Norrathian Notebook: Landmark's two-week PvE checkup

Happy New Year! It makes sense to start this new year off by talking about a new game, right? And let's face it, after the fabled PvE content update, Landmark feels like a new game! This massive addition to the core of the sandbox has been live for two weeks now; that means two weeks of spelunking, salvaging, and more often than not, surviving. While it's true we got a preview of the update back on the day, that peek involved neither the cavern system nor crafting. And it certainly didn't contain nearly enough time! So now that I've had the chance to canvass the caverns, play with particle emitters, kills various critters, and concoct some new crafted items, how is it? How are things in the not-just-about-building game doing? Do these new systems offer more staying power as the closed beta continues on? Let's give Landmark its two-week PvE checkup!

Land(mark) of the lost

Let's start with the biggest change, at least in terms of volume. In terms of sheer area, the new cavern system is by far the largest change in the update. The explorable area has simply exploded! In the beginning you could actually dig down, but there was never any reason to do so nor anything to find if you did. After caves were introduced, you could seek pocket caves and extract resources or possibly even find treasure chests. Still, the viable world went only so deep. Now, the islands expand down at least as far as they do across. Not only that, but there are new ruins to stumble upon. This is what exploring is all about.

Although there has always been rhetoric about Landmark being a place to explore, explorers haven't really had much to do. True, there are claims to check out. But sometimes you don't want to look at houses and works-in-progress; you want to prowl the world and discover things! And you always know where to find claims. There's an excitement when uncovering something that no one else has found. That had been missing up until now. Now, non-builders like one of my friends actually feel as if they have a place in Landmark, a reason for logging in and staying; he is scouting out caves, mapping out underground biomes, and fighting mobs. He's even getting lost! (For explorers, that can be quite a fun thing.) He's spent inordinately more time in Landmark in the last two weeks than I think he has since alpha launched!

As an explorer myself, I mirror my friend's sentiments: I feel that the game has more for me personally. I've wandered into caverns that are so massive you can't see the other side. I've excitedly anticipated what would be around the next corner. I've even enjoyed getting lost. Sadly, I haven't yet discovered any of the ruins sprinkled throughout the game, but I will! With five tiers each on 50 different islands on each of the nine different worlds, there's plenty of space left to explore. I have barely scratched the surface! For that reason, I see myself spending even more time in game.

Close encounters of the critter kind

The other whopper of a change is the introduction of the cute and cuddly critters who all happen to want to kill you. There's not too much variety yet; besides the five different mob types, you can find some variations like frozen chompers and slaugs. I know that even within each breed of mob there are some differences in abilities as well that theoretically would affect combat; I just haven't personally paid enough attention to that aspect to be able to say much about it. Is it enough of a difference to make combat feel a little less predictable for a moment on your next encounter? I don't know. For me, I have just treated each type of monster the same.

Incidentally, I didn't always survive my encounters! That's where I was introduced to the new graveyards, which are actually pretty neat-looking. I am still curious though why exactly we can click on the tombstones...

Too much of a good thing

Loot became a thing in this new update. And who doesn't like loot? A person with full inventory, that's who! Because you need so many ether shards for crafting, not to mention all the different aspects and such, you may not want to toss out any of the stuff you loot so you can salvage it. You also get things like the new particle emitters, which are an awesome addition to the game's building side. All that adds up to your bag filling up pretty fast! So before you set out on your adventures, you might want to make sure you have some space.

Regarding the particle emitters: In all of my tinkering with them, I ran into one big problem. I had so many ideas that I had no idea where to begin! Seriously, these little interactive devices coupled with the linking and triggering system have opened up the realm of possibilities to something so expansive it's like looking into an endless void. Secret passageways, blinking lights on consoles, working elevators, spooky halls, puzzles, traps... the list could go on and on. I seriously want to do so much that I am practically frozen with indecision as to what to do first.

One other note about the emitters: While I greatly appreciate that I can resize them to be big enough to manipulate well (meaning see the darn little things!), I am sad that doing so automatically enlarges the effect as well. I want to be able to make the emitter larger so it is easier to use without making the effects humongous. So my request to devs is perhaps the emitters can be fitted with an effect size option separate from their physical dimensions.

The more the merrier

The new update has certainly also brought people back to the game. My friends list is lit up with more names than has been in quite a while. I've also seen numerous new folks popping in to check things out (if you need a key to do so yourself, just email and we'll send you one!). Of course, two weeks isn't nearly enough time to see if the surge of population will remain steady, but it is a good indication that players are interested in experiencing for themselves. Will this update be the big one that draws in the crowds? That answer needs more time.

Unsquashed bugs

With such a huge update, bug were inevitable. Even expected. And in that, we weren't disappointed. Yes, there were/are bugs. That said, I was actually pleased that the prevalence and effects of the glitches were much lower than in the last massive update. The dev team delayed the update's release in order to iron things out better and avoid having as much downtime focused on fixing stuff like after the PvP patch. I'd say they succeeded. It definitely seems to be a smother transition even for being a much bigger update. A couple friends have been crashing more than usual, and their games have been locking up, but I personally haven't experienced that. The bugs I ran into most often were falling through the world when trying to port to the various island layers and Immortal Mobs. These are mobs whose health bars not only don't show up and can't be fazed by any amount of damage. The only thing you can really do in that instance is to channel your inner Sir Robin and bravely flee.

A chink in the crafting

There was one very unexpected twist that didn't impact me personally but did affect a number of folks I know who came back specifically for this new PvE content update. Basically those who skipped coming in -- or back -- for the PvP content update didn't get to start in on the PvE with the same equipment as those who had. Back when PvP was introduced, players could make sets of the newly introduced armors and weapons for no material cost as many times as they wished. However, that same armor is now quite material-intensive to make! Yes, there is a newbie version that can be made for free again, but it is significantly less desirable (as it has no real stats). That does put new testers at a disadvantage. And I actually feel guilty for not making more back then so I could hand them out to friends now!

I can see the rationale in this decision, though. These first pieces of equipment, along with many other different ones, are a part of the loot that drops. And having loot gives adventurers a reason to go smack around some monsters, right? So the change encourages players to participate in both the PvE content as well as the crafting.

The new crafting is a bit deeper, which is needed and good. It gives crafters a better reason to be around and a bigger role. Crafting now requires players to add an extra components (ether shards) to make weapons and armor. These are dropped off mobs, but players can get even more by salvaging the dropped equipment they aren't interested in keeping and using. Good gear also takes other materials, like aspects, that are acquired mainly from salvaging.

This is only the beginning

Of course, this is just the first iteration of the system. Soon there will be more mobs, caverns will not have easy access teleports (until you discover them for yourself at least), and there will be even more loot to hoard and equipment to craft. If you think you've already seen all there is to see, you haven't. This update definitely has Landmark on the right path, adding more things to do and more reasons to be in game for various types of gamers. The first two weeks are looking good, so here's to many, many more!

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!