March 26 kicked off the launch of Closed beta for what was once “EverQuest Next Landmark,” and has ushered in a bunch of big changes. To start, the game’s name has been changed to simply “Landmark” now, which is nice, IMHO. Much easier to type for sure! 🙂
So what exactly has changed since alpha? When it comes to crafting progression, it seems like just about everything!
Making Your Claim
First, all players had to craft their first claim flag before they could find a home. This made a scrabble for iron and amethyst, but overall, the claim process last night was much less hectic than my alpha experience where everyone already had a flag on hand.
Not to mention soooooo many islands and many new servers (new tier included)! There was almost too much room (if that’s possible) with lots of unclaimed land floating around everywhere I looked. Of course, that could be because people were still downloading and gathering stuff for their claim flags. Also, new folks were just being introduced to the game as closed beta testers and were still learning the ropes.
I ended up with a lovely little old forest claim at the top of a hill near the Spring Spire on the Adventure server. I originally was trying to get back on the Courage server, which was my alpha home, but something odd happened when I logged in and I didn’t realize I was on Adventure until after I claimed. Ah well. Trying not to get too attached to it since I know there will be wipes.
Folks can also rate your claim now. Haven’t messed with that yet, but it’s in.
Claim Upkeep is In
Along with having to make a claim flag, players also discovered the joys of claim upkeep for the first time. In the future, this will cost in-game currency. For now, it costs 300 copper ore per day, per claim. Makes me wonder about the ease of earning coin in the future.
As of right now, you can place up to 5 days of upkeep for your claims. Some players have pointed out that this isn’t nearly long enough, and I’m sure there will be tweaks to the system in the future.
I plopped down a second claim last night and can confirm that upkeep costs doubled.
Crafting Progress is Totally Changed
Almost everything about crafting progression from alpha is different now. There’s different stations (only one kind of Forge, thankfully), a different way of gathering and refining wood (I like it), the new ax progression is in (I like this, too), and sickle harvesting for plants (unexpected).
I put my nose to the grindstone and was able to craft three of the major stations, a grappling hook, the select tool, an iron pick upgrade and still have some stuff left over to dabble with building my new tower on the hill. I felt that the progression made sense and wasn’t too tedious. In fact, it felt a lot faster than what I remembered. This will change, I’m sure, since it’s been indicated that in the future, we won’t start out with all these recipes — we’ll have to find some!
New Character Customizations
We also got crafting tables that allow for crafting clothing, which was unexpected. I saw screens of the clothing and like what I saw. Nice touch to that, along with the added face and hair styles during character creation. While there’s still only a small number to pick from (and still only human race), this shows they’re making progress here, too.
The new travel system is also in. You can now craft transportation stones that allow you to move to the hub or your claim once every so often (30 mins? Hour?). I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s certainly a welcome change.
Lots of exciting things coming for Landmark in the future. I’ll be here with the highlights!
Slowly, the clock is ticking and EverQuest Next Landmark alpha is moving ever closer to becoming closed beta. Whispers are, probably March 31-ish. We’ll see what happens though!
The newest update pushed a number of large features that I want to touch on, all important in their own way.
Claim Permissions and Friend’s List
You can now add people to your friend’s list, or block people who annoy you. This is just the first layer of a more complex social system, though.
Landmark now allows you to set permissions on your claim! This means you choose who can interact with props and ultimately, who can build alongside you on your claim. It’s time to see some collaborations! 🙂
In-Game Trading Post
We all knew it was coming, might as well be sooner rather than later. The SC marketplace was unveiled last night, containing several different types of outfits and some resource packs.
While I didn’t see a preview feature (and didn’t buy anything since I couldn’t see what it would look like on my avatar before I purchased it), I did see a place where you could recommend an item if you liked it. This is certainly in place for the future, where players will be able to sell and recommend their own creations.
Devs have confirmed anything purchased in alpha will be returned to you even when servers are wiped. This includes resource packs.
The first iteration of Tweak Mode is here! This allows you to place a prop, a pasted volume, a template or just your normal creation tool, situate it just right, then click a check mark to confirm before changes go into effect. Soooo much better than having to undo things over and over again until you got it just right!
There are some new paintings in game, so I decided to test it out in my house. 🙂
There’s a number of other changes I didn’t touch on:
Changes to gathering wood — tree types give different types of wood, it takes less wood to create planks
An Alchemy Crafting Station for advanced crafting
New ax progression (to go along with the wood changes)
What a mistake. Well, not playing the game, but playing the game alone at night! Geh!
So What Is Serena?
It’s a short game — I finished it in about an hour. But it’s an hour well spent in a lovingly crafted, atmospheric mystery/semi-horror story. I’m loathe to call it completely horror, because while the outcome was disturbing to me, your mileage may vary.
What was it that made this quiet, unassuming game creep me out (and I watch Walking Dead every week, unaffected)? The game has this sense of slowly building tension… you know from the start no good can come from it. And you’re right! It’s just watching the thing unravel that’s so disconcerting.
You play in first-person perspective as a man who is in a cabin far away from everything else. His wife, Serena, is missing, and he can’t remember why or what led to that point. The cabin is only two large rooms connected, and there are a limited number of items that you can interact with. Each time you do, the man narrates in full voice-over bits of the story, allowing you to piece together his past with Serena.
At certain points, you trigger transitions in the man’s attitude and outlook. As his view on objects in the house begin to change, more story starts to unfold. There are certain items that he shies away from, and the way the game builds tension, you come to start dreading what secrets they contain.
I really enjoyed the story’s subtle twist — if you pick up this game, don’t be mislead by what you think is obvious. When everything came together, it was deliciously devious and sent me to bed with the bathroom lights on (don’t ask me why… it just bugged me that much).
Last week’s EverQuest Next Landmark update brought a number of exciting changes including better smoothing tool, fixes to the Select tool, new craftable props, claim expansions and new biomes! I’m going to touch on many of these in this article, especially how claim expansions work.
Expanding Your Claim
As I suspected from the beginning, you expand your claim by attaching a second claim directly on to your first claim. This allows you to snap a new claim block on any of the four sides of your existing claim.
First, you have to craft a new claim flag. This flag is used only for expansions, and doesn’t allow you to plant a second new claim.
After you craft your flag, you stand within your existing claim and use it from your inventory. The game then gives you an option of which side of the claim you want to expand.
You click the block you want, then confirm, and it’s yours.
Now when you look at your claim, you can see the two seamless claim blocks side by side where you can build.
And that’s all there is to it! Alpha players were allowed two expansions to their original claim. So far, no upkeep or cost system has been implemented yet.
The update also introduced two new biomes (Tundra and Old Growth Forest) that appeared in various combinations and with old biomes. Each server received 12 additional islands and I saw a number of people making claims in these new, scenic areas. Really loving the feel of the old forests!
We got a LOT of new props that can be crafted from the normal stone forge. Most of these are the rocks, plants and trees that you see in the world, which is a very NICE selection to decorate your claim. I especially loved the vines that I made to crawl up the wall of my in-progress house.
We also got building materials based on all the new biome areas.
The smoothing tool got an update, which is supposed to improve its ability to create micro voxels more naturally rounded shapes.
The selection tool also got an upgrade that makes it significantly easier to work with. No more of me growling at those arrows to get out of the way when I’m trying to highlight the side of a selection!
A Note About Micro-Voxels
If you viewed the official Twitch stream a few weeks back, the devs have made the community-discovered micro-voxels a thing. In fact, this update went to improve micro-voxels by giving more undo support to them. I’m just starting to learn how to successfully create and place micro-voxels in my builds, and hope to do an article in the future that discusses what they are and how to use them.
I rarely post about Guild Wars 2 because, well, I have a Tumblr for that. However, my impressions of the last Living Story installment are probably going to be unpopular. I still feel the need to express them, and to discuss the importance of story in MMOs. However, I don’t want to light a fire on my GW2 Tumblr, where I’ve tried to express positivity and community encouragement for the most part, so I’ll just drop my thoughts here instead.
Maybe I’m getting old and persnickety about quality of writing in games. And being a writer myself, I don’t want to be too hard on people that put their time and creativity into the process.
That being said, I plan on being fairly blunt. Spoilers and grouchiness ahead. You’ve been warned.
Impressions on the GW2 Living Story Final Installments
I can see that the developers are putting heart and soul into the latest installments of the GW2 Living Story. I don’t doubt that at all. I feel like the overall mechanics of encounters and scenarios have improved greatly since the beginning of this year.
I enjoyed the invasion of Lion’s Arch quite a bit, even though I doubted it at first. But there was no real story to it. Giant drill. Evil laughter. Fire and explosions. Alright, it’s an invasion. I can deal with that.
What unfolded this update, however, touted to be the crowning achievement of the Living Story that would “rock Tyria”… was fairly predictable and rather ho-hum for me.
Elder dragon awakening? Yep. Most of us saw that coming a mile away. No surprise there. Maybe a year ago that would have fired me up, but seeing that it was the expected outcome (and this was before folks were talking about the datamined content), it was nothing shocking.
Scarlet dies? Yeah, that’s fine. She needed to die, mostly because she was a poorly crafted villain. I do want to give props to her voice actor this time around because I thought her lines were well delivered. I really didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment for killing Scarlet (thank you to the meddling NPCs who at least allowed me the killing blow). Just felt rather more a “good riddance,” if anything.
She wanted to talk. She wanted to explain her plan, like most villains do when they’re stuck in a tight spot. This one time, however, it would have been welcome and possibly interesting. I wish there had been more time to see some sort of internal struggle with Scarlet, as we know she was under the corruption and control of the Elder Dragon. That might have made me actually feel something when I killed her. Missed opportunity.
Instead? Nope. Your NPC friends intercept, tell her to shut up, and start attacking. Well, thanks guys for giving me an option.
Speaking of GW2 NPCs…
The NPCs are a big part of the turn-off to me during this scenario. I really can’t stand the Jory/Kas mushy fan service that the writers keep driveling all over every episode. I get it guys. Throw this so-called “relationship” in our face some more.
Do these writers think that people who are in love actually talk like this in public and in times of battle? Really?
The whole thing was a big fawning, mush-fest where Kas whines and cries and hiccups to the point of annoyance. I guess they were going for a story of riches to rags to hero with her, but it didn’t work for me. It doesn’t help that during the last update, if you were unlucky enough to hang out Lornar’s Pass refugee camp, all you heard was Jory/Kas fawning over each other non-stop. Don’t know if it was a bug, but they seriously never shut up.
People cry “character development!” “Romance!” Really, it’s neither. Just a shallow attempt at an unrealistic relationship for the sake of fan service. From the “squeeeeee!” I’ve been seeing, I guess it reached the target audience. No offense to those who like it, I suppose I’m just not one of them.
I know the writers can do better. Rox and Braham, for example. I felt they were done justice. We have two characters from drastically different backgrounds who become friends and companions in battle. They don’t have to have a romantic relationship and to suck face at the end of the scene to be meaningful. Instead, we see them both come to a mutual understanding about what matters the most — they were able to mature to a point where they could put themselves aside for the sake of their friend. That says a lot more to me, and I was pleased to see it — THAT is what I feel the underlying theme of GW2 is really about!
My Sympathies to the Writers
I’ve been putting a lot on the shoulders of the game writers in this post. On one hand, I’m sympathetic. I feel like the writers were stuck in a bad spot given that they crafted their way into a corner and a majority of the story-driven players didn’t respond to Scarlet or the pre-created scenarios the way they expected. That’s sadly how it goes sometimes… I wonder how much leeway they were given seeing that they probably had sprints to fill and content already set in stone for the Living Story ahead of time.
On the other hand, the moment fans seemed to start to ship things, as fans do, they totally blew it all out of proportion to the point that it was overused. Any more Jory/Kas action and I’d be gagging. Sorry guys.
FFXIV In Comparison…
Players like me come to a game for an engaging storyline. I read quests. I watch the cut scenes. I’m not there just to burn down bosses and zerg. With that, comes expectations.
I asked myself if my expectations were out of line. Is it just that I’ve been there, done that so much for long over 20-some years, that my threshold is impossible to meet? I thought about it a while and I decided that I really don’t think so.
For example, let me compare this to the other MMO I’ve indulged in lately — FFXIV. After the rather underwhelming ending in GW2, I put some time into the main scenario storyline in FFXIV and found myself much more satisfied. Not to spoil anything, it went like this:
I overcame a really big-boss battle, thanks to the help of guildies. I felt super accomplished — we did it! While riding high on that feeling, I returned to report back to my home base as I normally would, only to find something terrible happened there. I walked inside, took one look and my heart dropped into my stomach as I verbally said, “Oh, no…”
The game suddenly established the bad guys as a real and personal threat to me and NPCs I care about. I found myself without the support of characters I was accustomed to having near me ever since the game began. They guided my path, helped me to grow, gave me a place to belong, and were central to my character’s place in the world.
Without them, I was left to find help in the kindness of strangers. And from there, at my lowest point, I discovered hope in new and unexpected companions. I experienced a variety of emotions during this playthrough and I felt that the whole thing (despite alot of running around I had to do), was well written and nicely paced.
This, I thought to myself, is how to present a meaningful story in an MMO.
Oh, I can hear it now. What did you say?
“If you like FFXIV soooo much better, go play it.”
Well, duh. That’s what I’ve been doing.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold out hope that GW2 learned a thing or two about the importance of writing during this Living Story experiment. I’ll return to see the final update in two weeks and check in on Living Story 2.0 once that gets underway.