One of the most common buzzwords in the gaming industry of late has been “sandbox.” From single player titles to MMOs, developers are fixated on pushing the latest tech to its limits through the development of sprawling landscapes and cityscapes. Often, these experiences fall short of the lofty moniker. This is where Sony Online Entertainmen’s Landmark enters and redefines what one might consider a gaming sandbox.
To begin, it’s important to understand that Landmark – formerly known as EverQuest Next Landmark – is very unlike the majority of the online gaming market. At its core, it is a sandbox within which gamers can experiment. While the tools players use are created by the developers, the worlds that they populate are procedurally-generated and shaped entirely by the community.
For those unaware of the title, it is best compared to Minecraft and its mechanics whereby players destroy and collect elements of the world around them which can then be used to build something new. The worlds of Landmark are voxel-based as one might expect from a title with this mechanic, but unlike its contemporaries, clever use of smoothing makes this voxel world look gorgeous and comparable to other sandbox titles on the market.
One of the common quibbles in games such as this is the needless time-sink that can come from endless searching for precious elements. To alleviate this, the developers have recently added tools which will highlight certain high-profile resources like ore and gems through the environment. This feeds into the inclusion of natural, procedurally-generated caves that expand the world of possibilities vertically. These caves can reach distances of 1 to 3 km and house some of the world’s rarest materials.
Collecting resources and building impressive displays isn’t the only way that players will be able to experience the world of Landmark though. Sony Online Entertainment has confirmed that they are currently working on implementing a health system and a way for players to engage in combat, eventually against AI creatures. In its current state, the world is not a threat, but since Landmark is will play host to each of the features and modules that will eventually comprise EverQuest Next, testing out various combat systems will be an important part of the process.
This highlights the most promising aspect of Landmark. Unlike most other sandbox titles, it truly embraces the term and is slowly expanding its feature set to incorporate almost any play-style one could imagine. Of the future features, arguably the most exciting is that of a “Dungeon Master” option that will allow players to sculpt the experiences of others.
The team behind Landmark feels that emergent storytelling is an important part of the game’s experience with players interacting and building on the game’s server worlds. By adding tools that will allow players to take control of the inner workings of the world and guide a narrative for their friends and others around them, this will foster close-knit communities of players and encourage further exploration, experimentation and creation.
Coupled with the prospect of implementing the Oculus Rift in EverQuest Next, SOE is banking on encompassing an incredibly large number of different systems with Landmark. While this could easily be viewed as overreaching, the developers’ focus on releasing modules that they can then tweak and refine before moving on allows them to ensure that nothing feels extraneous and phoned-in. There is still no indication of when the title will progress past its closed beta, but the time and care that is going into creating the strongest product possible is encouraging.
Do you find community-driven sandbox titles to be more rewarding experiences than linear narrative pieces? What gameplay feature would you like to see implemented in Landmark next?
Landmark is currently in closed beta on PC and has not received a firm open beta release date.
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