Landmark: You see gold, I see dirt

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When you’re an MMO fan, it’s really hard not to jump on board every train that’s carrying passionate fans excited about some new thing.  So when Landmark’s alpha abruptly started on Friday night, I thought what the heck and got a pass into it.

Before I get to my very initial (1-2 hours) thoughts, I want to say I’m a blend of amused and exasperated by the conversation around this game.  It seems that according to many, Landmark is immune to criticism.  Oh, you may well indeed praise it and its dev team for anything you like, but any complaints must instantly be filed under the “it’s an alpha!  of course it’s [buggy/incomplete/dull]!  your opinion is invalid and you smell!”  So wait, if complaining about it is invalid, then why aren’t praises invalid as well?  After all, it’s alpha.

I don’t buy that.  Why?  Well, it’s hard to analyze anything if you can’t look at both sides of the coin honestly.  I think we all know that it’s at the alpha stage, but if SOE is confident in it enough to lift the NDA, then we have the right to say anything good OR bad about it.  I think the devs are probably the ones that are welcoming any valid feedback, far more than just the “ermigahd this is aweeeesome” squees from fans (although those are important too!).

Anyway, that’s a preface to say that I’m pretty underwhelmed by what I saw.  I wanted to see the game engine that will eventually drive EverQuest Next, and for that it’s pretty nice.  The character models are fun, the movement and travel is really well done (small thing: I like how my character’s waist would twist when she swung her axe), and the landscape is pretty if non-descript.  It’s also kind of fun running straight up high peaks at 40 mph.

I guess I’m just genuinely puzzled what people are seeing in this game that I’m not.  I go around and check out the landscape.  I see what people have created with their homes.  I get hopelessly lost because the map is garbage and there’s no on-screen radar.  I mine holes in the ground and chop down trees to vaccuum up tons of resources.  Eventually, I assume I’ll have enough to start crafting and can build a little home.

But… that’s it?  I mean, I know more is coming: combat, crafting progression, um… water.  It’s a nice wide canvas for people to make what they want out of it, but once their houses are made, what else is there to do?  What interactivity will there be between players?  I guess a lot of this is coming later and by waiting we’ll see a more fleshed-out game.  We’re just testing systems at this point.  Those systems are really exciting because they’re new and it’s heady to be a part of all of this right from the start.  But what happens on week three?  If SOE doesn’t start fleshing out this game soon, will they come to regret that early NDA lift?

Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things.  Took me a long time to figure out why I couldn’t stake a claim even if it wasn’t in someone else’s claim (apparently there’s your current claim and your potential future expansions of claim, both of which the game keeps sacred for you).  I had to travel all the way to the edge of a map to find perhaps the last little spot of green anything to claim it.  Those two palm trees are mine, darn it!

I also predict the term “claim clutter” will quickly sweep the world.

I haven’t seen anyone say anything in chat, which is definitely different than what I’m hearing about general chat spam overload.  Eventually someone pointed me to using the crystal above the hub to teleport between islands in order to find tier 1 resources.  I honestly have no idea how to get back to the island with my claim on it now.  I might be a nomad forever.

Oh, so back to a compliment.  I really loved the lengthy intro video by Dave Georgeson.  This sort of widespread alpha needed that, and there was a lot of good expectation-setting and tutorial-giving.

I don’t know what to make of these wide-open sandbox canvases, I really don’t.  On one hand, I do love to create and build homes, but on the other hand when you don’t know all of the ins and outs, it can be frustrating, boring, and seemingly pointless.  Once my pretty house is made, what can I do with it?  What will I be able to do with it?  I already have Trove, and that has combat, pets, mounts, and all the crafting I could want right now.  I’m still trying to get a handle on that, too.  And WildStar’s housing has just the right blend of design, function, and freedom that I enjoy.  What’s Landmark going to be offering that I’m not getting or going to get elsewhere?

I’m on the fence whether to be patient and just fiddle with Landmark every now and then, or to go ahead and get my $60 back.  EQN is the SOE game that I really want to play and so far this is an extremely poor substitute.  Fans of Landmark probably don’t want to see me grousing about it anyway in the feeds, and I have no desire to be the sourpuss at their parade.  I’m not even grumpy about it; more just ambivalent and puzzled.

So what I’ll probably do is acknowledge the highly volatile, transitory nature of alphas and leave it alone for a week, and then come back to see what’s going on once it’s all a bit more stable.  With the money-back guarantee, the onus is on Landmark to prove itself as being worth my cash.  I’m not seeing it yet, but this is only the first couple of days, and that “aha!” moment may still come.

EverQuest Next Landmark: Pay-to-play alpha

landmarkBig news yesterday, as SOE announced that EverQuest Next Landmark was starting to sell pre-order packages, I’m sorry, Founder’s Packs.  This was paired with the news of test schedule dates, with alpha being “on or before” 2/28/14 and closed beta “on or before” 3/31/14.  So alpha for a month, closed beta for a month, and presumably open beta in April.

Lots of excitement and debate over these pre-order packages, especially since one of the big selling points is getting that alpha or beta access.  For some folks, paying for alpha/beta is a win-win scenario for studios (“they’re paying to test our game!”) at the expense (literally) of the playerbase.  Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new; Ultima Online sold beta keys back in the 90s, and just about every Kickstarter MMO out there right now has early access/alpha access/beta access as part of their reward tiers.  And those might not even come out at all — at least Landmark is a pretty sure bet, right?

Hey, I’m not going to tell you how to spend your money.  Heaven knows that I usually go a little bonkers with pre-orders and collector’s editions (can’t wait to see what WildStar’s is!).  But this is making me contemplate.

First of all, I am still trying to get a feel for what Landmark *is*, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  It’s something a little bit different to the point where SOE is struggling to sell it clearly.  It’s both a toolset and a full MMO.  It will have many of the same features of EverQuest Next but it also won’t.  It’ll have multiple worlds and ways to sell your creations for real money and I don’t know what else.  Honestly, if EQN and EQNL came out at the same time, I’d probably go straight to EQN without apology just for the clarity of it all.

That’s not to say that Landmark doesn’t look intriguing.  I’m hearing really, really good things about its toolset, its ease of use, and I think the potential could be incredible.  And the fact that it’s coming out first means that even if Next is your thing, you can either get a taste of what Next is like with Landmark or just wait.  I don’t think gamers are generally patient enough to wait.

MJ told me yesterday that even though there will be alpha and beta wipes, you will be able to save your creations via templates, so there’s some persistence that will happen.  This kind of changes my approach.  Normally I’m not that keen on betas, but a beta that allows me to carry some progress forward is a different story.

Then there are the packages.  The lowest tier is $20 for closed beta, a banner, and a fancy pickaxe, but once beta ends that’s not a lot that you’re going to retain for the live game.  For me, if I’m going to buy into one of these, I might as well either go for the higher-priced packages.  Increased inventory, a fancy vault, bonuses to gathering and crafting, cool outfits (which you can see in videos), and that alpha/beta access.  The $100 package has the most bells and whistles, including a two-day head start in the open beta to stake your claims and get the best plots before everyone else comes in.

I think this last perk won’t be as big of a deal as some think it is.  The worlds will be large and undoubtedly SOE will be releasing new worlds (and virgin territory) as time goes on.

So far I haven’t bought anything.  I might wait until after Christmas to do so, if I do at all.  It’s important to remember that Landmark, like Next, will be free-to-play.  These packages are just niceties, not necessities.

EverQuest 2: The curse of insta-85

eqmessFor my return to EverQuest 2, I decided — perhaps against my better judgement — to take advantage of the current “here’s a free level 85 character!” promotion.  I jacked up my Necro from level 25 to 85, getting a ton of goodies and a huge headache in the process.  Seriously, the entire night was spent standing in one place while I tried to sort all of this out and access my long-term memories as to how this game operated.

I’m sure SOE’s thought of the trickiness involved with this, and perhaps it’s just more geared to people who know the game.  There are a few smartly done aspects, such as giving you a potion that takes you to the Destiny of Velious area and handing you an entire level 85 gear set.  But… egads, it was just too overwhelming.

Some games might be easier than others to jump in at a high level, but EQ2 is not one of them.  In trying just to get my level 85 active, I had to:

  • Sort through my inventory and get a headache trying to figure out what these potions are for
  • Flick through tutorial screens
  • Try — and fail — to find a mailbox to open my unread mail
  • Unpack a lot of veteran crates
  • Spend time running down my character’s stats
  • Redo my character’s appearace
  • Invest 280 AA points into skills and abilities that I either didn’t remember or had no idea what they were used for
  • Make character build decisions without the information I needed to do it wisely
  • Sort and rearrange four hotbars’ worth of skills
  • Fly up in the sky on my pegasus mount and then dive bomb an ice flow a few times

I dunno.  It just feels like too much and I’m fretting that I’ve screwed up a build that I had no idea how to make in the first place.  I mean, thanks for the level 85 SOE, but I think that next week I’ll just slouch my way back to the beginning and create a fresh level 1 for this time around.

Choose your own EQOA adventure

I think that this is a terrific way to sustain the memories of a deceased MMO and provide an approximation of the game experience for interested parties.  It’s basically a choose-your-own-adventure that uses YouTube links and annotations to jump between videos as if you were creating a character and going off on quests.

Thanks to EQOA Adventures for pointing it out!

EverQuest Next impressions from the blogosphere

Just wanted to round up a lot of the EverQuest Next reveal impressions I’ve been reading from my fellow bloggers:

  • MMO Symposium: “Sony has essentially set the bar high, if they pull this off they will take the crown back.”
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob
  • EtcMMO.com: “I do look forward to hearing more about EQN, I am excited about it – but – I don’t want to get all foamy at the mouth just yet!”
  • Inventory Full: “EQNext may be the rising star in Norrath’s firmament but that doesn’t mean the other two need fall.”
  • Party Business: “Here’s my main gripe, though: when you leave out the voxels, what’s revealed so far could just be Guild Wars 2 again.”
  • GamingSF: “In reality though will the world constantly look half-wrecked as a horde of the players run around in circles constantly smashing anything they can?”
  • I Have Touched The Sky: “I’ve written about Storybricks before; I think it’s a great idea and am delighted that a AAA enterprise like SOE picked up on its potential.”
  • Gaming with Sauce: “My only disappointment is that I’m not seeing how EQN will itself be a sandbox.”
  • Ald Shot First: “I feel the art direction is a huge improvement over the old one in the EQ world.”
  • Dicejockey: “EverQuest Next sounds like the game I’ve been waiting for my entire gaming life.”

EverQuest Next: Initial thoughts

halasApart from the laughable (and MST3K-worthy) sand art demo that preceded the EverQuest Next reveal — seriously, who thought that was a good idea and why wasn’t he or she laughed out of the room?  And why couldn’t they hire a good sand artist? — the announcement was pretty momentous.  Even those of us at Massively who had advanced knowledge of what EQN was about were still glued to the Twitch reveal.

Now did it live up to expectations?  Is this the sandbox to end all sandboxes, the EverQuest to end all EverQuests?  I have no idea, to be honest.  It certainly was the talk of Twitter town yesterday, and probably will be for some time to come.  It really is looking like EQN has joined WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online as one of the major players of the next MMO generation.

It’s certainly a different approach with a lot of lofty promises.  The developers starting off with “we’re tired of how MMOs are now and they need to change and we’re going to be that change!” sounded almost beat-for-beat what ArenaNet said in its Guild Wars 2 manifesto.  I suspect that the end result will be quite successful in some ways but won’t utterly accomplish an MMO revolution the way that some (particularly SOE) hope.

Selling the concept of a big-name sandbox to the current MMO crowd is a tough challenge, but attaching your project to Minecraft is a, excuse me, crafty move.  People understand Minecraft and what it offers.  That’s a good bridge as any to cross the gap.

Here are several other thoughts I have of this reveal in no particular order:

  • Races?  Well, you toted out the big-breasted elf and the big-breasted dark elf, so I guess you guys are covered.  EverQuest’s races have never really fascinated me, and this does not shout “next gen!” so much as “pandering!”
  • The destruction and manipulation of the world’s elements is fascinating, although I’m instantly thinking of how much players can turn this into griefing, obscene monuments, or uglifying the landscape.  One does hope that SOE anticipates and has plans for this.  They claim to, at least.
  • Public quests — cool, but hardly revolutionary at this point.  Again, practically everything they’re saying about them makes me think of Guild Wars 2.
  • I love, love, love the visuals.  This is the first EverQuest game that hasn’t made me wince to behold.  It’s colorful, stylized, and pretty.
  • Better mob AI and mob memories — I’m excited about this.  Storybricks had a good idea there and I’m glad SOE picked them up.
  • Four skills and four weapon moves — It’s funny how several modern MMOs are paring down the hotbar.  It’s a good idea, especially after EQ2′s hotbar madness.
  • No levels, but will there be gear checks?  TSW doesn’t have levels but relies on gear to function in much the same way.
  • Character building and a lack of levels is a big draw.  Continually being able to earn new skills and experiment with new builds is a great part of TSW and RIFT.
  • Lots of immersive details, like day/night cycles, will go a long way to restoring the feeling of an actual virtual world vs. static zones.
  • Free-to-play — Good.  Wouldn’t expect anything else, really.
  • Underground areas — I guess neat, although I instantly worry that I’d fall down somewhere, be unable to get out, or get lost.
  • Another concern is that there will be too much randomness in ratio to organized spaces in this game, making navigation a nightmare and lessening the realism of the world, so to speak.
  • Giving players tools to shape the game via EverQuest Next Landmark and possibly include their creations in the game is a terrific idea, especially for a sandbox.  Master crowdsourcing with gamers and you’ll end up with a world beyond imagination.
  • Seriously, it’s really pretty.  Really pretty.

How do I feel about it?  It’s hard not to get swept up into the promises and potential on display here.  SOE always seems willing to take risks that others don’t, for good AND bad.  It’s going out on a limb but I don’t think it’s a bad move at all.  They already have two EverQuest theme parks.  Why not an EverQuest sandbox?  Keep everyone happy.

I guess I’m cautiously excited.  I’m still anticipating WildStar far more, but if EQN ends up being terrific, why is that a bad thing?  Competition and quality titles are always needed in this genre.

I’ve never really been part of the SOE fold.  I’ve envied the community that the EverQuest games seem to have, however, and would be open to joining that if EQN proves to be not just a game but a game world worth playing.

EverQuest Next + Jeremy Soule = Geek Delight

Lots of big news coming out of SOE Live, but of course everyone’s eyes are on EverQuest Next.  For us music fans, it was a huge surprise to hear that SOE got Jeremy Soule (Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2) to score the game.  And here it is, the EQN main theme:

It’s definitely Soule, definitely EQ, and really dang pretty.  It’s magical and a little sad, but gets a thumbs up from me.