It was a little over two years ago that the Editor-in-Chief for The Outerhaven, Keith Mitchell, sent me a link in our Discord server and asked “Hey, Josh. Have you heard of this game?”
At first, I scoffed thinking “I don’t have time for another MMORPG. I’m already busy playing World of Warcraft.” Then, he told me me “It’s being made by the guy who did EverQuest.”
I never clicked a link so fast in my life.
I spent a good chunk of time going over that entire website, learning as much as I could about this game called Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. I saw that it was still in development and that it was being created by a team called Visionary Realms. Of which, Brad McQuaid was a part of that team. That was all I needed to see in order for me to pledge some money to the project.
Brad was one of my biggest inspirations in pursuing a career in Game Design. I have a Bachelor of Arts in that field and while I may not be working in the game industry, EverQuest was one of my favorite games of all-time, and the game design philosophies that Brad embodied are ones that resonated with me. So much so that I decided that if I were going to create a game, I would do so using Brad McQuaid’s design style as a base and go from there. In fact, in my light novel series A.R. Dragonfly (gotta love shameless plugs!), the game that my characters play, Blaze Auras, shares some of Brad’s design ideas and philosophies.
When I wrote that article, I wasn’t talking about whether or not Pantheon would kill WoW. I made it clear that World of Warcraft caters to a very broad audience. They have many, MANY systems in place to appeal to both casual and hardcore players. They look at gameplay chunks of an hour or less when designing their content because they are conscious of people’s time and their lives.
While I think that we could all agree that to be a juggernaut in the MMO genre, that’s a sound business model but it’s far from perfect because a business model like that may not appeal to everyone, despite the fact that appealing to everyone is the end goal of that very same model. In fact, there is not a single video game that exists in the world today that appeals to 100% of the world’s player base. It is virtually impossible to create something like that and as proof, I don’t think World of Warcraft suits what I am looking for in an MMORPG any longer.
So, as an update from two years ago, the answer is “no.” Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen did not end up being my personal WoW killer. World of Warcraft became my personal WoW killer. I was extremely underwhelmed with what they announced for the Shadowlands expansion and after the very lackluster patch that was 8.3 for Battle for Azeroth, I made the decision to, after 15 years of playing, walk away from World of Warcraft for good, leaving me to be #PantheonPatient while Visionary Realms gears up for Pre-Alpha 5 and, hopefully, full Alpha in the not-so-distant future.
So, without any MMO to play, I’ve been able to focus my full attention on Pantheon. Over the past two years, I have watched this game go through update after update after update and I wanted to share my thoughts on where the game is now versus where it has been, what I like about the game today, and whether or not I jumped the gun when putting down my pledge to back this title.
Over the past two years, things have changed a lot with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. We have seen a deep dive on the Shaman class, we’ve seen the Climbing system fully implemented. There have been many graphical improvements to both the environment and player models. So much so with the latter that all complaints that this looked like a dated MMORPG have been erased by concerned fans.
We learned about passive class racials, the weather system, acclimation to said weather, and (most recently) the death penalty you incur when you (and let’s face it, you probably will) die in the game world.
With each and every month that passes, the game is just getting better and better. It looks to offer nearly everything I am looking for in an MMORPG. Rather than just list out a few key points, I want to look at a few and go into why I love the way things are shaking out and developing.
A Living, Breathing Open World
One of the things I love about ANY RPG is the ability to go off and do whatever I want. Obviously, zones are going to be there each with their own level ranges and challenges but if I just want to walk around and explore without having to follow the path laid out in front of me, I can do that.
While a lot of MMO’s allow this, Pantheon allows you to do this for as long as you want. That means I can log in and grind reputation for 12 hours in a single day if I choose to do so. I could go run a dungeon and kill things as many times as I’d like, hoping that the mob would drop the piece of gear I’m looking for. I’m not bound by hourly, daily, or weekly lockouts with the majority of the content.
In other words, If I want to “no life” this game and become more powerful than anyone else on the server, I can do so without the game developers telling me to stop because someone who works 50 hours a week or goes to college, has kids, and can only play for 1 hour on a Saturday each week is behind and deserves a chance to get caught up to me.
Obviously, those are the most extreme ends of a spectrum but the point is that this game and its world reward you for the amount of time you put into it and that’s the way an MMORPG should be. Someone who puts in 40 hours of progression gameplay in a week should be more powerful than someone who puts in 4 hours of progression gameplay in that same week.
Despite the fact that I work two jobs (or three if you count being an author), this is a system that appeals to me. I don’t have as much free time to play a game like Pantheon anymore but I have enough to where I could dedicate healthy chunks of time on certain days. On those days, I know that I can log in and do whatever I want for however long I want. I know that my power level and progression will be equivalent to the amount of time I put into the game. I don’t expect to have my hand held and I don’t expect someone who put in more effort to have to wait for me to catch up to them so they can continue to progress. You get what you put in and I think that is one of the fairest systems for an MMORPG. Freedom is very appealing to me, even if I can’t take full advantage of it like I was able to about 20 years ago.
The appeal of rounding up 15-20 mobs, pressing a couple of buttons, and watching them all die for minimal to no gain is boring. What do I get for killing a mob at max level aside from a minuscule amount of coin and some vendor trash items? When I can sit and watch a streaming service on a second monitor while mashing an AoE button and have everything die in 2-3 hits, there is no sense of danger… or fun. You’re just mindlessly killing things just because they are in the way.
With Pantheon, they have so much more going for it. Pulling even 2 or 3 mobs could end in death if you don’t know what you’re doing. Mobs have way higher health and are meant to be taken down by groups of six players. Mob packs almost always require some form of crowd control in order to deal with them properly.
They also have the Disposition system where it functions almost like a modifier on a Mythic+ dungeon in WoW. Mobs can spawn with random dispositions which will require you to tackle them in specific ways. Not only that, but bosses get their own versions called Manifestations. Boss mechanics and loot tables can differ based on what Manifestation is active which leads to challenging, replayable content that offers a different experience each and every time.
While I labeled this section as “Challenge,” there are many sub-sections that could fall into this category such as…
Weather and Acclimation
There are different atmospheres in the world of Terminus because it is a nexus of many different worlds all linked together. You need certain gear and certain items to help raise your acclimation to these climates to either reduce or negate the effects. There are varying levels of effects that require varying levels of acclimation, too. Because as such, there is no such thing as “Best in Slot” gear, but rather, “What gear is best to handle this situation?”
Plus, this system isn’t just something you encounter out in the world as part of questing or exploration. This is also something you will encounter during raid boss fights as well. In the one and only boss they have shown off thus far, Sleepless, you encounter both wind and lightning during this fight. Keep in mind, these are not boss mechanics. Just the environment that the boss exists in that you have to contend with on top of the raid boss’ abilities.
The concept of not having any Best in Slot gear interests me because it means you are constantly seeking gear for certain situations. It makes the game’s overall inventory meaningful. It means that you will be revisiting and replaying areas of the game, giving more meaning and purpose to the world itself. It promotes a sense of adventure, progression, and a rewarding feeling for the effort you put in. Any gamer will tell you that the satisfaction you get from something like that is second to none.
Not only is Pantheon an open-world game, but it is also a non-instanced game. Every zone, every dungeon, every raid will be accessible by all players out in the world at any moment’s notice. Things such as camping will be prevalent, meaning you will see groups sitting in one spot and pulling mobs from the surrounding area to that spot in order to farm experience. Dungeons will be massive and can support multiple groups. Some groups may not even be there to kill a boss. They may be there because the exp in that area of the dungeon is fantastic for them so they want to get as much of it as possible, leaving another group free to tackle a boss at a chance for gear.
This also creates a challenge because it’s a battle for spawn camps, resources, etc. There is a big fear about there being not enough content for all players but non-instanced games typically compensate for this with bigger zones/dungeons and strategically-placed enemy packs that have just enough respawn time to where multiple groups can sit not that far away from each other and still get the same benefits.
This is a great nostalgia factor for me because not only can you camp in an area and enjoy some time with friends but if you’re traveling solo, it encourages communication with other players to see when they plan on leaving the camp, if they’re looking for more people, etc. Once you do join a group, you can use the downtime to engage in conversation and possibly meet new people. It’s all part of the social aspect that Pantheon brings to the table… an aspect that is all but extinct in modern-day MMOs. I’m glad to see something like this back!
Limited Action Sets
If there ever was a hot topic amongst the Pantheon and MMO community, it’s this (next to transmog, of course). A limited action set means that you do not have enough space on your hotbars to place all of your skills. You have eight slots for offensive (hate-generating) skills and six slots for utility skills for a total of 14 slots. This means you need to pick and choose the right skills for the situation that you will be dealing with. This leads to having a deep understanding of your class and the game world to where you can formulate strategies on how to deal with certain enemy types in the best and most efficient ways possible. Group and skill compositions are going to matter and that adds an additional challenge to the game.
I like this because I am a thinker when it comes to combat. I love to strategize and find the best way to do something. EverQuest also had a limited action set so I’m used to dealing with something like that. The fact that I am nearly forced to be familiar with everything in order to get the most out of my class is a good thing because it innately teaches someone how to play their class and how to get the most out of it. After enough repetition, you will know what to expect and can better prepare but the trial and error factor of it, along with the factor of discovery, is one of the most fun aspects of an MMORPG or any RPG, for that matter.
Of course… the death penalty. It needs to sting and it needs to do so in a way where you are made to fear death. Corpse runs are back but not in the way you remember them like they were in EverQuest. You spawn with your gear but that gear will take a durability hit. You lose a percentage of your experience towards your next level, and all of your items, inventory, coin, etc will be on your corpse. So, if you have a lot of valuable stuff you would like to retrieve, you’re going to have to hoof it back to your body.
Of course, where you hoof it from all depends on where you bound your soul. Soul Binders are back and if you forgot to bind in a new area and your soul is bound to your starting city, you’re going to be spending a good chunk of time admiring the scenery as you run back across several zones to get your corpse. Of course, corpse dragging and resurrections (with experience restoration) are a thing so make some friends with a few priest classes and hope that they are online and in the area of your corpse!
I am all for this mechanic as dying with very little consequence breeds bad gameplay. When you don’t fear death, you tend to not care much about the game world or the game you are playing. The whole notion of “if I die, I’ll just try again” is too prevalent in modern MMORPGs. In Pantheon, sure… when you die, you may try again but it’s not as simple as returning to where you died within the safety of the spirit realm. You need to make sure you have a nice exp cushion, you need to re-farm any lost exp, possibly look for help in getting back to your corpse, etc. It’s a much bigger deal than it seems and changes the way you play because you’re going to want to avoid death as much as possible, thus adding to the challenge!
Lastly, now that I’ve severed myself from World of Warcraft, I found myself with some extra free time so I filled that by getting to know the Pantheon community a bit. For the longest time, I have been an observer because we know how an MMO community can be. It can be a breeding ground for toxicity so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping into something like that before interacting with people.
Needless to say, I don’t think I have seen a community this amazing since my early days in EverQuest. Everybody I have encountered has a passion for the game and is actually able to discuss hot-button issues without jumping down each other’s throats! There is actual civilized and meaningful discussion over some of Pantheon’s game development decisions and a lot of great points and valuable feedback that the development team takes the time to listen to.
The best part is that the development team is a big part of the community! They constantly pop into fan community Discord servers, onto content creator streams, and even take questions from their fan base during their own monthly development streams. They are very hands-on with the community and are as transparent as they are allowed to be when it comes to Pantheon’s development. Of course, we as a community are always hoping a few beans will be dropped but the amount of information given to us on a monthly basis is intentional. It’s enough to let us know the progress they are making on the game without spoiling or ruining too much. That way, when we all dive in on day one, there’s that aura of mystery and discovery still awaiting us.
Of course, the heart of the community right now is all of the content creators such as the guys over at Pantheon Plus, Bazgrim TV, The Nathan Napalm Channel, Chris Kane, Voices of Terminus, and so many more. I don’t mean to leave any names out but there are a ton of great creators out there but the thing about them is that they are not just sitting behind a camera and making videos to become YouTube or Twitch famous. They are just as much as part of the community as anyone else. They all give off this sense that we are in this together and we all want to see this game succeed as one singular commonality.
Dare I say, the Pantheon community, to an extent, feels like an online family.
Has Anything Changed with Me?
The main question here was… after two years from my previous article. Has my view of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen changed?
Yes. Yes, it has.
It has changed for the better. Of course, I’m not writing this opinion piece because I want to be a shill for the game. Everybody finds enjoyment in many different levels and facets of different types of MMOs. There are those who swear by World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Black Desert Online, Phantasy Star Online 2, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. There will always be those players who will always stick to those games no matter what.
But for those who remember the hardcore MMO days of EverQuest, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, and others like them, this is a game that we have been waiting for. A modern MMO that has its roots heavily embedded in the days of old but not so much that it would turn off some of today’s gamers that are used to more comfortable and modern features.
It will be challenging.
But Pantheon will also be rewarding.
Hopefully, two years from this article, I can revisit this and give my thoughts on a game that has launched. We will see, though, because while they have made great progress, we know that there is still a lot of work to be done. Seeing this journey has kept my faith in this game alive and I know that Brad McQuaid is looking down and smiling at what is being built and how it is being received by his many fans around the gaming world.
Hopefully, you enjoyed my opinion piece on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, and maybe it inspired you to check out the game for yourself. If you’ve been looking for a challenging MMORPG, this might be something you’d want to keep your eye on!
Until next time… as Game Director Chris “Joppa” Perkins says… Onward and Upward!