The most interesting part of the Everquest Next debut for me were the four “Holy Grails” that were revealed to be part of the new game. These all had the quality of “things we’ve talked about doing for years”. Those things are:
- They called this “change the game”. Or perhaps, get rid of class-based character development.
- Fully Destructible World
- Anything in the game can be destroyed or blown up. Nothing is immune, assuming you can hit hard enough, or have the right too.
- Emergent AI
- This makes the sentient beings in the world more responsive to what the players are doing.
- Permanent Change
- A lot of game activity will be structured around “Rallying Calls” which are sort of public events, only with a much extended scope, and a permanent effect on the game world.
A brief recap of these can be found, for instance, here. The original video of Georgeson describing these is in the part 2 video posted here.
The theme that ties all four of these together is player agency. Players can do more to affect their own gameplay and the world. They are also saying things that make me think crafting will be important to – yet another avenue for player agency. I’m excited about that. There is definitely potential for things to go very, very wrong, though. Large groups of people can behave in unexpected ways.
But for this post, I’m just going to address the first one – Multiclassing. They say there will be 40 “classes” available at launch. I imagine that these classes will be some form of ability tree that you obtain or earn or unlock somehow. They say that you will need to explore the world to find them all, presumably that means that they will move them around periodically. Maybe there is a nexus of power in an underground lava cave that teaches you fire magic? This could be cool, but it could also end up in spawn camping, which would suck.
They are also saying that what abilities you have will depend on what weapon you are carrying. Furthermore, weapons can be tweaked by adding crafting based items to them. (In fact, it will be possible for crafters to create completely new items – at least completely new skins – but that’s a topic for another post).
However, at any given time, you will have only 8 abilities available to be used. There will be no hotbar clutter in this game, no sir!
The first classless RPG was the tabletop system Runequest. Initial character builds had stats (I don’t recall if they were rolled or bought, probably rolled) and skills that were bought up with build points. During play, skills increased only with use. Also, you could learn some magic, also during play. It was more or less expected that every character in this world would learn a little magic. If you’re not interested in historical crunch, skip the next paragraph.
The improvement model was this: During an adventure, any skill which you succeeded a roll for got checked off. At the end of an “adventure”, all checked skills got a roll to improve. A skill ranking was a number from 0 to 99, and the chance for it to improve was 100 minus the skill rank. So to improve a skill, you had to both succeed at the skill at least once during the adventure, and “fail” at it during the “do I go up” test. So skills in the middle were the ones that went up the most often. Also, the lower a skill was, the bigger the increment it went up by 0-19: +5, 20-39: +4, 40-59: +3, 60-79: +2, and 80-98: +1. You could not have a skill higher than 99.
In the end, I don’t really like the Runequest skill system, which I’ve used more playing _Call of Cthulhu_ than RQ itself. It always makes me feel incompetent. This is a completely subjective effect – you could argue that a 40% attack chance with sword is pretty much the same thing as a +8 base attack bonus, but it doesn’t feel the same. But I digress.
The MMOs that have done something along these lines are Guild Wars 2 and EVE Online. Guild Wars 2 uses the “only 8 abilities at a time” idea, plus the “different weapons give you different abilities”, but it’s still class-based. There’s really no mixing and matching. EVE Online has no classes, only skills. Skills however, are what permit you to fly certain ships, and use certain weapons and defenses. But when you change ships, you change roles completely.
One other recent game of note that did multiclassing-like things is Skyrim. Role flexibility was partially limited in Skyrim, because you could not reconfigure your enhancement points, which came at the rate of one per level. But there was complete fluidity in what skills you could learn, and what gear you could use. I did a lot of gear-switching with at least one of my toons, who eventually got good enough that he could sneak up to someone in heavy armor. Often they wouldn’t survive the first attack.
It remains to be seen how they will implement this – for example, how do weapons interact with classes. Do classes give one, say, four abilities per weapon? If so, that’s a whole lot of abilities, even if it’s per weapon type. Or perhaps classes have abilities tied to only a few weapons? Or some abilities that are independent of weapons? All of these could be fun.
So the good part of this is that it means that a player can have agency, and also flexibility. A while after Alternate Advancement (and Alternate Abilities) were introduced in Everquest 2, a mirror which allowed save-and-restore of AA configurations was made available. I think this sort of thing will probably be more widely used in EQNext and available from game launch. I expect that there may never be AAs. (But who knows?)
But yeah, one can use the abilities that are fun, and work best in a situation. So that’s very exciting.
But there are some worries here, too.
The first concern is that the class system promoted teamwork. Your class more or less told you what your role was, and what your value to a group was. At least, that’s how it worked in D&D. Fighters were meatshields, thieves opened the locks and dealt with the traps, clerics healed people, and wizards mostly toasted marshmallows while every once in a while going ZAP, and winning the encounter for you.
In Everquest, this translated to the Holy Trinity – tank, healer, mezzer. This Holy Trinity was modified in later games by dropping the mezzer role and recognizing the dps role. (Much to my redheaded dissatisfaction!) They want to get rid of it altogether. Some claim that the “taunt” ability exists because early games did no collision detection, hence it was impossible to block mobs from attacking the casters. I’m not sure if that’s true historically, but blocking is certainly how we manage things in the tabletop game. So more recent games have eliminated taunt as an ability, and modified the AIs of mobs. They do pay attention to who’s doing the most DPS, though.
But that means there is a loss of a sense of “team”. Everyone will come to the party with the same abilities, and that will be difficult. It’s something to watch.
The second possible problem is what I’d call the “Killer Combo”. When there are enough different abilities floating around (and there could be, for example, 40 classes times 8 slots times 10 weapon types equals 320 different abilities that can be used with the same weapon), there’s a good chance that some of them will produce extraordinary results because they are particularly synergistic. I think it’s expected that some combos will work better than others, just as some will be better depending on the situation. But the Killer Combo creates lots of problem. It will channel gameplay narrowly, and people who don’t like that playstyle will be jealous and out will come the nerf bat. This will create more unhappiness, and more jealousy, and more nerf batting. It’s a vicious cycle and one to be avoided. Taking stuff away from people is much worse than never giving it to them in the first place.
But what I hope for is that this will play out like it does in EVE Online – nobody really cares all that much. Because if you want to do Killer Combo X, then go out and get the pieces and do it. And if you don’t like doing it, figure out how to persuade the people who do like to do it, to do it with you.
Where things get really horrid is with the One True Build crowd. Those are the ones with the World’s Best Build, and who don’t want to have anything to do with anyone who doesn’t also have the Worlds Best Build or at least the Build That Does All the Things That the World’s Best Build Doesn’t Do But Still Needs. Honestly, I don’t want to have to spend a lot of energy on that crowd.