Visionary Realms is bringing back some of the elements of classic MMORPG play in Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, like social experiences and group-centric combat. Combined with a perception system that replaces the "in your face" exclamation points and pop-up boxes that are part of the more modern MMO and a heavy focus on exploration and discovery, Pantheon may have roots in the past, but it's looking toward what Visionary Realms thinks is the future of MMORPGs. At GDC 2016, I had a chance to get my first taste of what makes Pantheon tick (in a very, very pre-alpha build).

Combat includes classic concepts – pulling packs of monsters to your group, hoping they don't alert allies, and taking on big bosses with classic core classes like clerics and warriors. The group dynamic is important – players often have a variety of buffs and boons they can use on their companions.

But there's also a heavy focus on exploring the world around you, and not with any guidance from quests, but more of that "if you see it you can go there" style of discovery. Something looming in the distance like a tower or a castle may provide a point of interest for you to wander and investigate, and while questing is certainly in the game, it's handled in a fashion that's far from the "pick up quest from NPC. Go to this marked location on the minimap. Profit".

A perception system rewards the curious and the inquisitive, offering contextual clues and secrets when players move close enough or interact with certain locations. Jostling a vase may uncover a ring, or moving close to a mysterious chunk of ruins may uncover additional surprises. So while you'll still probably be getting clues about where to go and what to do from the local taverns that inhabit the world, don't expect to see any exclamation points, shimmering trails, or blinking minimap lights, as you're more meant to be guided by your own intuition toward new strands of story. You can also expect things to change as time passes in-game from day to night, as well as over time in the game world itself.

In the build we saw (pre-alpha) the combat was looking fairly rough around the edges, to be expected at this stage of development. The world outside, however, was looking far more interesting. Pantheon is all about open-world discovery, and contains environments players will have to either collect the right item to pass through, or come up with a solution to the predicament on their own. Dry deserts, cursed ruins, and many other backdrops can kill you if you lack the proper artifacts to enter, but they may also spur players to come up with interesting solutions to these potentially dangerous points of interest.

Pantheon is expected to launch as a subscription-based MMORPG.