Well, forty is just the beginning. There will be more. Lots more. "We hope for great longevity in this product" said Jeff at one point and adding more and more classes to collect appears to be one of the mechanisms designed to hold our attention. Another is a continual evolution of strategy and tactics driven by itemization. Min-maxing is encouraged. Both Magic the Gathering and League of Legends were referenced as models for the kind drip-feed of desire to which EQNext aspires. Not having played either of them, that means little to me, but if you're going to steal, steal from the best.

There's a great question right at the very end of the Q&A, where a young kid asks how we'll collect the classes and then answers his own question. The panel were very happy and so was I. Lots of different ways is the answer. I was a lot less happy with the earlier observation that " don't have to roll an alt. You just have to go collect that class". That's kind of what I was afraid of, but later we learn that multi-classing is very definitely not compulsory.

Eight of the forty classes are right there at character creation and you can do all the content in the game with any one of them. Character play is safe. If you want to play all forty classes on forty separate characters, you can. That's longevity right there.

So you have your character, you're collecting your classes, how do you roll? You get eight ability slots, permed from an as-yet undefined but potentially huge selection. The audience seemed somewhat non-plussed by this, suggesting they must be EQ2 players because that's nothing more than the original Everquest system with a shiny new coat of paint. I played for years with my choice of eight from a book full of spells and it's a system that's never to my mind been bettered.

Someone asked a very pertinent question about targeting, which hadn't been mentioned. That's because there isn't any. Or not much. Most attacks aren't targeted, instead following a visual logic. If you swing a six-foot long sword with all your might at a bunch of orcs in front of you it's going to hit all of them. If you set the ground on fire under a gang of kobolds they're all going to get burned. 

The whole thrust is away from having you watch your icons for refreshes and hit your keyboard for targets, towards watching center-screen and living in the moment. If EQNext was only about combat I'd be a tad wary that could feel thin, become enervating. It's not, so it shouldn't. Combat's just one element among many and in that context fast and furious should be just fine.

Not everyone in the audience felt that way, it's fair to say, and of those who asked questions, almost no-one did. We'd been told repeatedly and forcefully that tanks and healers aren't required to do any content in EQNext, which riled up what sometimes appeared to be an entire crowd of life-long tanks. Repeated questioning brought some considerable and reassuring nuance.

We were told that all roles would be supported. We were assured that "we won't be abandoning roles". The game will both allow and reward defensive play. To the suggestion that an absence of dedicated tanks and healers would lead to the kind of chaotic scrum so familiar from GW2 we were assured that there would be personal, strategic and tactical responsibilities for everyone.

It all comes back to the Emergent AI. NPCs will be able "to figure out how you are hurting them and stop you...You will have to work together to get things done". This, combined with the assertion that NPCs powers and abilities are congruent with those of players leads me to hope that we might finally see my own holy grail of MMO combat: non-scripted fights with monsters that act like you'd imagine they would. Probably not going to happen, but we can dream.

There were a few little squibs that caught my attention. One of the class abilities mentioned was "Unsummon", which allows you to dismiss summoned pets. I've always wanted to be able to do that. Magicians in Everquest get a limited ability along those lines and it used to be one of my favorite toys. Speaking of pets, they also use the emergent AI. That opens up some delicious possibilities that will sadly never happen, like commanding your pet to attack and finding him cowering under a table with his tail between his legs. 

I came away from the panel very much re-assured that this is a class and combat system I can more than live with. Would I have preferred something closer to the original Everquest Trinity of Tank, Healer and Crowd Control? Probably. It's not 1999 any more, though and time moves on. This has the potential to be more engaging than anything I'm playing right now. Can't ask for more than that.


  1. I don't know what to make of this yet...

    I am a long time EQ2 player but I did not like that fact that each class has 40+ skills on the 10+ hot bars. You spent lot of time looking at your hot bar rather than looking at mob/world etc. Most of the spells are duplicates of each other anyway. In this regard I liked GW2 approach of limiting skills and hotbars. I never had to look at my hotbar in GW2. However I feel 8 skills is low. I would have preferred at least double that number to add more depth and option to combat. I think TERA (may be Vanguard had this system as well) had a nice system where you had about 20 – 30 skills but only a limited set was available at the start of combat. Other became available as finishers so you were never really staring at your hotbar.

    I don’t care about the trinity (tank/healer/dps) but after having played GW2 for some time I feel we still need “roles” in combat. Without “roles” you get zergfest and that’s worse than waiting 2 hours for the tank or healer to show up! Roles make people coordinate with each other, it allows for strategy. This will leads to meaningful and fun encounters but zergfest only leads to boring combat. It looks like EQNext is going to have raids and I hope these raids don’t turn out to be like GW2 big bosses i.e. zergfest.

  2. A pity I can't edit my comments,

    I the cynic in me says that the reason for 8 skill slots is consoles (PS4)!

    Not much has been said about the F2P payment model. I have a feeling that you can collect some of these classes in game but you can also buy them on the cash shop. I think future classes will be cash shop only affair.

    They mention that a new class will shake up the landscape etc. I wonder what this means in terms of cash shop... you may be forced to buy a new class if you want to stay competitive in PvP (may be even in PVE)?

    1. I was thinking that it's all been very quiet on the payment front. Smokejumper was asked whether EQNext would be on All Access and he said he'd be surprised if it wasn't so I'm guessing there will be the usual SoE version of F2P with a "Gold" membership you can pay for to get perks, plus a cash shop.

      I actually like SOE's F2P offer. I find it flexible and reasonably priced, so if EQNext is along those lines that's fine with me. I'd be happy with buying classes/races in the store but that's a model they abandoned in EQ2 so I'm not sure how likely it is.

      All guesswork at this stage, of course. The final payment model will almost certainly be the very last thing they firm up, right before launch.

    2. I think SOE current F2P model is pretty good compared to other games but I have feeling that they will try and milk it more so than their current games which were subscription based previously.

      I am all for them making money but I just hope their F2P model won't negatively affect the game. In other words design decisions are based on how it affects game play and not how much money it will make.

  3. Each new info about EQN, more I like the game...

    The holly trinity needs die!

    1. I am all for getting rid of the trinity but it needs to be replaced with something better and not worse.

      I haven't seen a MMO which got rid of the trinity with something better.

    2. @lostforever

      "I haven't seen a MMO which got rid of the trinity where all players adapted to the new system"

      corrected for the reality

      Can you explain me how they can mantain the holly trinity if they want make an advanced AI? My guess is that mobs will dismiss the taunts, kill the healer first, then kill the dps and lastly make the tank to pieces.

      Players need start to learn to adapt.

    3. You "need" to stop telling other players what they "need" to do. You're not my boss, thank the lord.

      You don't want the Holy Trinity. We get that. Other people do. Respect their right not to share your opinion.

  4. @João Carlos

    "Players need start to learn to adapt."

    Why should the players adapt when the alternative is inferior?

    1. Players don't refuse to take up these new methodologies because they're incapable of understanding or applying them. They just don't like them. Offer them something they like and you'll find they're highly adaptable.

      So far what's been offered hasn't been very attractive. Maybe EQNext can come up with a better offer.

  5. I think Rowan is giving a best answer than anything I can write:


    The world changes. Ever and forever cahnge. If we cannot adapt, we go extint. That is the reason for the "need".

    Survival is a game of adaptation. The only alternative to adaptation is die and go extinct.

    I don't need be a "boss" for say people need to adapt. I am just giving a very good advice... because I know the consequences.

    Better everyone learn nmandarin before is too much late...

  6. One game where there were healers but not threat generation is GW1.

    And the AI would go after the healers.

    But even without traditional tanking GW1 combat was much more structured than it is in GW2.

    GW2 zerg aspect as nothing to do with lack of tanks or healers but with the speed of combat, mobs high damage, lack of party wide defense stacking, smaller groups and weak CC (most boss fights have a boss that is highly resistant and few or no adds).

    1. I've been playing my Ele in water spec for the current PvE zerg content and chain healing. I do it in WvW quite often too. It's not as satisfying (or as useful) as real, targeted healing but it sure beats churning out endless DPS as far as maintaining my interest and involvement goes.

  7. Not really a big fan of the MMO trinity and I must admit I've never really run into it before (the games I play never needed it). I first learned about the term in GW2 when people were saying it "wasn't" there... leaving me wondering what the heck it was.

    After it was explained to me I just found it so silly. My guild has never needed dedicated tanks or healers, instead everyone just does what needs to be done.

    I suppose the trinity came about due to how threat generation works in some games. Ideally the monsters should just eat the people they can kill fastest, much like how predators go after young or injured prey but I can't really talk till I make my own MMO. :P

    1. As Flosch pointed out over on Random Waypoint the other day, depending on how long you might have been playing MMOs and which ones you played, the Trinity has different meanings. When I first heard it used, which was probably 2002-3 I would guess, it meant Tank, Healer, Crowd Control. DPS wasn't a real role, just the general responsibility of all concerned. That's the Trinity I miss. Tank/Healer/DPS is, I believe, a WoW-era invention and I never really did much group content in my short visit to WoW.


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