PAX East 2017: Jumping and climbing through Chronicles of Elyria's pre-alpha
I admit to my weakness: Despite years and years of games using it again and again, I still enjoy the simple gameplay benefits of jumping between ledges. I like parkour. Admittedly, I like it in a purely academic sense, as my actual vertical mobility is somewhere between "no" and "hell no," but I like games that allow you to dash hither and yon, springing from wall to wall, running along things, all of that fun stuff.
The pre-alpha build of MMORPG sandbox Chronicles of Elyria on display at PAX East did not feature that. It featured parkour that was more on the level of God of War's process of mantling ledges, jumping between them, and so forth. Still, that's a welcome change from the fact that far too many MMOs don't even grant you that degree of mobility. Even in games that encourage you to move about with jumping puzzles and the like, how many MMOs allow you to actually use your hands to grasp a ladder?
The demo on the show floor put you in the depths of a mine. Why are you in the mine? That's for philosophers to answer. Your real concern is getting out of the mine, or at least crossing the immediate obstacles between where you are and where you could be. This includes a little bit of fighting, but the big focus was on the game's movement system.
Obviously, you couldn't both fight and hang off of ledges; instead, you could toggle between combat stance and mobile stance. In combat stance, your hands were full; in movement stance, they weren't. That meant that I was free to jump about, clamber along on narrow footholds, and the like.
It is, of course, important to note that this is still a very early build of the game without most of its features in a functional state. It's not entirely fair to judge it based on the environment so much as raw functionality. In that category, it worked fairly well. While there were some ledges that looked as if I should have the option to climb when I couldn't, the basic mechanics had that comfortable feeling of proper jumping and clinging. If you had told me it was an early test build for an action-adventure game, I would have found that plausible.
The movements were also suitably diverse and responsive insofar as I rarely to never felt that I would press a button and have an unexpected action take place, nor was anything beholden to picture-perfect timing. Traversing the mines was a simple matter and worked along predictable, comprehensible lines. Obviously, I also had the benefit of placeholder combat and a lack of fall damage to make life a bit easier.
Players will have fall damage in the full game, but I found out after the fact that it will be something which players can mitigate by using the crouch button to tuck into a roll upon hitting the ground. It requires some practice to get the timing down right, but when done properly you can really cut the incoming damage significantly.
It will remain a player skill test, however, as the focus will always be on player skill rather than any sort of leveling mechanic. That's not to say that no in-game variables will affect your ability to parkour about; if you're a heavy character wearing heavy armor with a low Strength and Agility, you'll be less spry than someone in light leather with high stats. But you cannot, say, develop the skill to do multiple backflips between platforms. It'll be about player skill rather than character skill.
Player skill will also be involved in finding ledges to grab on to in the open world. For demo purposes, the climbing points were clearly marked with bat guano, making it easy to tell at a glance what could and could not be climbed. This was useful, but it also led to the usual problems with any sort of third-person game using the mechanics, where you wind up looking for which points you can arbitrarily grapple about through compared to where you can't. The full game, by contrast, is meant to make it much more open. You should be able to recognize without any special markers which ledges you can hang off of and which ones you can't.
That extends to other elements of the game as well. For example, it's entirely possible that one player may build a house in such a way that there's no easy access other than the door for would-be assassins. But there will also be several windows that can be used as entry points... and the would-be assassin can always sneak in by dragging a ladder over and climbing the wall.
You can, however, rest assured that no one will just go through the wall. The philosophy described to me was, essentially, that it should cost as much time and resources to get through a wall as it takes to build one in the first place. If a player can just knock a hole in the wall with a sledgehammer, why take a week to build one in the first place?
We also talked a little bit about the game's open PvP philosophy. Obviously, players who perform criminal acts will be facing a penalty, but that penalty doesn't do much to help the player who's already been randomly shanked while doing something else. What will make the player who wants to not get shanked at all not feel the sting of losing gameplay time as a result?
The answer essentially boils down to a matter of not losing too much if you're repeatedly killed. Within a cooldown window, for example, players won't suffer repeated spirit loss if they keep being killed; camping your body and continuously killing you will result in you losing things, but you can't lose those things again in short order. By contrast, the criminal penalties continue to ramp up without any cooldown, so just killing random players over and over will subject you to ever-harsher penalties along the way.
That doesn't exactly ease the sting for Stanley when he was harvesting wood by himself, but it does at least mean that Stanley is more likely to be killed for his wood (ahem) rather than just killed over and over for giggles. And if the criminal penalties don't successfully discourage that, they'll be ramped up over time.
I was also told that the demo version on the PAX East show floor was already missing several subsequent developments to the movement system to make it more responsive and give players more maneuvering options. I do not, however, believe that wall-running was among them. (Sliding along ropes, by contrast, was totally there.)
The emphasis on movement that was on display certainly goes a long way toward making the game feel a bit more distinct, though. It's something which is not commonly seen in games as an option for moving through locations, and the result is that it definitely helps convey a sense of high adventure. You may not be able to specialize in it in-game, but you can at least put together an idea of how to be truly acrobatic as you raid tombs. Or houses. Either one, really.