Avoural rounded the corner, his keen elven senses piercing the gloom beyond the flickering torch held by his larger companion. The two had been traveling together for quite some time, exploring Norrath, although they’d never been as deep underground as this before. He knew Galnar with his human vision was having a difficult time in the cramped caves, but Avoural was enjoying the spaces that forced their enemies into tightly packed bunches that were just perfectly placed for fireballs. The tunnel they were following opened up into a wide chamber ahead, and he could hear something massive moving around. He gestured for quiet, and Galnar doused the torch before the two crept carefully forward. And then they saw it – the largest dragon Avoural had ever seen. Galnar gripped his sword even as Avoural reached for his staff – it’d be a tough fight, but they couldn’t resist a challenge.
“Aaeeeeeeeeeiiiiiii!” Suddenly a black-clad woman charged into the cavern from another tunnel, hollering a battle cry as she pulled out two pistols mid spin. The echoes of gunfire filled the cavern, drowning out the roars of the dragon as it responded to the rain of bullets. “Die, dragon!” A second cry joined the noise as another black clad figure revealed itself with the loud crack of machine gun fire.
Rather jarring. This is the outcome we’re all worried about, isn’t it? When the question about guns and ninjas in Everquest: Next was originally asked, my instinctive response was no, no, please no. But is that the subject itself, or a response to the ‘modern concept’ tag that was attached when the question was asked – How do you feel about modern concepts like guns and ninjas in EverQuest Next?
When I wrote last time, about contested content, the question itself was phrased with very little context. This time, a context was provided, in the word modern. But ninjas and guns need not be modern constructs, jammed into the fantasy with clashing abruptness. When I first saw the question on the Everquest Next forums, the first thing that popped into my head was admittedly a wince as ninjas are right up there with scimitar-wielding drow rangers named Drizzzt (Intentionally misspelled, I mean, there can only be one properly spelled Drizzt, but there are always oh so many cringe-worthy variations.). Ninjas are the mystical super badass guys, with katanas or wakazashi that cut through steel, shuriken hurled with unerring accuracy that can also pierce steel, black catsuits, and even in gritty, modern settings they always seem to have magical powers. They have as many cool toys as Batman, can break into anywhere, are invisible, kill with a single ambush attack, have acrobatic stunts that defy gravity, and if that’s not enough, all they need to do to escape capture is distract their opponent for a fraction of a second. “I want to be a ninja!” can usually be equated to “I want to be a super unbeatable badass!” At least, that’s the way it’s usually meant when I hear it said.
I would say that’s a ninja done very poorly. But could it be done well? The first question would be a matter of setting. Ninjas are distinctly Asian constructs. No matter how you want to define them, and I’ll get to defining them in a bit, there’s no escaping the Asian roots of a ninja. I’ve been playing Everquest 2 lately, so let’s look there as I’m the most currently familiar with it.
Those look pretty Asian inspired to me. I went to several places just to make sure I wasn’t looking at a single isolated example. There’s a starting city, a high level village, at least one training area for monks in the wilderness – all with distinct Asian flavors. Just to put all my ducks in a row, here’s a picture of the training monks. They’re all members of the Ashen Order, an order of monks living out in the middle of nowhere:
Once again, looks like a typical Asian monk training session to me. Are there Asian styled classes as well? Yup! You can be a monk or a bruiser, both of whom can wear gis, have rice hats, use ulaks and other Asian weapons. But they’re not alone with the weaponry! There are katanas, sais, wakazashis, shuriken, I’m sure I’ve even seen a naginata or two. My brigand was dual-wielding a pair of sai for quite some time. So in terms of theme and setting alone, there does definitely seem to be room for a ninja.
So the next question is definition. Can we define a ninja class to fit within the Norrathian theme? Well, why not? If we can define monks to fit – why not a ninja? Ninja don’t have to be sexy women in fishnet and black catsuits. They can be semi-historically accurate warriors trained in subterfuge, misdirection and espionage. They can be shadow mages, hired to carry messages and ferret out information. They can be some blend of the three – or something else entirely. I want to go into a lot of detail here, but this is already getting a bit long, and it really does come down to that simple question in the end – why not? Despite all the protests that I keep seeing, that this version of Everquest that is Everquest Next is a “slap in the face” to Everquest fans – lore is as malleable as its writers want it to be. You can write anything you want into lore, especially if it’s a different continuity than the previous games. Guns, ninjas, combat vehicles, whatever the topic you want to throw in; So far as I’m concerned, the question shouldn’t be “do these things belong,” it should be “can the development team do it well.” Because if they can do it well, we’ll all forget that we were even questioning it in the first place.