Back in the late '80s, role-playing games were as numerous as real-time strategy games are today. Gamers couldn't toss a gold piece in a software store without hitting a good RPG. With a new edition of Ultima, Wizardry, Might and Magic, or Bard's Tale released every few weeks, gamers rarely had time to grab a few ales at the virtual inn before it was time to begin another quest. Well, the times have changed. RPGs are few and far between and, except for a few notable titles from Bethesda, Interplay, and Westwood, the old-school RPG has gone the way of the dragon. Sony Interactive Studios America (SISA) may very well change all of this with its upcoming release EverQuest, an online 3D RPG that promises to immerse gamers in a world of sorcery and high fantasy.
EverQuest will be set in Norrath, a world consisting of five continents, six to twelve major cities and townships, and over 20 adventuring areas - including an underwater zone, a lava zone, and an ice region. SISA is also promising constant game-world expansion plus the ability to travel to other planes. As for the storyline, there isn't any one overriding plot. "We spent a lot of time developing the history of Norrath... creating a huge pantheon of gods, creating stories and legends. We want the players to expand on that history and shape Norrath into their world," explained producer Brad McQuaid.
As with traditional RPGs, you will create and develop an alternate identity to explore the lands of Norrath in search of fame, fortune, and a bit of good-spirited swordplay. Character choices will be wide and diverse with 12 races (Barbarian, Dark Elf, Dwarf, Erudite, Gnome, Half-Elf, Halfling, High Elf, Human, Ogre, Troll, and Wood Elf) and 14 classes (Bard, Cleric, Druid, Enchanter, Magician, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Shadow Knight, Shaman, Warrior, and Wizard) plus the ability to choose sex, alignment, and spirituality. Unlike other first-person 3D games that stress single-player action, EverQuest will focus on cooperation. According to Brad, "Games like Quake, Doom, and other first-person games have always pitted people against people. We're trying to go the next step and stress a cooperative environment. We want people to form parties and work together." Not that loners can't embark on quests by themselves. As Brad puts it, "A Troll Shadow Knight would really kick some ass, but there are still some things that are going to be almost impossible to do on your own... like killing a dragon for instance."
SISA is marketing this new genre as a - take a deep breath with me - "true 3D massively multiplayer online RPG." So what does this mean exactly? "Multiplayer online RPG" is pretty self-explanatory. "Massively" refers to the number of players supported, one thousand in EverQuest's case. But what about "true 3D"? Brad explains that "every item, every feature in EverQuest is a 3D object, from a sword to a snowflake. Although EverQuest is a hard-core RPG, we think we'll bring in a lot of people from the Quake scene because of the 3D world, the lighting features, and the graphical beauty." Beautiful indeed! Even at this early date (closed pre-beta testing is scheduled to begin soon), the 640x480 16-bit color graphics look superb. By incorporating several camera choices as well as a first-person perspective, the development team at SISA allows you to view the fairly detailed world of Norrath from several different angles, and the 3D lighting effects from spells, lanterns, and fires look cooler than the Fonz.
How will EverQuest overcome the problems found in other online RPGs? This has yet to be seen, but the design team at SISA is taking all possible steps to ensure smooth gameplay. "We want to do as much as possible to deliver a rich world with as little lag and as few problems as possible," Brad explained. As mentioned earlier, SISA plans to keep the number of people per server down to approximately one thousand to keep server slowdown to a minimum. Sony will also include several diagnostic tools with the EverQuest package that will allow you to trace your connection and help recognize server problems. In addition, EverQuest will require a fast Pentium with a minimum of 32 megs of RAM and a Direct 3D-compliant graphics card, so the hefty system requirements will guarantee that every player has a computer with enough beefcake to handle the software.
Look for EverQuest to hit the shelves sometime in late 1998. Because of the size of this RPG and the ambition behind this project, EverQuest will undoubtedly be one of the most talked-about games of this year. Keep checking GameSpot for the latest information.