The Survivalist: Hands-on with survival MMO Rend’s closed alpha


It’s been nearly a year since I met with Frostkeep Studios at PAX West and got an early first-hand look at Rend, the three-faction fantasy survival sandbox with a timer. And I’ve been waiting since then to be able to play for myself; I saw the housing and learned about pet taming, and knew I wanted in. Even though I don’t play PvP for PvP’s sake, I liked the sounds of its implementation in Rend. And the whole thing about the temporary lifespan of the server? Newer information (namely that I can use ascension points to keep my favorite pets with me!) has helped alleviate that trepidation.

And now, finally, I’m in! The question is, what do I think about it? It is still in development — it is only closed alpha at the moment — and it shows. But there is also promise. I already know I am going to be playing it more. Here are my first impressions of surviving in Rend.

First first impression

It’s unusual for me, but I am giving the music its own little section. Here’s how it went down: I had installed Rend as I was working and hit play without even really thinking about it as I stayed focused on other things. After a bit, this really cool music started playing. I stopped what I was doing and listened for a minute, then just had to find where it was coming from so I could learn what it was. I was hunting all through my (many!) open browser tabs and windows before it finally hit me — it was the game! I tabbed to it and just sat there listening for a little while. While many games have very recognizable themes and intros (just think how often I sing those when starting a stream), this is the only one I think I would just sit down and enjoy. I am not one to describe its nuances (I will leave that for Justin and Jukebox Heroes), but I loved the music, the timbre of the melody, the pace… well, all of it. I will seriously have this on in the background just as a soothing piece. If you want to give it a listen, you can catch a teaser of it at the very beginning of our dev stream on OPTV.

Trying to survive

Watch those first steps – they can be a killer! As in any survival game, your first hours are spent racing against your nearly inevitable death. The killers always nipping at your heels are starvation and dehydration, though there are critters close by to chomp you as well. When you first load in you spawn facing The Tree. You can’t miss it. You will also learn that this is an important beacon and landmark, but to start it is just one giant pretty glowy in the midst of lots of pretty. All I could do when I first popped in was take in the world. It is beautiful. Careful, though: Keep an eye on your hunger and thirst as you wander. I spent perhaps a wee bit too long just looking and admiring that my bars were half depleted before I set out to remedy that. As I gazed, I spun around and admired the night sky before noting that there were pillars with runes near me. Glowing runes? Of course I ran up to check them out, and it turns out I could examine them too. The game gives you a little UI pop up tutorial, but you actually get a good tutorial intro by reading the giant runed stones that circle the spawn point.

It turns out that when you log in you also face your faction base, which you can tell by the glowing green shield, so I set off in that general direction with the goal of harvesting everything in my path. I learned that you can tell what can be harvested by the appearance of a small cross-hair over the item. (Hint: It won’t appear unless the proper tool is equipped to harvest it said resource.) It turns out you can’t punch big trees down, which I appreciated. You can, however, snap the little spindly twig trees with your bare hands. And those giant melons? Definitely get as many of those as you can and eat up. It may not be a big thing, but I also like how you get to see the aftermath of your harvesting when the trees fall, melons break, and so on. It just adds a bit of immersion to the game.

Speaking of harvesting: You better take time to find patches of golden poppies and stock up. Without bandages made from them, you are going to die. So far my only death on the server I rolled on was from bleeding to death after a Ylex punctured me; I hadn’t found any poppies to make bandages. And that bleeding apparently never stops on its own, so carry some bandages with you at all times. The good news is that the beginning zone around the spawn point is only sparsely populated with critters, and only a couple of them are aggro, giving you the chance to scramble for resources on your newbie self. There is still enough threat to keep you watchful, and the heightened awareness adds to the excitement. Just be prepared to run for your life a few times. Also, there is friendly fire, so be careful of those swings form your new faction-mates!

Experiencing the unique

The world is gorgeous, and I love the luminescence at night, so I will certainly love exploring more. I’ve only ventured into the highlands and swamp a bit so far, and those differing biomes are interesting and worth delving deeper into. However, at some point I am going to run out of places to explore, so what else does the game have to keep me occupied? If your first thought was PvP, you are not me. I am all about the pets!

I can’t really talk any about the PvP because I haven’t run into any yet, but I have tamed a pet. And the whole experience was my favorite part of my play time. In order to tame, you have to follow the animal’s spirit into the spirit world after tagging it and fight it again there with special arrows. Let me just say that the spirit realm is probably one of the main reasons I love this game right now. The portals you can make to dive in are super cool, but more than that the sense of danger increases significantly. You can get quite the rush of adrenaline from the challenge. The spirit world is inhabited by the Lost, which are basically Slenderman-like creatures you definitely aren’t equipped to handle at really low levels. When I saw them, I ran. And it was quite the heart stopping moment when they tag teamed on me; one stood away from the portal to lure me in, and the other was right at the side of the portal hitting me the moment I ventured in!

The spirit world is for more than just running for your life from Lost. It’s far more than even taming. You can travel throughout the spirit world, which is just another plane of the exact one you are in, to move between points in the real world. You can also harvest, both regular resources and a rare harvest only found there. You can see outlines of your faction-mates nearby who are in the spirit realm, but I don’t believe you can see enemies. That’s how this game utilizes stealth. Pretty nifty to experience.

But back to taming: I did acquire a wolf that is both companion and mount. Apparently almost anything that is big enough and doesn’t fly can be a mount. We failed a few times at taming a Ylex; apparently they are much harder. That’s OK, I was quite happy with my wolf… for now. I obviously want more.

Next up is the faction aspect of the game. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say it is still weird for me to go into the faction base and grab food or equipment. It feels like stealing! But it isn’t because the whole point of the faction is for folks to come together to build themselves up. The idea is that you contribute and you benefit. You can’t do too much to start as you are scrambling to keep yourself alive, but once you’ve harvested some and crafted a few things so that your death is not constantly imminent, you can look to contribute to the building of your base.

And speaking of building, I am afraid I haven’t really gotten to experience much of that yet, but I will. Oh, I will.

Room for improvement

Rend is certainly not perfect, and it is still in development. There are some areas that need improvement. I was able to share some of my suggestions already with Frostkeep Studios CEO and co-founder Jeremy Wood during our stream together yesterday, so we might be seeing some of those features soon.

First off for me was the absence of good red hair choices on character creation. No red hair! Then I noticed that there was zero customization for the avatar body and face. Now I am OK with keeping the same body shape (I know it really helps with armor models and all that), but I am not a fan of having the same exact face as everyone else. It’s a bit of a turn off. I’d like a little variation, even if it is just a few selections and no custom details. Perhaps they can be added as ascension purchases like additional hair styles, but I feel that a few choices should be a beginning feature.

I also was disappointed that there was no way to change POV. Perhaps this is necessary for the fighting part of the game, but I’d like some option when standing still that can get me out of my screenshots. It’s a gorgeous world with many incredible vistas, and I just can’t capture them well. I’d be taking even more screenshots if my butt weren’t in the way. I did discover that you can circle around if you are mounted, so I finally grabbed some sweet pics with me and my mount.

Also related to mounts is the fact you have to bring up a radial menu for commands. I am all for the menu’s use when things are calm, but there are times when you need to command the pet to attack or heel instantly, without covering up your whole screen and scrolling. I am hoping that the ability to keybind those commands are added.

I was also disappointed to see so few furnishings for building, as that is one of my primary favorite things in gaming. Wood assured more would be added. I just hope it isn’t all through ascension and we get a few more at the start of the game.

The lag, while it wasn’t so noticeable on my newer server, I’ve heard it was an issue on the older ones. Lag — or something like unto it — was prominent on my world when I would try to harvest and the item would disappear. It took me a couple times before I realized it popped out not because I had harvested but to turn it into the harvestable; I could only actually harvest after it reappeared. That needs to sync up a bit better.

Finally, I’d like to see a roadmap for what will happen through early access. Are there specific goals that are set to accomplish by launch? So many folks are burned on early access and the games that delay launch over and over and over to keep adding more but not fixing. I’m hoping Rend follows the example of another survival game and charts a path then follows it. That kind of trust in the developers’ words can make a huge difference in the community. I’m definitely rooting for Rend, and I want to keep playing it.

Check out the rest of our recent Rend coverage!

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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