Norrathian Notebook: Grading Landmark's first beta week

Closed beta is now in session! After a couple of days of downtime to prepare for the transition, EQN Landmark moved out of the alpha phase. And now, the first week of this long-awaited beta has concluded. Like most initial weeks, it's been an eventful one; from opening itself to a slew of new players to ditching part of its name to announcing the launch of Player Studio, the voxel-based sandbox has changed and evolved from its previous state. But how exactly is this beta different from alpha? What is new, what has improved, and what still needs improvement? How did Landmark fare during its first week? Norrathian Notebook is here to bring you the game's one-week report card!

Fun: A-

I have had quite a bit of fun in Landmark, even though I am going about beta completely opposite of how I went about alpha. Instead of getting sidetracked by exploring and ogling all the amazing creations I stumbled in to, I actually focused on getting the right materials to advance my tools and equipment. Luckily, in Landmark this also means that you still stumble across amazing creations as you go, so I wasn't totally missing out; I just wasn't seeking them out exclusively.

Because of claim permissions and group harvesting, I have been able to team up with others to stockpile resources and build things together. Thanks to pooling resources and sharing crafting equipment, I've been able to conserve materials and time.

Group harvesting simply rocks! (No pun intended.) While your nearby groupmates are gathering resources, you get some of those very goodies deposited into your pack as a bonus. Conversely, some of your resources go into their inventories. Although group size is limited to four (BOO!), this significantly boosts the amount of resources you have at your disposal while cutting the time harvesting. However, for a while there it felt like you were more likely to win the lottery than find a rare tree. Luckily, that has been fixed, at least to a degree; I now have a stock of Rootstock!

It's not all fun and games, though, and some things detracted from the enjoyment, resulting in a lower grade. One is that when you added attached claims, you couldn't tunnel underground between your claims or build between them. My plans for a three-claim underground maze were thwarted when I bumped into the claim barrier and could not remove that lat bit of dirt to connect the tunnels. This was just fixed in Wednesday's update, but you still can't move props between claims (which made me lose a whole grove of trees!).

Also, I learned that although you can give another player -- be it a friend, spouse, or total stranger -- full permissions to do whatever on your land, the refining machines can be used only by their owner. That spoils the whole working together aspect! At least I found a work-around: If you have the appropriate permission on the land, just pick the station up and set it back done. Voila, you are the owner and can use it! Then everyone can do the same when he or she needs the equipment. If you don't want people to have such high permissions, let them drop raw materials in a chest and you can refine it yourself and replace it in the chest. Perhaps left over mats could be a refiners' fee? Look, we just made economy!

Stability: A-

The first week of beta has felt pretty stable relative to alpha. For starters, the closed beta servers actually came online on the same day they were supposed to. This may seem like a given, but if you have followed the game throughout alpha, you'd know that the servers had to be taken down multiple times for fixes, and sometimes the down-times went significantly longer than expected -- even until the next day. That has not been the case this time around.

On top of that, I no longer have a serious problem with loading areas when using my grappling. Now I can zip along and not constantly be brought to a standstill. And that, in turn, helped increase the fun grade!

Variety: C+

Let's face it: The statement that closed beta is really just alpha with more people is pretty accurate. For now. There wasn't a whole lot extra that went into this closed beta launch. Yes, there is now tailoring, the pulveriser, a couple new hairstyles and colors, plant harvesting, tier 4 islands, and claim ratings. But that just feels like trinkets instead of any major alterations.

Let's see, the progression system was already in game; it's just revamped a tad. The addition of T4 islands is also great but just adds more of the higher resources. And the increased population is fantastic, as that just amps up the creativity pool. But beta isn't going to really feel like a departure from alpha until something really significant hits. And that's going to be the cave system and water! Yes, combat, animals, and all that will really flesh the world out and make it feel more like a full game, but I will feel like something really new has come when I can discover hidden caverns deep in the earth. We have our pulverizers, so give us a reason to use them and burrow!

On a positive note, I must give credit where it's due. Thanks to the addition of so many new islands and servers for players to spread out on, the world definitely feels more open. I can still find islands that are sparsely populated, letting me wander about and harvest without bumping into a claim for a while, when before you walked practically from claim to claim. I love the wild feeling that has been restored to Landmark.

Inclusivity: B+

The more the merrier! SOE earned high marks for bumping all of the gift codes that were given to Trailblazers to unlimited access, allowing more people to experience the game. On top of that, limited-time seven-day passes are being passed out so even more players can check things out. Bravo! Additionally, with the recent announcement that Player Studio is not only going into the game this spring but also allowing international submissions, Landmark's ability to include everyone in all aspects of the game definitely improved!

What kept the sandbox from getting an A here is the fact that the press release said "select markets," and we later learned this included only Canada, France, Germany, and the UK. Of course, if SOE successfully jumps through other countries' legal hurdles by the launch date, more might be possible than expected.

Clarity (Playing the name game): B-

There have definitely been mixed reviews from folks about the elimination of the EverQuest Next part of the game's name when it shortened down to just Landmark. Some are relieved, feeling that confusion about the two titles will be cleared up now that you can tell at a glance which game is being talked about. Some are trying to use that action as proof that the game never had anything to do with the franchise. Some are even crying that SOE used a bait-and-switch tactic to try to lure EQ fans into the game under false pretenses. I want to respond to these.


Seriously, to those trying to gloat that it was an underhanded bait-and-switch, I say that nothing about the game's plan to be a building ground for EverQuest Next has changed. There will still be player-made structures that will move from Landmark into Next. Landmark will still have the same tools that EQ Next will have. Really, the biggest difference is that people can more easily identify which specific game is being discussed. Although I personally never had any issue with distinguishing the two, some people expressed concerns, and SOE listened. Landmark is not divorced from the franchise.

For those who insist this is proof that Landmark never had anything to do with the EQ franchise, you were wrong then (see the ties to EQN above), and you are wrong now. SOE has tried to make that clear to you. The only thing is that this game is about more than just the high fantasy of Norrath (which will be discussed more below), so the move was also to acknowledge and include that aspect and those players.

Personally, I would have preferred if SOE left the EQ in front of Landmark, calling it EQ Landmark. I might have enjoyed the idea of the game on its own merits if it was introduced as such, but it wasn't. And there is an emotional attachment to the franchise; I hold it dear, and the name was a visible tie to it. I mourn the loss of those two letters, because there was a continuity that was unmistakable. And speaking of continuity...

Map of Norrath
Continuity (Where is the world is Norrath?): D

A game in development is bound to change, I get that. But changes that alter a fundamental aspect as understood by those anticipating (and monetarily supporting) the game can be a problem. I'll accept the loss of part of the name, but there is one loss I will not accept.

Back when EQN and Landmark were first introduced, we were shown a map of Norrath for EQN and told how a large continental mass in Landmark would be enforced as Norrath -- meaning all structures, buildings, and so on would have to fit in that theme. As explained then, the outlying land masses would be open and available for people to build whatever their hearts desired. You can take away my E and my Q, but do NOT take away my Norrath!

I got into this game not just for the sandboxiness of it but specifically because I wanted to make my own Norrathian adventures for me, for friends, and for those random strangers who stumbled upon my corner of the universe. And when I stumble around the world, I don't want my immersion in Norrath to be stripped away by old west towns, giant monopoly boards, and space ships. Yes, that stuff is cool and I fully intend to go out of my way to find and check out these places, tour them in streams, and what not when I want. But for my immersed game time, I want to be in Norrath. I want to be in my high-fantasy realm.

Related to this, I know this is still closed beta and I am willing to be patient, but I really do not like the islands. I want those large landmasses that encompass all the biomes as shown on the map. I am OK with portals between realms or even multiple portals on a single real (as if you combined 10 different islands into one super map). But I want the vast continents, not these little islands. Might we still get them? Will the islands soon connect so you can walk across 10 without porting? I truly hope so.

And as for the realms/servers, take some of those massive maps and make them Norrath enforced, some futuristic, and the like. Certainly keep some open for anything, but why not have some designated so that those who want their immersion, especially their EQ immersion, get it? Norrath is where I have planned to live and breathe since this was announced. If that is taken away and I am forced to wander through any whatever hodgepodge happens to crop up, then I'll feel like I was shortchanged; the vision of what this game was to be will fall far short of what was sold to me. I truly hope this grade improves as closed and open betas wear on.

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running biweekly on Thursdays, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II. And keep an eye out for MJ's Massively TV adventures!

This article was originally published on Massively.