Well, it’s finally happened. Landmark, the game that likely nobody saw coming and many thought would never be complete, has officially launched. To say that it’s been a long and winding road to get to this point is an understatement. Landmark has had the rather dubious distinction of being in a sort of development hell in plain sight of the gaming public. It was the toolset-turned-sandbox that promised grand things for the future of the EverQuest franchise, and is assumed by many to be the dried-out husk of those dreams thanks to the purchase of Sony Online Entertainment by Columbus Nova.
With that all said, I decided to approach this review as mentally divorced from the weird history as I could. Admittedly, it had been a long while since I had logged in, so this wasn’t much of a hurdle. Still, I feel it’s still important to note. It’s only fair that I focus on the game based on what it presents, not how it got to this point. With that said, it was time to dive on in.
After some rather underwhelming character creation, I was plopped in the middle of a starter island, a completely flat disk where your first claim is made and everyone is arranged in nice, neat rows. I could appreciate the point of this idea; a flat place to build on would let you get acclimated to the tools and how they operate. Still, the arrangement was both unsettling and boring, so I uprooted my claim flag and headed for the Portal Spire, which let me transport to a biome with a bit more scenic variety.
Travelling in this game has been significantly streamlined since the last time I had played Landmark. Where before running to the Portal Spire in the center of every island was a requirement, I could now click on a drop-down menu and go through a variety of options to find the sort of places I wanted to go or the things I wanted to see. Everything is broken down, listed and itemized nice and neat, which was probably one of the best quality-of-life features. Still, it did take away a bit of the enjoyment of dashing around the island and running in to neat stuff. Since I was on the hunt for a suitable location and climate for my build, I wasn’t too worried. Besides, when I found where I wanted to plant my flag, I could dash around at my leisure.
Doing that dashing around in Landmark feels great. Hurtling around and leaping and sliding and firing my grappling hook to climb sheer faces fed my desire to explore. Coming to the top of a tall mountain to take in the view is always a personal delight for me, because this game is an absolute looker. Even on my middling machine, seeing the landscape spread out before me is exhilarating. Ignoring the fast travel system and roaming the countryside still remains one of the best aspects of Landmark.
Once I settled on a suitable location for my new claim, I planted my flag and began to play with the toolset. Once again, some new quality-of-life features made things better in this aspect, as building stuff is the hallmark of the Landmark experience. All of the tools and building materials were neatly organized, and all of them had quick mouseover tooltips that made getting in to building generally easy thought a few of the functions of the toolset could do with some cleaner explanation. Still, floating around on my claim site and placing down blocks of plaster dug home that sense of ownership and permanence that is desperately missing from many MMO’s.
So at the foundational level, Landmark is still as solid a game as ever. It’s all of the other stuff that was added on later that began to sour the experience. After floating around on my claim for a bit, I decided to fast-travel to one of the underground cavern areas to check out combat. While running around on the landscape was a joy, that same free-flowing movement made fighting feel sloppy and awkward. Landmark employs a mouselook aiming combat model with weapon attacks handled by either left or right clicks of the mouse. It all felt imprecise, and starting as a sci-fi themed character armed with a gigantic water gun (yes, you read that right) only made things feel worse as I found aiming tricky. Combined with enemy AI that alternates from monumentally stupid to bafflingly powerful, everything about Landmark’s combat felt rushed.
Crafting, a feature that should have been an entire game unto itself, has also not developed beyond the bog-standard “get the mats and click the button” thing that MMO gamers are all used to. While materials are simple enough to find out in the world, the payoff of creating your own stuff doesn’t feel like its worth the effort beyond furnishing your claim. It’s a simple solution, but considering the depth of tools available in building your own place, a little more love spent on the crafting aspect would have been nice. Especially in regards to creating armor and weapons.
Finally, we get to the Story Tools, the feature that lets you create events of varying dynamism from making a light switch work to having short-form dungeons with monster attacks. It all came off incredibly obtuse, even though the tools themselves are physical props that can be manipulated much like other things in your claim. The depth and complexity of the system seems intriguing, but they definitely are a feature that will take a lot of practice and a few bouts of confused grumbling.
Gameplay – 6/10
Landmark is either a game of building and exploration or combat. While the first feels the most rewarding and complete, the second falls pitifully short. Combat is a wobbly mess of janky aiming and AI that needed more time in grade school – a separation that’s most keenly felt when you experience the depth and wealth of tools available while in Build Mode. Meanwhile, heading out of your claim for resource harvesting can be a small adventure in and of itself, and very frequently I found myself aimlessly wandering. It’s a shame that, gameplay-wise, Landmark feels like two completely different experiences.
Innovation – 8/10
Landmark is a wholly unique sort of animal without many things to compare it to. The first and most obvious would be a Minecraft, but that seems to fall a bit short of the mark. Considering the sorts of structures that people are capable of, Landmark’s building tools far surpass anything that’s like it. It manages to toe the space between the simplicity and fun of a Minecraft with the depth and capable complexity of Space Engineers. Crafting your own part of the universe is truly palpable stuff, and it makes an impact.
Community – 7/10
The chat in Landmark was overall lively and upbeat, without the sorts of drama or outrage that I was expecting. This game has pulled together some truly creative folks, and a lot of the questions that scrolled through the chat were politely and gladly answered. There are a fair few players about as well, if the amount of claimed land is any indication. Of course, claims do disappear after a set amount of time logged out, so the enthusiasm of Landmark’s community is one that is yet to be tested. At the interim, at least, Landmark has cultivated a welcoming and friendly playerbase.
Graphics/Sound – 8/10
Lilting music from Jeremy Soule enhances the otherworldly sensation that Landmark is trying to convey, and the variety of landscapes and biomes make this game a visual experience. It’s a very stylized sort of realism, but one that works. Creations rising up from the ground, ranging from the statuesque to the plain, dot the landscape and make the whole game feel very etherial and dream-like. It’s a stunner on the senses that truly appeals to an explorer play personality.
Value – 3/10
While Landmark is only $9.99, it also provides a gaming experience that is very polarizing. Players looking for a truly rich experience are likely going to be disappointed, but those who are itching to craft their own little universe will likely find plenty to do. Despite this, the score for value dips significantly with the in-game store’s offerings, which combines Daybreak’s official offerings of Lumens, a crafting currency, and player-made items. While it’s obviously possible to recreate many of the player-made items, the skill ceiling to do so can be a bit high for many, which makes this game’s store offerings feel very dubious.
Overall – 5/10
- Base game of building is robust
- Beautiful graphics
- Strong sense of exploration and discovery
- Secondary systems and mechanics feel tacked-on
- Combat is messy
- Little incentive for most players beyond ones who like to build
- Cash shop offerings that reek of desperation