As the sequel to one of the most popular online role-playing games ever made, EverQuest II has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it appears that Sony Online Entertainment is up to the task, since EverQuest II was one of the most impressive role-playing games that we saw at E3. The sequel features a gorgeous new graphics engine that promises to bring to life the world of Norrath like never before. EverQuest II will also revolutionize the way online role-playing games sound, because every non-player character (NPC) in the game will feature a full-audio voice-over. There will also be plenty of new challenges and adventures, as well as whole new places to explore, because EverQuest II is set after the Shattering, a cataclysmic event that occurred when one of Norrath's moons exploded and reshaped the world. To get an idea of what adventuring will be like in this new landscape, we caught up with Chris Cao, EverQuest II's lead content designer, as well as Joe Russo, the game's lead mechanics designer, to ask them about the game's combat system and more.
GameSpot: We've taken a look at the new players' tutorial areas, but could you describe what the experience of a player starting a new character will be like, in practice? From the get-go, will they hand some note to somebody for a tunic? Will players perform simple quests, actively pursue their advanced professions, or actively participate in earning favor or disfavor with Norrath's political factions?
Chris Cao: Players will be introduced to all the fundamental game controls and concepts in an instanced ship zone. Once they've had a chance to learn these basic skills, they will disembark onto the Isle of Refuge. Right away, they'll be engaged by a voice-overed NPC who explains the roles of each archetype. Players will have to choose to be a fighter, a priest, a mage, or a scout. As soon as they've made their choices, they will be given a progressive series of quests that introduces the social aspects of the game (such as grouping). These quests will reward the players with basic equipment and lead them through the story surrounding the events occurring on the isle. The quests culminate in an epic encounter with the main villain of the tutorial sequence.
Once players have played through the tutorial, they will head to either Freeport or Qeynos. A new series of quests will introduce them to a racially specific village on the outskirts of the city center. These quests will show players the location of the village bank, the newbie-yard connections, and, most importantly, the locations of their houses. Further quests will continue in a less-linear fashion to encourage the players to explore other villages and adventure zones within the city's influence.
GS: Speaking of factions, could you explain how faction standing will work in the sequel? Some critics have said that in the original game, faction standing with different political groups and races usually meant one of two things--either you'd be attacked on sight by some races or monsters or you'd have to kill a thousand orcs to be friendly enough with a quest-giver to receive a quest. How will the system be improved?
CC: At its simplest level, the faction system in EverQuest II functions like the one in EverQuest. Players are able to either positively or negatively affect the reaction of groups of NPCs. The difference between the two systems comes down to the types of actions that a player can take and the number of factions within the game. Of the two, the number of factions presents the greatest difference. A few racial and thematic factions are all that remain after the destruction of the Shattering. This will simplify the faction equation for players while allowing for future fracturing of the existing factions.
Opportunities AwaitGS: We've briefly touched on the sequel's combat system. Could you discuss the basic mechanics of battle and how it will be more exciting than that of the original EverQuest? Can we expect to see the traditional roles of fighters playing as defensive "tanks," sorcerers using magic to "control crowds," and so on? Also, what role does the "heroic circle" play in battle?
CC: Combat in EverQuest II is based on a balanced archetype system. The fighter, priest, mage, and scout all provide crucial but different elements to basic group-based-encounter combat. Fighters of all types will be able to take and do damage, following the group role classically established for their profession. Priests will fulfill their role through healing and beneficial defensive spells. Mages will contribute through the use of high-damage spells (either through direct means or through pets) and by restoring the party's power. Scouts will finish out the basic group by providing many different special abilities (group sneak, movement buffs, etc.) and situational damage.
All members of the party will also be able to take advantage of heroic opportunities. Represented by a segmented wheel, these opportunities arise at different points in a battle. By casting the right spell or performing the right combat art, players will be able to complete the steps of the wheel. This will culminate in some group-wide beneficial effect (e.g. group heal, group buff, added damage).
The scout archetype really shines in the presence of heroic opportunities. As the masters of special tactics, they will be able to cause the opportunities to appear. They will also be able to shift between available opportunities so that the group gets precisely the benefit that the situation demands.
Joe Russo: In the EverQuest II combat system, we are enforcing what we call "archetype dependencies." What this means is that an optimum group for combat should consist of a representative from each archetype (fighter, scout, priest, and mage). Other group makeups will still have success; there will just be certain areas that the group will be lacking in. Fighters are unmatched at tanking, scouts are unmatched with their utility, priests are unmatched with their healing powers, and mages are unmatched with their damaging powers.
EverQuest II will stay true to EverQuest in having an auto-attack round of combat, but that is where the similarities end. EverQuest II introduces an elaborate encounter system, combat arts, combat voice-over, and what we call heroic opportunities. Heroic opportunities play a large role in the group dynamic of combat. At certain intervals during combat, a heroic opportunity may present itself to the group. At that time, it's as if the players have spotted a weakness--almost like in chess when you have "mate in three moves." In order to capitalize on this opportunity, the group will have to perform a series of spells and combat arts. Once these requirements have been met by the group, the heroic opportunity executes. We feel that this will add a lot to combat, as a whole, and will make group play more rewarding in fun as well as in experience.
GS: In addition, could you explain how the game's combat will change as characters become more powerful and more specialized? Some critics have gone so far as to say that in the original EverQuest, some quests and raids simply weren't possible without a character from a specific class (a cleric for healing, for instance). How will the sequel resolve this issue, especially at higher levels of play?
CC: Due to the fact that the majority of combat in EverQuest II is designed for a balanced, six-member group (one of each archetype, plus two additional), it is safe to say that many different combinations of characters will be able to successfully complete the game's content. Also, there will be raids at every level of play, and all of these encounters will be designed with the archetype system in mind. Beyond the four fundamental archetypes, it will be the skills of each player that make the true difference between win and wipe.
When Dragons AttackJR: As characters become more powerful and specialized, thus widening their arsenal of abilities, players will learn the nuances of their particular characters' professions. This will result in fulfilling their "archetype dependencies" role--but with a different style. We intend on staying true to this model, especially in raid situations. I want to reiterate that group makeups that do not follow this model will still have success--but not at the rate of a balanced group.
GS: At E3, we saw an impressive demonstration of a dragon flying high in the sky, then swooping down, seemingly at random, to attack a player party. How are these and other epic encounters being handled? Will players need to fulfill specific conditions, or can they expect to be randomly hijacked by flying dragons in the course of their adventures?
CC: Venekor's flight and attack was an example of the type of content we've included in epic encounters. Contained within instanced zones, encounters such as these are meant to be climactic events that highlight the lore and adventure of their parent zones. As such, they are special scenarios. Players will have to earn the right to test their skills against the likes of Venekor by completing a series of quests.
GS: We had previously discussed how EverQuest II will feature "task-based," "lore-based," and "pioneer" quests. But what kind of tasks will be involved in these quests? Killing monsters, collecting loot, delivering items? Will quests be primarily for the purpose of acquiring specific items, or faction standing, or both? Will they be a significant source of cash for players?
CC: Players will recognize many of the familiar archetypical types of quests in the task- and lore-based quests that they undertake. There are, however, many twists on these traditional designs. The primary mode for gaining items in the game will be through adventure-loot drops. Special rewards will be given through quests and social systems.
GS: Speaking of cash... What plans are in place to manage EverQuest II's economy? Will fighting monsters be the only viable way of earning cash? Any plans for an item bazaar, like the one that was introduced in Shadows of Luclin, or any other planned improvements to facilitate trade to keep the economy balanced?
CC: A majority of the time, players will earn actual coin through doing tasks for their cities. Very few adventure creatures will drop coin. Such monsters will, however, drop corpse loot that can be sold to city merchants for money. A system of incentive sinks (mounts, housing, special travel, etc.), combined with a baseline sell price for items, will continuously reduce the money supply.
A city-based consignment system will allow players to sell items to one another. Players will put items up on the market (without a physical representation of vendors). A percentage of the sale price will be deducted as tax to the city. The purchasing player will receive the item from the consignment NPC they interacted with. Of course, players will always be free to sell directly to one another via secure trade.
GS: Though EverQuest had traditionally been mainly about players joining together to fight monsters to complete quests, the game did have player duels, freeform player-versus-player servers, and, later, team-based "race wars" servers. What plans are in place for EverQuest II's player-versus-player combat?
JR: We will be supporting player dueling at release. We plan to add more extensive player-versus-player options to EverQuest II in the future.
GS: Thanks to both of you.