MMOs ‘don’t give people the tools to build communities anymore,’ says EverQuest 2 artistic director


Kyle Vallee, artistic director of EverQuest 2, is a huge fan of MMO games and has played virtually all of them, but he believes that the genre has lost its way in one respect. The sense of community that was cultivated in early MMOs is being marginalized, he says.

When I first started playing EverQuest, community and collaboration weren’t entirely optional. The monsters were deadly, some classes couldn’t solo at all, and if you wanted to do something you had to contact other players and form a group. The challenge itself was a feature that organically united players.

Some MMOs handle this better than others. I played FF14 when it first came out, and like many gamers, I was completely turned off by it. Years later, after a major overhaul of A Realm Reborn and several well-received expansions, I decided to give it another chance. I had a great time and played through all of Stormblood before I left, but I spent the lion’s share of my time alone. Sure, there were the occasional dungeons or raids in the Main Scenario, but most of the time I was alone, making my way through the Main Scenario Quests.

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Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. FF14 tries to tell a much more structured story than most other MMOs. I enjoyed the story, and finding chores was always there to provide a change of pace when my mind started to melt during the next moogles fetch quest. But sometimes I was surprised, in a world with thousands of players, by how alone I felt. Vallee felt the same way about other MMOs.

“Some MMOs have a group search function for everything,” he said. “You go into the group finder, you go into the zone, you literally don’t talk to other players, you clear the zone as fast as you can and you leave. There is no discussion. In our games you have to chat with other players if you want to find a group. We used to have a group finder, but we felt it removed the sense of community from the game, so we got rid of it.

Now I understand the appeal of quality-of-life features like group search, I really do. One of my biggest frustrations with EverQuest back in the day was how hard it was to find a group at times. Too many shadow knights in Karnor’s castle when you wanted to play meant a long trek to another zone, a few hours of miserable solo XP, or giving up entirely and playing another character (because let’s be honest, we weren’t going to NO play EQ).

The ability to log into WoW, FF14, or TESO, grab your dailies, and enter a group of dungeons with one click is undoubtedly convenient. But as I wrote last year, and as EQ visionary Brad McQuaid famously said, sometimes the magic is in the boring parts. Sometimes you meet a random monk in the Highhold who offers your shaman a tip in exchange for buffs, and he becomes a friend for life. Sometimes you’re waiting for the stripper to finish changing the baby, realize that the tank in your group is in the next town, and decide to meet for a beer. Sometimes you meet love of your life.

EverQuest 2 isn’t very boring these days and I feel like EQ2 has suffered the same fate as modern MMOs. A lot of the content focuses on the raid scene, the characters are extremely powerful and everyone is literally doing it trillions of damage. Having said that, their newest TLE server (Time Locked Extension), Anashti Sul, goes back to the beginning of the game. This is a true classic server, based on the 2006 version and the result of years of work in the studio digging through old databases and testing the original game.

“When we first launched our first TLE group, a lot of players were saying, ‘It’s not what I wanted, it’s not what I expected, I wanted the original game,’” Vallee told me. So that’s what they’re giving them Anashti Sul: You can’t buy or sell Krono, there’s almost nothing on the market, and the game is in its own project vault – changes to Live won’t affect this Origins server and vice versa. It’s challenging, it’s thrilling, and if the 50 instances of the novice zone when I logged in were any indication, players are love it. Everywhere I went, people met through global channels to group together and deal with issues, even as low as level 1.

Watching players group up to attack, develop a plan based on the composition of the group, and challenge them from the very beginning seems to me to be the essence of MMOs. No shade for those who just want to drown out this dungeon crawler, but for me the juice is only worth it if you have to squeeze a little.

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