Update: Three more screens have been added, past the jump. They’re a bit blurry, having been taken on a cell phone, but they hint at an Asian-flavored art design. EQNext also seems to be a reboot of the original story in some capacity.
Update 2: Cell phone pics removed. Higher resolution versions of those and more pictures can be found here.
Sony Online‘s (remember them?) yearly dedication to dead or dying MMO franchises — the “Fan Faire” — is underway this weekend, and the headlining act is none other than the one that put them on the map in the first place: the venerable EverQuest. Since it’s looking a bit like Christina Aguilera next to Blizzard’s Lady Gaga these days, the only way to get any real attention is to make a really bold move.
You may recall that SOE recently took the first step towards franchise resuscitation by pushing the ailing EverQuest II into the freemium market, with an “extended” version that mimics the pay-for-content scheme Turbine has already introduced to Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online (with much aplomb). The beta test for that will begin just a couple of weeks from now on August 17th. Likewise, news from the conference tells us that the good ol’ original is trucking right along with its seventeenth expansion. Titled House of Thule, and slated for October 14th, it gives players access to a handful of new dungeons and player housing. See, WoW fans? You’ve only got about another decade until Blizzard finally figures it out (assuming the apocalypse, alien visitation, or return of Jesus doesn’t happen first).
EQII will be getting its own expansion, Destiny of Velious, as well, but players will have to wait until early next year. It’ll introduce a load of flying mounts (and presumably many other neat, experience-enhancing things) to the game. The EverQuest guys are so good at this add-on business by now that they can knock them out about as often as Nadya Suleman pops out babies.
But the real important thing here is the future of the franchise. Though we only got a little tease, an itty, bitty taste of what’s to come, Sony may just be making the move it needs to stage a comeback with the tentatively titled “EverQuest Next.” Though more information has been promised soon, all we know at the moment is what we can glean from the two pieces of media below:
One of these two images is concept art, and the other one isn’t. A careful eye can discern the two, but at first glance, it’s a bit hard to tell, isn’t it? EQNext seems to be dumping the pseudo-realism of past games in favor of a more jaunty look that some are already equating to Fable. I think it looks good, but experience also tells me that looks don’t amount to much when there aren’t great mechanics there to back it up. EverQuest went a long way towards defining the future of MMORPGs, but the genie has long since been let out of the bottle. The genre is a lot more crowded than it used to be and innovation (with far more failures than success stories) is everywhere. Whatever may happen, Sony Online is going to have to really step up their game if they want to get their marquee franchise back on top.