We have traveled through the depths of Darkhollow for two months now yet further adventures in undiscovered lands are inevitable. With absolutely no information available yet, now is as good a time as any to step back and predict what we may see in the future. With ten released expansions, we can now begin to see patterns within each release. We can accurately predict announcement dates and release dates. We can see trends in power increases. In today's editorial we use history and analysis to predict what Everquest's next expansion may contain.
Dragons of Norrath and Depths of Darkhollow both began to focus on old world lore and zones. With the general negative feedback of the Muramite campaign, I expect SOE to continue to focus on old-world lore. Beyond that it becomes difficult to predict the theme. We haven't seen much from Odus in a while. The western hemisphere of Norrath has seen little activity since Legacy of Ykesha. The center of Antonica; Rathe Mountains, High Pass, and the Karanas, have seen little change excluding the war of Antonica. Perhaps new lands will be discovered there. While we got a taste of the ruins of Takish Hiz, the ancient abandoned city of the elves, back in Lost Dungeons, those ruins are ripe for further exploration and adventure.
Every third Everquest expansion since Kunark has given us a level limit increase. While it may be too early, I believe the next expansion will raise the level limit to 75. With this addition, new sets of Alternate Advancement points and spells will continue to raise the power of players. It is possible, however, that the extreme wide spread of level 1 to 70 players may delay the level increase. Right now it takes a long time for any player to reach level 70 through normal hunting and adventure, not to mention the required AAs expected at this level. Yet if we look at history, it tells us that this expansion will increase levels to 75.
It is also possible that this will be the first expansion to require sets of AAs in order to reach higher levels. Currently it is possible for players to outlevel their own power by skipping AAs completely. They reach a state where hunting becomes very difficult at their level with their lack in basic alternate abilities. A required AA cap for each level will let those already at level 70 with hundreds of AAs level up quickly while others must earn AAs before being able to reach the highest levels. This would be a big change and isn't likely to occur.
The success of monster missions will lead to further refinement of this feature in future expansions. In the next expansion we may see the first multi-group monster events; raids with no requirements for level or equipment. We may also see progressive monster missions with longer storylines and progressive rewards. Complete a set of five monster missions and earn new and powerful equipment. I expect monster missions will play more of a role in the storyline and progression through the expansion.
As we have discussed before, however, monster missions are not the primary focus of Everquest. Hunting with primary characters is. The next expansion will most likely include five or six static hunting zones with high experience gains and good single-group drops. One of these may be locked in a similar quest to the Dreadspire access quest. Zones will most likely be level 55 to 75 with at least two 73+ zones. One old-world zone will likely be rebuilt as we saw with Lavastorm and Nektulos Forest. The new expansion will most likely continue to focus on single-group missions and will probably include thirty to forty such missions.
With the high power of Demiplane of Blood and the low number of guilds who have fully defeated all previous Gates, Omens, and Dragons raids, I expect to see more Dragons-level events and raids from level 60 to 75. A series of five or more high-end raids for those of the Demiplane level will most likely keep high end raiders busy but I do not expect the next expansion to push the high-end raiding bar past Anguish and Demiplane of Blood.
While raid loot distribution will probably continue as it has, we will most likely see a new way to handle single-group loot. Dragons gave us the point system and Depths gave sets of equipment to an entire group, yet neither system is ideal. I expect to see rewards for completing sets of missions and random drops within each mission itself. For example, completing five Takish Hiz Crypt missions awards a player with a new piece of primary armor. Along the way, each mission dropped a random piece of gear or augment. Some of those drops might be better than the end reward for a quest, steering players to go back and do missions multiple times.
Each expansion usually includes another feature or tool. Gates gave us tribute systems, Omens gave us the task system, Dragons gave us the guild hall, and Depths gave us Spirit Shrouds. It is difficult to know exactly what the next expansion will offer, so I will throw out one possible idea: The Adventurer's Tavern and Inn.
The Adventurer's Tavern would be a zone off of Plane of Knowledge; a creation by particularly enterprising gnomes and dwarves to capitalize on the high traffic in Knowledge. The Tavern has many features of the guild hall including buff timer pausing, hitpoint and mana regeneration, ideal tradeskill equipment, and vendors selling common and useful items. The Tavern is also a hub for a new set of missions, both monster and regular. The tavern will act as a focal point for players to gather, share tales, and sing song. Short duration missions and missions designed for three players will let people quickly group and head off on an adventure. This idea is a shot in the dark, but you never know.
So when will we see this new expansion? The new expansion will be announced three months from the release of Depths and hit store shelves three months after that. Expect to hear something by the end of December or early January with a release of mid-February to mid-March 2006.
Obviously, these predictions are based on tiny threads of evidence and based highly on historical actions. I am unlikely to be even partially right with these. However, it sure is fun to dream.
11 November 2005