Does EverQuest Next Landmark have too much game?
We're seeing a lot of love for EverQuest Next Landmark from its early adopters, as you would expect. The criticism has been thin on the ground, the game is solid for an alpha, development is gaining momentum and you can't dismiss it as a 'WoW-Clone'. So far, so good. In a few weeks the game will be in closed beta, guest keys will abound, and we'll see how the game stands up to scrutiny from those less invested in the innovative sandbox.
There is, however, one major criticism already out there that has seen some people take up SOE President John Smedley's offer of a no quibble refund: Landmark is too much like a game.
When seeing the power of the building tools in Landmark for the first time, most people were simply blown away and the possibilities seemed unreal. As a result of this, some players were disappointed that there was anything else to the game at all.
This is certainly an issue that will turn some off Landmark. Unlike the super-successful sandbox builder Minecraft, Landmark has no creative mode, the building tools and materials are only accessible through the game itself, and there is even crafting progression required to get all of the building tools.
This issue is only going to become more pronounced as development moves on. New tools and workbenches are already making their way into the game, risk and danger are just around the corner, and exploration will become increasingly important. As new features are added, Landmark will become less like a virtual sandbox and more like a sandbox MMO. Sometimes the distinctions we make when discussing this game seem strange, but Landmark is such a strange and unique beast that a conventional perspective just doesn't fit.
Right now we only have building, so the game feels like a building tool with grindy gathering and progression, not what you would call an optimal experience. As features and creation tools are added to the game it will start to feel more like a way to build whole mods and gamemodes, all inside a persistent online world that makes it easy to find collaborators and guinea pigs for your work. The idea is that as the game matures it will become a smorgasbord of creativity—not just a builder, but a platform for all kinds of collaborative content against the backdrop of a persistent world filled with opportunities for emergent gameplay.
In the short term, it may seem like SOE is missing out by not allowing players to go as big as they can from the start, but I have to wonder, would we still be playing that game five years down the line? If the history of online gaming has taught us anything, it's that reskinning a popular game is unlikely to bring great success.
While I consider this design to be a bold move by SOE, and one that injects some much needed innovation into a beloved but stagnant genre, I hope that it is possible to approach Landmark as a player only interested in building. Being able to buy resources in the cash shop will help with this; buying rare resources with real money to trade for in game currency will hopefully provide a way around the aspects of the game some players aren't interested in. This seems like a fair compromise, a player gets the game experience they want while supporting the game and adding value to the game world for everyone else to enjoy. Everyone's a winner.
The reason I hope this is possible is because I want many different playstyles and roles to be supported within the game: fighters, storytellers, farmers, writers, crafters, gladiators, explorers, socialites, traders, roleplayers, hardcore raiders, artists, game designers, builders and more. In this kind of sandbox we can all come together to create the experiences we want to share, whatever role or roles we wish to inhabit.
This will not be any consolation to some, it just won't be what they're looking for, and I can fully empathize with that. From my personal perspective, this perceived weakness is Landmark's greatest strength, it's what makes the game unique and interesting, a new challenge and a new frontier. But, to be fair, I play Minecraft in Survival mode...