Over the past few years, I've hiked up the slopes in World of Warcraft's Dun Morogh, I've dipped my toes in Guild Wars 2's Frostgorge Sound, and I've watched wildlife in Rift's Iron Pine Hills. But never once have I suffered from the cold of these snowy MMORPG environments. That'll all change with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Brad McQuaid's new MMO which is currently pulling in funding on Kickstarter . The world of Terminus, in his vision, would be governed by climates that shift dramatically from zone to zone, encouraging players to acclimatize themselves and bring along spells and items that ensure victory in the harsh environments.
"The general idea behind acclimatization is if you spend a lot of time in the desert, then the heat doesn't bother you as much, or if you're up in the tundra, the cold stops bothering you," McQuaid says. Players would initially have to come to places like the tundra with resistance gear to fight back the elements, but in time they'd attune to the demands of the region. "Eventually, you can take off some of the protective gear so can equip yourself to deal better damage or absorb more damage for your group."
It's an ambitious idea; so much so that McQuaid wasn't ready to talk about it when we spoke with him earlier this month . McQuaid isn't even entirely sure if it will work once they make the leap from the concept to player interaction on the beta servers. "Doing a Kickstarter project is different for us because we're very early in the development process and yet we're revealing a lot more information because we want people to get excited." Normally, he says, this is the kind of thing that press and players wouldn't even hear about until the project was in a workable state.
Yet it could be the killer feature that elevates Pantheon above a nostalgic old-school MMOPRG. Many of the climates would feature "predictable" conditions such as hot or cold, although McQuaid also spoke of swamp regions that would require protection against poisonous gases. Others, however, reveal just how loosely McQuaid defines climates on account of Pantheon's universe of interdimensional shards colliding into each other. Some zones, he said, might "confuse you" and still others would feature modified gravity.
Cool stuff, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we'll see whole regions crammed with jumping puzzles. "I don't want people to think it's a platform game and that's Sonic's bouncing all over the place," he says. Rather, it a model that's aimed at escaping the samey feel of MMORPGs where zones serve as mere backdrops to combat systems that rarely change. "We're using fairly sophisticated physics models," he says, and he adds that other his ideas include underwater zones that require the same degree of acclimatization.
The complexity of the concept makes it sound rather like a secondary leveling system, but McQuaid insists it's nothing like that. "You're not doing it permanently," he says. "It's more like a form of a long-term buff for resistances that works as long as you're in a certain climate. Once you leave that region, you start building up for another buff." I asked if we'd ever be able to pick up where we left off if we returned to the region, but he just said it would depend on the climate.
McQuaid's vision for Pantheon amounts to more than a new take on resist gear. He also sees acclimatization having an impact on combat, to the point that some fire spells (for instance) would be far more devastating in frozen zones than in deserts. But mages need not worry that acclimatization gimps them for other encounters. "The spells and abilities and gear that work better or worse in a certain climate will be the more rare and exotic ones," he says, referring to the ability to collect new abilities by exploring the world. "Your base spells, abilities, and gear should work fine."
In fact, Pantheon's emphasis on obtaining items and weapons for specific situations extends beyond environmental conditions. McQuaid also spoke of craftable or lootable weapons that would deal bonus damage to specific enemies, such as swords that unleashed hell on giants. It all sounds like an awful lot to keep track of, but he adds that players would likely be able to switch between different sets at will in order to face specific situations.
McQuaid also sees acclimatization as leading to interdependence in grouping. "If a character has spent some time in a certain climate, or if he has some gear that makes him more effective in a certain climate, it will make him more useful in certain groups," he says. "Hopefully it will broaden who is wanted in certain groups because it won't just be about your DPS or your ability to tank anymore."
But first, he stresses, it must be enjoyable. "That's why I'm stressing that a lot of this stuff needs to be tested by us. It might sound fun, but then you implement it, and you realize you have players thinking, 'Hey, I just got this buff and now I have to abandon it.' That's no fun."
So far, players seem to believe the former lead designer of EverQuest can pull it off. With a month left before Kickstarter locks down funding for Pantheon, Visionary Realms has already amassed $185,000 of the $800,000 the tiny studio is asking for the project.