You can now join Landmark for just £14. Sony's Minecraft-esque adjunct to EverQuest Next has lowered the barrier of entry into the closed beta so even a frugal Scottish freelancer can stroll in. I've spent the weekend wandering the worlds, admiring what's being built and testing the tools.
I am currently not dead, but if I died and you were to look through my search history and Twitter account, you'd probably think Landmark was the killer. I've only been able to play it with passive-aggressive search engine queries and complaining on Twitter. There is no game here. Not yet, anyway. Landmark, has a bright future, but it's also a honest-to-glob alpha, and probably one of the earliest games I've ever bought from a major company. Here's what I've typed into Google and Twitter, and here's what those searches say about the state of the game.
"How do I change the camera in Landmark?"
Currently all Landmark does is allow the players to mine and build without any worry of pain or death. That'll change, but for now it's about joining a sever, selecting a realm, and making things with the tools. I joined and found myself in front of a glowing portal. I wanted to be able to see as much as possible, because I love games where the community reshapes the world, so I dialled back the mouse wheel. Nothing. I hit the numpad '-' key, but again nothing happened. I hit ESC and drilled down into the options, discovering that the game is so early that there's no keymap and there's no way of easily redefining buttons. There's no way of finding out what the controls are without leaving the game and Googling or asking Twitter. If I didn't have a second monitor, I'd have found it awfully frustrating. For those interested, it is Shift+MW.
I'm glad I found it. Landmark uses the Forgelight engine--the same tech powering Planetside 2--so it has that misty look that's built for postcard screenshots. It loses a little up close, but the voxel warping technology makes up for that. I mentioned before it's a building game, but this is a step-beyond what we're used to, where every thunk of a pickaxe cuts a gash into the rolling ground. It's not realistic-- it's too exaggerated for that--but it reshapes the world in a less cubic fashion than in Minecraft. I did this in about five seconds.
I'm not very good at building things, but I love being part of a world where other players can express their creativity. Dialling the camera out as far as it will allow shows buildings clinging to rock faces and topping mountains, all made by players. I could see castles and spaceships casting lengthy shadows as the sun dipped.
There was also an elephant. It belongs to Spootyman, who was toiling away when I happened upon his build. He'd filled his claim with a giant Luggage and the floating head of an elephant, and was attempting to build his own Discworld (scroll down). It was on his claim that I learned about the builder's palette. In every impressive building, there's usually a room of abstract shapes. A wall will be given over to this sort of thing.
How it works is indicative of the game's tools: you can cut and paste from the palette. With this, people can select shapes in a quick fashion without having to go through the trouble of remaking them.
"The Landmark inventory is crap."
It is. Richard Cobbett agrees.
Your building materials are split from your inventory, which is smart because after a few moments mining you'll have hundreds of base components. But they're split in a really odd fashion. It took me ages to figure out the search bar was searching in my tools inventory and not the entirety of what I had on me, which is why I couldn't find a pile of things that I was looking for. That it defaults to that is awkward, and indicative of the current state Landmark is in. I have no doubt that it'll be noted as The Wrong Way Of Doing This, but right now it's pretty terrible.
In Landmark, everyone has the ability to grab land that only they can work on, and to claim it you need a flag. I had a flag in my backpack, but it wasn't working. I could tell I was attempting to claim free land, because you can toggle claim markers and land markers, but nothing was happening. It was Cobbett who figured it out: I was trying to claim land by planting a symbolic flag. It's an item you get in your starter pack that has no power, but appears to be a claim flag. Instead you must make a claim flag. This is where the game is in Landmark: you'll spend time crafting a huge number of tools that'll slice ground, loom clothes, and shape and reshape all the elements.
Before you do that, you need to mine the components. At the centre of every land is a Portal. It's a warp-point to other worlds, and it also has communal building devices that will tell you what you need to gather to make some basic items. I already have a pick and an axe just for buying into the game, and clicking the basic workshop tells me a claim flag needs seven Elemental Iron, ten Aquamarine, and ten Heartwood.
"How do I figure what I'm mining in Landmark?"
For a game about finding the correct ore, it's surprisingly tough to do so. You're dropped into a random Tier One land on a server of your choice. Tiers relate to mineable ores, and higher tiers require better and better equipment for you to mine. You can move to any Tier using the Portal, and I got lucky and joined a land that was colonised by hyper-builders who placed a trunk full of free tools at the server's Portal, including high tier picks and axes. I could mine almost all tiers immediately, and all I needed was to figure out what ore was what.
Ore is everywhere in Landmark. It sits at the surface, a little splat of shimmering colour. Trying to figure out which little splat is silver, or tungsten, or tin is probably the most time-consuming part. The lighting changes how the shiny metal looks, so I could never quite get a handle on what was what. I had to chip away at it to ensure I was mining the correct stuff. And though the in-game shop will sell you bags of every element, a lot of recipes will require 'Elemental' forms of the ore that can only be found through mining. A lot of the time when I was ore-hunting, it was simply to grab the special form of the ore because I'd bought 72 giga-Peggles of the normal form in the shop.
"Is Craig Pearson handsome?"
Er, my brother hacked me. Moving on.
"Amazing Landmark builds"
I am trolling myself. My own build is nothing more than a flattened mountain top. My plan was to take the whole top of the mountain and reform it into a mix of land and house, but the area my claim flag covered was just a touch too small, so I had to craft an additional claim flag and stick them side-by-side. The tools you get within your building area enable you to delete trees and loose rocks, and cut out large blocks and spheres. There's also an undo.
Sony will enable builders to monetise their builds as blueprints in Landmark and in EverQuest Next, so creating things has to be hard work or people will be making a fortune with almost no work. But I didn't expect it to be quite so tough. You can shape the raw ore into ingots in the communal workbenches, but you need a series of workbenches to make basic items. Rustic pillows require a Tin Trimmed Workbench, which is made at the Copper Reinforced Saw Table, that you crafted at the Stone Forge that was made at the Basic Workshop. All those tables need multiple basic and elemental components and then you need to craft them all in turn. It's a little bit too much work for me.
Which means you won't be seeing my amazing house. But then I joined the game knowing I wouldn't be doing much mining and building much, anyway. I was here to admire the work of others, and I went on a wander. I found a small fort spread over three claims, and opposite that was a castle with its own rollercoaster snaking through the windows. There is a tree near my plot cunningly built from concentric rings and wrapped in thick vines. Pretend ruins and pagodas hide in the forests. Some people will take advantage of the views, as I plan to when I eventually turn my plot into whatever I can make of it, while others will choose to hide their creations underground for you to stumble across.
It's also no surprise that almost everything below was worked on by founder members of the community. The long-timers all seem to know each other. Everything large and impressive has a palette room, and all have been built by people working around the current limitations (there's a way of shaping voxels that the community has discovered that the developers didn't intend). You can't easily do any of this without some back-up and a willing tutor, and not even Google will help you if you need to understand the nuances of what's been built.
And there's dangling wires everywhere. Though it's not a concern this early in the development, if you are a stickler for usability and stability you're better off waiting for a release where the framerate stays above 30fps, items don't vanish from the inventory, it doesn't crash so hard that your PC has to be reset, and ability cooldown times are reported. I got my £14's worth, as you'll see in the gallery below, but I am a happy wanderer. If you're thinking of joining up as as builder, you should probably wait.