Here we are again; the end of another summer is upon us and MMO ATK is once again ready to head back to SOE Live at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada. We’re excited to witness first-hand the evolution of current projects and the new reveals that will shape the coming years for Sony Online Entertainment. Last year’s show caused quite a stir with the highly anticipated announcement of EverQuest Next, and they’ve since continued their momentum with the full release for Dragon’s Prophet as well as early access/closed beta for the EverQuest series spinoff, Landmark. April even saw the reveal of a brand new IP for Sony Online, H1Z1, a post-apocalyptic zombie survival MMO. So looking forward, what’s the mission for this year’s show to keep things moving in the right direction?
The keyword to all of Sony Online’s messaging for SOE Live 2014 will be ‘relevance’. It’s a crowded market these days in the gaming world and setting yourself apart — above other titles of the genre — is a difficult thing to do. Many of SOE’s IPs have an abundance of competition already on the market and they need to hammer down, beyond any reasonable doubt, why the experience in their game is the one you need to be playing. … Why Landmark over Minecraft? … Is H1Z1 more rewarding and satisfying than DayZ? … Wildstar rocked my world, can EverQuest Next rock me harder? Sony’s messaging needs to be clear, concise and confident so questions like these all answer in thier favor.
With all this in mind, here’s where each game is at and what we expect/hope to see at this year’s show.
EverQuest, what’s Next?
Last year’s hottest story coming out of SOE Live was the announcement of the next big step in the EverQuest franchise. The beloved series that defined the MMO before MMOs were even cool got not just one new game, but two: EverQuest Next and Everquest Next Landmark (now shortened to just Landmark). Both were announced to massive fanfare as Dave Georgeson, Director of Development for the EverQuest Franchise, pulled back the proverbial curtain on the ambitious MMORPGs. Over the past year, pieces of Landmark have been coming together in playable form, but very little has been heard of for the threequel, Next.
To be fair, SOE does host regular EQN Round Tables to discuss features for both Next and Landmark, but a lot of the information plays as superficial or predictable. It’s a lot of ‘what’s standard,’ not much ‘what’s new’ and unless you’re really paying attention, they’re easy to miss. The updates are appreciated, but every now and then it’d be nice to get something big for the headlines. And for Nagafen’s sake, SHOW us something.
Given the rather quiet progress since its announcement, we predict that EverQuest Next will take center stage for a second year in a row. Next is a huge deal for the company — it’s the franchise on which their foundation was built — and fans are avid for more information. Get ready for a lot of spectacle, with first glimpses at new classes, new environments and new tech… basically a lot of progress updates and showing off of new features being implemented: ones that will hopefully redefine the way we play. The MMORPG landscape, including both free-to-play and pay-to-play, is far different than it was when EverQuest II launched. It’s a vastly more fragmented market and SOE is going to have to wow gamers and fight harder than ever for their user acquisition.
Dynamic, action-based combat and destructible environments were touched on at last years show, but with heavy competition like Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar recently hitting the market, Sony will need to pull out all the stops to show why it deserves a spot atop the podium. It would be ideal for them to discuss ways that Next will encourage gamers to play together rather than just soloing in the server. Players don’t group up the same way they used to, which is sad. Playing together helps create a more rewarding experience and is a good reason to keep players coming back.
And here is where our Next predictions get realistically unfortunate. With how much time MMOs take to develop, we don’t anticipate an EverQuest Next release date. Even mention of a closed beta date might be a stretch before SOE Live 2015. We’d love to be surprised with even a narrow window, but we’re playing safe and conservative. Instead, expect an even more public development approach moving forward with meatier EQN Round Tables and more frequent screenshot/video teaser releases. The following year will be about building up hype towards an eventual beta, so SOE will want to keep the media and gamers alike on full attention with regular releases of fresh content.
Landmark: Staking a Claim
The EverQuest spin off that debuted at last years show, Landmark, wowed gamers with its impressive tool set and potential for EQN integration. Despite the relatively steep learning curve attached to the tile, the creations that users have managed to assemble are nothing short of amazing. No doubt we’ll see a lengthy sizzle reel featuring a number of the astonishing user claims when Landmark inevitably spotlights following Next.
Launching in early access, Landmark initially felt like something of a rough tech demo. At SOE Live 2013, developers preached of a full-fledged MMORPG with mobs and weaponry, but to this day, many of these exist only as an item on a to-do list (not a critique as the game is still in closed beta, just noting). The basics are all there, but it’s still a shell of what it hopes to accomplish.
As new bioms and resources are added, Landmark is slowly growing into its fullest potential. With much of the foundation finally in place, SOE will talk extensively about the next steps towards adding the ‘RPG’ to their sandbox MMO. Video demonstrations and expected roll-out dates for mobs, weapons, armor, etc. are almost a guarantee if they hope to prove the game’s relevancy amongst the growing number of competing titles. It’s a fast ball being pitched at SOE and they need a home run here. Landmark is a solid experience and we anticipate that the best yet to come, but they need to make all the right moves to get players excited and onboard.
H1Z1: Zombies Are Coming
H1Z1 is Sony Online’s surprise entry into the zombie survival MMO. It was announced in the spring of 2014 and gave off a very strong DayZ meets Rust kind of vibe. Shortly after announcing the game, the devs hosted a community event on their San Diego campus to give fans a taste of an early build. All exciting stuff, but then the game fell into something of a radio silence. Like the EQN Round Tables mentioned above, unless you were really paying attention or a truly avid fan, it’s unlikely you’ve heard much of anything from the H1Z1 front.
SOE Live will be a really good opportunity to gather all the quiet announcements they’ve made through Twitter, Twitch and interviews in past months and share them with a bang.
Expect big things this year for H1Z1. The progress we noticed behind the scenes at E3 as compared to the initial debut was pretty staggering. With a few more months of progress under their belt, SOE Live will be a great platform for them to blow the doors wide open. We’re holding out for some impressive zombie AI, effective social tools and intuitive core mechanics like crafting, sustainability and building. Competition like DayZ has really dropped the ball with updates and bug fixes which leaves SOE a good opportunity to capitalize and corner the market.
Ready for this one? 100% guarantee: expect the H1Z1 early access release date to coincide with the show. BOOM. You can take that, children, to the bank. It’s been weeks since we originally expected early access and SOE President John Smedley has teased H1Z1 on Steam as early as this past June. Delaying game access any further would be a bad foot to put forward, which doesn’t bode well for games of the genre. Post-apocalyptic survival MMOs are infamous for horrible public relations issues, so close ties to the community and a strong feeling of trust are going to be instrumental in keeping the game alive for years to come. Besides, how cool would it be to hear, “H1Z1 is amazing and you can play it right now!”
DCUO: Heroes Get Remembered
SOE’s DC Universe Online is getting up there in terms of aging MMOs, but unlike many of the other massive multiplayer titles on the market, DCUO is handling its years in strides. The game just saw its platform availability expand in late 2013 to include Sony’s Playstation 4 and its latest expansion, Halls of Power Part I, just released.
Expect your standard superhero MMO fare coming out of this year’s show. We’ll see some new character classes featuring new powers and an abundance of previews for some upcoming expansions, featuring some DC villain to which we haven’t yet seen the likes of… or something crazy like that. (Don’t get me wrong, I love DCUO; it’s one of my favorite MMOs, but much of the comic canon is lost on me — I just like the game.)
Planetside 2: The Big Guns
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk SOE’s MMOFPS, Planetside 2. Planetside 2 typically plays it quieter at SOE Live as many of it’s updates are subtle tweaks to mechanics or visuals and don’t require much fanfare. This year is an exception with the upcoming release of the new vehicle the Valkyrie and the anticipated release of the PS4 version. Much of the talk will be around this but don’t be surprised to hear about some new maps. Other than that, there’s not too much that can be expected. Can’t wait to play on PS4!
So that’s that. We’ve just laid out everything we can think to expect out of SOE Live 2015. It’s going to be an exciting show and we’ll be doing what we can to keep you in the loop every step of the way. Check back all next week for our continued coverage! Got any predictions that you think we missed? Let us know below!