Yesterday’s livestream was basically the first EverQuest Next Landmark footage I’d seen since the reveal at SOE Fan Faire. It was refreshing in that it wasn’t some kind of scripted event or prerecorded footage. Instead, the player used a pickaxe to dig a hole in the ground and… well, that was pretty much it.
And it was fascinating.
I get the part where Terry Michaels says he just loses himself in mining and resource-gathering – not actual building. I’ve always wondered if an MMO, or any video game, could work if it was purely about exploration – no combat, no crafting, nothing else but finding gorgeous vistas and never-before-visited locales. After all, that’s how real-world exploration works, for the most part.
That kind of “game” would have its flaws, boredom not the least among them, so something else – maybe combat, maybe not – is probably needed. Landmark looks to take that “pure exploration” seed and expand upon it while still leaving exploration and discovery as primary aspects of the gameplay experience. The key elements that make it so are how exploration extends in three dimensions and how the world replenishes itself with occasionally different features. Both are required to keep interest fresh and present new experiences each time out.
That was what made the gameplay footage from the stream so subtly dazzling for me. When the player found a semi-rare spawn of tin and dug not only through what was on the surface but also through the ground, following the vein as deeply as possible, it was exhilarating, and I was only watching. Yes, voxel-based mining/construction games like Minecraft already allow this, but the 8-bit graphics in games like that have always been a turnoff for me. I played games that looked like that 30 years ago; do we have to sacrifice appearance for emergent gameplay? SOE thinks not. The fact that a game like this can exist, and look as realistic as it does, is breathtaking.
But is digging in the ground enough? I think so. I believe that Landmark can be successful and enjoyable without being a full-scale MMORPG, with all the trappings that we’re accustomed to. In fact, it’s not a total stretch to say that I’m looking forward to Landmark even more than I am to EverQuest Next proper at this point.
There are tons of games where combat is the focus. If I’m more in the mood for mining or building, I’ll play Landmark; when I want to kill stuff and go on epic adventures, I’ll lean more toward playing Next, or something else entirely. Landmark has combat and Next has building, but I’m not sure just yet how much one will be overshadowed by the other in their respective games.
It’s an argument that I’ve made before, that MMOs shouldn’t try to do too much outside of their specialties: that you shouldn’t try to force PvP into a game with excellent PvE, or vice versa, or that a game with RP elements shouldn’t try so hard to appeal to non-RPers or that a game focusing on ground combat shouldn’t have lackluster air or space combat “just because.” (Hello, Star Wars: The Old Republic.) It dilutes the focus of your game, causes balance issues, and, at worst, delays the game by spreading your design team too thin.
Maybe that’s the approach SOE is taking with EQN and Landmark. Maybe they’ll try to create two games where one aspect – building vs. combat – is dominant, even if the other is sort of “there,” just hanging around in the background. Maybe that will be enough to maintain a high interest in both games.
Regardless, I can’t wait to get my hands dirty. Or my pickaxe. How about you?