Friday, March 28, 2014

LANDMARK :: Dangerous Game

Falling towards Apotheosis

Thanks to my good, dear friend Belghast (who you will find at Tales of the Aggronaut) I was given on Wednesday a Closed Beta Key for a release I've been looking at with some interest: EverQuest Landmark. I somewhat jokingly described it on Twitter as 'Minecraft for Grownups' (yes, I know) but having played that game with my kids the parallels are undoubtedly there. What Sony appear to have done here is created a very adult approach to the concept of sandbox construction, and it is clearly doing something right when it can hold and demand my attention continuously for an entire 24 hour period. But therein lies a problem: it is a dangerous game that pushes the player to keep playing because the only way you can progress is sinking time into the process of gathering. Trust me when I say that's what you're going to have to do from the word go, especially if you want to build anything of significance, or indeed make sure that when you build you can maintain what you've created.

Reassuringly normal.

My first surprise was on opening the game, when I was presented with a 'Welcome to Beta' Video. No cinematics here, just an explanation of what I missed from Alpha and then there I was, ready to go. No instructions, no tutorials, just me and some stuff. The concept here is ridiculously simple: if you can dig it out of the ground or chop it down, it's useful to you. In the beginning all you'll have to build with is dirt, because that's the most abundant resource in most cases to begin with and the easiest to 'gather' However, if you want to build you'll need a Claim on which to do so: a piece of land that is yours and which allows you to construct on it. For that you need to make a 'flag', but in this case Belghast was decent enough to provide me with one. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Digging for victory.

It is really simple. You start with a L1 Axe and Pick. You can only gather certain materials with these tools, and you do, until you have enough materials to make a L2 Pick and Axe... and so on and so on. As your tools increase in sophistication so does what you gather, and the process you need to make more sophisticated items also increases. To refine and combine these items there is a Spire, in the centre of the Zone you start in. Here is a mailbox, a basic Forge and a Basic Crafting Station, and from these building blocks you can create your Claim Flag. Until you stake a Claim you can't build anything that persists: be careful where you place them, or else you'll end up like me with yours entirely underground and have to dig down in order to begin construction. However, even stupidity shouldn't be a massive hindrance. If you know how Minecraft works, or indeed most Sim-based games, you'll be able to produce something, anything is possible, even with dirt.

Yesterday's work.

My Underground Lair is well into it's primary planning stage, as you can see. I gathered enough raw materials to place a Second Claim above the first one so I can build up as well as down. What you can't see is the whole of the underground area I hollowed out plus a sub basement to the basement 'space' The raised area up to the left will be where Crafting is placed and will extend along the back of the space. There is a token 'Entrance' and that's about it, but I did gather enough materials to make a L3 pick which allows me access to a lot more sophisticated mining and gem options. I was able to do this by 'borrowing' other Claimants Crafting areas (the Spires only provide basic facilities.) However, you will want to use Spires as a way to move between different islands because you'll discover quite fast all the raw materials you require to progress don't exist in your 'starting' area...

And this is where my major problem lies. This already has Mother of All Timesinks stamped all over it.

Don't get me wrong, it is very enjoyable and well made, but the major thrust of the action thus far is you: your time, your effort, and you will need tons of both if you want to produce anything of any significance. In fact I can see this becoming a hugely successful game in that regard simply on the strength of the tools that EQ:L gives you: it's pretty much your imagination and how much effort you are prepared to plough into the results. I was asked two questions by Belghast yesterday: is it fun and is it a good faff? Yes, I undoubtedly had a great time with this: it engaged me and I was impressed by the level of Customer Service the game designers are already prepared to put into making this a success (more on that tomorrow.) However, and this is crucial for me, being able to find the time to build myself will be a problem. This isn't a game to faff in for me, not by a long way. This is a game I'd have to learn, that would frustrate me because I couldn't build what I wanted quickly. I am a lousy trailblazer, and that doesn't make for effective faffing.

Early building efforts were effective, but time-consuming.

This is really encouraging from Sony, on a lot of levels, not simply the obvious desire to make this a community-driven 'adventure' from the word go. Many people are going to get really excited about this, especially those used to sandbox experiences like Minecraft. I would go so far as to recommend that if you can nab a free Beta code from someone already playing, you should do so and go have a poke around. This will be added to my Twitch stream starting next week simply for that reason, because I think it's a great example of what you can do with some simple principles and enough money behind you to make it work. However, for me I can already anticipate annoyance, not because of the game, but because of me. I don't have the time or ability to make this work as brilliantly as it undoubtedly will, but that's not going to send me away at the first hurdle. I will maintain the upkeep of my land (you 'pay' to keep your claims current with Copper Ore) as a result and pop back when I can, but I won't be moving in just yet.

However, I don't begrudge anyone who does: in fact I'll entirely understand why.


catinglasses said...

Do not want another time sink! It does, however, look very nice. I've seen some of Belghat's posts on it and it's hard not to be tempted..

Belghast said...

Excellent post about the game, I could not have written it any better. What I have over you right now is a lot of ancestral knowledge in the way things should work in the game, since I have played the alpha since January/February. That said the amount of progress they seem to make on a weekly basis is staggering, and if I go a week without playing I am back in learning mode trying to catch up.

The aspect that I find most interesting is how much each of the islands starts to feel like a community. Yesterday I had three separate people swing by my claim just to say hello, and announce they were somehow a neighbor of mine. That just seems really cool to me. One of my good friends is up the hill from me, across the way is a really nice person who has full crafting machines for the public to use.

Right now I am stuck in tool progression mode, but in part I am doing so because I know I will need massive amounts of stone to even begin to recreate Belgarde Keep. While I am off in the world gathering materials, I am also gathering stone as a byproduct, so that some weekend in the not so far off future I can have a massive build-a-thon while catching up on stuff from the DVR.

Grimmtooth said...

Did you just use a B5 episode title for a picture title? Yes, I believe you did.

If they beef this up enough it might take off and provide an alternative to Second Life, which, sadly, looks its age, if it were fifty years old. I'm not sure I'm into it, being a more RPGish kind of person, but if it keeps the kids off the streets and outta my LFRs it's all good.

Jaedia said...

Much better writeup than mine! It's a very fun game, isn't it? I can't wait for EverQuest Next. :)