Rummaging through Rend: Alpha impressions of Frostkeep’s blissfully social survival MMO
Early access for Rend is just around the corner, which means hype for the game is picking up. Frostkeep recently invited us to check out its studio and dive back into the alpha and see how the game’s been unfolding. While there’s an embargo preventing us from taking pictures or videos, we’re allowed to talk about our experiences, and talk we shall! We should first note that the game isn’t a traditional MMORPG, but even in its alpha state, it seems to be doing more right than most other games firmly entrenched in the genre. And that was before a recent patch that finally fixed a bug that threatened the game’s early access reception.
To prepare for my studio tour, I hit the alpha servers over the weekend, going through the newbie experience a few times on two different servers. Alpha is the key word here, as the game really was in a rough state at the time. Nodes being unharvestable, factions largely being glowing tattoos attached to a two-sentence description, almost no visual customization… things that sound terrible for a game but are normal for an alpha. Even the game’s basic tutorial wasn’t always working properly.
While that may seem like a minor inconvenience, Rend does not play like a traditional survival game, so that tutorial is essential. Where I can just punch trees and rocks for supplies in other survival games, I could only pick flowers with my fists and sticks from only the smallest of trees here. And as I was in the middle of nowhere, my initial instinct was to run to the big glowing structure I saw in the distance, which led me through some melon patches, mob spawns, a lake, and finally to town.
In theory, when the tutorial works, the experience is almost Nintendo-like with its method of teaching the player. You become thirsty quickly. Without seeing the lake over the small hills, you see melons. Thinking they’ll be good and juicy, you attack them and get a tutorial hint telling you to open the crafting panel and to create some basic “soulbound” tools for gathering. From gathering melons you get supplies to create twine.
And then… it seems like nothing, unless you notice that the crosshairs display a “+” symbol when you can gather. You may not be able to punch all trees, but you can punch the very small ones for sticks. With that, you can make a hatchet. To make the mallet, you need heavier wood, and a tutorial hint mentions right and left clicking, so you left click and BAM, the right kind of wood.
Then things continue to snowball. You have some armor and you’ve barely staved off thirst, but you’re starving. By now, you’ve probably got a bow and some arrows, and you’ve noticed the huge lake with animals around it. You go for a drink and now something’s attacked you (or you’ve seen the pigs and realized they’re what’s for dinner). Win or lose, you’ll probably head to town next. Win and you walk in the front door. Lose, and you’ll be amazed for a few moments before realizing the golden light on your body lingers after death, visually directing you back to your corpse (hopefully before your “allies” loot it).
Unfortunately, the tutorials don’t always fire off. If you skip a stage (like how I went for the lake first recently), you might not trigger a needed instruction. So far, there’s been no complaints from people in game. Maybe I’m just used to looking at things in a different light, but when the tutorial does work, it highlights how Rend is doing things in ways other games in the genre aren’t.
Without a doubt, what Rend does the best right now is found in its social structure. Conan Exiles was starting to get there, but as much as I love free-for-all PvP, it doesn’t seem that most online game companies know how to build a game that encourages building relationships in the midst of chaos. By contrast, Rend immediately clicked for me in that area, as the factions were the first thing I noticed about the game and are the very reason I’ve been angling to play the game online with other players.
While I still haven’t gone deep enough into the game to tame my own pet or even build a private base, I was able to contribute to faction research even as a relative newbie, helping to unlock faction-wide bonuses. It’s slightly reminiscent of war effort World of Warcraft saw in opening the gates of Ahn’Qiraj.
And that’s basic gameplay from day one. Boom, you’re right into the heart of it.
Giving people some space outside of town is nice for learning the game, but having essentially your faction’s Orgrimmar just a few minutes away is pretty good. It gets better, though. The base has tons of containers players willingly fill with spare resources and crafted armor/weapons/ammo. Not only that, but since the factions are small (20 per side), it’s easy for Frostkeep to let you see who logs in and out, allowing you to get to know your allies more easily.
Ranking up gives you some control of the base, in that you can help choose how to customize it. You can’t kick people out of the faction (thankfully), but given the small size and faction chat, I really had the sense that I was logging into a guild. The base game encourages the kind of interactions I’d been hoping to find from the survival genre but have been continually let down by.
While any FFA PvP game could in theory do everything Rend is doing, in my experience most survival games just don’t have those communities to work with. Even on Conan Exiles’ roleplaying servers, I had to join a Discord chat first in order to find a community. Having an in-game community from the moment I log in feels like a miracle at this point in the survival genre’s life.
When I asked about this during my studio tour, Frostkeep Studios Co-Founder Jeremy Wood told me he thinks the combination of having established factions with win conditions reminds people that they can win only as a team and that they should help their teammates.
It could just be that small clusters of friends start this trend. It could be that these are just the hardcore fans understanding how to play. Heck, I can imagine all of this going to hell as people create their own internal clans (which the game supports) and focusing only on helping their personal friends. At the moment, however, with the current community, Rend’s social fabric is exactly what initially attracted me to the MMO genre and why I thought survival games could be the next step for PvP MMO fans.
Since the weekend, the game’s been updated with new models, a bug fix for that harvesting issue, and the Ascension system that allows you to customize and enhance your character in long-term ways that last beyond single campaigns, but I’ll discuss that more in our studio tour piece coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!