The MMORPG community has just experienced a week like no other. First, we learned the bad news that EverQuest Next was cancelled. Second, a fledgling company called Visionary Realms silenced their detractors with a successful pre-alpha live and unscripted demo of their Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen fantasy MMORPG on Twitch.tv.
After years of stumbles and setbacks, Visionary Realms put their money where their mouth is and once and for all refuted the critics who believed that Pantheon was only vaporware or just another crowdfunding scheme du jour.
Show Me, Don’t Tell Me
In an industry rife with hype, it’s easy to become cynical about proposed MMORPGs these days. The unfortunate cancellation of EverQuest Next is a textbook case of how not to produce and promote an upcoming MMO and only serves to harden those of us who become jaded and skeptical.
We have come to the point in this genre where talk has never been cheaper. People are tired of it. They want to see something concrete. Show me, don’t tell me.
Well VR did just that at 4 PM Friday March 11, 2015. For over 100 minutes the Pantheon development team dared to show off their pre-alpha progress to thousands of gamers via live streaming at Twitch.tv. The demo was comprised of a group of 6 dev members — logged on from various parts of the real world — ready for battle in Avendyr’s Pass. The group wasted little time getting in the thick of things and they promptly engaged in combat, exploration and that rarest of experiences in today’s MMOs: social interaction.
The current tally for views of this session — now available as a replay — are an impressive 7,000+ as I write this article.
As one could plainly see by watching the stream, there were no gimmicks or GM tricks used. What we saw and heard was actual gameplay and audio interaction where a party of appropriate level players actually had to have their wits about them and cooperate with each other to survive and progress. The group headed by Brad McQuaid playing his iconic Aradune avatar complete with the Fiery Avenger sword was as real and authentic as it gets in a MMORPG complete with victories and defeats.
As the group made their way deeper into the zone, they would pull mobs to their temporary campsites. Sometimes only one would come but on other occasions other mobs would aggro and join the battle and cause all manner of chaos. What we got to see was the kind of unscripted gameplay that makes memories.
What We Saw
We got to see the outer regions of the human city of Thronefast. We got to witness the untamed wilds of Avendyr’s Pass firsthand. As the party of adventurers progressed into dangerous territory, they encountered a few orc camps, some undead ruins and eventually they came upon a creepy locale under control of an unsavory cult known as the Union of Shadow.
As the live stream progressed we got to see various classes in action. We saw a tank, a healer, damage dealing classes such as a wizard and a rogue and even a crowd control class called the enchanter — all of them familiar MMORPG class archetypes that have become the staple of fantasy MMORPGs such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft.
We also got a in-game preview of the new colored Mana system that VR revealed back in September of 2015 in the Pantheon Difference section on their official website.
More importantly we got to see the group members having fun devising strategies, using tactics and leveraging unique class abilities to battle their way from camp to camp.
Eventually the group managed to make it through an atmosphere — another Pantheon new feature — to find themselves in the foreboding sanctum of Contravictarious Irra the Unions of Shadow boss. After engaging the boss, the group wiped and respawned in the village square.
What happened next caught everyone and even the devs off guard. Somehow someone in the group still had aggro and the enraged boss and his sinister henchmen arrived in town and proceeded to wipe out the group for a second time. This was even more unexpected as at the time the unsuspecting VR devs were doing an extensive question and answer session taking questions from the Twitch.tv audience.
Upon seeing this, the Twtich.tv audience erupted in howls of delight that likes we haven’t seen since the days of classic EverQuest back in 1999-2001. What we got was a brief taste of the unscripted magic and mayhem of what can happen in a living and breathing fantasy virtual world.
Question and Answer Highlights
After the demo concluded, the VR team had a good solid 10 minutes of Q and A with the viewers. Here are some of the highlights:
- There will be consequences for death. They have some interesting ideas for this but it will require testing and feedback from testers in alpha and beta.
- Pantheon is primarily about grouping but there will be opportunities for soloing.
- Pantheon is also going to have raiding at launch and more content for high level players after launch.
- Deities will be involved in the storyline and players will be interacting with them via questing, faction and even eventually encountering them.
- Classes will grow into defined and powerful roles as they level up.
- Necromancers and bards will be introduced post launch.
- Multi-core processors will be supported.
The Pre-Alpha Gambit
In the past, showing off pre-alpha live action gameplay would never be allowed. This is for good reason. Pre-alpha is an early stage of development where various design concepts and assumptions are being tested and validated. Everything is in a state of flux and subject to change with a relentless process of testing, improvement and refinement. Some features may be removed and others may be added.
First impressions can make or break a video game — especially a MMORPG. But today’s video game consumers don’t care; they expect a AAA video game experience. What VR did in demoing a pre-alpha build of Pantheon on Twitch.tv was extremely daring and risky but after seeing the live demo in action and witnessing the largely positive comments of the viewers in attendance, the gamble paid off big time.
Like the mythical phoenix that dies and is reborn, we witnessed something similar this week. As one proposed MMORPG sadly expired, we had the birth pangs of a new one. Although Pantheon is far from finished, this week marks a major existential milestone for Visionary Realms. This is the week that their upcoming MMORPG Pantheon transformed from just a cold ember of an idea in the minds of the public to a warming campfire of actual substance.
This past week the dream of a classic high fantasy MMORPG that follows in the steps of the venerable EverQuest became one giant step closer to reality. The torch has been passed on. Let’s hope this torch lights a bonfire.