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The Creation of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMORPGs, are capable of providing some of the most immersive experiences video games have to offer. By blending large explorable worlds, long-term character development, and live interactions with other players on a massive scale, MMORPGs feel like a second home to many people 

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is an upcoming MMORPG that is aiming to bring new life to the MMORPG space with a fresh emphasis on this type of impactful immersion. To accomplish this, Creative Director Chris Perkins and the development team at Visionary Realms have drawn heavy inspiration from what made the original MMORPGs so great, while also developing exciting new evolutions to the MMORPG experience.

The Creation Journey

From the beginning, Perkins and his team have been dedicated to creating an aesthetic he describes as “believable fantasy”. They have done this by combining a high fantasy visual style with a world rooted in a believable story, setting, context and history. By creating an immersive world of believable fantasy, they hope to encourage a spirit of adventure and a sense of wonder in players. “One of the ways we are trying to attain this specific goal, says Perkins, is to allow players to go wherever they can see in the world.” Many games on the market right now have incredibly beautiful backdrops and vistas, but players are not always able to interact with or venture to these environmental elements. Perkins argues that, “we want to capture the same sense of grandeur these backdrops can provide, but we want to take it further and instill in the player, from the very beginning, that everything you see is an actual experience waiting to happen.”

To be able to reach these places, players need to be able to move around the environment, and getting those dynamics right are something Perkins emphasizes as an important part of creating the right player experience. With Pantheon, the goal is for players to be able to navigate the world completely, but some of that access will be achieved by the player as they grow over time, and level up their skills such as free climbing which opens up different layers of the world. “No matter how high up in the air something is, or how deep below the surface it descends, you will have the tools to get there,” says Perkins. The story-based system of the game ensures that these adventures will be ripe with content for players to uncover, further cementing the Pantheon axiom that meaningful adventure leads to compelling discoveries.

A world that promotes immersive adventure is a world filled with a wide variety of environments and points of interest. Perkins and his team have set out to accomplish exactly that. Based on the rich backstory of Pantheon’s game world, called Terminus, players will behold wildly diverse realms and biomes that have been cohesively melded together. However, with these strange biomes and atmospheres will come hazards that could be deadly to adventurers if they are not properly prepared. Acclimating to these extreme climates and collecting a variety of equipment, skills, and abilities will be necessary to successfully explore the furthest reaches and harshest regions the game has to offer.

What is Next for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen’s Creation

The game, though nearing its alpha stage of development and foundationally strong, still has time to go before it is ready to ship. The major development focus for the team right now is building out content for the world of Terminus. Perkins argues that, “one of the most challenging parts of developing an MMO is creating the sheer amount of world that you want. All of the identity we want to imbue in this game and into the player experience depends on realizing that world successfully.”

Additionally, the team is also focusing in on refining the various elements of the player experience, including the all-important starting experience for new characters. In doing so, Perkins notes Pantheon’s ambitious concept, that “it’s vital to what Pantheon is aiming to be that we capture some of the critical components of the first and second generation of MMORPGs that made this genre so unique and captivating. However, we also want to carefully consider some of the evolutions that have occurred along the way, and find successful ways of evolving these core fundamentals of early MMORPGs into a modern era play experience.” Evolving the way players interact with and move through the world is one example of how the Pantheon team is doing this. Skill-based climbing, ground dashes, short distance gliding, wind and water currents and animal taming, just to name a few.

 (Copyright: Visionary Realms)

How will Pantheon Stand out in a Sea of MMORPGs?

This is one of the key questions for Pantheon and one they do not shy away from answering. Perkins outlines that there are four ways they are working to depart from the contemporary MMO space to ensure Pantheon becomes a pivotal turning point in the genre.

Immersion: The current MMO market is saturated with offerings that lean towards lobby-based experiences. Instead of MMORPGs being captivating, immersive game worlds filled with the spirit of adventure, they have been reduced to heavily automated lobbies full of game modes, with players queuing for a myriad of instanced activities, ferried to and fro via instantaneous travel. Perkins argues that there is too little adventure to be had there. Visionary Realms is looking to recapture the wonder of exploration by crafting an immersive game world that opens itself more and more to the player over time, rewarding exploration with meaningful discoveries all along the way.

Challenge: Pantheon is being designed with a variety of complimentary gameplay systems that are designed to make players think carefully before they engage in combat encounters. The game’s enemies (or NPCs) can think, make decisions and react to various situations in and out of combat, allowing for more consistently diverse and unexpected combat encounters. To go even further, Pantheon’s NPCs will often spawn with special personalities and/or behavioral traits called “dispositions”, creating yet another dynamic layer to encounters within the game. Imagine that an NPC is afraid of fire and will run away and alert nearby enemies if you bring fire magic to the fight. This is the kind of strategic challenge Perkins says that are wanting to capture.

Additionally, the environments of the game world are also incorporated into the overall challenge framework. The climate system will present players with a variety of climate-based effects like scorching heat, bitterly frigid cold, or hazardous toxicity. In order to traverse these environmentally treacherous areas, players will need to protect themselves through various special abilities, equipment and even a degree of natural acclimation they can build up over time if they persist in a particular climate long enough.

Community Oriented Gameplay: Player interaction is a core value of the game, and as such the world is designed to promote shared experiences among players. The challenge of the game feeds into this equation, often requiring players to band together to overcome the more perilous activities. But this tenet is also found in some of the tools Visionary Realms is developing to help players connect more easily, allowing them to more quickly find other players to engage with, and then building the game in such a way that each player has a multitude of meaningful things they are bringing to the table.

Story Content: From the ground up Pantheon is being constructed as a non-linear experience. The team is adamant about not including guiding elements like mini maps. As Perkins states, “we don’t want flashing lights and symbols on a mini map guiding your way. We want you to engage the world with your eyes and ears – find the places you want to go by looking around, listening and feeling your way through the world.”

But how do you feed the lore of the world to the player if you can’t deliver it through a prescriptive path? Visionary Realms’ answer comes in the form of the Perception System, an environmental storytelling system that essentially turns the environment itself into the quest giver. When a player sees or hears something that interests them and they draw near (be it a strange marking on a tree, a statue, an open courtyard, or a mysterious NPC), the Perception system will provide an intuition-based message that alerts the player there may be something worth exploring here. This allows players to follow their own intuition and path based on what they see that interests them, allowing story and lore to be seamlessly introduced based on the player’s own individual journey through the world.

Conclusion

The creation of a game on the scale of an MMORPG is a monumentally complex task, involving many difficult decisions and vexing challenges to overcome along the way. But the story of Visionary Realms and Pantheon is a heartening one. It’s the story of a small team brimming with passion that is working tirelessly to bring to life a kind of MMORPG that has seemingly been lost to time. An MMORPG that venerates immersive story and world building. An MMORPG that does not compromise on its commitment to creating strategically challenging gameplay. An MMORPG that insists on being socially driven and giving players the tools to connect. In every way that counts, Pantheon is evolving the experience of what an MMORPG can be, what Perkins and his team argues an MMORPG should be, and it’s clear that they won’t stop until they’ve accomplished that goal.

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