There are many adjectives that could be used to describe EverQuest, particularly a few years ago: humongous, riveting, social, lore-filled, epic. The list could go on for a very long time. There is one word, though, that would never make that list: easy. Almost every player has at least one memorable, near catastrophic corpse recovery story. Today, we take a look at the death mechanic specifically and address how it could be handled in the future.
The main reason EverQuest was not easy is because any action taken in EverQuest had consequences. Not all of them were negative. You could decide to get a group together and crawl your way through a deep, dark dungeon, kill the horrors awaiting you every step of the way, and make your way out with new epic loot. The best part of it is that, due to the difficulty of the game, it actually felt like a real accomplishment.
Most modern MMOs have taken the luxury of reducing consequences down to almost nothing. Everything from the way you treat each other, to the feel of dungeons, to the person who decides to ninja-loot, no longer has a consequence. It seems that the MMO developers of today would rather just hand everyone their rewards on a silver platter.
The area in which this shines through the most is how current-gen MMOs handle death. In the early days of EverQuest, if you died, you returned to your bind point with all of your gear on your corpse where you had died. If this was down in a dungeon or even in the middle of a dangerous zone, getting back to your body to retrieve your gear could prove nearly impossible. You would have to rely on friendly rogues to go out and pull your corpse back. Or after it had been implemented, a Necromancer might come to the zone with you and summon your corpse. If you did not retrieve it in seven days, your body would rot away, and your gear with it. You would lose everything.
On top of that, you would also lose a fairly sizable chunk of experience, which sometimes even caused you to lose your current level and move down one until you earned it back. Even with a Resurrection spell from a Cleric, until Ruins of Kunark launched, you could only get 90% of that back. Not wanting to go through the penalty of death, everyone in the group would usually be on top of their game. There was constant communication among dungeon dwellers, and it really helped to build up the server communities.
Another really good example of a game that does get death right is EVE Online. This game came out almost ten years ago; that is before games like World of Warcraft became the norm on the market. It is gruelingly difficult and unforgiving. There are stages of death in EVE. You can lose your ship, which means it blows up. It is gone. Kaput. Hope you have insurance! When that happens, you are then jettisoned out into an escape pod. That pod can then be shot down and destroyed by enemy players. If that happens, you are dead; no if, ands or buts. You then “respawn” at your nearest clone. The catch is, though, that your really expensive modifications are gone. This could be millions of ISK (in game currency) worth of augmentations. That doesn’t even mention the millions (or sometimes BILLIONS) of ISK lost on the ship and all of its components that were blown to smithereens and/or looted from your wreckage. Again, death has major consequences.
Nowadays — and this is where I start sounding like a grumpy old man — everything is handed to the players. Death is either a minor inconvenience, or sometimes it is a fast travel option to get back to the quest givers or the next zone that you are heading to. Why would you run across the world and experience it, when you could just die and be insta-ported to your destination? Yes, there is usually some sort of minimal monetary loss for dying, like having to repair your gear, but the stakes are so minimal that it just seems like more of a cop-out than anything.
This, of course, brings me to EverQuest Next. The topic of death penalties was one that we have yet to hear anything about. With talk of SOE “going back to the roots of EQ,” I had high hopes that we would hear some sort of tidbit about how death will have a real and lasting meaning in EverQuest Next. I am not saying that I would want it to be as extreme as the above example of EVE Online, but what I do not want is some AoE grind fest where you really cannot die because you are so overpowered, or everyone just rushes in head first because it will not have negative side effects.
Death in EverQuest really meant something. It actually felt bad to die, and it felt even worse if you caused your group to wipe by your actions. Not only did you lose experience, but you had to get back to your corpse to get your gear. You were literally naked (well, loin cloth, but still) until you could equip your items again. Even though it may seem like such a small detail in the big picture, that aspect of the game really helped to build and foster the communities that we grew so attached to on our servers. If you asked me to name memorable players that I met in EverQuest, I could give you at least twenty or thirty names just off the top of my head. If you asked me the same question about World of Warcraft, I do not know if I could even name five.
Does a strong consequence for dying, in itself, create these relationships? No, not by far. But does systematically taking out anything that is hard, or maybe a bit of an inconvenience for players, cause a greater rift between the denizens of a server? Absolutely. I hold out hope that SOE realizes how important our server communities were to us back in EverQuest. From what they have said in multiple interviews (particularly Dave Georgeson), it sounds like they do. Give me death and real consequences any day over the “Easy-Mode” MMOs we have now. I do not want handouts. I want to feel a sense of accomplishment when I hear that *DING* or I acquire a new weapon or armor piece from a raid boss. And if I have to Un-Ding a few times on the road to glory, then so be it.
Have an opinion on how death should be handled? Join me in the EQNexus forums to discuss more.