The past week has been quite the ride in the action-RPG world where Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem has finally been released after first being revealed on Kickstarter on May 14th, 2015. If you follow the link, you will see quite a different game than we received. I don’t want to go into that aspect much here because I didn’t donate to the campaign, and largely stayed away from Umbra/Wolcen until this past November when I reviewed what was currently released (Act I without endgame essentially).
I felt that Wolcen currently had some issues, but was hopeful to what the full release would look like. Unfortunately, I largely am disappointed with what I’ve experienced thus far.
Launch was a complete mess. It’s not that uncommon for an online game to be released and to underestimate server capacity. This famously happened when Diablo III was released back in 2012. I remember bringing my copy home, installing, and struggling to log in for the next two days. Add a few more days onto that, and that was my experience with Wolcen. I really wasn’t able to play until five days later. Even then, seemingly at random I just wouldn’t be able to log in.
Many people have defended this. A smaller studio may not have the manpower to fix this issue quickly, and it may not make sense to sink resources into servers when you don’t even know if there will be a player base to cover the costs. I’m with you on that. I’m not with the rest.
The uglier side of Wolcen’s launch had to do with just about everything else. Players were having characters deleted, inventories wiped and had their gear vanish. Those that were able to play, were met with other game breaking bugs like the Act I boss becoming invulnerable, remaining invulnerable and not allowing you to ever defeat him to progress. Multiple times I had worked through a quest just to not be able to progress the story because a NPC was not able to be spoken to. This is where I lose understanding and patience. This was met with silence from the developers until a few days later.
The setup will be familiar if you have played any action-RPG in the past. You have health, mana in the form of willpower and rage, skills, attacks, potions, stats and an inventory to equip items. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, it’s all very basic with the exception of Apocalyptic Forms which I will talk about further down.
When I was able to log in, I got to work and started leveling a character. The input delay is still there. Every attack or action that you perform, including your dodge rolls, seem to have this half a second delay between pressing your key and having the action performed. This feels painful for any game, but is especially bad for a game that has ‘one-hit-kill’ attacks that you are expected to move away from. After leveling a character to 73, I can’t even count the amount of times I felt an input was delayed or even ignored completely which led to a death.
It’s impossible not to notice the lack of polish that is on Wolcen. Enemies were occasionally out of reach from my attacks while still being able to attack me. Enemies would phase in and out of the plane of existence mid-combat. I wouldn’t be able to target specific enemies with the exception of a few pixels of their models. I even had sound completely cut out multiple times.
Outside of that, some other issues I had seemed to be intentional decisions. There are now side areas that you can enter from the overworld areas. They’ll look like green staircases on the map and will stick out when you see them because they have a yellow light protruding from whatever entrance they designed. It always feels ambiguous as to whether or not I’m actually selecting on the entrance to enter the area. You mouse over the entrance, click, and just…hope you were able to enter. There’s no indication you’re even highlighting the entrance. This extends to every other transition switch in the game as well.
Continuing with the side areas, I am extremely confused by this particular decision. Each side area has a sort of mini objective which could be to kill X amount of Y type of enemy. After completing the objective, a reward screen immediately pops up in front of you and blocks half your view, irregardless to if you’re still being attacked by other enemies in the area. I was killed twice early on by this reward screen.
Input lag on abilities and the vagueness of whether or not I’m clicking on entrances to areas or transitions to others leads me to a larger issues; clicking and selecting items is a chore.
I’ve never played an action-RPG that felt so broken when I just want to move items around my inventory, into a stash or even sell them to a vendor. Half of your inputs will be eaten without fail. You will not be able to smoothly right-click on your items to move them to your stash or sell them to a vendor. You will right-click, and instead of selling the item, you will pick up that item. You will try to put that item back in your inventory, you will fail. You will finally be able to put the item down again and attempt another right-click to sell. You may or may not succeed.
It’s incredibly frustrating that none of this really has to do with the content of the game yet. These are basic staples of any action-RPG. Moving, attacking and casting need to feel intuitive and feel smooth. Managing your inventory needs to feel natural. Neither do with Wolcen in its current form.
The majority of my playtime with Wolcen since the full release has left me feeling like I’m fighting with the game mechanics instead of the enemies and bosses.
In regard to Apocalyptic Forms, Wolcen’s website describes them as the following; fuel your apocalyptic power to unleash fury on enemies by transforming into a ultimate avatar of destruction with unique and deadly skills. While playing through the campaign, you will also pick up on the fact that the transformation is a substantial story point for your character. It really is just another feature that falls flat.
There are four apocalyptic forms for you to choose from (you gain access to them all after progressing through endgame) with each having their own abilities for you to use, similar to how you have set up your character already. My problem is that it all feels very slow and uneventful.
During Act II, you are forced into a situation where you are expected to continually use your apocalyptic form to get past an encounter. I felt that this encounter didn’t do its job in selling me the idea of using the form when necessary. It’s gotten to the point that as I write this review, I can’t even think of a time I have used it during my expedition progress. It was a tool that I had used to try to get out of potential deadly situations during the campaign. After that, I felt more comfortable just charging in with my character and skills that I’ve grown accustomed to.
Aside from smooth game play, itemization is arguably the next most important thing in any loot hunt action-RPG game. Wolcen has a typical breakdown; normal, magic, rare, legendary and unique. Each item has a tier built in ranging from 1-12. This includes gem ranks (and I believe potions).
Wolcen does something with their item system that is a huge pet peeve of mine; generic item naming. For example, my current helm is legendary and called a ‘Chromatic Abyssal Visor.’ Instead of a legendary ‘Abyssal Visor’ dropping, you will see ‘Helmet.’ I feel that this approach takes away from the personality of a game, and doesn’t really allow me to get to know it as well.
I can still to this day get incredibly excited to see a unique ‘Shako’ drop in Diablo II because I know that I just nabbed myself a Harlequin’s Crest. ‘Helmet’ would do nothing for me because in the case of Diablo II, that would mean one of twenty-three unique helmets.
The ranking system is also a bit confusing when talking about unique items in Wolcen. Typically, you would have unique items suited for certain points of the game, having the more rare items accessible past a certain point or in specific difficulties. Wolcen sort of unlocks the entire box at the start.
Unique items narrow things down a bit, but seeing a unique ‘Chest Piece’ could mean a dozen different things at this point in the game. One dagger in particular, Goremaker, I’ve found at two different points in the game. One has a level 15 requirement and the other a level 40 requirement. The level 40 one has scaled stats. I don’t necessarily dislike this, but I think I would have preferred certain items being relegated to endgame specifically to give you something to look forward to, instead of a third or fourth version of the same dagger.
One unique that I used for a large chunk of the game is a two-handed Greatsword called Rigard’s Hope. It dropped with three sockets, two labeled for Offensive II gems, and a third for Offensive III. The problem is that Offensive II slots are strictly prioritized to increasing spell damage. You can not use spells as long as you are holding a two-handed melee weapon, so I had no spells available to me if I used Rigard’s Hope. So, I used it, and just left those two useless sockets open until I replaced the weapon.
The endgame was something I was most concerned about when playing through Wolcen last year. There were two options for the player, running mandates or expeditions. This has been supplemented with a city building mechanic in a game mode they have dubbed; Champion of Stormfall.
As you log in after completing the campaign, you return to the game’s only city, Stormfall, where you are now in charge of rebuilding the city, choosing which jobs to perform and which rewards to seek out. These jobs cost a varying amount of the game’s two current resources; gold and primordial affinity. The first jobs aren’t very expensive to run and may cost you 10,000 – 20,000 gold but that number skyrockets very quickly into the hundreds of thousands. I felt this was an issue that I will talk about shortly.
I admit that I was excited when I first seen this because the general idea of it felt satisfying. As you complete mandates and expeditions, you receive another resource called productivity. As you play the game and complete those missions, you receive productivity, which in turn allows you to upgrade the city.
Mandates: The player jumps into an area of similarly leveled enemies and completes an objective. This is essentially the same thing as jumping into a side area in the campaign. You typically will be tasked to kill X number of Y type of enemies. Once completed, a portal appears and you return to town and receive your reward. As I was writing this section, I completed a mandate as a level 73 character. My reward for spending the five minutes completing the mandate was 1000 gold and my choice of one rare item. No experience bonus.
Expeditions: The bulk of your endgame play will come in the form of expeditions. Not surprisingly, it’s basically the same thing as mandates and side areas in the campaign. Instead of one floor of enemies and a boss that you need to defeat, you now need to clear three floors consecutively in order to truly complete an expedition. You can also choose to complete higher difficulty expeditions, which in turn unlocks an even higher difficulty expedition once completed.
There are other details involved such as being able to spend gold to add modifiers to your expedition, but largely we are looking at three versions of the exact same thing. Side areas/mandates/expeditions have very little variation from one another. Once you get to endgame, this is it.
I’m in the same spot that I found myself in with Diablo III. Once the paragon farming and rifting starts, that’s where you’ll find yourself for at least 90% of your playtime. At the very least, they have a better crafting system, set farming, set dungeons and more that has been released over the years to keep you occupied. Point being, I can only log into Diablo III for twenty minutes at a time right now. I complete a rift or two, get bored, then log off. That’s where I’m at after leveling each of the characters to max and spending a few hundred hours into the game. I’ve reached that point with Wolcen after less than forty hours here.
I need to talk about gold and using gold as a main resource. In many games, gold is seen as useful for the campaign, then largely forgotten. Diablo II really only had gambling as a gold sink. Diablo III lets you spend gold to change mods on your items and continue to roll them to your content. Wolcen places a large focus on gold in its endgame. I’m not faulting Wolcen for that, I fault the rate at which you obtain gold.
As far as I can see, there are a few ways to obtain gold. You can break apart objects in expeditions or mandates, you complete repeatable projects from the Stormfall Trade Assembly, you receive gold as a reward from completing expeditions and you receive gold from selling items.
Lets break this down further. For reference, I’m currently level 73 and participating in level 136 expeditions.
Break Apart Objects in Expeditions or Mandates: Breaking objects as a level 1 character or a level 72 character yield the exact same piles of gold; somewhere between 10-20 gold per pile. Bosses can drop more when defeated, but even then we are looking at 80-120 gold per pile.
Complete Repeatable Projects (Stormfall Trade Assembly): I don’t necessarily have an issue with this system, but it does not feel like enough, especially when you’re charged gold in the first place to even participate in the project. For a large project, you can spend 20,000 gold, and receive 60,000+ back. This is generally fine, but ultimately falls short considering the cost of upgrading your city skyrockets to 500,000+ pretty quickly.
Receive Gold After Completing Expeditions or Mandates: I believe there is a cap on how much experience and gold you receive at the end of expeditions and mandates. I can spend 20 minutes completing a three floor, level 124 expedition and receive roughly 24,000 gold for my efforts. This gold amount, is the same as I received at level 100, and even further before that. Experience is also capped at 1.5 million received at the end of a three floor expedition, which in itself is ridiculous when level 73 requires over 153 million experience to level up.
Sell Items: This is it, the best way to acquire gold in the endgame. Right now, I’m receiving around 900-1000 gold per sold rare item. Expeditions are turning into an inventory packing game just so I can have a full inventory of rare items to sell at the end of a floor so I can feel like I’m able to progress my city building. I feel that this is largely a slog. Just selecting items in general in Wolcen is absolutely awful in its current state. You regularly have to hit an item multiple times just to pick it up. With that, trying to right click items to sell to a vendor is a mental exercise in itself. Right clicking your mouse to sell an item could instead cause you to pick up the item, meaning that you have to place it back into your inventory and try again.
The main point that I want to make, is that it’s completely fine to make gold your primary resource, but give us some better options here. Increase the rewards to expeditions so that you actually receive a reward that matches the difficulty of what you’re completing. Scale the piles of gold that you receive from objects and bosses to level instead of having a flat rate for the entire game. Allow gold to be dropped by regular enemies as well so there’s an increase rate coming in. Outside of technical issues, this is one area of the game that I feel needs to most help.
As far as the endgame of Wolcen is concerned, it needs help. I’m writing the tail end of this review as a level 73 who has been pumping through expeditions all the way up to mid-Paragon. I’m just bored. Item drops aren’t interesting, progressing through the city building is slow, clicking items is hit or miss and there is a delay on inputs such as using skills or rolling to dodge attacks. Things are rough right now for being in development for a prolonged period of time and releasing with a substantial price tag onto Steam.
It’s unfortunate because when things are firing on all cylinders, Wolcen can look and feel great. I enjoy the graphics of the game, some areas and environments look gorgeous and the general feel of impact that skills have on your enemies is fantastic. Even with that being a positive, you’re just as likely to see an animation completely skip, or attacks that clearly hit an enemy not register.
After writing nearly 3500 words, I realized that I hadn’t even touched on other issues I’ve encountered so far. The mini-map, more often than not, will not label a vendor or side area properly, at times, you can see a side area but not be able to enter it, NPC’s at times just stood in a weird scarecrow T-pose and didn’t react to your character and when you highlight an item, you will at times not be able to see the stats of that item and need to re-highlight the item for it to work. Just to mention a few.
After killing an Act II boss, I opened my inventory to check out my new drops. I then opened my character sheet to see if a new pair of pants would increase my damage. At this time, a NPC was speaking in the background. Once the quest reward came up on the screen, I was locked into the inventory and character sheets and couldn’t get them down. I ended up having to close the game completely and rebooting.
This isn’t even all of the issues that I came across. The general feeling is that whenever I was ready to fully jump on board with Wolcen, the game talked me out of it almost immediately with another issue.
I do like the city building aspect of the endgame. It does need some adjustment and more incentive to care about it overall, but it’s a good base. While I want to feel hope for Wolcen and its team, I find myself more so just hoping that Grinding Gear Games implements something similar into Path of Exile as one of its leagues. I’m more confident that they will do it better.
I’m not writing Wolcen off completely. I hope that they can rebound from what has happened this past week, polish what they have and implement new mechanics that make this a long lasting game. For now, it will end up being another casualty between the popularity of Diablo III and the diversity of Path of Exile, relegated to being the filler game while players wait for the next Path of Exile season, or until the next cction-RPG releases.
Check out my views on the Wolcen Beta here.
Action-RPG fans should check out the following for my reviews on other similar games.