Is No EverQuest Next Release This Year a Good Thing?

By Jeff Francis
Is no EverQuest Next release this year a good thing?

When SOE announced that they were working on an EverQuest Next mmorpg a few years ago, old school gamers went into a frenzy. The players of the EverQuest franchise are a devoted and passionate lot, and many feel that online games have slipped quite a bit in quality since those halcyon days of yore. A few years passed as more information was released, thus whetting the appetites of eager fans. However, a recent Producer's Letter has said that the game will not be released this year. While disheartening for diehard fans, this may not be such a bad decision. Is no EverQuest Next release this year a good thing?

EverQuest Next city setting

There are a lot of high hopes for the EverQuest Next mmo. The franchise has produced a veritable ton of high quality content that has been part of the lives of many gamers for over a decade. The design elements of the game (such as destructible environments, player-made permanent changes to the game's environment, and consequences for player actions) have gotten players hyped up. This was further fueled by John Smedley in 2013 when he said that the game was being redeveloped and added, "What we are building is something that we will be very proud to call EverQuest. It will be the largest sandbox style MMO ever designed... We are remaking Norrath unlike anything you’ve ever seen, but you'll recognize it."

The development of EverQuest Next went along side-by-side with Landmark, the virtual building game that's seen as the testing ground for EQN features. For quite a while, it seemed that Landmark was getting all the attention as players created settings and items that would eventually make their way into the EQN mmo. This was to be expected by Daybreak Game Company (formerly SOE), but it now appears that the focus will now be on EverQuest Next. The Producer's Letter for June states, "As the team has wrapped up the various pieces related to the wipe and the bugs associated with it, we have been shifting our focus and resources over to work on the highest priority tasks and systems that will be used in EverQuest Next. While we do this, we’re working in areas with high amounts of creative risk. This means that while we know what we want to do, we know it will take an unknown amount of iteration, tweaking and sometimes drastic direction changes to get these in game and working the way they need to. Because of this, we simply cannot commit to any dates, because until we get much closer, even our best estimates are educated (but still fairly wild) guesses."

What all this means is that Daybreak is shifting their development resources into EverQuest Next while Landmark takes a back seat. In addition, there will be no EverQuest Next release this year. (Some witty fans are already calling the mmo "EverQuest Next Year.") While such a decision will make some players sad, I think that it's actually a good thing.

Despite the fact that the game has been in development for a number of years, expecting an EverQuest Next release this year was a pipe dream. There are still many elements of the game that are not settled and are in dire need of more development. Part of the difficulty is that the developers are using their own Forgelight engine to power the game, which means that delays are inevitable as issues will continue to crop up as they always do when new technology is being created. If the mmo was using a licensed engine, such as Unity, then the development cycle would be much further along, but, then again, an existing engine might not have all the features that the developers are looking for. We have to remember that the mmo will be sandbox in nature and allow players to create items that can eventually be included in the game.

EverQuest Next concept art

Another issue impacting an EverQuest Next release is that certain features are definitely not ironed out. The introduction of combat into Landmark was disastrous, which prompted developer Dave Georgeson (now no longer with the company) to reassure players that what they had experienced was not the final form of combat that would eventually be found in the game. As Landmark is being used as the petri dish for EQN, the poor reception of the game's combat was a major setback. While crafting and building have been pretty nailed down, the meat and potatoes of any online rpg is combat as players fight against monsters and other players.

One last thought on what has impacted the EverQuest Next launch is that of the company leaving Sony. Any time that a company is bought by another, major changes occur, and this was true for SOE. Not only did they change their name to Daybreak Game Studio, but they also lost a good number of key people, especially Dave Georgeson. A loss of talent and a corporate move plays havoc with any development and release schedule.

The fact is that not having an EverQuest Next launch this year is a good thing because the game is not obviously ready to be released. In fact, it's not officially even in beta testing yet. I would rather wait for the game to be completed with as many as the promised features intact than have a buggy, incomplete version that's released prematurely. The EQ franchise has a tremendous amount of gamer goodwill attached to it, so Daybreak needs to ensure that the game is given a proper release to maintain that good will. Creating an mmo takes time, and the fact that the game was redeveloped in 2013, having to endure a recent corporate shakeup, and that they're developing and tweaking their own game engine, all add up to having the development time significantly increased. Plus, we have to wonder how much support (likely very little) that the development team was getting from Sony before the division was sold off. With all that being said, the developers are still plugging away and we'll eventually see an EverQuest Next release in the future. When we see it is something that I don't wish to hazard a guess on.

Jul052015

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