Preview: Everquest Next Landmark

Before World of Warcraft there was EverQuest, a fantasy MMO that has survived and thrived since its release in 1993. In fact, 2013 saw the release of the MMO’s twentieth expansion, “Call of the Forsaken.” While EverQuest enjoys its continued existence, plans to develop an “next-gen” version of the game, aptly named EverQuest Next, have been cooking since 2009. The first iteration of this new game is Landmark, an open world sandbox game available to those who buy into its early access. While Landmark is fine on its own as a game, it is a little difficult to accurately pin down where it fits within the scope of EverQuest Next. Is this an early version of the game or nothing more than a companion piece? Time will tell!

Rather drop people into a fantasy realm filled with monsters, dungeons and quests, beta participants are given a pickaxe, hammer and free reign to shape an alternate version of Norrath as they see fit. Like Minecraft before it, the initial goal of Landmark is to gather resources and materials to build homes and other structures simply for the fun of it. Building things is a pretty straightforward affair with the only limit being your imagination. Fortunately, the game is not an outright ripoff of Mojang’s popular world builder. One of the notable differences from Minecraft is the smart use of voxels and shapes that allow for buildings to be more visually and structurally complex. Block buildings are a thing of the past as curves and sharp angles reign supreme.

Another difference between the two open world games concerns the world itself. Instead of putting the player in their own personal world, players in Landmark will share Norrath (shared across multiple servers) right from the start. Having one map filled with multiple players highlights the unique and important Claim system. Crafting a special flag allows you to effectively own a plot of land with a permission system that prevents unfavorable player intervention. You are free to have as many claims as desired as long as you can pay for it, with a daily Upkeep fee of 300 copper will be withdrawn from your pocket. Defaulting on a payment results in the claim being freed up for other players and any structures found within wiped clean. To offset this devastating loss, all materials used to build your home away from home are returned to your inventory. This seems like a fairly harsh penalty for falling behind on financial responsibilities. After all, history has shown that empires can be overthrown by missing a payment.

Landmark’s potential and promise is far more appealing and exciting than the game’s current form. With no enemies to fight or quests to liven things up, there isn’t much to divert attention away from building stuff. Those who spent hours with Minecraft will likely see this as a positive, as the opportunity for distraction free building in a 3D world with an exciting new featureset is likely to be all they need. Be warned, however, that Landmark isn’t quite stable. What bothered me wasn’t the frequency with which my avatar clips through the floor and drops thirty feet below the map, trapped in a blue tinged purgatory with nothing to do but wait until the game snaps me back into place, which usually runs anywhere from five to ten seconds. What concerns me more are the crippling framerate drops.

My computer is not a modern piece of equipment. That said, my four year old Nvidia graphics card can manage to run current games like BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea and Ether One relatively problem free.  Landmark, on the other hand, has been a complete mess. Every step forward was met with massive and crippling frame drops, usually shifting from 50fps to 2fps and back again, turning a smooth crafting adventure in a nightmarish slideshow. Neither updating my video card’s drivers, tweaking display options and bringing the graphic quality down to the lowest setting did not solve the problem. Research on this issue has turned up a number of Nvidia users with the same problem and while I cannot find the official response, it sounds as if the Landmark team is working on a fix. Until then, it is difficult for me to want to sit through lengthy game sessions. However, I will stress that the technical problems I experienced could be a result of my computer system. Your performance may vary.  And, once again, this is a beta. There's a good chance that performance will be optimized down the road.

If you’re thinking of spending the $20 to join the closed beta, keep in mind that there is very little to do in the game outside of exploration and construction. There are no Creepers or Zombies, just you and a scant number of players carving out own personal living spaces. There’s more to come, however, as the Blueprint hints towards a great deal of gameplay content including design your own dungeons and monster AI.  Furthermore, SOE has suggested that EverQuest Next will incorporate Landmark’s best player creations. If you’re looking for a little Internet fame, Landmark is ready to see what you’re capable of.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.