EverQuest Next Landmark alpha launches today, and we've played it

EverQuest Next has been billed as Sony Online Entertainment's next-generation, fully destructible MMO, with EQN Landmark promising an in-game building experience unlike any other. To help usher in the Year of EverQuest, EQN Landmark's alpha will open its doors tonight to a number of devoted fans and creative minds. Shacknews was given the opportunity to try out the Landmark alpha and, while it has a number of technical issues, it shows a unique ambition with the potential to take MMORPGs to new heights.

Just as the early videos implied, Landmark's building tool proved user-friendly and easy to use. The bread and butter is in the add and delete tools, along with the selection tools. Players gather resources by picking away at just about anything in the world with their trusty pickaxe, gathering dirt, wood, metal, and other elements across different environments. In my time with the game, all players started off across a barren desert before branching out towards mountainous terrain and a vast forest region.

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After staking out a claim of open land, it was time to begin building. The "Add" tool allowed me to craft cubes or spheres of varying sizes and join them together to create a livable space. After putting about a dozen cubes together, bringing them together with outer corner pieces, and running over each piece with the "Smooth" tool, I navigated the "Selection" tool to quickly hollow out the structure.

Learning how to create objects in the game feels like picking up Adobe Photoshop. Anyone with a passing knowledge of image software will be able to pick up the basic ideas of Landmark and start manipulating textures in a matter of minutes, using simple copy & paste, stretching, and scaling mechanics. There's also room for more complex designs, thanks to the game's "Line" tool that allows players to craft structures at any angle they desire. Anyone that goes into Landmark flying blind may have some initial troubles getting used to the various tools, but Landmark really does make them feel intuitive and simple to learn.

Of course, I don't consider myself a Photoshop expert by any means, so the learning process for Landmark was similarly slow to me. I was able to make a crude house for myself and even play around with the spheres to make myself a wooden snowman. Unfortunately, I'm far from a creative building genius.

However, many of the people in my Landmark session were remarkably quick to pick up on the game's mechanics and it didn't take long for their imaginations to run wild. As I was fiddling around with my snowman, I suddenly noticed some structures pop up in the background, as some of my colleagues had begun building literal stairways to heaven. Rather than waste any more time on my failed building, I started playing around with everyone else's building, climbing up into the sky and admiring how they had crafted mid-air structures. Across the distance, I'd find someone else building a tower that continued to go higher and higher. Here's where Landmark shows its limitless potential, as players can not only create their own creative structure on the ground, but because of a mechanic that can leave pieces floating in mid-air, truly creative minds will have the whole sky to play with, as well.

One important thing to note here is that players can lay claim to their own plot of land, just about anywhere in the world. If your claim is set, random players can't grief you by taking your building apart, unless you give permission to certain friends. Not only are there virtually no limits on building, but you won't have to worry about random griefers undoing all of your hard work.

There are still a few kinks to work out in Landmark, in the sense that building doesn't always go as planned. Placing adjacent parts together isn't always as easy as the video demos would lead you to believe. More often than not, pieces wouldn't snap together so easily and they'd be often wind up a voxel apart from one another. There were several instances when I tried to place a cube side-by-side, only to find noticeable gaps or a square voxel out-of-place. Part of this is because the ground is never flat, so cubes will inevitably get placed over more elevated areas, leading to some different cube placement. SOE attempts to ease the burden of mistakes with a thorough 'undo' mechanic, allowing players to undo up to 20 previous steps.

I've also noticed that Landmark doesn't necessarily play nice with the game's day/night cycle. While daily cycles have become a standard feature, it can wreak havoc with building. I attempted to build a structure in the forest in the middle of the night, only to find my visibility just about shot. Being unable to see resulted in some of the aforementioned building issues and when the sun rose, my new structure looked like something out of a Picasso painting.

Landmark has a long way to go before it's ready, as SOE hopes to implement new features and fixes in the coming months, based on player feedback. Creative minds, however, will be able to make the most of it right now and create some awe-inspiring visuals for their friends to behold. EQN Landmark's Alpha begins tonight for anyone that has purchased a Founder's Pack at the Explorer or Trailblazer level.