I have never met anyone as enthusiastic about what he does as EverQuest Next director of development Dave Georgeson. As we sat down to talk about the progress of EverQuest Next Landmark, an open world sandbox not entirely unlike Minecraft, and he was eager to get through the basics and get me into the game. Georgeson was clearly excited about letting others finally take his team's creation for a test drive, and his enthusiasm for the Landmark demo was infectious. 

I’ve only dabbled in Minecraft, and haven’t spent time with any of the countless clones it has spawned. I warned Georgeson that my first creation was likely to be pretty terrible, but he reassured me that everyone starts off that way.

As I fiddled with the toolset in the pre-alpha build, I quickly got the hang of the different options. Right now, the UI isn’t streamlined, but it was still easy to find the tools for building, deleting, “healing” the world back to default state, selecting, and “painting.” The latter is one of the more powerful options that Landmark offers.

Instead of harvesting resources and using workbenches or other devices to create materials, it’s simple to update your construction as time goes on. You’ll start with rudimentary tools and simple materials, but you can still build the castle of your dreams. As you find new stone, woods, gems, and more, you can “paint” over part or all of your existing structures.

Unlike Minecraft, Sony Online has built Landmark to give players more control over the shape of their creations. Voxel sizes can be scaled up or down. Spheres can be used for creation and even terrain deletion. A powerful smoothing tool can be used to make a construction of cubes into something a bit more natural or just to weather the hard edges of a older structure. A line tool connects two points for dramatic angles that are simple to create. 

When walking around the developer creations, there was little to suggest that what I was looking at was made of small cubes. In this way, Landmark offers a significant deviation from the building ethos that drives Mojang’s immensely successful sandbox.

In addition to all the building tools that I got to play with, Landmark will have systems in place for monsters, combat, guilds, and more. Players will be able to craft their own stories, and hop between the different world iterations to see what different players have built.

Developers have left their mark on the test environment I was playing around in. There was a large castle, a towering battle mech (made of wood and stone), a posh treehouse, and a cavern made of gems that beautifully reflected the light from a lantern as it was moved about.

As we’ve mentioned previously, EverQuest Next Landmark will be a way for developers to recognize some of the best community creations. Some of what’s created will be adopted into EverQuest Next. 

EverQuest Next Landmark will be going into alpha by the end of February 2014, with a beta slated to begin by the end of March. Sony Online is making founders packages available today at three different price points. For the full rundown of what’s included in each you can head over to the game’s website, but here are the highlights.

The $19.99 Settler pack gets you beta access, the $59.99 Explorer pack gets you alpha access, and the $99.99 Trailblazer pack gets you alpha access, head start beta access, and four closed beta keys for friends. There are other in-game bonuses available at each level.

EverQuest Next Landmark is an extremely ambitious project, but I had a lot of fun playing around in the sandbox. As my hour hands-on session wound down, Georgeson had to nudge me off the keyboard. My first creation, a crumbling demonic face built into a hillside was (as promised) pretty terrible, but I’m looking forward to having another crack at it once the game hits beta.