We stopped by Funcom's booth at this year's E3 and learned the first details on its next project from Ragnar Tornquist, the designer of GameSpot PC's adventure game of the year 2000, The Longest Journey. Tornquist has also contributed to the development of Funcom's soon-to-be-released online role-playing game, Anarchy Online, and he is now working on an ambitious and innovative online role-playing/strategy hybrid game called Midgard. Like other online role-playing games before it, Midgard will let players create characters from basic character classes and gain experience levels by fighting monsters and hostile animals. However, Midgard will also focus strongly on resource management, in-game economics, and social interaction--and in a way that will completely justify fighting beyond simple character advancement.
The game will take place in Midgard, the ancient Nordic land of the Vikings. As with other online role-playing games, Midgard will let players create and control a single character in the gameworld. Players will begin their lives by choosing a humble craftsman's profession, like a blacksmith, fisherman, farmer, or hunter, and they'll ply their trade within their own village. As players become more successful in their trades, they'll be able to obtain thralls--computer-controlled slaves that can help with menial tasks--so that players can focus on advancing their social standing in the village, either by donating supplies to the village stores or by specializing in a more advanced and more prestigious trade that'll let them produce rare and valuable items. As players become more and more successful in their trades, they'll increase in rank within their village, and may take political control of their town, and later, of the surrounding towns, and tribes. And once players become high-ranking merchants and tribal chieftains, they'll be able to decide exactly what sort of political order they wish to impose on their territories; a democracy, a dictatorship, or a business partnership between successful player-controlled tradesmen.
Despite the importance of trade and economics in the game, Midgard won't force players to permanently hang up their battle-axes and become bakers or tailors. Players will also be able to live the life of a warrior and an adventurer, but if they encounter an angry timber wolf in the woods, they won't just be fighting for their lives and for a few experience points; they'll also want to slay the wolf and return its pelt to the village weaver, its meat to the village butcher, and its teeth to the village shaman, who can use such items make magically blessed charms.
The shaman is just one of the many advanced character classes to which players may aspire, though it's among the most interesting, as shaman will possess many intriguing powers. For starters, shaman may offer sacrifices to Norse gods like Odin, Thor, or Loki for a special blessing to empower a magic weapon or item, or for salvation from a pack of angry monsters. What's more, shaman may also play the favors of the gods against each other, as the relationships between the gods will vary over time depending on each god's mood and on the behavior of each god's followers, though an overly ambitious and manipulative shaman may suffer the collective wrath of the gods he's deceived.
Funcom was especially careful to keep specific details on Midgard's technology and graphics under wraps, and only divulged that the game will use a refined version of Anarchy Online's graphics engine, though the company did provide us with a few concept art images. Midgard has no confirmed release date, but we'll have more information on this intriguing game as its development progresses.