It's one thing to watch Dave Georgeson be giddy about EverQuest Next and its slightly-more-sandbox-than-thou EverQuest Next Landmark from afar. It's another thing to be close enough that his hand gestures threaten my full cup of joe. And either near or far, it's hard not to ride the wave of enthusiasm to the shores of hype, hopes, and dreams.
Georgeson and company are strongly pushing EverQuest Next Landmark these days, possibly because it's coming out in a couple of months and possibly because it's a strange game to explain to players. Just what is it? Sandbox? MMO? Real estate simulator? Parkour paradise? Capitalistic haven for up-and-coming designers? According to him, it's all of the above and then some.
It's not that I don't know anything about Landmark at this point; I know a lot, but I'm still having difficulty wrapping my head around what it is, exactly. I mention that it feels like SOE has created the ultimate win-win scenario: The studio gets to test-launch EverQuest Next without actually launching it, run a beta without actually calling it a beta, and allow players in something that they can't actually screw up. Georgeson agrees with my assessment. I think, more than anything else, he and his team are just beyond excited at letting the community come into the game and seeing what they'll do with all of these tools.
So let's start with the basics, even if you've heard it before. EverQuest Next Landmark is, in and of itself, a bona fide sandbox MMO. It will have a single class, the Adventurer, with the future possibility of others. What is the Adventurer? Your guess is as good as mine, as SOE doesn't want to share that right now. It has something to do with tools and adventuring, most likely. Georgeson gave me the impression that the class doesn't really matter as much, since fighting isn't the core of Landmark -- creation is.
Landmark's several procedurally generated worlds will all be wholly unique to each other. They'll get even more unique -- don't overthink this sentence, please -- when players get in and start molding the world in their image. SOE has an inkling of what the possibilities could be, but in reality, the devs know just as much as you or I. That's why launching Landmark is so exciting to them, as they're wondering if worlds will take on personalities, histories, and themes.
When you first log into Landmark, you'll be staring at the titular structure. Landmarks in the game are a combination of three things: wizard spires (for teleporting to other landmarks or worlds), crafting tables, and vendor stalls. They'll be the home base for many of your future efforts, but SOE doesn't want you to stick around too long; your job is to go explore, to gather, to discover, to craft, and to create.
So why not just give players a slick UI to buy and sell items, instead relying on actual in-game stalls? Georgeson was adamant that whatever got between players socializing needed to go, and that included some of the more modern conveniences of our typical MMOs. Instead, the team hopes that after a long day of adventuring, we'll see players coming back to landmarks to chat, buy, sell, and form friendships.
We all know that you'll be able to mold the landscape and erect your own structures, but Georgeson was giddy to talk about another way for players to interact: by buying and selling land. If you want to be a land speculator, well then, there's nothing stopping you from doing so. Snap up that gorgeous oasis and sell it for a song if you like. Of course, it's going to be a little tricky for SOE to handle real estate ownership and purchase since a lot of what's in the game is underground (and don't even mention oceans -- that's a topic that's still up in the air, although I had visions of a Waterworld fortress in my mind).
I was wondering if the team was going to include interactive elements so that we can take our creations behind the "attractive looking scenery" stage. While these won't be in at launch, Georgeson said that the ultimate goal is to give players pretty much all (but not completely all) of the tools that the developers will have for EverQuest Next -- including scripts and interactive doodads.
The quote from Dave Georgeson that stuck with me the most was this: "Landmark is all about wandering through players' imaginations." It's a game of exploration and discovery, not just what the procedurally generated world created, but what your fellow gamers have made. As such, the team's come up with features to help us do just that. The first is the tag system that allows you to categorize your property and structure so that other players can search and filter for just that exact thing. Looking for a scifi dystopian bar? Want to filter everything but purple polka dotted castles? Tags can do that.
The other feature that will see heavy use is the follow feature. Think of these as subscriptions: If you like what a player did, you can follow him such that the game informs you when he makes something new. This won't just be for groupies either; interested buyers can follow reliable creators and vice-versa. There are even achievements in place to encourage these "sponsor" relationships between the artist and the patron.
Of course, I had to wonder whether Georgeson's experimental paradise was about to be overrun with a Second Life red light district worth of inappropriate or obscene material. He assured me that mechanisms are in place to help stave that off, including player reporting. The biggest deterrent to crossing that line will be the loss of reputation, he said, which in a game where you can sell virtual items for actual money will hit players right in the wallet.
SOE's been doing a lot of work on both titles since the big reveal at SOE Live a few weeks back. The parkour elements have become better and more fluid, for one. I saw players do jump flips over obstacles and glide down from cliffs, all of which reminded me of the late great City of Heroes and the joy of movement in that game. Georgeson said CoH was one of his greatest influences, as a matter of fact. He also noted that players won't start out with a full range of movement options but will earn some as skills or through items over the course of the game.
I don't know if you've heard, but female Dwarf beards are officially in. They're optional, of course, but dare I say it? They're kind of cute.
Georgeson also wanted to show off the in-game model for the Dark Elves, which I think everyone but the Elf-hating me is anticipating. Their broad noses and proud look put to mind the aliens in Avatar, although not quite.
Ultimately, Georgeson said that it was time for players to become the game masters of their worlds. He just doesn't quite know what'll happen when the doors open to Landmark.
Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!