Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Landmark Day

Early access for DBG's Landmark began a few days ago. Mrs Bhagpuss, for whom I bought the highest-priced of the original alpha packages some time back in the late Cretaceous era, would certainly have been entitled to first pick of the claims, only she lost interest long ago.

My account cost rather less and without revisiting the terms and conditions I really can't recall whether it allowed me to slip under the velvet rope or not. Makes no nevermind because I was working all week and didn't have time for such fripperies, what with dailies to do and keeps to defend in GW2 and what-not.

Thus it was that I didn't get around to scoping out Landmark Live until this morning. I was put in mind to get on with it by Wilhelm's post-of-record regarding the launch, which I read immediately after waving Mrs Bhagpuss off to work.

I started to comment on the thread at TAGN, which at the time consisted of one disgruntled complaint from Scree. He was representing yet another division of the ever-growing army of grudge-bearers with axes to grind in the faces of either SOE, DBG, or both. In this case the bad feeling comes from the sense of betrayal or abandonment felt by that group of players who bought into Landmark purely on the basis that it was, or would be, a feeder app for EQNext.

Go on, rub it in...

My own view is very different. I reserve my ire, lukewarm though it ever was, for the old regime. Indeed, I look back on my latter days as a customer of the Smedley/Georgeson era SOE with something of the bemused confusion of a partially-recovered sufferer from Stockholm Syndrome. (Somewhat bizarrely, one of the very first songs I ever wrote as a teenager was about Patty Hearst...).

As I commented at Wilhelm's, "The change to DBG has been an absolute breath of fresh air as far as I can tell. Communication is smarter and clearer, decisions make more sense, and above all things that are promised are actually completed....I feel quite confident in believing that where DBG players are now is a much happier place than where they would have been had the previous management team remained in control". The caveat is always that this could all end tomorrow if Columbus Nova decide the time has come to cash in their chips but until that dark day comes I intend to enjoy the late Autumn sunshine currently warming the franchise while it lasts.

60s in-joke
Whatever, there will be no EQNext, which may be a mercy. We'll never know for sure. There is Landmark, like it or not.

My dilemma over Landmark has always been that even though I've never been sure what it's supposed to be, I still like it far more than is good for me. From the first minutes in the tech demo they called an alpha I was hooked in a way I have rarely if ever been hooked in any MMO before or since. I can't think of any MMORPG in which time simply evaporates the way it does in Landmark. As I've said before, I don't not play Landmark very often because I don't enjoy it - I don't play it often because I enjoy it far too much.

This morning I logged in just to take a few screenshots for this post. That was not long after 8 am. I finally pulled myself clear more than three hours later, having spent the last hour cutting and pasting the same short section of wall a couple of dozen times, trying to get it just right. That way madness lies.

Before I got to that state of distress I first had to patch the game, and make a new character, following the full pre-launch wipe. Not fancying yet another multi-gigabyte download I tried just logging into the beta build. That didn't work. I considered, briefly, going through Steam but I find Steam a very poor substitute for a standalone client and try to avoid using it wherever possible.

A quick trip to the forums solved my problem:

open the .ini file and replace the line reading environment=beta with environment=live

Anyone who's played an EverQuest game for any length of time will be very familiar with making manual alterations to the .ini file. If nothing makes Landmark feel like an EQ spin-off that will.

With that done it was just a short patch to Character Creation. The options there remain as criminally limited as ever they were. I understand a lot of the limitations of Landmark but why we only get to play extremely dull human characters with fewer customizations than the rankest chop shop F2P beats me.

Once into the world itself things improved. As a brand new character I landed on the flat plane of the default Newbie Island Landscape. Why it's taken years to come up with the genius concept of letting people build on a level surface beats me but I'm not a design professional so what do I know?

For once, in the interests of science, or at least blogging, I chose to follow the tutorial. It's very much improved, as indeed is much else about the game.

It's what I'd call a "soft" tutorial. It takes place entirely in the world, not in any special instance or zone, and there are no compulsory exercises to complete, nor any aggressive pop-up windows or commands. Mostly what happens is a small window shows a list of tasks you can complete at your leisure and as you finish each one it ticks a box and more appear.

Achievements. If we're talking about Stockholm Syndrome...

Sometimes, often, you gain an "achievement. Whoever wrote the text for these is a big fan of puns. A big fan. Also, I would guess, no younger than their early forties. Quite possibly fifties.I wonder if that's the target market - GenX and Late Boomers with a propensity for rearranging the building blocks of landscape and language? If so it's no wonder I feel at home.

The instructions are clear and the tasks are straightforward. I don't believe it's possible to make the controls of any kind of building game entirely intuitive but the UI has been polished far beyond the arcane mysteries of the early days and I can't imagine, in a world where Minecraft rules supreme, that many will struggle to understand what's expected and how it's to be managed.

80s in-joke
Instead of raising my trusty tower yet again I built the required castle as instructed. I chopped wood  and mined ore. I visited another player's Claim Build Site and voted it up. You can't vote anything down, I'm very pleased to say - you either give your approval or keep your misery-guts moaning to yourself (although I believe you can leave comments...that might be a problem somewhere down the line).

Oddly, when you click on the travel option to visit another player's build for the first time the game minimizes and you find yourself back at the Landmark website on the Showcase page. You even have to log in, which seems a bit redundant given that you are already logged in - to the game. I'd smooth that out.

The Build I visited wasn't technically one created by another player. I went to Domino's Winter Wonderland. No prizes for guessing it was gingerbread themed.

From there I was sent underground to fight some of Landmark's extremely limited selection of off-site monsters. The tutorial had already had me place a training dummy and some skeletons on my own build and practice killing those so I knew what I was about. Combat in Landmark is unbelievably simple but I rather like it. It has a certain minimalist elegance that appeals. Definitely don't come here for the full-fat fighting frenzy though.

After that it was back to my Build for some pointers on building basics. All the time I'd been playing messages had been popping up across the screen telling me that so-and-so had become a Luminary and now it was my turn. The steady drip of congratulations as players complete the tutorial, like the ever-scrolling general chat, suggests that the game has found an audience of some sort.

I feel so...erm...give me a minute, it'll come to me...

As indeed it deserves. For an "MMO" at launch it seems to be well set up. You can get in, it works, it's not lagging or crashing, there are things to do. It looks attractive, it plays comfortably and for my psychology at least the "gameplay" is dangerously addictive.

Is Landmark all it could have been? Not nearly. Is it what was once promised? Nowhere even close. Is it going to appeal to anyone who only really paid it any attention because it supposedly had some connection with EQNext? I very, very much doubt it.

But I like it. I always liked it. And I'm going to go on playing it. Only not too often. I'm not safe to be left there without adult supervision.


  1. I think that my post reminded you about the launch of Landmark somewhat settles my own point, which is that Daybreak seems more relieved to be done with it than excited to be started on a new journey with a freshly launched product. We shall see I suppose.

    There is probably $10 worth of content there for me. I did not dislike it when I got my demo time with it. But I already have a list of games I can't seem to find to play, and for sandbox building I already have Minecraft, where I am not packed into some deed suburb and forced to share space with whatever horror show the neighbors decide to put up.

    If you are a fan of EQ, EQ2, or even DCUO, the Daybreak change has been a boon. I have certainly gushed about the first two. But if you were looking for a game less than five years old that is not a zombie themed arena battle ground to get some attention, you might feel a bit disappointed. Smed is gone, so everything won't have to have PvP tacked onto it. Landmark was able to shed that burden. But what will be the new narrative line for the company when they eventually launch some new project?

    1. Yes, that is the question I tend to avoid - what's the future for DBG? In all honesty, my unfiltered reaction to the cancellation of EQNext is that longstanding EQ fans probably dodged a bullet.

      I would certainly have tried to play EQN, whatever it might have turned out to be, just because it was another version of Norrath. At times I was even excited about the prospect, as a few old blog posts attest. Most of the time, though, the direction and especially the tone of the development mystified or even disturbed me.

      With EQN gone I don't imagine there will be another iteration of EverQuest but then I don't especially feel I need one. I am very far from finished with EQ2 (I'm tabbed out from it now - I just made a new character for storage, cleared half the shared bank and then spent an hour looking at and eventually upgrading some of the adornments on my Berserker's armor). I'm not even finished with EQ come to think of it - I must get it installed on my new PC and get back to leveling my Magician...)

      I wonder whether DBG is actually in the new game business any more. Are they even working on anything? And if not, is there anything wrong with consolidating and concentrating on their existing stable, which comprises seven titles already. Seven seems like plenty for a company with their resources...

      Of course it will be interesting and exciting if they do announce a new project, or at least it might be, but from a customer's point of view I think I'd actually prefer it if they just stuck to adding content to the games they already have.

  2. I picked up Landmark today out of curiosity. It's not something I see holding my attention for too long, but right now I'm enjoying myself. It's a charming little game for what it is. The music is lovely, and the visuals are stunning.

    I found myself a very nice little claim in some autumnal mountains. Silver Shallows was the name of the world, I think? Something like that. Gonna build myself a cabin, I think.

    1. I think if there hadn't been all the hype that came from the linking with EQNext Landmark, on its own merits, could have been a well-received addition to SOE/DBG's portfolio. Now, of course, like SWG after the NGE, it will always be tainted by association. Shame.

      I went exploring in the underground caves last night and found some surprisingly involving combat-related content. There's potential here if they don't just leave it to rot on the vine.


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